The National Parks• 8th Wonder Tour• March 17, 2023• The Union
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
What a night! Not only was it the opening show for The National Parks tour. And not only was it a hometown show for the Utah-based band. But it was also the album release show for their new album 8th Wonder. I think the excitement of having one of Utah’s favorite bands performing their tour opener and debuting many of the 8th Wonder songs mixed in with other favorites had this crowd buzzing from the opening of The Union doors. Support acts, Andrea von Kampen (Who will be joining TNP for the Spring leg of the 8th Wonder Tour), and Lantern By Sea only fueled the crowd’s fire with impressive performances. Following the openers, everyone was more than ready for The National Parks.
I’m not sure what it is about The National Parks. Maybe it’s because they are from Utah, or maybe because I heard about them for years and finally saw them play to a massive crowd at the first Kilby Block Party, or maybe it was their captivating performance at a sold-out Vivint Arena show, one of the first shows out of the pandemic, or maybe covering the Superbloom Festival in Southern Utah (More on that later), but I feel a certain connection to these guys. I feel like I know them. When they walked on stage I wanted to make eye contact and be like, “What’s up friends of mine in The National Parks.” But then it hits me that I don’t know them at all. I spoke with Sydney once in an interview. And that’s about it.
But there is something about the way TNP connects with their audience that I’m convinced I’m not the only one that feels that way. They walked on stage and smiled at the reception from the crowd. I was smiling with them, thinking, “This is so great for them, my friends, from The National Parks.” This was before I reminded myself that we were complete strangers. They seem to love what they do and love performing together and with each other. It’s easy to be happy about their success.
The show opened with 8th Wonder album opener, “Angels” and the song “8th Wonder”. It was clear that the audience was already studied up on the new songs. The line “Imma tell our kids about this someday”, from “Angels” seemed so fitting. So many great things have happened in this band. And they all have young kids who will no doubt enjoy hearing about these adventures.
The National Parks did a great job of mixing the setlist from songs spanning their career. An early crowd favorite was “Wildflower”. A personal favorite is always hearing “I Can Feel It” live. The song seems to capture all of the things that make The National Parks great. Tons of energy, great harmony, a driving beat, fun interaction within the band (Inlucidng a sort of drum-off between Sydney Macfarlane and Megan Taylor Parks), and a positive message. The vibe of the whole song encompassed everyone inside The Union Events Center. This song could easily be the closer. But it is placed perfectly in the set. Six songs in and we’re all flying high.
Another great moment in the show was the perfectly timed acoustic set. Not only was it great to see everyone front and center surrounding a single microphone but it gave everyone a chance to catch their breath. This also gives the audience a chance to really see up close the talent of this band. The audience noise was hushed and everyone intently listened to Sydney’s beautiful voice. A voice that I would love to hear more often. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people throughout the crowd telling their friends how much they loved her voice and how they’d love to hear it more.
This is obviously not a slight on Brady Parks. He’s fantastic. One of my favorite frontmen. I think it’s just that much more of a compliment to Macfarlane. As hushed and attentive as the crowd was, they could not hold back screaming for Sydney’s solo in “Wind & Anchor”. They couldn’t refrain from joining in the chorus as their voices rang throughout the room.
As I’m sure most of you know, The National Parks have put on an amazing festival in Southern Utah called the Superbloom Music Festival. Brady Parks made the special announcement that the festival would be moving to Salt Lake City! The festival will take place on September 23, 2023, at the Gallivan Center. Cue the record scratch. That’s right The Gallivan Center. I get it. It’s a good space. There’s a stage in place, they host a ton of events, and there’s room for additional stages, food trucks, etc. My personal opinion is that the vibe for Superbloom would have been more suited for an amphitheater at a ski resort, or where the now-defunct Bonanza Festival used to be.
Logistically, I get it. This is just my small gripe. It’s a far cry from the original location of the amphitheater inside Zions National Park (the festival unfortunately was never able to take place there due to flooding damaging the venue.). All that being said, TNP, please let us still cover the festival. Because we do know it will be amazing. And all my mild complaining aside the folks at The Union roared their approval of the festival’s relocation.
The National Parks left the stage following the closing song from 8th Wonder, “Rodeo”. A bold move to play a main set closer with a new song. You wouldn’t know it was a new song. People swayed and sang as the band walked off for their encore. And what an ovation they received. I know we’re to the point where encores seem more ceremonial than they once were. But it’s worth noting that if this was the end, and there wasn’t an actual encore planned, The National Parks would have had to return to the stage. The demand was that intense. Fortunately, they had some songs prepared and we were all ready to hear more.
I heard a familiar riff with the initial strum of the guitar and I yelled out, “Yes!”. People looked back at me and while I momentarily felt like an idiot, I was also patting myself on the back because I knew the song before anyone else around me. It’s the little things in life folks. It was the intro to the Coldplay classic, “Yellow”. A perfect song for TNP to cover. They did the song justice and once the rest of the crowd caught up to my potential game show-winning razor-sharp recognition of the song, the place erupted and everyone sang along.
If that wasn’t enough, the show ended with what is the perfect TNP closer, “As We Ran”. The way the song builds and the way it blows up had the crowd jumping and singing. I return to the feeling as if we know them. People were singing as if they helped write the song. It’s the way Brady collaborates his performance with the crowd. He got everyone to squat. By the way, not an easy thing to do after over two hours of standing (Old man alert? possibly. But I did it!) He counted us in and when the band came back in everyone lept into the air, throwing their arms to the sky. I was grinning from ear to ear. It was the type of communal moment that make live music the best thing ever.
I left the show feeling so happy. I wish there was a way to bottle up and pass around the positive energy produced by The National Parks in their concerts. As corny as it sounds, I think it would make this cynical world a better place. I left The Union wondering, “Is this what a TNP show is like everywhere on tour? Or is it just because we’re in Utah and we love them so much.” My intuition tells me that this is what it’s always like. Which is an amazing thing. But I’ve decided that I need to find out for myself.
Mark my words, I will be attending a TNP show outside of the state of Utah. I’m predicting that my theory is correct. But I shall report. Until then, go listen to 8th Wonder. And if you haven’t seen The National Parks live, go see them on tour, or catch them at the Super Bloom Music Festival. Now in Salt Lake City!
For more information on The National Parks, their album 8th Wonder, or their tour, go to thenationalparksband.com
For information on the Superbloom Music Festival go to superbloomfest.com