2012 Shakori Hills Grass Roots Festival of Music & Dance Review

Simply put, pretty, is the location.  Smiles, sounds and relaxation are the destination. To be more specific Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance is located approximately fifteen to twenty miles from the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and U.S. 64 outside of Pittsboro, North Carolina.  The central area of North Carolina is known as the Piedmont, which means “foot of the mountain.”  The geographical area surrounding Shakori Hills happens to be where the contour of the land really starts to roll and rise up from the flat land of the North Carolina’s coastal plain.

Surrounded by dairy farms with meadows of thick grass, forests of hardwood trees, grain silos and cavorting baby cows, by the time you get off the interstate, carve your way through country roads and get situated at the festival, there is a sensation of “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah..Welcome! Back” you ears cannot actually hear emanating from the land but your spirit can definitely feel.

With two main stages featuring plenty of grassy open area to spin and twirl to your heart’s delight, two tent stages for stomping and shuffling, along with several smaller, pull up a chair and sit a spell spots PLUS…a twenty-four hour a day coffee barn complete with muffins and snacks,  the music truly never stops.

History of the Festival

The festival’s mission is to purchase the farmland in order to promote community building and appreciation of the aesthetics found in multi-cultural art, music and dance through the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center. Shakori Hills presents educational outreach programs to surrounding schools that focus on the preservation of environmental beauty and the importance of sustaining local agriculture.

Folks interested in becoming more involved with Shakori Hills, through volunteering your time or by helping with fundraising, please or go to www.Shakorihills.org and poke around or call 1-919-542-1746.

Since Shakori Hills was founded for the purpose of community development, the festival is always a staunch supporter of many worthwhile advocacy groups.  With that in mind, the good people of The Appalachian Voice had a booth designated to remind folks that this is the 40th Birthday of the Clean Water Act.

If any of “yall’ think talk of clean water is just some treehugger do-gooding, study up on the hassles that billions of human beings in the Third World must overcome daily in order to simply have drinking water.   If the leopards, lions, hippopotamus, water buffalos or crocodiles that stake out the water sources, water sources that may or not be available due to drought, or gangs of rebel fighters waiting to enslave somebody or lop off a limb do not get you in Africa, the tigers of India will.

In some areas of India, tigers have taken to brackish or salt water as their source of water resulting in behavior changes that put the tigers and local human population at risk.  Less exciting than outrunning wild beasts and machete welding rebels, but still potentially fatal, are the diseases associated with nasty water such as dysentery. If you ever want to ruin your day and have a real appreciation of clean water, drink a few swigs of salt water and see what you get.

I once took a stand against overpriced bottled water at a Phil and Friends show by taking a few swallows from a faucet in the men’s room.  The venue was near a sound or brackish bay in Virginia and I knew as soon as I drank the water, something was up.  Not only was something up with that water but the contents of my stomach and digestive system were soon out. Sparing everyone the unpleasant details but never in my life had I ever had to endure such gastronomical distress.  On the bright side, I dropped nearly ten pounds over the next twelve hours.  Given the opportunity to revisit my choice of water, I had rather spent the seven dollars on a bottle of water and kept on the weight.

We here in the United States are not immune to having plenty of water as illustrated by the drought conditions that consumed much of North America this summer. As aged as the United States infrastructure is recognized to be, Third World water conditions may not be as far away as they seem. In areas where coal mining and mountain top removal is rampant, there are already Third World conditions concerning access to clean water.

A new potential threat to our water supply comes in the form of accessing natural gas deposits in a process referred to as fracking.  In a nutshell, fracking has to do with forcing water into the ground, thus creating enough pressure so that natural gas is released, captured and contained.  In turn, the water’s use for human consumption becomes at best questionable. If you choose not to take an active part in keeping our water supplies clean for yourself, your friends, your families, your pets or your favorite spots where you go to swim, fish, wade, float, boat, gig bullfrogs, stargaze, meditate or skinny dip, do it for the newts and salamanders.  For more details, check with our friends at www.appalachianvoices.org

Campout Carolina

Shakori Hills also works with Earthshare NC to spread the word about Campout Carolina.  Campout Carolina encourages folks to become more green by camping out and getting “off the grid”, even for only a weekend now and then.  Investigate the benefits of camping out at campoutcarolina.com.

