Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance | 04.15 -4.18 | Silk Hope, NC

A music festival for charity--what could be finer? Despite riches to be gained and the allure of rock stardom, most musicians and fans have a more humble goal in mind. We're drawn to music because of its internal power and its external sense of community. Hidden somewhere between the notes is a notion of where we've been and a dream of what's to come. Playing music and organizing a festival where the profits go to worthy charities is perhaps one of the most honest and respectful ways to pay tribute to this elusive power and art form that lights up so many of our lives.

Donna the Buffalo started the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival fifteen years ago in Trumansburg, NY to celebrate the best of American and world roots music while raising money for charity. Last year they expanded the festival to North Carolina, creating the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival to rousing success, and this year they’re getting set to do it all over again. Located just outside of Chapel Hill at the Shakori Hills site in Silk Hope, NC, the festival features a huge range of musical flavors from around the globe and creates a family-friendly atmosphere that includes arts, crafts, kids' activities, and more. Over 70 bands will converge on four stages as the fields come alive in the warm Carolina sunshine.

Donna the Buffalo : Shakori 2003
By Todd E. Gaul
Donna the Buffalo will play on three of the festival's four days, with numerous side projects sprinkled in between. Their blend of zydeco-flavored world beat rock has been providing a jubilant bounce to festivals from coast to coast. As the hosts of GrassRoots, they take the opportunity to stretch out wide and envelop everyone in their smile-inducing rhythms. Their musical compatriot Jim Lauderdale will of course be on hand to lay down his eclectic country-rock croonings. Patty Loveless will cap things off on Sunday night, bringing her honky-tonk country shuffle back to the southland where she started.

Other performers include the pedal steel gospel-jam of The Campbell Brothers, who legend has it provided a young Robert Randolph with his very first guitar. Katherine Whalen's Jazz Squad features the former Squirrel Nut Zippers leading lady in a jazzier light than the Zippers' renowned swing-stomp serenade. Although all four stages go past 1:00 a.m., the GrassRoots Festival is famous for its all-night zydeco dance parties. This year the Zydeco Experiment will take the reins on Friday night. This supergroup side project is aiming for sunrise and seeing who can make it through. Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band will take their turn pumping out the swamp-groove all night on Saturday. Keith's legendary dad Preston Frank & His Zydeco Band will also be at GrassRoots tearing into multiple sets of Louisiana roots boogie.

The festival also prides itself on exposing fans to music from around the world they might not usually get a chance to see. Reggae star Calton Coffie was immortalized when his former group Inner Circle's classic "Bad Boys" was chosen as the theme to the TV show Cops. Mamadou Diabate from Mali will rage through his 21-stringed kora with his stunning band of masterful musicians. His passionate arsenal of techniques on the harp-like instrument is an amazing spectacle to witness. The best-selling Zimbabwean band Oliver Mtukudzi & Black Spirits will also be at GrassRoots to showcase their wide-ranging African sound and socially poignant lyrics.

Shakori 2003 by Todd E. Gaul
Of course North Carolina is also well represented. The bluesy funk-pop and Irish seasonings of Jump, Little Children will keep the kids bouncing till late on Saturday. Local favorites Barefoot Manner bring their jamgrass jubilee to rival the late night Saturday slot. Their upbeat buoyancy and explorative jams are sure to glow and shine in the moonlight madness. Snake Oil Medicine Show is bringing their art and music circus to the festival, ripping through different styles of music like kids lost in a candy store. Bluegrass, jazz, reggae, Klezmer and funk all converge within this merry mix of mountaineers. Also coming along for the ride are their sister projects the Hula Cats, who mix Hawaiian influences into their mountain traditions, and Ami Worthen's Mad Tea Party, whose retro instrumentation and vocals bring the swinging '20s and '30s back to life.

Punkgrassers The Blue Rags are reuniting for a rare performance, and the bluegrass influence continues with the old-time stomp of Steep Canyon Rangers and the country funk of the Horseflies. Festival organizers Jordan Puryear and Lydia Garrison bring their unique northern perspective to Appalachian old-time music with their group Turtle Island Dream, while local heroes Big Fat Gap will deliver their trademark virtuoso rootsgrass music. The blues are in full force through veterans like Cool John Ferguson and the young explosive sounds of Abe Reid & the Spikedrivers. Even the Middle East is represented, as the Durham, NC based Jaafar bridges the gap between Western rock and Eastern explorations. As they say, it's like "Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Jimi Hendrix in Egypt."

Two Dollar Pistols will have you crying in your cowboy beer until the Sim Redmond Band's dreamy upbeat Afro-Caribbean sound perks up your spirits again. The fresh pop-rock of The Never (formerly the B-Sides) will dig into the countryside, while the acrobatics, comedy, and choreography of Galumpha will dazzle and delight kids of all ages. Other bands appearing include the classic newgrass sounds of The Bluegrass Experience, the stomping and screaming mountain fiddler John Specker, local mandolin legend Tony Williamson, and the Delta folk blues of Ben Suchy. The globe continues to spin with the world chants of Amy Glicklich and Tenesi, the alter-Native progressive rock of Keith Secola and Wild Band of Indians, and the Indian-African jazzgrass of Project Mastana. Even the hip-hop world is included, with 12-year old rapper lil MaQ.

Many more musical acts are included, along with a wide range of progressive workshops, a poetry slam, yoga sessions, and instrument contests. Tickets are only $65 in advance and $75 at the door, with more info at "It's an exceptional bargain for live music," says festival organizer Puryear. "Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival is a cooperative effort with the local community. It's a non-commercial, non-profit event, run entirely without sponsorship or public funding. In fact, the Finger Lakes Festival in New York has helped fund other local not-for-profits, and over the last decade has donated more than $300,000 to support the fight against AIDS."

Publicist Katie Wadsworth says, "At Shakori Hills, it's about the music, not big name stars. Our goal is to introduce new fans to great music that they would otherwise not learn about. For example, Oliver Mtukudzi--that man is amazing, and he is the number one selling performer right now in Zimbabwe." Added Puryear, "We are not doing this to make money, we are doing it to bring awareness." Isn't that what music is really all about?

Paul Kerr
JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 3/23/04]

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