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Review | All Things Go channels Lilith Fair for a new generation

The All Things Go Music Festival returned to Merriweather Post Pavilion this weekend with the first two-day lineup in the event’s history.

On the festival’s second day, which was attended by this reviewer, several performers acknowledged its long-standing commitment to female and queer artists. Pop-punk revivalists Meet Me @ the Altar tweeted in celebration of “GAYCHELLA,” while Muna lead vocalist Katie Gavin called the festival “Lesbopalooza” during her band’s set. “So many great things happening today,” said Alvvays bandleader Molly Rankin. “I feel like I’m at Lilith Fair.”

The spirit of that touring festival, which broke through the male-dominated music world in the late ’90s, was alive and well at this year’s edition, as was the organizers’ ability to curate a bill of indie-sounding artists (in total, 32 acts across two stages) spanning pop, rock and folk that are at times jangly, dancey, melancholic and jubilant was on full display. As always, All Things Go offered attendees the ability to — as a sign for a drone-shot photo op promised — “own the vibe.”

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Midday acts Alvvays and Arlo Parks typified what the blog turned music festival has cultivated for nearly a decade. The former dealt in propulsive pop full of reverb, whammy riffs and shimmering keys. Parks, one of the day’s few performers of color, updated yacht rock for Gen Z, her wispy whispers and bedroom raps bouncing off soothing grooves and her band’s undulating clatter.

A highlight of the day, Ethel Cain provided a reprieve from the festival’s overall sunniness with a wave of summertime sadness. Cain specializes in slow-burn, Southern Gothic singalongs, and it was uncanny to hear her dirges in the daylight, even if her wide-open songs ably fill an amphitheater’s spaces. Early in her set, she kicked off her boots and socks, as if to get closer to the earth from where her songs seem to emanate. Whether sitting on the edge of the stage or at the barricade, her every gesture received a rapturous response, as crying fans reached out with bouquets, letters and trinkets, seeking to touch the hem of her garment.

On the side stage, Alex G represented another change of pace, both as one of the event’s few male-fronted acts and as a singer-songwriter with a gift for finding beauty amid dissonance and unease. A longtime DIYer, the 30-year-old artist has spent the past few years bringing his bedroom pop to bigger stages, layering on loops and tape-melted samples in the mix. His distinctive voice is often a pinched falsetto, or on the Springsteen-esque standout, “Runner,” a bared-teeth scream, At one point, it was also “buh-buh-buh” baby talk as he parodied typical stage banter.

Co-headliner Boygenius also dabbles in irony — seen through the name of the all-female supergroup and through bracketing its set with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” and 100 Gecs’ “Dumbest Girl Alive” — but make no mistake: the trio of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus is serious. Back at Merriweather for the second time this year, Boygenius reasserted why it is one of the most beloved acts in contemporary music.

Recalling legendary groups such as Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, each member of the trio is an accomplished singer-songwriter but shines even brighter in a group, the members’ collective talent shoring up blind spots and taking each other into new realms. With gently swaying, fingerpicked folk and triple-ax attacks for happy headbangers, Boygenius played nearly every song in its arsenal. As is often the case, “Salt in the Wound” closed the set in a frenzy, with Bridgers and Dacus worshiping Baker during a metal-as-hell solo, a “We’re not worthy” pose shared by the audience.

Nearly 10 hours after the first band took the stage, it was finally time to hear the gospel of Lana Del Rey, an American pop star unparalleled in her expression of America, pop and stardom. For Del Rey, the stage was the latest incarnation of her neon dream fantasy, equal parts Grand Ole Opry, Graceland and Vegas Strip, with 20-feet-from-stardom background singers and a troupe of dancers bearing candelabras and riding on swings.

More than a decade and eight albums removed from her viral breakthrough, the 38-year-old singer-songwriter’s voice has grown to fit the world she has created, with Disney princess trills, gospel runs and a chill-inducing higher register. Performed live at an amphitheater, her songs are even more epic.

Halfway through the set, Del Rey surprised the crowd with an appearance by Jack Antonoff, the pop super-producer and her frequent collaborator. The two played a pair of songs, but with the venue’s hard curfew fast approaching, Del Rey improvised again, flipping her set around “in case they cut the lights at the best songs.”

She took to the swing herself to perform “Video Games,” which still sounds as evocative as it did when it debuted, and after a few catalogue favorites, closed with “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have — But I Have It.” As Del Rey ended the quietly devastating song, dancers dressed as orderlies wrapped her in a straitjacket-like shroud and dragged her offstage, an unsubtle metaphor for how America treats a woman who self-describes as “near sociopath” and “24/7 Sylvia Plath.”

For some, going to a two-day festival for 11 hours a day, braving the elements and mile-long lines for food, drink and a bathroom, and getting swept away in a sea of humanity is a form of near sociopathy. But for All Things Go attendees, the appeal is the crowd, the crush, the community — the communion with those who share a gender or sexual identity, a favorite band or even just a vibe. Muna, which headlined the side stage with a pristine set of electro-pop-rock maximalism, captured that spirit with “I Know a Place,” a song singer Gavin said the band members wrote when they were just “three queers in a college dorm room.”

“We were full of a kind of hope that we could find a space where we could feel totally safe to just express ourselves,” Gavin said, “and that is totally contingent on everything you guys bring here.”

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