Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shakori Hills Spring 2012 Review

Holy Ghost Tent Revival @ Carson's Grove
Photo Courtesy of Agatha Donkar
Shakori Hills couldn't have come at a more perfect time for this busy college student.  Popping up right before exams kick in, who wouldn't want to spend four days in the woods surrounded by incredible people and incredible music?  While Spring Shakori lacked some of the pull of a big name headliner and suffered from a day full of cold untimely rain, Shakori Hills once again pulled off a weekend full of excellent music with the most welcoming environment a festival could truly have.  The festival boasted and eclectic lineup filled with dance-y gems from bands like Rubblebucket and Equanimous Minds, hip-hop excellence from The Beast and Blitz The Ambassador, and some of the best local music you can find in the Triangle.

I took a bit of a hands on approach to this Shakori Hills and joined my roommate and girlfriend in volunteering for the festival...well kind of.  I went out the weekend before the festival in an attempt to talk with some of the organizers on the origins of Shakori, but as I should have known everyone was in Showzilla mode and it just resulted in a day of lending a hand.  I wouldn't have had it any other way.  There's something about the community at Shakori Hills that just keeps festival goers coming back for more, and you can find that at it's roots with these volunteers.  Hammering stakes into the ground, assembling tents and wooden floors, hanging decorations from trees, there was a little bit of everything going on during these volunteer hours and it was an absolutely invigorating experience to be a part of.  All the way down to the chimes of the lunch bell ringing out through the grounds to call all of the volunteers in for a freshly cooked meal, this experience was just full of welcoming individuals.

I headed out to Shakori early on Thursday to set up the camp site, one that I spent arguably too much time at last weekend.  The few friends of mine who were already aware of the joys of Shakori rounded up a crew of our best friends from back home in New Bern, a group who left with an absolute sense of wonder at how such a gem of a festival was hiding right under their noses for so long.  The festival kicked off with a set from Driftwood, the band that stole many's hearts in the fall and once again failed to disappoint this year.  I got to catch a little bit of their set while setting up, but Thursday didn't really begin for me until Holy Ghost Tent Revival.  They're North Carolina favorites, and quite frankly Shakori Hills feels like home for the boys in HGTR, at least thats the vibe you get from the band whenever they take the stage on the farmlands.  The crowd gathered swiftly for this lively set from Holy Ghost, filled with the perfect mixture of new songs from their upcoming album, Sweat Like The Old Days (out on May 11 if I've been told correctly) and crowd favorites from their older releases.  One of the weekend's highlights was the Grove Stage being filled with crowd members for "Getting Over Your Love" in one of the most joyous sing-a-longs I've had the privilege of being a part of.  After Holy Ghost I caught a bit of Leftover Salmon's set before camping out at the Dance Tent in anticipation for Rubblebucket, the band that absolutely stole the weekend for me.  Rubblebucket was nothing short of a party, filled with soaring horns and a riotous dance party in the crowd, this band captivated every member of the audience.  There wasn't a still soul under the Dance Tent, the way it should be, for this indie pop group filled with world influence and polyrhythms.  Everyone lost their respective shit for the first "Heart of Glass" cover that I saw this weekend, and as the band left the stage a wave of realization came over me, "I'll probably never see a set like this ever again."  The band is truly one of a kind, but the perfect fit for Shakori Hills.  Diali Cissokho & Kairaba closed out the night on the Meadow Stage, a set I caught one or two songs of before I dragged myself back to the campsite to rest up for a long, long Friday.

Curtis Eller
Photo Courtesy of Agatha Donkar
My day began with Ayr Mountaineers in the Dance Tent, and while I didn't stay too long for the music as I was more focused on catching Dark Water Rising, I did have an awesome realization of the family vibes sent out at Shakori.  I looked on the stage and saw people I'd recognized from the previous two Shakori's I had attended and remarked to my friend, "I've seen that guy everywhere at Shakori.  I didn't know he was in a band!  Awesome!"  It felt wonderful to share an experience like that at this festival, to realize that you'd have never known these people if you didn't share the same love of the arts.  The rustic sounds of Ayr Mountaineers soothed the soul, but the dancing sure to be had at Dark Water Rising drew me to the main stage.  A set that surprised me with Adele covers, I caught the first half of DWR before I headed to the campsite for lunch.  The stellar part of our campsite (Honey Badger, poo-tee-weet!) is that it's positioning is close enough to the main stage that you could wake up to music, fall asleep to music, or even hang out around the camp site all day and catch every single sound coming from the Meadow Stage.  A propane grill filled my belly with hot dogs and hamburgers for the weekend, but after filling myself full of food it was back out for more music.  The banjo mastery of Curtis Eller was absolutely wonderful, as was the rock-a-billy tunes from Mad Tea (Party), a band who dropped the last bit of their name to avoid confusion from another Tea Party that's gone certainly mad.

