Friday, September 28, 2012

The Shakori Essentials: River Whyless

I've made no attempts at hiding my adoration for this band, they're quickly becoming one of my favorite local acts and I haven't even gotten to see their live show yet!  Music on the Mountaintop had me sold on two acts, River Whyless and Dr. Dog.  While I didn't get to see either band due to terrible traffic on I-40, I did get to film one of my favorite Bottom String Session's with Ryan and get a few copies of A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door, one of which was the ever-looping soundtrack to my three hour ride back home.  River Whyless are making some of the most compelling music in the state right now, while some can draw comparisons to Lost in the Trees due to their classical folk orientation, River Whyless has a more contemporary take on the sound.  It's clear that influence from ethereal post rock bands has bled into the band's songwriting, and their unique 'baroque folk' sound is something to swoon over.

While you may know the band by their old moniker, Do It To Julia, they've since changed up their approach with a new name and a new sound.  River Whyless have released one of the strongest albums of the year, A Stone, A Leaf... doesn't have a weak track on it.  The album flows together brilliantly with captivating imagery and complex soundscapes.  After talking with Ryan O'Keefe at MOTM he informed me that most of his songwriting takes place outside, a fact that becomes astoundingly clear when listening to the album.  River Whyless sings of heartache and despair, of doubting faith, of fleeting hope but a promise for tomorrow.  The lyricism is incredible, which makes the beautiful harmonies that much sweeter.  Halli Anderson's voice is commanding yet subtle, it can tug on your heartstrings and speak to you with sincerity and presence.  O'Keefe's voice retains many of the same qualities, but features a trademark quiver that gives his vocals an unfiltered vulnerability, making their sound all the more personal.

River Whyless is a band that fits in perfectly with the vibes at Shakori.  When I saw their name on the roster I knew they'd have precedence, their music has a connection with people and the Meadow Stage is the perfect place to display it.  It's earthy music that shines simultaneously with its simplicity and its extravagance.  One minute you'll hear Halli playing a rustic fiddle line, the next you'll be immersed in her classical prowess.  The sounds of River Whyless are real, natural and devastatingly beautiful.

While the band is playing a stacked time slot with Hoots & Hellmouth and Jonathan Scales Fourchestra playing around the same time, I know River Whyless will not fail to amaze the festival goers.  The middle of a gorgeous farmland sounds like the perfect setting for a show from River Whyless, and this unique experience will be one of the weekends highlights for sure.

Check out our aforementioned Bottom String Session with Ryan O'Keefe from Music on the Mountaintop.  River Whyless will be playing on Friday, October 5 at 5:00 p.m. on the Meadow Stage:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Shakori Essentials: Suénalo

Shakori Hills is exactly seven days away now, with anticipation rising I've come to realize how devastatingly excited I am for the two sets of latin-afro jazz party that is Suénalo.  Shakori Hills allows you to find bands that you're entirely ignorant about in genres you're mostly unfamiliar with, but somehow connect with these acts on personal levels.  Suénalo is a band hailing from Miami, FL that seemingly only comes this way for Shakori, giving you all the more reason to see this glorious show while you can.  The band has two sets that are unparalleled on Friday and Saturday evening on the Meadow Stage and Dance Tent respectively, I for one know that I'll be attending both shows.

Last Spring I was anxiously waiting for Equanimous Minds in the Dance Tent and battling between staying around to hang out with my friends or trudging through potential rainfall to see Bombadil when I heard the lively, riotous sounds of Suénalo.  Any apprehension I had about missing the local favorites were tossed out the window, within minutes I was awkwardly arm flailing along with the droves of equally excited crowd members.  The experience was absolutely invigorating, from their deep Afropop/Cuban influence blended with upbeat hip-hop stylings to the bombastic energy the band permeates whilst on stage, it's easy to find yourself overcome by the jaunting yet melodic rhythms.  Equanimous Minds was the highlight of the festival for many I went with (an electronic act standing out at a Grassroots festival?  Preposterous!), but I for one couldn't help but feel like Suénalo stole the show, hell possibly the festival.

Suénalo's MC, Amin De Jesus is a charismatic leader for the band, conducting the crowd as if they were his little marrionettes.  He says jump and the crowd leaps.  He shouts, "Suénalo!" they shout "Suénalo!" twice as hard with ear-to-ear grins.  Their music is somewhat of an anomaly at the festival, while there's always diverse talent drawing influence from every corner of the world, none seem to do it with such flare and finesse as Suénalo.  Recently celebrating their 10 year anniversary, the experience they have together is clear.  Saying this band is tight is an understatement, they've allowed their talents to flow together freely and developed a precise call and response style that makes for a fantastic soundtrack for your all night dance party.  Get ready to dance your ass off, because Suénalo's infectious good vibes will be taking the main stage on Friday, October 5 on the Meadow Stage at 11:00. I'd imagine such a prominent Friday night set will lead to a fantastic crowd for the band's set on Saturday, October 6 in the Dance Tent at 11:00.  Do yourself a favor and become a part of this, hell maybe even attend the Latin Dance Workshop that'll be going on in the Dance Tent right before Suénalo on Saturday night.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Shakori Essentials: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

