It's that time of the year where all I can think about is napping in the middle of a field surrounded by fantastic people and even better music. Shakori Hills is a mere three days away and if you're anything like me you've already begun to work out exactly who you'll be seeing on a day-to-day basis, leaving a few wildcards up your sleeve of course to check out the next Shakori buzz-band that you'll surely miss on your first glance. The weather looks absolutely incredible for a laid-back weekend of grassroots goodness, and I for one can barely contain my excitement for the stellar lineup that will be out in Pittsboro this weekend.
Thursday The festival always kicks off with a celebratory opening ceremony, consisting of festival reps taking the main stage and giving a run-down of the general housekeeping items on the line for the weekend. Surely a focal point of this weekend's festival will be the recent purchasing of the Shakori grounds, a massive cause for communal celebration from folks that have long been viewing Shakori Hills as a cultural institution here in the Triangle-area. After the ceremony things will get off to a slow, but serene start with acts like Home Remedy and Driftwood filling up the early evening hours. Home Remedy is an acoustic trio that blends traditionalism with a modern sheen while Driftwood brings some ineffable harmonies and soothing melodies to the farm for their first of three sets. Driftwood has become a Shakori staple in recent years and they'll be playing three of the four days of the festival, it's always nice to catch a bit of Driftwood here and there throughout the weekend, it keeps everything fresh and allows you some pretty nice anchoring points for your schedule so that it isn't such a swift change in musical stylings. After Driftwood comes the first of many Donna The Buffalo sets of the weekend. Checking out at least one Donna set is almost obligatory, they're the folks that helped organize the grassroots festival circuit and pretty succinctly sum up what it means to be out at Shakori Hills. "The Herd," a name that Donna fans have lovingly adopted for themselves, will swear by the band, surely converting hundreds of newcomers to the jangly, dance-tunes of this zydeco-driven group. The sounds of washboards and accordions will fill the air plenty of times this weekend, but it's usually worth checking out at least a few times. Their late night sets are quite frankly where it's at, so I'll likely be soaking this set in from the comfort of Camp Honeybadger.
As Donna ends at 9:00 pm, the first day of music makes its transition into the nighttime, one of absolute highlights of the festival. While it's always incredible to soak in the gorgeous weather and laid-back tunes, the night-time is when the festifreaks come out and the dancing gets "turnt up" as the kids are want to say. Theres tons of excellent stuff to choose from on Thursday night, starting out with afrobeta at Carson's Grove. Afrobeta is a dance-duo from Miami with exuberant dancebeats and poppy song structures to make for a high-energy kick off to the night's festivities. This will be an excellent set, but it's probably best to check out something else instead of hitting up the whole set, as they'll be tearing it up late-night on Friday. There's two big conflicts for night one, and the first one strikes after afrobeta in choosing between the notorious Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the swiftly rising Dr. Bacon. Dirty Dozen Brass Band bring absurdly danceable jazz stylings to the masses, gaining fame from their work with acts like Modest Mouse, Widespread Panic and Elvis Costello. Coming straight from New Orleans, their style meshes funk, swing and bebop together for a positively incredible sound. Dr. Bacon on the other hand will be melting faces in the Cabaret Tent with their self-described "Appalachian soul-grass sounds." The band contest winners played to an ever-increasing crowd last fall and that popularity will surely bleed over into their late-night debut this Spring.
Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba
The next big decision comes in the form of two standout local acts of incredibly different sounds. Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba hold a special place in my heart, they're the first world music act I ever saw at Shakori and it left me totally enamored with the genre. After finding out that they're from Carrboro my mind was blown and my heart was set in checking them out at every possible chance. These guys bring incredibly passionate music to the stage that contains as much joy for your heart as it does for your dancin' shoes. However, this vivacious blend of west African rhythms will be going up against the heart-wrenching stylings of Des Ark at the Cabaret Tent. The last few times I saw Des Ark at Shakori it was absolute serenity, Aimée Argot has a voice that tugs at your heartstrings with lyrics that contain visceral emotionality, simultaneously gorgeous and downtrodden. Des Ark may not be your typical late-night set, but since this is their only performance of the weekend I'll most definitely be winding down my night with Argot's sweet sounds.
