Monday, October 28, 2013

Show Review: Shakori Hills Fall 2013

Paperhand Puppet Parade at Shakori Hills on
Saturday, Oct. 12
As another Shakori has passed I'm left here to ponder upon the Shakori's of yesterday. I feel as if every time I leave this festival I find myself saying, "that was easily the best Shakori yet." With each visit to the Pittsboro farmlands I walk away with a new band to delve into, countless stories to tell and a seemingly unescapable stench of campfire. But regardless of how many times I have to wash myself and my clothes to get that smell out of my nose, Shakori is always a festival that I will hold dear to my heart due to its sheer capacity to permeate joy. It's damn near impossible to walk around those campgrounds without a smile on your face, whether that be from the pile of duckfat tots you just far too swiftly consumed or the breathtaking music you just stumbled upon, there's always something to be glad about at Shakori.

This year I was particularly glad we weren't greeted with any heavy downpours as it has been wont to do. Most of the festival was characterized by gray fall days, a welcomed difference from the usual sporadic nature of the weekend. Maybe it's just because with each festival I become more prepared for nature's unforgiving ways, but this fall was easily one of the most carefree weekends I've spent at Shakori. Although there was a good bid of on-and-off rain when I arrived on Thursday afternoon it was just enough to cozy up under a tarp canopy and take in the sounds of the Meadow Stage as it poured into the woods.

The Brand New Life opened the festival and it was as mesmerizing an experience as I'd remembered. The band is characterized by jaunting melodic changes to their jazz-based Afrobeat tunes and always serves as a brilliant display of some stunning musical talent. After The Brand New Life took the stage I was off to lend a hand with camp set-up, meaning I missed quite a bit of the early evening festivities. By the time I made it over to the Cabaret Tent to take in what I'd hoped to be Virgins Family Band, they'd already broken down but thankfully Driftwood was showing off their incredible folk songs on Carson's Grove stage so my heartache was briefly soothed. Morning Brigade came up next and served as a fantastic way to transition into Thursday night. The Cabaret Tent was moderately crowded for the band's set which consisted of grand displays of their rich melodies, powerful lyricism and compelling instrumentation.

Compa came up next and kicked the evening into the right late night direction. While my earlier sets had been filled with luscious folk music, Compa brought their vibrant rhythms to the Dance Tent and got the blood flowing as the night began to get chilly. I didn't stay for too much of Compa as they were playing multiple times throughout the weekend and DJ Bill Kelly was getting ready to take over Carson's Grove stage. Bill Kelly is a figurehead of the electronic dance scene in Miami, which is home to one of the largest electronic festivals in the country with Ultra. Bill Kelly slung a wide variety of dance tunes that brought thumping bass and roaring percussion to the otherwise serene farmlands. DJ Richard McVay was saved for another night though and I headed back to Camp Honeybadger for one of my many ridiculously cozy tent sleeps throughout the weekend.

- Grant G.

Peter Lamb & The Wolves
Few things are as fantastic as waking up in the middle of the woods surrounded by people you adore. That's thankfully how I was able to spend my entire weekend, and with the weather staying moderately comfortable throughout the weekend I must say that Shakori began to feel more like paradise as each day progressed. The day kicked off relatively early as I checked out some of the festival's fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin competition, a nice and relaxing way to take in some music but not exert too much energy. Shakori must be treated like a marathon, you can't sprint through the dancy shows, you've got to make sure you'll be able to get down on Saturday night the way you'll truly want to. Thus, Friday consisted of a lot of low-key sets during the day. I caught some of Mipso's set at the Dance Tent, an excellent display of this bands continued maturity. In previous years I've been a bit confused by how heavily lauded this band is, but they're truly coming into their own with a more definite sound. They're sitting comfortably between traditional bluegrass and the contemporary, poppier approach that many have taken.

Mipso was an excellent precursor to the second Morning Brigade set of the festival. While the band still put on a stellar set, Carson's Grove sometimes swallows up bands who don't get a ton of people out at their show. Unfortunately, that's what happened with Morning Brigade. While their Cabaret Tent set was one with a palpable sense of excitement, Carson's Grove felt a little less vibrant than the night before. There was a brief break in music for me before I got to check out one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend. Peter Lamb & The Wolves took to the Dance Tent right after a swing dance workshop which lead to one of my favorite vibes of the weekend. A hefty sized crowd gathered in the Dance Tent to twirl, shout and sway to the tender sounds of "that mellow saxophone" played oh so sweetly by Peter Lamb. Few acts have captured my attention the way Peter Lamb & The Wolves do, they're a gem of the North Carolina scene that deserves far more attention than they're receiving.