Shakori Hills serves as one of the finest outlets for finding new music that North Carolina has to offer.  The sheer diversity in the lineup allows festival goers to expand their musical palette, taking in sounds of Latin jazz, Cajun zydeco, or socially conscious hip-hop on a day to day basis.  I know I for one never expected to see a band like Diali Cissokho & Kairaba, but once I happened upon their performance I was entranced by it.  Shakori is a melting pot of musical genres that somehow fit perfectly together, despite their vast differences.  Let's look at Friday evening for example, the 5-7 block is stacked with fantastic bands from highly different genres.  I'll be split between three shows in this two hour span, River Whyless, Hoots and Hellmouth, and Jonathan Scales Fourchestra.  One of the great parts about Shakori is how close all of the stages are to each other, Meadow to Carson's to the Cabaret tent equates to a leisurely stroll as you ease your way from baroque folk rock to dancy roots rock to a steel pan lead jazz-fusion trio.  Jonathan Scales Fourchestra will be the first band from this trio that we preview for Shakori, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone at Shakori that's packing as much power as this group from Asheville.

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra mixes the sounds of contemporary experimental jazz with a classically trained composer become steel pan virtuoso.  While Scales' steel pan subtleties are on prominent display, the band's true depth lies within how talented every single member of this band is.  Percussionist Phill Bronson seamlessly switches from time signature to time signature, displaying a rhythmic prowess that's easy to lose yourself in.  However, you can just as easily become enamored in how smoothly Cody Wright churns out technically proficient bass riffs with such ease and emotion.  The way the Fourchestra can command a crowd is mystifying, and a high energy set in the Cabaret Tent would make for a fantastic addition to your Friday evening schedule.

The band will be performing on Friday October 5 at 5:30 pm at the Cabaret Tent.

Check out video from the band's performance in New Bern's incredible venue, Broad St. Social Club:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Shakori Essentials: Lost in the Trees

It's no surprise to any fan of the Triangle music scene that Lost in the Trees, rose to stardom.  The band's unique style of combining rustic and deeply personal folk music with that of grandiose chamber music was a recipe for success, it's a sound that eases you in with relatable lyrics and clinches your attention with perfectly orchestrated instrumentation to coincide with the rise and fall of Ari Picker's heartfelt stories.  It's been three long years since Lost in the Trees played Shakori Hills, and their Saturday afternoon set on the Meadow Stage will be the perfect homecoming for these local standouts.  It's already set to be the highlight of my weekend, it's been over a year since I last saw Lost in the Trees as a bright eyed fanboy, plopped cross-legged on the floor of Fletcher Opera Hall...far too long if you ask me.

Lost in the Trees have been touring non-stop lately, recently finishing up a run of shows with The Head and The Heart and Fleet Foxes side-project Poor Moon before that.  The band is getting ready to hit the road once again and Shakori will be the first stop on yet another lengthy nationwide tour, this time with fellow North Carolina act Midtown Dickens.  While they're playing again in the Triangle in December at Reynolds Industry Theatre with a full chamber orchestra, their set at Shakori Hills will be a truly unique and magical experience.  The folks that attend Shakori are embedded within this music scene and the passion that any one person can feel for this band pales in comparison to the feeling of singing along with a field full of like minded individuals.  I'll be missing the latter half of Unknown Tongues (playing at 3:30 in the Dance Tent) to check out the full set from one of my favorite North Carolina artists playing one of my favorite North Carolina festivals.  The best possible way to spend a Saturday.

Check out the band's performance of "Time Taunts Me", the title track from their first EP which recently just got its second pressing on Trekky Records with a stunning white vinyl.  Time to buy copy number two?

Lost in the Trees plays on Saturday October 6 @ 4:00 on the Meadow Stage

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Preview: Shakori Hills Fall 2012

Shakori Hills is nearly two weeks away, and as we reach the home stretch I'm beginning to get antsy.  Shakori Hills comes twice a year and recently the weather has been damn near perfect each time.  Granted you can always expect the possibility of those ever so fantastic Carolina rain falls, the mud doesn't stop the good times emanating from Shakori Hills.  Naturally we're all hoping for a dry Shakori, but rain or shine I'll cherish every second on that farm.  Shakori Hills has recently become a bit of a hometown reunion for me, with flocks of New Bernians joining in on the bi-annual fun.  As Ari Picker so eloquently put it, "surround yourself with good people", it's a phrase that should be the beck and call for Shakori Hills, especially with Lost in the Trees joining the countless talented artists on the bill this fall.  Set up your tent and stay for four days of great people and great music at Shakori Hills.

