Friday night felt like one big celebration in Downtown Lawrence. Just about every block had some sort of party, concert, art event, or busking jamboree going on. But it was the free outdoor concert at 8th and Vermont that stole the show for a couple of hours. That’s where Free State Festival, an event that touched every corner of the arts community, decided to place their Tour of Lawrence stage with Split Lip Rayfield.

The fast-fingered trio celebrated 20 years as a band with a free outdoor show. The street was brimming with bluegrass fans from a wide variety of backgrounds. Your friends, neighbors, cousins, and neighbors’ cousins were likely at this show. When the night had finally settled in, the band was still roaring onstage and kept spirits high under a bright crescent moon. Hearing a large, yet jovial crowd, sing along to all the classics while they danced in the street was beautiful enough to make any Lawrencian proud. Even little children, propped up on their parents’ shoulders, were wide awake and bopping along to the music while bubbles floated above and throughout the crowd.
Considering how long Split Lip sets run, their musical skill is nothing short of amazing. Just the physical strain they put themselves under to achieve those sounds and speeds is impressive. You can see it in every grimace, every bead of sweat pouring out of them. The gas tank bass itself is worthy of bringing curious musical tourists out. The songs they played 10 or 15 years ago were still performed with such vigor.

The evening, no doubt, built beautiful memories for those who attended. Split Lip Rayfield is a national treasure, and throwing them a street party on a beautiful summer evening in Downtown Lawrence is a fitting tribute for a band that continues to bring so much recognition and festivity to the bluegrass scene.

Note: We didn’t catch openers Ashes To Immortality because we were running around for Field Day Fest, but caught only snippets of their performance at a time. We’d highly recommend catching them at their next gig!

Words and photos by Fally Afani