While I'd planned on checking out some of Brett Harris, a few late arrivers to the campsite led to some more set-up assistance. However, this set-up perfectly ended just as Auxiliary House was beginning to take the stage in the Dance Tent. I'm not quite sure what I expected from Auxiliary House, but what I got was easily the highlight of my Shakori weekend. The massive Trekky house band was comprised of the bulk of the original Lost in the Trees lineup, Martin Anderson and Josh Kimbrough all donning festival ready attire and bandanas and slinging some overwhelmingly awesome music. This Trekky collective brought a grandiose arrangement of instruments to some seriously catchy indie rock tunes. Horns and strings alike were on display as Auxiliary House wowed an ever increasing crowd of Shakori attendees. By the time the band left the stage the crowd was going bonkers, leading to them performing a riveting last minute arrangement of "Goodbye (Like A Stranger) by Butterflies. Everyone I was joined by shared our collective "holy shit that was so incredible" moment and headed over to see Bombadil on Carson's Grove.

Now Bombadil is absolutely one of my favorite local bands and Shakori is truly one of the most perfect settings to see them. Their quirky yet heartfelt sound perfectly coalesces with the vibes given off at Shakori. Their set was filled with new songs from Metrics of Affection and peppered with old favorites, and while everything was stellar I was obviously still reeling from the Auxiliary House performance because I left their set in favor of something a bit more high energy. However, make no mistake that Bombadil--even with their truncated 3-man lineup--is still a local force to be reckoned with. But when there's a 9-piece funk band performing within earshot it's going to be hard to keep my attention regardless of how good you are.

Orgone put on a stunning show filled with guttural funk driven tunes that were powered by a robust rhythm section and a commanding female vocalist. I kind of threw my "Shakori is a marathon" mantra out the window for this show, because that's what the funk will do to you. After a little too much dancing I trekked back through the woods in front of Meadow Stage to take in the sounds from afar at Camp Honeybadger. A fireside concert is easily one of my favorite parts of this entire festival. Camp close to the stage folks, because it makes for some ridiculously cozy nighttime shows.
- Grant G.

Shirlette Ammons
It barely rained on anyone’s parade at Shakori Hills, and as the Puppet Parade stomped, and drummed, and danced through the farm, the drizzle was an afterthought.   Shakori is, in every sense of the word, a festival.  A four day carnival of art, music, and well thought out fun.  The step away from day to day life is welcome, and offers a real chance to feel like more than just a visitor.  The amount of opportunity to participate at Shakori is overwhelming, and adds not only to the family friendly atmosphere, but the sense of contributing to the greater good.  It is a fine tuned machine, that graciously lets you take part, and pats you on the back afterward.  As kids donned puppet heads of colorful birds, and girls twirled jelly fish umbrellas over their heads, it was hard not to wonder why there aren’t more parades in life, and how in the world do so many amazing props come to be?  From the giant sunflower faces, to the somber, aged face of a weathered gentleman puppet, to the jaunty green mesh arms of dancing plants, the puppet parade snaked its way through Shakori leaving “wows” and head bobbing in its wake.

The art doesn’t stop at the handmade puppets, or the salsa dancing workshops, it doesn’t even stop with the bands that are ready to throw down.  Not only is there a chance to participate, but to share.  The poetry slam took place under cloudy skies, and with a mood more fit for a coffee shop than a jaunty tent.  With Shakorians sprawled across the wooden floor, and perched in lawn chairs, there were snaps, cheers, and maybe some tears to be seen.  While the poets were rated, the focus was not on the “winner,” but on the pride and courage of the poets.  Poetry slams require not only an energetic poet, but an engaging audience.  With poems about heart break, defiance, and even a sexy take on love of food and wine, this slam showcased the wide array of attendees.  From young love, to weathered experiences, the slam was full of twists and turns.  Many festivals are “reactive,” in the sense that you can start a chant, a chain of high fives, and bask in a sense of impromptu community.  Shakori has always stood apart as particularly engaged, and on a rainy Saturday, it felt good to see so many people “plugged in.” 