From October 4-7 (once again conveniently falling on NC State's Fall Break!) acts like The Wailers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Suénalo and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will be leading a field of festival goers in uninhibited dance, song, and laughter.  A family friendly event, Shakori Hills offers workshops for adults and children alike, but there are some particularly striking Front Porch Workshops this year.  On Friday, Jonathan Scales (the steel-pan visionary from Asheville) will be putting on a Steel Pan Percussion Workshop, one that should be absolutely tantalizing.  I talked with Jonathan for a bit after his show at Broad St. Social Club in New Bern and he showed some of us the basics of playing steel pan, it's a seemingly complex system that Scales can make look effortless.  Two mores enticing workshops comes on Saturday with Unknown Tongues leading a cajun workshop, and Driftwood following shortly after with an Oldtime Music Workshop.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hopscotch 2012: Ryan Gustafson - Mountains of the Moon

The Trekky Day Dream is always one of the Hopscotch highlights, and this year proved no different.  With a solo set from Cassis Orange to kick off the day, Ryan Gustafson was set to follow.  I hadn't heard any recorded material from Gustafson going into this show, but after checking out his Indy Weekly Simple Music Video Series performance (found here) I knew I had to see this set.  Gustafson didn't disappoint, he displayed an incredible prowess in his songwriting with the perfect amount of restraint and release in his voice.  Below you can hear his cover of Michael Holland's "Mountains of the Moon":

Album Review: Some Army - EP

Some Army's EP release show is on September 22
@ Local 506 w/ T0W3RS and Gray Young
Some Army are a band that have been thrust into the limelight of the Carolina music scene.  While Russell Baggett's former band The Honored Guests made waves in the Triangle, none were quite as massive as what's about to hit the shore with this fantastic EP to be released on September 22 at Local 506 with T0W3RS and Gray Young.

Some Army released a breathtakingly beautiful 7" this year that immediately became one of my most played releases, "Servant Tires" glides along just as delicately on the opener of this EP as it did on the 7".  It's the perfect attention grabbing opener for this near 30 minute sonic adventure.  As I write this I've got my headphones on in my bedroom and find it hard to focus on anything that isn't Some Army, their music encapsulates you.  Stretching across genres, Some Army builds an ethereal soundscape backed by driving rhythms and soaring melodies to produce a unique and mesmerizing sound.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Caleb Caudle to release solo record, "Tobacco Town"

Caleb Caudle, frontman of The Bayonets, has recently announced the release of an upcoming solo album that's got me quite excited.  Caleb Caudle has been a favorite North Carolina songwriter of mine for years now, he first struck a chord with a particularly moving performance of "Stay On" back at Broad Street Music in New Bern, but watching his songwriting flourish and blossom in the past few years has been delightful.  Caudle has an October 12 release date on his debut solo album, Tobacco Town, from which two songs have already been released.

Caleb's solo endeavors have a markedly different feel than The Bayonets, there's a far heavier focus folk rather than Americana, and quite frankly it's a style that Caudle's melodies may be better suited for.  Caudle has a wonderful way of making you feel like a part of his songs, it's a very open and unapologetic approach to songwriting that feels much more natural with a softly sung female harmony than an out and out rock song like some Bayonets tracks are.  But make no mistakes, there's still plenty of dynamic within these solo tracks, from the rise of "Blue or Gray" to the foot-stomping fiddle line that brings in "Midnight Beauty", Caudle has a certain sincerity in his voice that resonates throughout the listener.  Caleb Caudle will be celebrating his album release on October 12 with Lucero at Ziggy's in Winston Salem, NC.  Check out two tracks from his solo album below:

You can check out The Bayonet's Bottom String Session on our YouTube Channel

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hopscotch 2012: Matthew E. White - Brazos

As one of the most beautiful sets of Hopscotch was coming to a close, I had sense enough to pull out the camera to catch some of Matthew E. White's "One Incantation Under God" show at Fletcher Opera Hall, and boy did I pick the right time.  Matthew announced that this would be the last song and proceeded to ease into the 11 minute epic of "Brazos", the closer from his debut album Big Inner.  "Brazos" is the perfect snapshot of this set, it contains the sweet and subtle sounds that make White such a standout amongst today's scene.  He's mastered dynamics in a way that few today are able to, as his grandiose orchestration soars as proudly as his commanding vocal presence.  Matthew E. White radiated throughout the set, a fact that had a profound effect on the show, as a few songs in the crowd came to life at White's mention that the crowd could dance if they wished.  Watching the gradual sea of people shimmying their way down the isle to this groovy soul song was one of the highlights of my weekend.  Check out the full video of "Brazos" below:

The Big Picture debut new single, "The One Song We Can Sing"

The Big Picture is a fairly new project from former members of The Never, Lost in the Trees, and Annuals, and they're a band that's comprised of countless influences that have been blended into one eclectic combination of electronic, rock, and hip-hop that creates a cacophonous yet delightful product.  Featuring DJ Gonzo on percussion, the band juxtaposes his electronic influence with the heavy pop base of Jonny and Joah Tunnell.  Throw in dual vocal duties from Jonny and Sarah Fuller and you've got a recipe for excellence, as the two's voices pair together wonderfully to serve as the perfect foreground for Gonzo's dense soundscape.

