Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shakori Hills Fall 2012 Review

Mason's Apron
As I arrived on Thursday with my car loaded up with camping gear I was filled with an overwhelming sense of joy.  One of the first things said to me as I stepped onto the grounds was a simple phrase, "Welcome home" that stuck with me for the rest of the festival.  As I left on Sunday I realized how excited I was to come back, despite my shivering damp exterior I was genuinely ecstatic at the thought of Spring Shakori.  That's what separates Shakori Hills from other festivals, the sense of family and community that can be felt at Shakori is simply unparalleled.  One can walk out of the festival with bundles of new friends that you'd have never crossed paths with had you not shared the same love of music.

And that's really the demographic this festival caters to, music lovers.  Fans of every genre can walk away pleased with a lineup that includes a Grammy winning bluegrass band, a Grammy nominated jazz-funk group, and a legendary reggae band.  Shakori Hills had mostly beautiful weather with the exception of a late night/early morning storm on Saturday that left Sunday with dreary, cold weather.  The music persevered and the sun shone on as Sunday saw some of the strongest, liveliest acts of the weekend including Malian songstress Fatoumata Diawara and the legendary Wailers.

Regardless of weather, the festival brought another strong and diverse lineup that was filled with some big local and international names putting on unforgettable live performances.  I'll be giving you a rundown of everything I saw this weekend from Thursday onward, so let's get to it!

Elephant Revival
The festival kicked off with a band that is swiftly becoming a Shakori staple, Driftwood.  The band was playing their first of four sets at the festival, so when I wasn't helping friends unload their cars I was checking out bits and pieces of Driftwood.  The band set the tone for the weekend wonderfully, but I couldn't help but feel that this performance was a bit lacking.  Claire's vocals felt a bit off for some of the moments I used to be entranced by, but throughout the weekend the band fell back into their swing and put on some great performances.  From Driftwood it was back to the campsite to work out everyones schedule and enjoy some woods beers, because what better way to spend a beautiful first day of Shakori?  Camp Funny Badger (Our spot was taken so we had to move slightly to the left, leaving things "just a little funny") is conveniently located right in front of the Meadow Stage, so everything is clearly audible from campsite.  It's a gift and a curse when Sunday morning rolls around and I'm nestled from my slumber with a startling "Amazing Grace".

Anyways, while some of the campsite chose to stay and get the drank on, I headed out to check out Yarn.  Yarn is a contemporary take on classic country, a lively blend of Americana and Alternative Country that was a bit too jammy for my liking.  While their songs were overall well written and generally awesome, it just dragged on too long for me.  I headed off to grab some of the infamous duck fat tots and waited for The Morning After to begin at the Dance Tent.  This was my first time seeing The Morning After, and I'm sad to say that after seeing the show they put on at Shakori.  The band is filled with soul, but strewn about in a plethora of different directions,  clearly drawing inspiration from jazz and funk as much as they do folk.  This Raleigh band definitely is on my radar after this weekend, and their November show at The Pour House would be a fantastic chance to check them out if you haven't already.  After The Morning After I joined in on Elephant Revival's set at the Meadow Stage after being thoroughly impressed with what I'd heard at Spring Shakori.  Hopefully this band continues to pop up at the festival, because their performance was one that stood out among Thursday's lineup.  Other than Donna they were one of the only ones that really commanded the Meadow Stage, and it's mostly because their indie folk rock sounds are capable of striking a chord thanks to their talented lineup and palpable lyricism.  Rosie Ledet was up next, a band that I've passed by one too many times at this festival.  Rosie's vocals are sweet and soulful, entrancing the listeners while the band's upbeat zydeco jams command their bodies to flail around wildly or display a bit of their dancing prowess...there is really an equal amount of both at Shakori.  Rosie closed out Thursday's shows for me, but Donna provided me a wonderful and hilarious moment at the campsite after a lifelong "Herd Member" rolled by our campsite to inform us of the "spiritual experience" we'd miss out on, shortly after we'd all talked about how Donna "didn't really do anything for us".  There was a whole lot of Donna this weekend, which is great if you're into jam band zydeco, but I'm just simply not.