Friday Things get off to a mighty early start at Shakori, or at least it feels like such when you've woken up from a night filled with late fireside chats and drum circle jams. But the early morning yoga is a nice way to ease yourself into the day. I've never gotten the chance to make it out there, but dammit do I want to this time! After your early morning routine is over, Ranford Almond will be taking the main stage at 10:30 am. Almond represents one of the most interesting parts of Shakori, the wildly diverse lineup. He's a thirteen year-old guitarist with smooth fingerpicking and a weathered voice beyond his years. The young guitarist has already honed his chops at MerleFest and various other high-profile performances and he'll surely become a Shakori staple. Seeing this young artists year in and year out provides an awesome experience of watching these acts grow as musicians. Don't miss out on these unique performances! After Almond comes one of the most promising young bands in North Carolina, Morning Brigade. They pull heavy influence from orchestral folk acts like Lost in the Trees and produce an entrancing blend of music that's full of passion, intensity and most importantly, talent. This is one of their two sets of the weekend and will serve as an excellent transition into the early afternoon events. Checking out Morning Brigade should surely be on your to-do list if you're out at the farmlands this early. Hopping over to Carson's Grove for the Fiddle/Banjo/Guitar/Mandolin competition always provides an awesome excuse to lay out a blanket and soak in the sun, so take that opportunity whenever you can get it! Things are pretty low-key throughout the afternoon, but there's another must see one-time set that takes place at 3:30 on Carson's Grove from the Virginia based folk group The Last Bison. The Last Bison are similar to Morning Brigade in their grandiose folk leanings, blending chamber-leaning instrumentation with beautiful lyricism to make for an incredible aesthetic experience on these dazzlingly gorgeous farmlands. The band brings anthemic choruses to the table, further driving home their intense dynamism and awe-inspiring compositions.
After The Last Bison, festival goers are left with a wide array of local choices. Tonk takes the stage at Carson's Grove at 5:00, bringing their classic honky-tonk style to what'll surely be a wildly excited group of fans. Tonk are a band that's got a pretty dedicated following around the Triangle, so don't be surprised to see some folks that are totally enamored by this jangly act that brings classic country stylings to a modern fanbase. At 5:30 Clockwork Kids will bring their brand of atmospheric indie-rock to the Cabaret Tent, showing off their melody driven tunes from their recently released full-length Rememory. But my attention is drawn straight towards the local all-star jam of Phil Cook & The Guitarheels at 5:30 on the Meadow Stage. Cook is a member of the folk-giants Megafaun and his solo work combines a bit of the traditional folk stylings with contemporary compositions, bridging the gap between fans of classic and modern tunes. Phil Cook will be joined by Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange), Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver), his brother Brad Cook (Megafaun), Bobby Britt (Town Mountain), James Wallace (Mount Moriah), and Terry Lonergan (Hiss Golden Messenger) to make for a band filled with some of the region's most talented and renown musicians. This is one of my can't miss sets for the weekend and I'd recommend you put it on your shortlist as well.
After Cook it'd be wise to retreat to the campsites and prepare yourself for a long night of high-energy tunes. I'll likely stuff my face with some duck fat tots and lounge around Honeybadger for a few hours before checking out some of the Indigo Girls. I never got too into this group, but it'd be criminal to miss out on a Grammy-winning folk group when you get the chance. After that the evening will kick into full effect with the Bulltown Strutters, a massive 20-person band that will be filling the Dance Tent with positive vibes and infectious dance grooves. From there it's off to Spam All-Stars at the Main Stage, a 9-piece "Miami fusion" band that blends Latin stylings with funk, hip-hop and electronica for an amalgamation of styles that results in one possible reaction...mindless dancing. It'll be nice to take in a lot of this high-energy act and then bounce on over to Carson's Grove for Toon & The Real Laww, one of the Triangle's premiere hip-hop acts. The duo frequently performs alongside an incredible live band, and while I'm not sure as to whether they'll be doing so for Shakori, they still produce a highly energetic brand of hip-hop that's as lyrically driven as it is rhythmically. After Toon & The Real Laww bring their engaging hip-hop to Carson's Grove it'll be back to the Meadow Stage for Afrobeta's late-night performance, one that's sure to be a festival highlight. But don't get too wrapped up in their entrancing dance-grooves, as DJ Gonzo and Napoleon Wright II will be spinning classic hip-hop records and performing some highly danceable rap and R&B tunes back over at Carson's. There's a ton of music to check out on Friday night and the close proximity of the stages at Shakori lends itself to seeing a bit of everything, so step out of your comfort zone and soak in a ton of new music!
Check back in tomorrow for a round-up of Saturday and Sunday's festivities!