Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shakori Hills Fall 2011 Review

Howard Levy of The Flecktones
Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance is a unique experience in the sense that there is such a strong bond of community on these Chatham County farmlands.  Smiles are found on the faces of the flocks of families, festi-freaks, hippies, and just about everyone in between.  Shakori Hills doesn't carry the pretentiousness that comes with other festivals, it's a four-day marathon of bluegrass, folk, funk, motown, and just about everything in between.  Highlights of the festival can come completely unexpectedly, and one thing I've found with my Shakori schedule is that I more frequently bounce around from tent to tent and stage to stage than at any other festival.  Between the close proximity of the stages and the guarantee that almost every act you see will have redeeming qualities.  The worldly sounds of Sidi Toure filled the Meadow Stage, the legendary Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings brought high-energy and crowd participation to a new level, and Bela Fleck & The Flecktones brought a performance that will be remembered by many as one of the best of their lives.  The talent on display at Shakori Hills is astounding, but the best part is that there is so much more going on at the festival other than just great music.

Activities are abound at Shakori, with everything from a Jazz Workshop on the Front Porch on Friday with Peter Lamb & The Wolves to a Puppet Parade throughout the festival on Sunday afternoon.  While you may not always have a band you want to be checking out at Shakori, you're guaranteed to be able to find something to keep yourself preoccupied until the tunes start back up.  I wore myself thin this weekend at Shakori and between running here, there, and everywhere in that perfect fall weather I wound up with Bronchitis after the weekends festivities (I'm sure the massive amounts of campfire smoke didn't help either, nor did the handful of hours of sleep I got throughout the weekend) but still I couldn't find a negative thing to say about the entire weekend.

Kicking things off on Thursday for me was Des Ark, the first of two sets I'd see from the talented songstress throughout the weekend.  Aimee Argot is a Shakori staple at this point, playing the festival for many years and never failing to leave crowds speechless.  I can't count the amount of people I heard walking away from the Dance Tent on Thursday saying "That was incredible!" and quite frankly that's the only thing that popped into my mind as well.  Des Ark is a favorite of mine who I hadn't gotten the pleasure of seeing before this weekend, so getting a double header was an absolute treat.  Other highlights of Thursday night included an excellent display of show(wo)manship from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings on the Meadow Stage, Jones brought multiple men on stage to dance with as well as around a dozen girls as well.  Sharon Jones' set is tied with The Flecktones for me as highlight of the weekend, it's just so damn easy to dance to that it's hard not to become absolutely ensconced in her booming voice and soulful melodies.  Peter Lamb & The Wolves closed out the night with a near two hour set of smooth jazz sounds that kept the dance tent shaking and swaying until 2:00 a.m.  Oh, and they played the Mario theme song.  If you needed any more reason to check out this incredibly talented band then let THAT be it.

Carson's Grove Stage
Friday was the first full day of festivities with The Brand New Life kicking things off at noon for myself and my fellow campers (Myxem contributors Terry and Kyle being two of them) and it was the perfect weather for their jazzy, funk inspired sounds to fill the Shakori attendees with good vibes and get a few crowd members dancing early in the day.  Excellent sets from The Old Ceremony, Rosie Ledet, and Thousands of One comprised the rest of my Friday afternoon before heading back to the campsite to get some food going and to listen to the sounds of Emmit-Nershi Band blasting through the woods and filling our campsite with music.  After food it was right back into the thick of it with Eilen Jewell at the Dance Tent, a set I was looking forward to a lot more than when I stumbled upon her set about ten to fifteen minutes into it.  There was nothing that pervasively made the set poor, but I just couldn't connect with her attempts at dance-y songs.  I left Eilen Jewell to check out one of the bands that blew me away this weekend, Driftwood.  Driftwood played every single day of Shakori and on Friday we shot a Bottom String Session in the woods with the band that stuck out as another weekend highlight.  Driftwood hails from Binghamton, NY (a fact that Myxem's Kyle wouldn't let us forget, being another fellow Binghamtonian (?)) but they sound straight from the south.  This rootsy folk band brings mounds of energy to the stage and as the weekend progressed their name was rolling off of tongues left and right.