The band released two heavily lauded EPs as a part of the Psychic Psalms series earlier this year (January and March respectively) which showcased their unconventional yet highly addictive sound.  Since their initial releases, the band has recently debuted a brand new single, "The One Song We Can Sing" on WKNC's Local Lunch on Fridays (hosted by yours truly).  The band recently finished filming a video for the single as well which can be found below:

[You can also find the band's Bottom String Session here]

Monday, September 10, 2012

Show Review: Hopscotch 2012

Matthew E. White @ Fletcher Opera Hall
After three long days, thirty two bands, and minuscule amounts of sleep, Hopscotch has yet again drawn to a close.  While the festival persevered through its first big encounter with weather issues (a cancelled set form Escort and a postponed set from The Roots), it was damn near impossible to dampen the spirits of the Hopscotch attendees who continued to bounce from venue to venue with childlike excitement.  This year's festival boasted far more diversity and depth than previous installments, evidenced by  Friday night's Pour House lineup ending with Corrosion of Conformity and Dan Deacon, or going from the jangly indie pop of T0W3RS to the pantsless punk rock wonders of NOBUNNY on Saturday at the Contemporary Art Museum.

Hopscotch has outdone itself once again, and while I lay in bed trying to recollect all of the joys of Hopscotch, I can't help but feel a striking sense of pride for the city I now call home.  Hopscotch is the perfect display of North Carolina's tightly knit scene and Raleigh's opening community, it's hard not to walk down a block at Hopscotch without seeing a familiar face from the crowd or a band member who's set you're still enamored by.  Quite frankly, Hopscotch is a surreal weekend for me, an absolute music marathon that's filled with the finest local acts peppered throughout a lineup packed with talent.

A full festival review and photos are below:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hopscotch 2012 Itinerary

Hopscotch is merely a day away and the anticipation is palpable throughout the Triangle.  It's hard to go many places without hearing or seeing something about the upcoming festivities, and quite frankly I can't express how proud it makes me to call Raleigh my home.  While the shows have yet to begin I've already immersed myself within the joys of Hopscotch festivities.  I'll be broadcasting my weekly Local Lunch shift of WKNC on Friday from Wristband City, so between arranging interviews and sessions for the blog and the radio station, Hopscotch has taken up quite a bit of my days, and I'd not have it any other way.

Between the plethora of Day Parties and the diverse festival lineup, it'd be pretty damn hard to not be able to find something you enjoy throughout any of the next 3 days.  It may be a bit daunting to decide on a schedule, especially if you've already waited this late, but we'll help you navigate through the sea of bands to find exactly what you're looking for.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Show Review: Music on the Mountaintop 2012

Photos by : Emily Ritter
Music on the Mountaintop was a wonderful and unique festival experience that didn't quite live up to the expectations I'd had, but at none of the festival's fault.  Leaving for Music on the Mountaintop after my radio shift meant that I'd already be missing River Whyless on Friday, but all was well as long as I'd gotten to see Dr. Dog.  Well a 13 mile back-up on I-40 prevented that from happening, but I did stop off in Boone for Friday night to catch a Possum Jenkins set at Boone Saloon that served as the perfect precursor for the day to come, filled with beautiful weather, excellent music and a fantastic scenery to boot.  I arrived around 1:00 on Saturday afternoon following an incredible breakfast at Melanie's in Boone ready to film a River Whyless session.  However, we put the session off for later in the day in lieu of the upcoming Naked Gods set.

Naked Gods stuck out stylistically on Saturday's bill, they were by far the most boisterous band of the day with a set filled with attention grabbing hooks, pounding rhythms and a frenetic display of raw energy from the band members.  The band debuted a new song, "written in the style of Guided By Voices" for an upcoming compilation, and another new Naked Gods song as well.  While the band stuck out on the bill, they stuck out on the stage as well.  They captivated the crowd of bluegrass loving festival goers and put on one of the day's best sets.

Walking around the festival grounds and searching for a place to shoot our River Whyless session gave me the chance to really immerse myself in the scenery, and I've got to say that Music on the Mountaintop has one of the most fantastic set-ups I've seen at a festival.  A shuttle bus that runs straight to a grocery store, campgrounds conveniently placed near beautiful streams, hot showers, and most importantly a gorgeous horizon of endless mountains, what's not to love about it?