”They are gonna be @$$hole deep up thar.”

This was the advice about the expected police presence at the festival given to me by one of the locals living in the area as I stopped at a nearby local convenience store.  I appreciated the heads up but really had no worries in regard to the local Sheriff, SBI, DEA, North Carolina Highway Patrol or any other law enforcement agencies. The members of those agencies are only trying to keep folks safe and prevent traffic fatalities due to drinking or preventing folks that cannot handle whatever substance of choice they may be choosing to abuse, from ruining the event and atmosphere of a festival or concert.

So, I have not been at the festival very long before I run into a buddy that I had not seen since 1993 at a Charlotte Grateful Dead show.  We started reeling off memories from that show and other concerts we had enjoyed before the topic of police around the festival area came up in our conversation.  Being local to the area, he had a seemingly accurate scoop on police presence at the festival.  He shared with me that a previous festival had caught the attention of the local authorities due to several underage drinkers overdoing and catching a big fat case of alcohol poisoning.  With a number of college campuses within an hour or so of the festival, underage binge drinking is no news flash or any reflection on the people that make Shakori happen.

This is just another example of a small number of people creating hassles for the larger group of people that are handling their business.  If your primary motivation in attending the festival is to get sloppy drunk for four days, please weigh the potential negatives outcomes.

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Handling their business, like I was when a pudgy middle aged male approached me and held a joint up in my face. I was standing out in front of the stage with the stage lights flickering and scribbling down notes about the band that was playing. “You wanna smoke this?” were the words from his mouth. “No.”, was my reply.  He followed with, “You gotta light?”  I did have a light in case some fire was needed for a campfire over the weekend.  I produced the lighter and held it up for this suspicious character that walked up out of nowhere, jammed a joint in my face and kept cutting his eyes between me and his young accomplice with very short hair.  The young guy seemed ill at ease and was doing more smiling over this situation than was deserved.

So at this point, I assess the situation as being I have got two undercover cops trying to arrest me for smoking some schwag that they were all too eager to provide, then jump me and cuff me.  Or, am I being paranoid about my two uninvited and popping up out of nowhere friends? Well, I might go with paranoid if the pudgy guy had not shown up a few months earlier at another much smaller festival, busted up into the campfire where my friends and I were sitting and introducing himself to everyone with great enthusiasm.  This gentleman was acting way too friendly while boldly asking about the whereabouts of “it”.  Whatever the %^&* “it” may have meant.

The previous encounter, he did not appear out of the dark bearing a joint for someone to smoke.  He stumbled into the campfire area appearing drunk, being loud and asking in a manner far from shy, “Hey everybody I am so and so from somewhere. Where is it at?”  The smart@$$ in me wanted to say, “If it was up your @$$, you would know where “it” was.” With the wisdom that time brings and having attended shows from literally coast to coast, I just walked away.

On this occasion, he was right in my grill waving a joint.  I held the lighter up for his benefit and he grabbed my wrist as if he thought I was going to punch him. I pulled my hand away, lit the lighter and moved the lighter slowly towards his joint.  His clean cut accomplice busted out laughing as his mentor or community service hours keeper upper, pretended to light the joint.

Now, who in the world walks around a music festival with a joint, no lighter and the inability to fire up the joint?  I can assure you, nobody I am going to spend time around.

The gentleman huffed, puffed and tried his “best” to light the joint.  He eventually turned to me and said, “I cannot light it. You try.”  I told him that I was working on a writing assignment about the festival and not there to smoke marijuana or drink any alcohol.  I also mentioned that I had heard rumors of undercover cops being around and that he and his buddy needed to be careful not to get caught breaking the law. His buddy laughed out loud and my friend with the joint had the expression of a student that had gotten caught cheating on a quiz. I then stepped off out of the darkness to a better lit area of the meadow in case they were going to trump up some BS, completely violate my rights and arrest me.