I was so excited for Noot D'Noot that once I heard Brett Dennen was going to be slightly delayed that I just booked it to the Dance Tent and waited anxiously for one of my most anticipated sets.  It was worth it.  While I regret missing Dennen, Noot D'Noot was in my top five Shakori sets without a doubt.  They were going 100% from the moment they started to the moment they ended, it was a stellar set that had a packed out Dance Tent dancing furiously.  Possibly the only thing that could top it was the glorious showing from Dirty Bourbon River Show.  They played until nearly 3:00 a.m. and they absolutely slayed every minute of it.  The only downside was how awful the soundguy was at keeping the band audible for the crowd.  After almost every song there was a request from the band to turn the sound back up to where it was at the beginning of the set, it was a hindrance but it could hardly put a damper on the day.  Their raucous set consisted of whiskey thrown in the crowd, whiskey lit on fire, stories about the cops taking "green things" from their car and much much more.  An excellent, excellent way to close day two.

Saturday was a day spent primarily at the campsite other than checking out another Des Ark set, Thousands of One, and Sidi Toure.  Once the sun went down though it was full out festival mode again as I bounced from Mipso Trio at Carson's Grove to the incredibly danceable Locos Por Juana.  However, after Locos we remained posted up at Meadow Stage for the one-two punch of Donna The Buffalo and Toubab Krewe.  Donna The Buffalo gets a bit too jam band-y for me but the talent that the band puts on display is reason enough to stay around and see how it all pans out.  The same could really be said for Toubab's set on Saturday as well.  I'd checked the band out weeks before Shakori and became incredibly excited to check out what they had to offer, maybe I wasn't drunk enough but either way it was a set that once again had nothing negative about it but I just wasn't as enthralled with it as the rest of Shakori seemed to be.  After Toubab there were a few songs left for LiLa which were a pleasant switch-up from Toubab Krewe and a set that I could really get into.  I saw LiLa open for Girl Talk at WolfStock this year but they were incredibly underwhelming, however, their Shakori set left me wanting much much more.

The Paperhand Puppet Intervention Parade
Sunday was the day of rest.  Shirtless and sprawled across the grass was the story of the day and it couldn't have gone any better.  Between The Paperhand Band, The Paperhand Puppet Intervention Parade, Driftwood, and Hammer No More The Fingers I got to see a handful of incredibly entertaining acts.  The whole day had a Christmas morning feeling to it though as the big set was yet to come, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones.  Howard Levy hadn't graced the stage with the rest of the original lineup since 1992 and these guys put on one of the most incredible acts of musical talent that I've ever or will ever have the joy of seeing. It was put best when Myxem contributor Terry said, "Wooten doesn't even play the bass.  It just floats there and he makes it do things it isn't supposed to."  Each band member is revolutionary at their instruments and each member got an equal amount of time to display their incredible talents.  It was full of those unique musical moments where crowd members can just turn around and look at each other with amazement on their faces and the feeling is always mutual.  An absolutely stunning performance to end my Shakori Hills experience.  I thankfully passed on what I heard was a four and a half hour performance from Donna The Buffalo including The Dap-Kings, The Flecktones, and many more friends coming out to join the band.  If I'd stayed for four and half more hours I probably would have keeled over in my zombified state and just passed out right there.

I left Shakori the way that I spent it though, covered in dirt with a gigantic smile on my face.  Bronchitis and all, there was nothing that could bring me down from the high that is Shakori Hills Grassroots Music & Dance Festival.  It's like a 4-day vacation where you can forget about all of your troubles and simply bask in the glory of the land, the music, and the people you surround yourself with.  Shakori Hills is a festival that everyone should have the joy of experiencing at least once in their life.  It's too good to pass up.

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