By Team JamBase May 16, 2007 12:00 am PDT

Words By: Paul Kerr :: Images by: Willa Stein

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival
04.19.07 – 04.22.07 :: Shakori Hills, NC

Shakori Hills 2007
For four days the sun came down on the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance like a spotlight from Heaven. Perfect weather and record attendance were just two elements that fell into place during the 5th annual non-profit world music festival. With four stages pumping all weekend, there was hardly a dusty corner of the wide musical universe left untouched. As the festival veterans that visit this site know, there’s more to a festival than just music. More than the bands, the weather or the location, the vibe is what it’s all about – what we all crave, what makes or breaks the weekend. At Shakori Hills the vibe was alive and thriving, with a wonderfully relaxed, jovial, communal atmosphere full of local artists, laughing children and music everywhere you turned.

Situated in the rolling hills and green meadows of central North Carolina, the festival featured more bands than could ever be described in a single review. Longtime attendees have developed an innate trust for the organizers’ taste, knowing that even lesser-known bands will surely deliver the goods if they’ve been invited to appear. One of the first bands to take the stage was local all-star bluegrass troupe Big Fat Gap. Celebrating the release of their first CD, the band includes numerous musicians who’ve gone on to light up other bands including Bill Evan’s Soulgrass, Larry Keel’s Natural Bridge and The Biscuit Burners. Tearing through their down home, back porch music with precise abandon, their set balanced perfectly on the wobbly edge of fierce musicianship and laidback song craft.

Donna the Buffalo :: Shakori Hills 2007
Festival hosts Donna the Buffalo played three raucous sets over the long weekend. Their uplifting zydeco-flavored stew fed the hungry crowd, producing hopelessly dancing revelers and barely contained glee. While their lyrics may be tough to decipher over a PA system, many in the crowd had already internalized them and sang along to their heartening messages of positivity, optimism and community.

The Americana assault of The Everybodyfields led to Toubab Krewe, an amazing young band that combines rock & roll with the essence of West African music. With a sound both subtle and savage, they turned a night under the stars into a delicious, delirious dance party.

Squirrel Nut Zippers :: Shakori Hills 2007
Friday got rolling with the wide-ranging sounds of Bombadil and HuDost before Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band tore into their fearlessly funky modern zydeco groovefest. Their sound is contemporary yet timeless, with snappy bass and crisp drums sending the crowd into a blissful state of afternoon amusement. As the stage crew swapped gear, anticipation built as the crowd grew larger and the sun sank down. It was time for the headliners of the weekend to appear. The Squirrel Nut Zippers from nearby Chapel Hill had been on hiatus for years before reassembling early in 2007 for a handful of shows. The retro-swing savants laid into a classic set of novelty blues, Dixieland ditties and hot jazz that got the crowd off their seats and on their feet.

Bill Evans’ Soulgrass :: Shakori Hills 2007
Up next was Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, who proved the most technically proficient act of the weekend. Saxophonist Evans first gained international acclaim with Miles Davis‘ celebrated ’80s comeback band. He later joined John McLaughlin‘s re-formed Mahavishnu Orchestra before launching his highly illustrious solo career. His current band, Soulgrass, features banjo phenom Ryan Cavanaugh and blends the jagged songwriting and angular approach of jazz with bluegrass instrumentation. The results are simply stunning, a fierce flurry of notes that never took a toll on their musicality or tasty compositions. Striking that rare balance between shredding and songwriting, the hooks were memorable, the solos scintillating and the energy level off the charts.

Jimbo Mathis :: Shakori Hills 2007
Late night at Shakori Hills is always a treat, and Friday proved no exception. Anyone who had not yet boogied themselves to bed found four great bands to choose from. The Amateurs Reggae Band were featured on the main stage, while zydeco legend Preston Frank took the Dance Tent with Donna the Buffalo as his backup band. The Cabaret Tent featured a fantastic local band called Mosadi Music, who played a fierce mash-up of progressive hip-hop and funky metal grooves. If those styles don’t sound like they belong together, well that’s exactly what made it so great. Somehow, Mosadi Music blends these disparate elements together in a way that sounds wholly natural and outrageously listenable. The first person to add peanut butter to jelly probably made a weird face too. Over on the Grove Stage, Laura Reed & Deep Pocket laid out their sultry, slow-groove R&B while the Emberellas burlesque cabaret troupe spun fire and engaged in extreme hula hoopin’ hilarity.

Saturday got underway with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band that’s keeping the revered local musical heritage alive and kicking. The afternoon included the jam-punk funkfest of Strut, the classic retro sounds of Bluegrass Experience, and the incredible 21-stringed kora acrobatics of the Malian maestro Mamadou Diabate. With a full band tearing through rhythms at a vicious velocity, Diabate’s set was one of the highlights of the weekend, blaring African melodies at breakneck speed, while never losing sight of the traditions and intentions set deep within this music.

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band :: Shakori Hills 2007
After sets by bluegrass stalwarts Chatham County Line and the Irish folk supergroup Solas, Donna the Buffalo played another set of uplifting roots-flavored boogie bounce.

Then, Hobex ladled their sweet soul and screaming six-strings all over the Saturday night revelers. This was a prelude to the return of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band to the late night Shakori Hills stage. NC’s own Booty crew has been tearing up festival stages around the country, and on this night they definitely brought their A-Game. Their cheerful, animated show went way beyond the tasty tunes, as they rollicked and goofed their way through a long set of sing-along hip-shaking good-time funk. When the Booty Band takes the stage, the energy is infectious and even at this late slot, sleep is no escape from their tractor beam of jocularity.

Donna the Buffalo :: Shakori Hills 2007
The last day of a festival is always bittersweet as exhaustion mixes with nostalgia. Day Four was filled with great reasons to put the melancholy aside and squeeze as much fun as possible out of the remaining sunlight. The day started off with hillbilly alt-folk Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, whose whimsical, heartfelt style put huge smiles on the faces of the early risers. The Allen Boys followed with their inspirational blast of sacred steel, taking the form popularized by Robert Randolph and adding their own Carolina twist. Australian musician Harper presented an outrageously entertaining mix of soul-rock, harmonica blues and didgeridoo. The thick funk pouring out of the sound system oozed over the afternoon crowd.

Ethiopian reggae act dub Addis decorated the sunset with the polyrhythmic sounds of the sub-continent. Donna the Buffalo bid adieu to the festival and put the cherry on top of the Sunday. Appearing with numerous friends, including local blues behemoth Cyril Lance, their set summed up the emotions and communal atmosphere of this weekend.

With a huge variety of music, a wonderfully relaxed family atmosphere and beautiful woods and fields for roaming, the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival truly features the best of what festivals have to offer.

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