Photo Credit: Emily Ritter
Friday is always a wonderful day to immerse yourself in everything Shakori has to offer.  With most bands not starting until early afternoon, there's a lot you can check out in terms of workshops, vendors, and instrument competitions.  I for one love the traditional nap on the grass while listening to the Grassroots Instrument Competition, but this year proved to be a bit too warm for me to do that.  Campsite hangs filled the early afternoon until we all headed to Ayr Mountaineers in the Dance Tent.  We walked in right as they covered "Folsom Prison Blues" and continued to spread tasty rustic jams for a few more songs until we all headed to see Randy Dean Whitt.  It was hard to find much shade around the Grove Stage and Randy Dean Whitt's southern roots style wasn't doing a whole lot for me, so it was back to the Funny Badger for some chill time before River Whyless.  Unfortunately the band has somehow once again escaped me, as more camper arrivals meant more helping with load ins, but thankfully I still got to hear the entire set.  Even without a visual representation of their live show, their vivid imagery allowed for their heartfelt and passionate vocals to connect on an individual level, even from afar.  I caught the tail end of Jonathan Scales Fourchestra's steel pan mastery, which left just enough time to catch a bite to eat before Mason's Apron.

Mason's Apron is a bluegrass supergroup comprised of Mandolin Orange, Jeff Stickley of Hammer No More The Fingers, and Miles Andrew of Big Fat Gap, making for an eclectic but surprisingly cohesive live experience.  The band is tight, sticking with energetic takes on old classics and upbeat Americana jams.  The dance tent was packed and lively, serving as the perfect transition into the funky, energetic tunes spreading into the night from the Meadow Stage.  Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue had just taken the stage and his bombastic funk rock was leading one of the largest Meadow crowds of the weekend in a massive dance party.  A band loaded with brass goodness and upbeat funky jams, Trombone Shorty was without a doubt the highlight of Fridays performances.  From Trombone Shorty we headed to LiLa right as the show was kicking off.  Eli McDuffee commanded the Grove Stage crowd and bounced around the stage with loads of energy.  After being disappointed with their set before Girl Talk at last year's Wolfstock, I've since thoroughly enjoyed each set I've gotten to see at Shakori.  Maybe it's the vibes they're spreading, or maybe they've simply gotten to be a far tighter band, either way I've grown to really dig the shows these guys put on.  The sounds of Suénalo lead me away from the local hip-hop group and into the Miami based Latin jazz rock group's fantastic set.  Suénalo combine vivacious hip-hop with infectious Latin rhythms and melodies.  Throughout the weekend I'd hear people singing Spanish phrases we'd heard in Suénalo songs that we didn't really have a comprehension of, but some how connected with.  It's that fantastic twist that makes Suénalo's shows so enjoyable.  Suénalo closed out the night for me and I went to bed as the sounds of Donna left the woods, marking the end of another night filled with fantastic friends and world class music.

Unknown Tongues
Saturday was another late start, the performance schedule was pretty bare for me until the Paperhand Puppet Parade kicked off at 2:00 and after a bit of rock stacking I got in place to check out the parade in all of its glory.  After hearing the band in the distance we headed towards the Meadow Stage to watch the parade pass by from it's raucous leaders to the very last child that's wobbling their way along in an adorably large mask.  I caught some of the Deer Clan Singers, but with Lost in the Trees up next it was hard to think of much that wasn't just sheer excitement.  More friends arrived and we all headed to the dance tent to go see the zydeco dance party brought by the Unknown Tongues.  Washboards and accordions fuel the frenetic fire that encompass Unknown Tongues' sound.  While the band was enjoyable, we left early to get our spots for Lost in the Trees.  As the local favorites took the stage the crowd began to gather quickly, amounting to one of the largest and most passionate crowds of the day.  While they mostly played cuts from their new album, A Church To Fit Our Needs, they pulled out some fan favorites from their previous albums that elicited sing-a-longs and ear-to-ear smiles.  Just as presumed the band served as the perfect soundtrack to a beautiful day spent in a field surrounded by wonderful people.

