NC Music Festival celebrates homespun talent

by Ryan Snyder

Growing a festival from nothing independently is a risky proposition that requires patience and fortitude, and most of all the ability to take the occasional hit. Growing it around a holiday weekend probably exacerbates the risks exponentially. But what NC Music and Arts Festival might have lacked attendance-wise in its second year, it made up for in promise. With a slate of highly unconventional arrangements and canny spins on North Carolina roots, Saturday afternoon’s slate at High Rock Outfitters was a celebration of the kind of striking virtuosity and patent, homespun ingenuity to which the festival has hitched its wagons.

If anyone assumed that the arrangement of two guitars, bass ukulele, and cajon with which Winston- Salem jazz-roots quintet the Deluge opened the day would be its most eclectic, they would be mistaken. Asheville post-rock experimentalists the E.Normus Trio bound Jay Sanders’ dizzying fingerpicking on his N/S stick — a sort of eight-string guitar-bass combo that takes its design from the famous Steinberger headless models — and Steve Alford’s rubicund alto clarinet howls with nervous drums beats. Passages from their recent record — Love & Barbiturates — had a habit of leading their listener blindly up a mountain only to walk them off a cliff, but their God Is An Astronautmeets-John Lurie ambitions were rarely uninteresting.

They were a far cry from the blue-eyed soul and scat jazz of the Deluge, who have a legitimate claim as the Piedmont’s most virtuosic band. The addition of guitarist Daniel Seriff two years ago — who they pinched from the LAbound Small Town Gossip — kicked the collective ability of the already elite unit up several notches. It’s not only Seriff’s crazygood guitar work and scat singing that allows them to expertly polish mountain traditions and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” in one span, but singer Brandon Knox’s straight-laced take on Michael McDonald-style blue-eyed soul as well.

The afternoon’s most enthusiastic exhibition, however, came from David Childers’ always outstanding Overmountain Men. Between the piercing fiddle of Geoff White and Randy Saxon’s doublenecked electric Gretsch fireworks, they brought a highly progressive look at the marriage between country and rock. But it was Childers himself screaming out morality tales from the pages of Civil War history (”I never had no slaves/ Didn’t want none, either”) that gives the Overmountain Men as much bang as a flintlock pistol.