I do not often have two unknown and sketchy individuals approach me at a festival or concert; one shoving a joint in my face and then pretending he does not know how to light a joint while the other one laughs at a situation that could cost me my freedom and career; accost me at music festivals but when I do, I NEVER smoke their schwag.

Stay aware of your surroundings my friends!

The Drum Circle

Well, that is enough about outsmarting geeks bearing gifts and potential misdemeanor marijuana arrests and the potential of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Saturday night drum circle was a very kind example of being in the right place at the right time. Starting around two in the morning and shutting down at about seven when the sun was rising, the drum circle was everything a drum circle should be and more.

While central North Carolina is known for many things such as fine universities, fine hospitals, the best college basketball in the country, southern hospitality, the Appalachian Mountains being a few hours to the West and the Atlantic Ocean a few hours to the East, drum circles are all too rare in this part of North Carolina.

Those in attendance at the drum circle were enjoying the beats to the fullest and on their very best drum circle behavior.  The drums ranged from some sort of BIG Japanese drum, to tiny hand held shakers, to a mandolin and a five gallon bucket.  The lead drummers were not amateurs.  The lead drummers kept a SOLID beat going with their larger drums while intertwining the melody with smaller drums.  A couple of the drummers took turns in a similar fashion to a conductor leading an orchestra.  These conductors would point to a certain drummer to pick up the volume as well as address the rhythm and speed of the beat.

I would say there were a hundred or so people at the start of the drumming around two in the morning. By seven or seven thirty, I would guess there were still a good twenty folks hanging out.  That drum circle was just what the doctor ordered after nearly being entrapped into a marijuana arrest hours earlier.

Festival Food Economics 101

If you do not go old school and pack your own cooler with homemade sandwiches or have everyone pitch in for campsite and wallet friendly meals, the food vending is excellent at Shakori.  The folks running the food vending stands are definitely aware that they have a few thousand people, twenty miles or so away from a restaurant, for the better part of the week. I am not going to get too specific but one stand I would have frequented throughout the weekend, if they had been a little less capitalistic, leaps to mind.

This stand’s food looked good in the day and late at night; it looked really good and tasted even better.  The only drawback was a nasty fifty cents following a dollar amount that bothered me. In the overall picture of music festivals located miles and miles out in the woods, what is the value of fifty cents or even a dollar?  The value is that people see the extra fifty cents or dollar as being a bit much and do not return as customers.  A simple lesson in economics would be to drop the extra fifty cents or knock the price down a dollar per item, sell three items at a small mark down, get some good word of mouth advertising and have a customer come back happy three times rather than only once.

Cell Phones

For those folks that rely heavily on cell phones, smart phones or hand-held computers the service at Shakori Hills is close to non-existent.  Before gasping and thinking you cannot make it for a few days with little connection to the outside world, know that it is possible to go hours and even days with no cell phone.  It would have helped me with this article had I had my wireless connection but I like to do my writing with pen and pencil along with my writing pad.

Remembering well the days before technology had people dangling by an electronic device’s charging cord, it was heartwarming to see people interacting more with each other than with their phones. 

Musical Variety

The bands I checked out ranged from crystal, crisp bluegrass, to world beats, to sounds and songs that would satisfy the most faithful fans of Government Mule.  In addition some sounds were so creative, that they are not to be found in between that broad range.  There is no doubt that if an attendee of Shakori Hills spends some time away from their campsite, they will find a number of bands they never knew existed and that they will absolutely love. 

Several times over the festival I stumbled upon bands that made me think, “They have got to be my favorite band of the festival.” only to stumble across another band that becomes my new favorite of the festival. I would have to say I found approximately ten or twelve bands that fell into that category during the course of the weekend. 