A delicious short rib quesadilla and yet another order of duck fat tots filled my time between the next set on Meadow Stage, San Francisco's Rupa & The April Fishes.  Another band that's loaded with latin/african influence, making for one hell of a dance-y show.  Shakori has coincided with a recent fixation on world music for me, so getting the chance to see so many fantastic and diverse acts at Shakori serves as a fantastic jumping point to get into this genre.  As Rupa ended it was back to the camp site to wait out the Donna storm, and as J.P Harris and The Tough Choices started the crowd slowly made their way out of the campsite and back into the music.  I darted from J.P Harris to Crys Matthews, and stopped by the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble as well, finding it hard to connect with something enough to not want to check out the rest of the music.  I had no problem with that after Fataoumata Diawara started, the Malian songwriter was enchanting to say the least.  Her presence is enamoring, she beams with positivity and her voice has a memorable and soulful swing to it.  I checked out Jacob Jeffries Band where I heard an awesome cover of Wilco's "I'm The Man Who Loves You",  then made my way to the Dance Tent for Suénalo round 2.  It started to rain a bit, but nothing compared to what we'd end up getting Saturday morning.  The drizzle stopped few from bouncing around from tent to tent and stage to stage in anticipation of more fantastic music.  While the band was spot on, leading the ever increasing crowd in infectious song and dance, I couldn't help but want to see something new for the night.  The first stop was Mipso, just in time for their fantastic cover of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie".  Almost as soon as that ended I began to hear the beginnings of ArtOfficial on the main stage, so it was once again time to head out.  ArtOfficial was one of the best performances of the weekend, delivering an incredibly energetic and invigorating live performance during an unsuspectedly chilly night.  I had a blanket bundled around me, but I was still getting down just as hard as I was earlier, it was really kind of hard not to!  I headed back to the campsite shortly before the band ended and attempted another late night fire hang, but instead chose the dry, cozy warmth of my tent.

Fataoumata Diawara
An early trip to the port-a-potties was a fantastic idea, because roughly twenty minutes after I got back the sky opened up.  Thankfully the rain just put me to sleep again, but the tarp hanging over our campsite didn't fare so well and collected pounds of rain.  The downpour led to friends leaving intermittently throughout the day, but the weather held up for the most part after the early storm.  Fataoumata Diawara's set encouraged us to face the damp day and it was one of the best decisions of the festival.  Her set seemed to brush the clouds away, or at least make you forget they were there.  At one point Diawara grabbed a fictional bowl with which she could harness energy from the stage and toss into the crowd.  She led in song and dance and by the end of her performance her crowd had increased exponentially, her set was one that dazzled many on this dreary Sunday afternoon.  Young and old alike were dancing side by side, equally enthusiastic for the spastic yet melodic tunes of Fataoumata Diawara.  The next set I caught was from Steep Canyon Rangers, a band that I was only recently introduced to when they made their Grammy award winning album with Steve Martin.  The band was pitch perfect, delivering precise harmonies and an impressive instrumental prowess.  The band lacked the stage presence to keep away from a warm fire, so it was back to Funny Badger to simply take in the sounds, rather than the sights.  After Steep Canyon Rangers I began the saddest activity of the weekend, the pickup.

I caught most of The April Fishes again, then took a break from packing to enjoy a bit more time with the friends before The Wailers.  As the legendary reggae act took the stage it was cold, damp and dark, but the crowd seemed to care little about that.  Fans were just as lively as earlier in the weekend as they sang along to old favorites and swayed along to those they were less familiar with.  I left the festival a bit early in lieu of a test on Monday morning, but I must say that this festival was yet another massive success.  Shakori Hills always leaves you with the warmest feelings, most importantly a feeling of pride for the community you can call yourself a part of.  Whether you're from North Carolina or simply are a member of the Grassroots family, theres something for all of us to revel in with Shakori Hills.  It's a festival that caters equally to every walk of life, from the dead heads to the indie rock buffs, from the young to the old, you'll find somebody that you can connect with at this festival.  Whether that connection be with an act or merely a kindred spirit, Shakori is through and through a place for growth, a place to expand your musical palette, but most importantly a place to call home.

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