Global Music Stars and Bluegrass Mavericks at 2012 Fall Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival

Fatoumata Diawara (Mali) at Shakori Hills
Photo by Angel Romero

On Sunday, October 7th, I headed to Chatham County, North Carolina to attend the Fall Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. The Shakori Hills farmstead is located near Silk Hope, about 20 minutes southwest of Chapel Hill and within easy driving distance from major cities like Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Cary. I drove from Durham and it took me about one hour to get there.

The fall festival this year ran from Thursday, October 4th to Sunday, October 7th. The Sunday lineup was the most attractive for me since it featured three of the main world music/reggae acts: Fatoumata Diawara (Mali), Rupa and the April Fishes (USA), and The Wailers (Jamaica).

I arrived just on time to see the concert by Malian rising star Fatoumata Diawara, who was performing at the large Meadow Stage. Her album Fatou is doing really well internationally and she displays a talented live show, engaging the audience in charming English, which is a plus.

Preston Frank (right) with Donna the Buffalo
Photo by Angel Romero

Fatoumata showed the audience various dance moves and introduced some of the rhythms found in her country and other parts of Africa. Fatoumata Diawara was born in Ivory Coast of Malian parents. She reached local fame as a dancer before relocating to Bamako, Mali’s capital, in her early teens and starting an acting career.

She moved to Paris in her early twenties where she spent several years touring internationally with the theatre troupe Royal de Luxe, going on to take the lead in the musical Kirikou et Karaba, while recording and touring with Malian star Oumou Sangare and writing her own film script. She writes her own music, mixing Wassulu traditions with western influences.

The festival has four stages so after Fatoumata’s concert, I walked over to the other stages to check out the artists performing there. The Dance Tent was packed, full of dancers, enjoying the Zydeco and Cajun grooves of Preston Frank and Donna the Buffalo.

Carolina Lightning
Photo by Angel Romero

Accordionist Preston Frank is a legendary figure in Louisiana’s Creole music scene, with his characteristic blend of originals and covers of Cajun music, funk and soul. New York band Donna the Buffalo plays a mix of Cajun, country, reggae, zydeco and roots rock. The group includes multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins, guitarist Jeb Puryear, keyboardist Dave McCracken, bassist Kyle Spark and drummer Mark Raudbaugh. Their most recent albums include Live From the American Ballroom (2001), Life’s A Ride (2005) and Silverlined (2008).

I headed back to the Meadow Stage to listen to another headliner, but first I stopped at the Carson’s Grove stage. The trio performing there was Carolina Lightning , a traditional bluegrass act featuring three of North Carolina’s best traditional performers: Tommy Edwards (of The Bluegrass Experience) on guitar and vocals, Alice Zincone on bass and vocals, and Rick Lafleur on banjo and vocals. Their extensive repertoire includes traditional bluegrass pieces and original songs together with country, folk and rock songs that have been recreated as bluegrass tunes.

Steep Canyon Rangers
Photo by Angel Romero

The next headliner was the increasingly popular Steep Canyon Rangers. This contemporary bluegrass band is from the Asheville and Brevard, North Carolina area and has reached national fame thanks to its collaboration with renowned comedian, actor and banjo player Steve Martin. The band features Woody Platt on guitar, lead vocals; Graham Sharp on banjo, harmony vocals; Mike Guggino on mandolin, harmony vocals; Charles R. Humphrey III on bass, harmony vocals; and Nicky Sanders on fiddle, harmony vocals.

The Steep Canyon Rangers performed a fine mix of traditional bluegrass, Gospel and virtuosic jam-style modern bluegrass. Their discography includes Old Dreams and New Dreams (2001), Mr. Taylor’s New Home (2002), The Steep Canyon Rangers (2004), One Dime at a Time (2005), Lovin’ Pretty Women (2007), Deep in the Shade (2009), Rare Bird Alert, with Steve Martin (2011), and Nobody Knows You (2012).

Next, I returned to the dance tent and listened to a little of Driftwood. This band is based in Binghamton, New York and combines old time folk with modern American roots music and world music with a lineup of fiddle, banjo, upright bass and guitar. Their most recent album is A Rock & Roll Heart, released in November 2011.

