Sunday, April 28, 2013

Show Review: Shakori Hills Spring 2013

Paperhand Puppet Parade on Saturday at
Shakori Hills
Once again, eager festival goers made the trek to the gorgeous grounds of Shakori Hills for one of the most intimate and unique festivals on the circuit today.  Through tornado warnings and rapidly changing weather conditions, fans rallied for the music.  From April 18 - 21 a diverse array of incredibly talented musicians graced the multiple stages of Shakori Hills for one of my favorite festivals in recent memory.  There's something about the unity that comes from weathering a massive storm inside of the woods that makes for an incredible festival experience.  To hell with the muddy pants, to hell with the soaked clothes, last weekend was about the beautiful experience of connecting with individuals through the power of music.

That's one of the most fantastic things about this bi-annual festival, they've shed all of the pretensions that come with the festival circuit, nobody is vying to be the hippest, nobody is trying to shed light on the most obscure bands of the weekend.  These people are out here to share the timeless experience of witnessing live music from all over the world.  Acts came from lands as far away as Zimbabwe and Brazil and as local as Pittsboro and Chapel Hill to create a wonderful festival filled with good vibes and good times.

Keller Williams and The Travelin' McCourys
You couldn't ask for more perfect weather to kick off this long weekend of festivities.  I arrived just before the opening ceremony and got to catch a bit of the opening act of the festival Cyril Lance, but the first group that I was truly excited for was Hindugrass, an invigorating and fresh blend of bluegrass and Indian-fusion featuring string players from Lost in the Trees backing up the insanely talented John Heitzenrater as he took listeners on a musical adventure through various cultures.  Hindugrass was a fantastic start to the festival and served as a wonderful way to get prepared for the weekend's events.  Shortly after Hindugrass ended I made the quick transition to the main stage to check out Keller Williams & The Travelin' McCourys.  A sizable crowd gathered to see this blistering bluegrass crew that features of one of the jam-band scene's most adored guitar players.  It was fantastic to get the chance to see Keller work his acoustic magic live, but I stayed for a few brief songs before taking in the sounds from the comfort of my camp site.  Being able to relax in the woods and still have all of the music be perfectly audible is just another one of the fantastic perks of Shakori.  Shortly after Keller and The McCoury's ended I headed back to Carson's Grove to see Onward, Soldiers as their raw Americana tunes provided a sharp burst of energy to the evening.  Rambling through favorites like "Watery Grave" and "Monsters" Onward, Soldiers captivated the crowd with their energetic set of gritty and powerful tunes.  After Onward, Soldiers tore down the house at Carson's Grove I passed on the festival's staple set of Donna The Buffalo and headed back to the campsite where I ended up making the biggest mistake of the weekend and falling asleep before I got the chance to see Diali Cissokho.  I was kicking myself all weekend for missing this Dance Tent set, but thankfully I got to make it up with their second set later on in the weekend.

Dark Water Rising
Things got off to what felt like a late start on Friday, while there was morning yoga and hooping workshops throughout the early afternoon I didn't venture out into the festival's attractions until the 3:00 set from Dark Water Rising on the main stage.  Dark Water Rising is one of the band's that I'd probably have never found if it weren't for Shakori, but I'm certainly glad I did.  Their latest EP, Grace and Grit perfectly encapsulates the sound of this group.  Charly Lowry's vocals are commanding yet fragile, her voice is capable of soaring through the fields or playing on subtleties with softer, more gentle melodies. The group's soulful folk sounds were a fantastic start to the day and about halfway through their set I headed over to check out the Ben Miller Band at the Dance Tent.  The group blends blues and bluegrass with an endearing blast of energy, driving through captivating songs that were fleshed out with slide-guitars, a washtub bass and a whole lot of heart.  I briefly checked out David Wax Museum but didn't stay long as the impending thunderstorm of doom made me scuffle back to our tarp covered campsite for safety.  Apparently I made the right choice, as soon after I returned the bottom fell out.  Sometime during Loamlands' set the sound of the rain completely drowned out the music, upon learning of the tornado warning that was in effect I quickly realized why.  I stayed huddled away for most of the evening, only making it back out to see a few essential acts that wouldn't be performing again throughout the weekend.  Lizzy Ross Band put on a wonderful set that I caught the tail-end of, but the night was easily stolen by the deliciously funky sounds of Noot D'Noot.  Their frenetic blend of psychedelic rock with funk and soul makes for an incredibly engaging and danceable show, despite the puddles of mud that surrounded the stage, the fans were as enamored as I was by Noot D'Noot's fantastic set.  Brief spurts of rain continued throughout the night so I chose to take in The Beast's Big Band set from the comfort of my tarp-covered campsite, but the sounds were equally enjoyable.  Thankfully I would catch the group's lively set on Sunday afternoon to make up for the missed opportunity on Friday night.