Donna the Buffalo

Donna the Buffalo started the Grassroots Festival twenty years ago waaaaaaaaaaay up yonder outside of Ithaca, New York to raise money for local charities. With Tara Nevins on vocals while playing accordion, guitar, fiddle, zydeco percussion breastplate and providing an angelic voice along with Jeb Puryear on vocals and lead guitar, Dave McCracken wearing out the keyboards and the rhythm section of Kyle Sparks thumping on the bass and drummer Mark Raudbaugh keeping time, this band is easy to catch a number of times throughout the four days and always enjoyable. 

Donna the Buffalo, playing with a zydeco accordion master Preston Frank is the highlight of the festival for many in attendance.  Every year, Donna gives the people what they want to hear.  To sum their sound up is not an easy thing to do but psychedelic zydeco is not far off the mark.  To counter their zesty, high energy zydeco jams they also play many smooth, easy on the ears ballads about living the life you love and loving the life you live.

Mipso

As important as practice is to becoming an excellent musician or singer may be, this band has “it”.  “It” being whatever makes a person or group of people stand out from the crowd.  Standing out of the crowd is an understatement for this band. 

I had a random encounter with one of the members in the parking lot before their show. The encounter occurred at about 5:25 in the afternoon when the band was scheduled to play at 5:30.  The band member was so accommodating with their time despite having to hustle through the bushes and brambles to make it to the stage, I had no idea that I was talking to a performer. He took off running and by the time I made it to the stage, the band was already delighting the crowd.  They proceeded to play a few of their own tunes along with the Stanley Brother’s Angel Band and what seems to be a newgrass standard, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.

One of my personal highlights of the festival occurred in the dark, in a setting completely unexpected and not lending itself to hearing some of the most soulful bluegrass a person could hear.  Mipso was in the parking lot practicing in the dark, with no sheet music, standing on a sloping and slick hill and sounding like a very accomplished band way beyond their years.  Mipso has “it” on a well lit stage or in the dark on a grassy, slick slope.  If you are local to Chapel Hill or Pittsboro, check the local music calendar for the venue of their show in early November.

Jacob Jeffries Band

HOLY SMOKES ! ! !   I could leave this review with just a HOLY SMOKES ! ! ! to clearly indicate being blown away by this band, but I have to expand on the sets performed by the Jacob Jeffries Band. When listening, it is hard not to be reminded of Government Mule. Think Government Mule but more funky.  I do not often compare bands to Government Mule but when I do, it is rare and very well deserved.  Keep working your fans into a frenzy with your powerful rhythm section beats, fantastic lead guitar riffs, strong vocals, sincere interaction with people in the crowd and POWERFUL organ solos my friends!

Fatoumata Diawara

I have to admit, I thought this performer would not offer my type of music. Boy was I wrong!  Fatoumata Diawara’s voice is sweetly, sweetly, sweetly seductive, the band can get as “spacey” as need be and they share with their audience a subtle yet in your face high energy jazz and dance encouraging sound that made them sound like no one else at the festival.  Originally from Mali, Fatoumata has worked with artists such as Herbie Hancock and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Sue’nalo

If you are going to check this band out, have a change of clothes ready because they will make you move to the point that whatever clothes you start out in, those clothes may well be soaked through with sweat by the time Sue’nalo gets finished with you. I caught this band after having seen four or five bands that had already been declared my favorite new band of the festival. After an hour and a half of Sue’nalo, I left the Dance Tent with yet another new favorite band of the festival.  

From jamming improvisational versions of the Allman Brothers and Michael Jackson, within segments of their own songs, to getting a Latin salsa on steroids groove happening, Sue’nalo will make your festival or night. Promise !  They get five AYE CARIMBAS! ! ! !