Ben Miller of the Ben Miller Band
Photo by Angel Romero

Electric blues sounds coming from the Cabaret tent lured me there. I encountered a superb trio called The Ben Miller Band. They are from Joplin, Missouri, and blend delta blues with bluegrass and old time music from the Appalachian Mountains. Their unconventional musical instruments include custom slide guitars, a one-stringed washtub bass, electric washboard and electric spoons.

Band members include Ben Miller on vocals and guitars, Scott Leeper on washtub bass, and drummer and percussionist Doug Dicharry. “We’re not some kind of gimmick band,” says Ben Miller. “Just because we use junk to make music doesn’t mean we aren’t serious about it. We are legitimately making real music, and when you hear us play I think you get that.” The Ben Miller Band’s most recent album is Heavy Load (2012).

Rupa Marya of Rupa & the April Fishes
Photo by Angel Romero

Another high profile world music act, Rupa & the April Fishes appeared at Meadow Stage. I was familiar with the San Francisco band’s recordings, but this was the first time I saw them live. Rupa and her colleagues put a very vibrant show, presenting various musical genres and rhythms of the world, including cumbia, ska, reggae, Gypsy swing, etc. Rupa Marya is a polyglot who sings in various languages, including English, Spanish and French.

Rupa & the April Fishes has a brand new album, released this month, titled Build that features songs from the road between solitude and solidarity. The band has several new music videos coming out for this album. The first one is by filmmaker Dagen Merrill, for the song “Metamorphosis.”

In a few days Rupa & the April Fishes will be releasing a video for the title track of the album by Matt Mahurin, who has made videos for Tom Waits, U2, Metallica and many others.

I left the Rupa & the April Fishes concert for a few minutes to check out Americana band Humble Tripe, the winners of the Band Contest, who were playing at the Cabaret Tent. The Durham-based group plays acoustic folk music with classical, jazz, punk and even world music influences in the percussion area. The band includes classically trained Shawn Luby on guitar and vocals, Stud Green on strings, and Jess Shell on a wide assortment of percussion. Humble Tripe’s album is titled Counting Stars.

Humble Tripe, winners of the Band Contest
Photo by Angel Romero

As this was our first year playing at Shakori, we were obviously thrilled to be chosen as the winners of the band competition, and loved playing the cabaret tent yesterday (right after our coffee barn set!),” said Shawn Luby to World Music Central on Monday, October 8th.

Humble Tripe was formed as the music project of Shawn Luby. Although he spent nearly 15 years as a young competitive classical guitarist, Luby re-emerged about a decade later turning his six-string talents and willowy vocals towards the tender folk-inclined Americana of Humble Tripe. Regular contributors include Berklee school of music graduate and string player, Stud Green; and Jess Shell, Tripe’s player of rhythmic instruments and other oddities.

On the way back to the Meadow Stage, I watched a few numbers by another excellent contemporary bluegrass band called Big Fat Gap, which is based in the Chapel Hill area. Band members include Miles Andrews on bass & lead vocal; Rick Hauchman on mandolin & tenor; Jamie Griggs on guitar; Andy Thorn on banjo & baritone; alternating on bass & harmony vocals; and Bobby Britt and John Garris on fiddles.

The Wailers
Photo by Angel Romero

The main headliner that evening was The Wailers, the legendary Bob Marley band. The crowd of festivalgoers had grown much larger with many fans glued to the edge of the stage. Naturally, after so many years, The Wailers is not the same band as the one Marley had, as some original members have died. It’s still led by original bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and includes skilled Jamaican musicians from various generations. Their authentic roots reggae with elements of funk clearly satisfied the audience.

The Wailers are currently celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary by continuing to perform classic reggae hits like One Love, Get Up Stand Up, Buffalo Soldier, Redemption Song and Three Little Birds.

It was a great fall festival!” said festival coordinator Sara Waters. “I think we got a lot of first-timers which is always fun, and we know they’ll all come back next time. The family keeps growing.”

The festival has two editions. The next festival, Spring Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance, will take place in the spring of 2013, April 18-21 at 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Find out more about the festival and the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center:

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About ARomero

Angel Romero has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusicportal.com, worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. In the TV area, Angel co-produced Musica NA, a music show for TVE (Spain) that featured world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. He was also the executive producer of the first Latino feature film made in North Carolina.