Saturday's serenity, albeit a muddy one, was easily one of the weekend's high points.  The day started early with Loamlands taking the stage shortly before 11:00 and as their set went on, the sun began to peek out and warm up the chilly morning that started the day.  Loamlands was one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend for me, I'd been a massive Midtown Dickens fan so I couldn't wait to check out this fresh take on the southern sentiments found within the Kym and Will's music.  While this act was billed as a duo, Brad Cook (Megafaun) took over bass duties as Kyle Keegan (Lost in the Trees) filled in on drums for the majority of their set.  Loamlands provides a bit grittier of a take on the formula brought about by Midtown Dickens, the quirk is certainly still there with fantastic live sing-a-longs to Lyle Lovett and Roseanne Cash covers, but it feels like the group is a bit more in-tune with the intricacies in their music.  Songs are a bit more dynamic and harmonies are used more sparsely than in Midtown, but I must admit hearing these tunes got me incredibly excited for what's to come from this new group.  I hung around for a little bit of Trilogy and Apple Chill Cloggers, but the Paperhand Puppet Parade was easily the highlight of the daytime shows.  There's just something endearing about watching families and various festival goers of all ages bouncing around with massive squirrel heads and skull masks on, spreading their joy throughout the entire festival grounds.  Following a short return to the campsite I briefly took in the rustic sounds of Deep Chatham before I was making my way to the always incredible Locos Por Juana take over the Dance Tent.  While I'd get the bulk of my Locos viewing in for their Sunday set, their Saturday set was equally engaging as fans bobbed, swayed and went generally loco for this brilliant blend of urban and latin stylings.  All of the tent's festivities left me ready for some time at the campsite, so I made my return to the tunes when I saw Thousands of One at the Dance Tent just before Oliver Mtukudzi.  Thousands of One are a group I've enjoyed a few times at Shakori, and while the crew puts on a stellar show, sometimes the only downside to this festival is that you're getting a bit of the same stuff a little too frequently.  However, that doesn't mean that there weren't groups at Thousands of One straight getting down to their soulful, energetic take on R&B.

After taking in some of Thousands of One I had to head to the main stage to take in the heavily hyped sounds of Oliver Mtukudzi & The Black Spirits, this Zimbabwean icon was nothing short of incredible as his songs seamlessly blended elements from traditional African music with soulful pop to create an infectious sound that compelled the crowd to let go and be the beat.  Droves of fans packed in close to the Meadow Stage to immerse themselves in these fantastic tunes and as I joined in on the dancing I realized that this was one of those defining Shakori moments that everyone hopes for.  Acts like Oliver Mtukudzi are the backbone of this festival, they're heavily lauded acts that are transplanted to this remote farm in a rural North Carolina county and suddenly the language barrier is gone.  While fans may not understand all of the lyrics, the passion and talent on display is as universal as the polyrhythms and sharp instrumentation that has compelled these festival goers to release their inhibitions and let the music take them over.  Oliver Mtukudzi was a fantastic way to kick off the late-night sounds of Shakori, as DJ Bill Kelly and Equanimous Minds took the festival in an entirely different direction.  Electronic music doesn't find itself at Shakori very frequently, but when it does it is usually in the form of the groundbreaking music of Equanimous Minds.  While the last performance they gave at Shakori left little room for improvement, the group has somehow outdone themselves by adding in an electric fiddle to the mix, fleshing out the already dense layers of spastic percussion and pounding bass lines.  While DJ Bill Kelly was a fantastic way to warm up the excited Dance Tent, nothing compared to the set from Equanimous Minds on Saturday night.  Bopa King Carre's blazing percussion breaths life into the beats on display from DJ Adam Sikora.  Transfusing house beats with the organic sounds of various hand drums, Equanimous Minds had festival goers of all ages dancing until the wee hours of the morning.  While the transition from DJ Bill Kelly to Equanimous was seamless, I found myself eager to escape the dance tent to check out the last bit of Dirty Bourbon River Show at Carson's Grove before DJ Richard McVay took the stage.  I caught the last three songs of Dirty Bourbon's set and their raucous carnival-esque stylings had the crowd worked up into a fit of uncontainable excitement.  Through quirky and bouncing tunes about topics as flippant as their impressive facial hair, Dirty Bourbon displayed their immense levels of talent through their absolute control over this anxious crowd.  After their set I checked back on DJ Richard McVay, but sadly the set felt more like college night at the club than late night at Shakori, as an MC awkwardly rapped through songs from Gnarls Barkley and various other pop/soul acts that simply don't need to be rapped over.  My late night adventure ended with a trip to the drum circle which was called short after I saw a girl nearly fall into the fire.  Bad vibes, man.