The Wailers

Lots of people seem to hate on bands whose founders have died or dropped out of the original line up yet the band’s name lives on. “Oh, Jerry Garcia is dead and Furthur is just cashing in.” “Oh, the Allman Brothers do not have Duane.” I have to admit I had some of the same feelings toward the Wailers. HAD.  The Wailers set was fifty-fifty between the songs that set Bob Marley and the Wailers apart as the greatest reggae band of all time to The Wailers solo material. Sure Bob Marley has been dead for decades now but for those of you in touch with and open to the concept of a person’s spirit being more powerful than one’s mind or body, Bob is still there, Jerry is still there and Duane is still there. Ain’t no time to hate !

Steep Canyon Rangers

If these guys are good enough for Steve Martin to hitch his bluegrass wagon to, they are good enough for me.  Actually, the Steep Canyon Rangers were successfully blazing their own trail before Steve Martin decided to join forces. As good on their instruments as any musicians around plus vocals that are pitch perfect, any and every bluegrass aficionado, or bluegrass aficionado to be, will love this band. Simply put, their set was the best set of straight bluegrass I saw over the course of the festival. They get five YEE-HAWS ! ! ! ! !

Music From The Gathering Church

Under the category of bands unknown to the masses but certain to be remembered once seen, Music from the Gathering Church is in that category. Think a “Who’s Who” of gospel songs meets the Rolling Stones style of playing Girl with Far Away Eyes. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and What a Friend I Have in Jesus are but two examples of an excellent set of music.  I am not sure if it was me or the band but I think they did a Prince’s Raspberry Beret jam during one of their songs.  In any event, if given the opportunity, do not pass on enjoying this band.

YARN

If between songs the lead singer shouts to the crowd, “God Bless that man!  He brought me some bourbon!” is what you like from a band, YARN is the band for you. Their sound may strike you as a Widespread Panic with a mandolin plus a touch of powerful Eric Clapton-ish guitar.  YARN expressed their delight with being at the festival numerous times throughout their set.  Pointing out both the scenery and the lively yet chill crowd with their compliments, YARN summed up exactly what makes people attend Shakori October after April, year after year.

Songs of Water

Hmmmmmmmmmmm ?  What ? How did I get here and do I really have to leave?  These were the feelings and thoughts I felt after enjoying Songs of Water’s set. This band defies description except that their sound is completely original and certain to leave you with a positive and surrealistic impression.  Songs of Water have the instrumental talents to match up with any band.  They have the improvisational skills that many bands strive for but do not ever achieve.  You will give this band at least two thumbs up unless you happen to be in the frame of mind where it appears you have more than two hands in which case, Songs of Water will receive as many thumbs up as you imagine you have hands.  Holla !

Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys

Fellas, try to get “accidentally” lost from your girlfriend or over to run to the concession stand or back to the campsite to make sure your girlfriend is content and manage not to quickly find you way back if you ever have the chance to share an hour or two enjoying Rosie’s company. Even if it is from afar and she is on stage. 

As attractive as she is talented, you may get in trouble watching and daydreaming about Rosie unless your girlfriend is very comfortable with your relationship status.  A fantastic Zydeco accordionist, she has accomplished musicians surrounding her and the bass player and drummer provide a perpetually, powerfully pounding bass line that will make the most stiff and unlikely of us to dance, DANCE !

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

I have to drop some names to place Trombone Shorty’s talent in proper perspective.  Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Chuck Mangione, Tower of Power, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Marsalis Family, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane are all horn players or ensembles that command and deserve their props.

Give Trombone Shorty twenty of thirty more years to hone his abilities and he will be mentioned with the greatest of horn players. Trombone has sat in with many of today’s biggest names such as U2, Dave Matthews and Warren Haynes.  The “Backatown” album released in 2010 topped the Billboard’s Jazz charts for nine weeks.  Trombone Shorty’s skills obviously already have him in rare company and provide his listener’s with some rare air.

5 Point Rating Scale

Venue Access               4.0             Management/Organization           5.0

Cost vs. Enjoyment       5.0              Music                                       5.0+

Family Friendly              5.0              Do It Again                               5.0+

Vending                      5.0+            Crowd                                      5.0       

Drum Circle                 5.0++           Geeks Bearing Gifts                     -5.0

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