A stop back to Honeybadger was in order for some dinner and to help lend a hand with some late-comers tent set-up, but after that it was off to Carson's Grove for a beautiful set from Mandolin Orange.  Andrew and Emily sent the crowd into a daze with their beautiful harmonies and sweet dulcet tones.  It's still a bit odd seeing the band with an electric guitar, but it doesn't take away a single thing from this stellar North Carolina act.  Playing a wonderful mix of tracks from their recent double album as well as their debut record, Mandolin Orange was an absolutely wonderful way to spend the twilight hours at Shakori Hills.  A field full of festival goers who were laid out in the grass would most definitely agree.  Justin Robinson & The Mary Annetes were the band that I was most excited for on Saturday and I'll be damned if they didn't live up to every expectation I had.  The former Carolina Chocolate Drop wowed festival goers with his modernized tunes brought to the crowds via a plethora of instruments.  Starting your set with an autoharp is a surefire way to draw in a crowd, and this multi-instrumentalist led The Mary Annettes through an absolutely stellar set.  The crowd was graced with the second cover of "Heart of Glass" this weekend, one prefaced with Justin saying "If you don't know this song...ask your parents about it".  I once again danced my little ass off to a Blondie cover (with no shame whatsoever) and left Carson's Grove feeling like I could leave the festival then and there and be absolutely satisfied with everything.  Catching the rest of Galactic Cowboy Orchestra was another phenomenal idea, this "new grass art-rock" band left me speechless with their sheer talent and originality.  However, Friday's highlight was Durham's The Beast, through and through.  This jazz hip-hop group played late into Friday night with a set filled with wonderful covers (including Beck and Outkast) as well as conscious and thought provoking originals.  Watching the crowd dance their troubles away left me with a feeling of whimsy, and while the band's energy far outlasted mine, I enjoyed the end of The Beast's set from the comfort of my campsite.  It was awesome watching my campsite slowly return with looks of absolute wonder on their face as they had clearly been just as taken aback by the talent displayed on the Meadow Stage...another one of the joys of Shakori Hills.  I was bummed to miss Dirty Bourbon River Show, but as fellow blogger and Honeybadger Kyle put it, "Dude you know exactly how the show went.  It was fucking wild."

Elephant Revival
Photo Courtesy of Agatha Donkar
Saturday, the day everyone was either anxiously awaiting or hoping wouldn't come.  The forecast was scheduled for scattered showers throughout most of the night, but thankfully the weather gods held off and only gave us a slight drizzle throughout the day and a mostly clear night while the music lasted.  I caught bits of Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, as their set on Friday was far too excellent to not check them out.  This is a band I'm dying to hear more of (which quite frankly I'll probably check them out when they play New Bern's stellar venue Broad St. Social Club this summer), as their unique stylings lend itself to frequent one of a kind sets filled with an absolutely breath taking display of talent.  I caught the end of the Earth Day Parade before checking out what I could of Elephant Revival (alas that afternoon shower sent me scrambling back to my campsite with a camera in tow), but from what I saw the band was an absolute joy of a live act.  As the weather cleared up and the humidity set in it was off to the Dance Tent to sweat my ass off for yet another Holy Ghost Tent Revival set.  This one was just as raucous as Thursdays, but I dipped out of their early as to place myself right up front for Midtown Dickens.

It had been far too long since I'd gotten to see Midtown, but Shakori always serves as an excellent venue for the band.  Last Spring I stood in the cold, pouring rain with no jacket to catch their set, but thankfully the weather held up for this one!  They played standouts from their new album Home as well as old favorites that got the seated crowd to stand up and dance their hearts out with "It's Alright" from their earlier LP, Lanterns.  Midtown Dickens feel like the perfect Shakori band, they've got a precise blend of knee-slappin', heart warming dance tunes as well as the slow churning ballads that tug at your heart strings, but still warrant crowd sing-a-longs.  A stop back to Honeybadger for some much needed food was in order after this, but from there on it was music, music, music.  The campsite came out in waves for a bit of Donna The Buffalo's set, but from then on it was a challenge to pick where to go and what to see.  I caught the beginnings of Bombadil's set at Carson's Grove stage, a set that I'd have loved to see more of, but once I heard the whimsical sounds of Suénalo bleeding over from the Dance Tent I knew where I needed to head out to.  Suénalo is a latin jam band that has a knack for making the crowd as equal a part of the show as the music is.  Festival goers were singing along to Spanish tunes and dancing their hearts out to these infectious jams from this funky blend of Latin-Jazz/Hip-Hop.  My friends who attended Miami Grassroots swore by Equanimous Minds as a unique and one of a kind act that I simply "MUST" see, and quite frankly I'm glad that I took their advice.  Equanimous Minds closed out the Dance Tent with a set that lasted until 3:00 a.m. but it was worth every second.  This unique electronic act blended the stylings of typical DJ's house music with a chest pounding percussive twist.  A DJ in the back of the stage with an entrancing set-up of percussion instruments towards the front, these two pounded through hours of dance music with the crowd being just as enthused as the band.  Glowstick equipped dancers raged through the night as Equanimous Minds stole the attention of the rest of the acts at this Grassroots festival.  It was unlike anything I'd seen before at Shakori and it was the perfect end to an incredible Saturday.

This is normally where I'd begin my Sunday write-up, but alas when I woke up on Sunday morning I had a tent that was filled with water due to a fault entrance zipper and apparently a not so effective rain catch.  With my blankets soaked and all of my clothes pretty damp as well, I started my Sunday off with a bit of food and a quick decision to pack up all of my stuff before the rain continued to worsen.  It sucked to miss out on stellar acts like Lydia Loveless, Lizzy Ross Band, and Greg Humphries, but after leaving Fall Shakori with Bronchitis I had zero intentions of repeating that for the Spring.  All in all Shakori Hills gained at least a dozen new devotees from Camp Honeybadger this Spring, but most importantly it provided the thousands in attendance with that wonderful release from the woes of everyday life.  Shakori Hills is like a 4-day vacation, a place to forget all of your troubles and just enjoy the simple things that life has to offer, friends, family, love, and music.  I said it after last Spring and I'll say it again, there is no way I'll ever miss another Shakori Hills.  But so begins the long, long countdown until October.


  1. This was my first experience at Shakori and it truly was amazing. Was the perfect place to forget my troubles and relax with great music and people. Really kid friendly as well. My four year old son had a blast. That was the best watching the smile on his face as he danced and played all weekend. We will be back :)

  2. Just don't get sucked into any of their "invest in the property" scams.