Yomira John w/ The Beast on Sunday
Sunday is always a bittersweet day at Shakori.  While it's lately been a dreary day filled with rain, this year's Sunday was the exact opposite.  Things began to warm up again and I found it hard to gradually pack up the campsite and make the transition back into the real world.  An early morning set from The Tender Fruit was a fantastic way to start the peaceful day, Christy Smith's simplistic, heartfelt tunes were the perfect fit for a serene Sunday morning on the farm.  After her set I made a spirit mask with my lady friend, an awesome way to kill some time on a gorgeous day, but shortly after that it was back to the Meadow Stage for Diali Cissokho.  Diali's music is some of my absolute favorite that's coming out of North Carolina today, Diali's songs ooze with passion and command your attention.  Complicated rhythms line these songs, it's hard to focus on which aspect of the music to pay attention to.  Do you listen to Cissokho's mesmerizing kora mastery or John Westmoreland's entrancing guitar skills?  Do you focus on the smooth bass of Jonathan Henderson or the thick percussion layed down by Will Ridenour and Austin McCall?  There's no wrong answer and that's why this band is so good.  Every single layer of their music is just as compelling as the other.  To put it simple, Diali Cissokho & Kairaba are one of if not the most talented group in North Carolina.  Period.  While it's hard to follow up an act as incredible as this, The Beast & Yomira John went above and beyond the expectations.  The Beast's socially conscious lyricism provides the perfect backdrop for the jazzy yet danceable instrumentation on display from the band.  Yomira John helped add a latin flare to the already diverse gang of musicians, adding a tangible chemistry to the stage between Pierce Freelon and the Brazilian songstress.  The two leaders engaged in fantastic onstage antics that excited the crowd of eager listeners.  Tracks like "Translation" delved into exciting new territory with Yomira joining the group, making for an unforgettable set from this insanely talented local group.  The last set of the day came early for me this year, as unfortunately the week after Shakori was hell week for me in classes, but ending the festival with an incredible set from Locos Por Juana was the best way to do it.  The band effortlessly controlled the ebb and flow of the crowd, permeating positive energy throughout the Meadow Stage.  Singing for everyone from the kids around the world to the kids that were dancing their hearts out at the front of the stage, Locos Por Juana brought an eclectic group of individuals together for uninhibited dance of its purest form.

Looking throughout the crowd at Locos Por Juana provided the perfect snapshot of the Shakori weekend.  Dreadlocked hippies and mud-covered bros alike were shedding their preconceived notions of what genre is hip, they were losing their care of who sees them dancing in what sort of way and simply enjoying themselves.  Letting the rhythms take over. That's what keeps bringing me back to Shakori, a sense of kinship among complete strangers.  So once again, I sit here only a week out of this fantastic festival and I've already begun to count down the days until I can do it all over again.

1 comment:

  1. Your way with words has me feeling as if I just went there with you and did it all with you.