While the days at Shakori are beautiful, and full of giant bubbles being chased by kids, fun workshops and (of course) music- the night life is steadily picking up.  From the drum circle, to the newly introduced vinyl tent, it is not hard to shake your ass at Shakori.  It’s like the house party you wish your friends would throw- except better.  After seeing Auxillary House on Friday, it was hard to think that Saturday night might live up to the kick off of the weekend- and then Shirlette Ammons let everyone know that you should never doubt a good time.  As a true lover of female artists (and feminism everywhere) my jaw hit the floor, and I wondered how I had survived all this time without being a super fan.  How had anyone survived really… and yes, actually, all genres of music can be accepting of women, thank you very much.  Shirlette brought the party, and the tent geared up, with dancing, call outs, and a general sense of friendly debauchery.  Shirlette has a powerful presence, and you did not want to leave her hanging when it was time to sing along with "Eatin' Out."  It was a “dance so hard you almost spill your beer” kind of party, but with a startling fresh, and accurate take on the world around us.  Funny, witty, and full of insight, you’ll find yourself mulling over some lyrics long after you’ve slept off the beer.
- Emily R.

Although the day was filled with a variety of music ranging from the sweat-soaked dance party that is Suenalo to the bluegrass-based jams of Yonder Mountain String Band, much of the music on Saturday lived in the wake of Shirlette's set. Elastic Bond won me over with a sweet, high energy Eurythmics cover of "Sweet Dreams" and Dub Addis' soulful reggae rhythms had me swaying to and fro, but I was left with a bit of a bitter taste after one of my favorite Shakori acts. When Holy Ghost Tent Revival took the stage and boasted an extended lineup with two female vocalists I was immediately drawn in to this clearly special presentation from these festival favorites. However, what I stuck around for was a bit more drab than anticipated, the usual spunk and spark of Holy Ghost was gone and instead they put on a more subdued set. While the word around Shakori is that things picked up as the set progressed, I found myself a bit bothered by the slow start to what's usually a raucous set of sing-a-longs and dance grooves.
- Grant G.

Sundays at Shakori are nothing short of bliss. There's a palpable sense of elation in the air, as people begin to pack their things and leave the farmland those that are staying throughout the day tend to settle down and soak in all of the beauty that surrounds them. Whether that be sprawling out in the grass and napping through the down-tempo early morning jams or getting in the last of your funk-fueled dance grooves, there's just something peaceful about Shakori's closing day. I caught bits of various acts throughout the day as I gradually packed up my campsite and car, which is by far the best way to do things as you're preparing for your departure. Bits of Driftwood and Kamara Thomas provided a soothing distraction from the heavy loads and countless runs to the car for things you forgot that you already packed up. During one run back to the car though I had to immediately drop my belongings for Tom Maxwell & The Minor Drag, a low-key act that should have been receiving far more attention on a sleepy Sunday. For those that don't know, Maxwell is a former member of one of North Carolina's first indie break-outs, Squirrel Nut Zippers. Maxwell's new project maintains a lot of that swing music style that propelled the Zippers to fame, but there's a new sense of motivation and energy within his new project. I reveled in a handful of Maxwell's lively songs before finishing up with the packing and heading over to check out more of Elastic Bond.

One thing about Shakori I enjoy is the wide array of settings that you can see these acts in. While Elastic Bond felt like a larger than life dance party on the preceding night, their wild antics felt more subdued in the daylight. Sure there's still plenty of folks hopping and swaying to their tantalizing rhythms, but you get the sense that a lot of folks don't have much left in the tank after a night filled with booze-fueled dance routines. Chock me up in the latter category, but Elastic Bond's set at the Meadow Stage still got me to stop stuffing my face with ducktots long enough to crank out a few moves. International Blues Exchange laid on the other end of this day and night spectrum, as their daytime set was far more my speed on Sunday. Sidi Touré left me in awe of his effortless talent and as always broke the language barrier through his magical gift of music. Combining Southern style fiddle and washboard with Africanized rhythms and instruments made for an excellent Sunday afternoon

But everything paled in comparison to Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Even whilst sitting Randolph kicked out some nasty blues riffs on his slide guitar, shredding harder than anyone I'd seen all weekend. Once he left the chair behind the show got even more lively, despite the slight mist that had begun to come down the fans sang and swayed on to Randolph's invigorating tunes. I made my way out of the farmlands as Robert Randolph was winding down his set, and much like in previous years began my six month long countdown until I could make my way back to the motherland. Shakori feels like home in every sense of the word, you're surrounded by people you love in a comforting and open environment. There's delicious food, fantastic music and more fun than one person should be allowed to have in one weekend. The only downside is having to wait six months to do this all over again.
- Grant G.

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