Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival | Silk Hope, NC | April 10-13, 2003
Hey, what do you say we go out in a hurricane, set up a tent, drink some Wild
Turkey, and watch zydeco music 'til two in the morning? That's what normal
people do on a Thursday, right? OK, maybe not. But when the weather cleared and
the sun came out, all those strange decisions seemed vindicated. The first
annual Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival was on.
Held on spacious farmland just outside of Chapel Hill, NC, the festival made
its first appearance in the southland after 14 years of charity-inspired
success in Ithaca, NY. Legendary roots-rockers Donna the Buffalo are the proud sponsors
of the festival, which again supported a variety of local charities. Although
the rain played havoc with the first day's schedule, soon all was back on
track and the celebrations could begin. The festival featured four stages
packed with a huge variety of musical styles, from bluegrass to reggae and
everything in between. Workshops and seminars on topics ranging from the
healing arts to indigenous traditions were plentiful, along with kids'
activities, local organic food, and instrument and poetry contests.
First day highlights included the rousing sounds of country crooner John
Anderson and local all-female rock band The Pink Slips. Big Fat Gap laid down some thumping
bluegrass, and Donna the Buffalo
headlined the evening with a raucous Dance Tent performance that had everyone
shaking in their mud boots. The ironically-titled Sunny Weather provided late-night
entertainment, keeping everyone dancing to its island rhythms until long
Friday morning started off with a variety of yoga and tensegrity classes for
early risers (or late-to-bed'ers). Troubadour X set the sounds of bluegrass
rolling on the Meadow Stage as John Specker laid down some happy fiddle music
on the Grove Stage. Snake Oil Medicine Show followed with their rollicking blend of bluegrass, jazz, folk and funk.
Their set featured a jam on "the world's most hated instruments," which
included tuba, saw, accordion and ukulele: "Ukes, not nukes, that's our
motto." Snake Oil's unique blend of disparate elements, including artist Phil
Cheney's paintings being created in real time behind the band, whipped the
crowd into a mid-day frenzy.
Soon the Del McCoury Band hit the main
stage for one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. They ran through
favorites such as "Nashville Cats" while amazing the audience with their
unrivaled instrumental prowess. Del always brings a silly attitude to go with
his serious chops, introducing a sad song by saying, "We don't have too many
love songs, mostly murder ballads I guess." Bluegrass has always enjoyed this
dichotomy, placing sad lyrics on top of happy music. Such contrast
encompasses the full range of human emotions, from hope to despair, providing
perhaps one reason so many people identify with the style.
After a side-stage set by country rocker Jim Lauderdale, renowned Zimbabwean
political funkster Thomas Mapfumo & the
Blacks Unlimited took the stage. Mapfumo is the originator of
"chimurenga" music, which means "music of struggle." The title is well earned: Mapfumo was imprisoned for subversion in 1977, one year before the
Zimbabwean independence. Mixing rock and funk with traditional African
melodies, Mapfumo had the crowd dancing and swaying as the moon began to
rise. After alternative country punk Alejandro Escovedo's side stage
performance, the crowd made its way to the Dance Tent for one of the
hottest sets of the weekend. The Preston Frank Family Zydeco Band has been
laying down its blazing bayou boogie for decades. The accordion and funky
bass had the audience bouncing up and down (very) late into the evening.
Saturday morning rolled around and the sun was high in the clear blue sky.
Now this was festival weather. Local dance troupe the Apple Chill Cloggers
brought their traditional foot-stomping to the Dance Tent, and later in the
day Moontee Sinquah hit the stage. This was undoubtedly one of the most
unique performances of the festival. Mixing Native American singing with rock
and roll guitar, Sinquah created a sound that was equal parts past and
future. Improvising riffs and rhythms over a spiritual base, the act took
many in the audience by surprise, and wrapped up far too quickly.
Campbell Brothers were up next, and
anyone wondering where Robert Randolph &
the Family Band got their sound from should look no further. Their
"electric gospel" cranks the sounds of the church up to 11. Singing for the
Lord and dancing across the stage, the band's dual pedal-steel attack and soulful
vocals gave everyone a supercharge as the sun faded away. Acoustic Syndicate followed on the side
stage, unleashing its contemporary blend of acoustic and electric
influences mixed with elegant harmonies.
Donna the Buffalo was next on the main
stage for the second of its three festival appearances. Meanwhile, on the
side stage, local reggae act Mickey Mills and Steel was laying down its
groovy, percussion-heavy reggae sounds. It was simply too easy to walk
between the stages, alternating between roots-rock and reggae with just a few
funky footsteps separating the two. Late night zydeco was on the menu once
again, this time with Preston's son Keith Frank at the helm. Incorporating
the same traditional sounds, yet updated for the new millennium, Keith
Frank's set kept the energy level pumping as the hours flew by.
Sunday morning came far too quickly, as so often seems to be the case.
Several of the best acts from the weekend had another set scheduled, perhaps
to capitalize on word of mouth from their earlier performances. Big Fat Gap, Campbell Brothers and Preston Frank all
got another chance to display their talents. Snake Oil Medicine Show also got another
set, this time in the Dance Tent, where members of the Hula Cats sat in,
adding some Hawaiian colors to their already overflowing palette. They ended
the show by leading a march off the stage and down the road, with the happy
audience chanting, "Don't let it die!" as they followed them through the
Finally, Donna the Buffalo took the
stage one last time to wrap up the first annual Shakori Hills GrassRoots
Festival. Overall the festival was a resounding success. Despite some scary
weather on the first day, it had turned into a picture perfect weekend.
Although I'm sure they'll continue to improve on the festival grounds, the
infrastructure was convenient, comfortable, and nobody had to wait in line
for food or port-a-johns at any point in the weekend. The festival's mission
was to create a place where people could come together to celebrate peace and
justice with a sense of community. Mission accomplished.
Words by Paul Kerr
Images by Todd E. Gaul
JamBase | North Carolina
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