THE BEST OF FLOYDFEST
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Nestled an hour away atop a Virginia plateau with a fish-eyed view of the Blue Ridge Parkway, optimal conditions at FloydFest rival that of any festival in the world. Unfortunately, last year revealed the kind of inhospitable place it can become when thye’re less than optimal. Torrential rains created a nightmare for concertgoers and organizers right when the festival appeared to be pivoting its position toward larger renown. FloydFest looks to be trying to make up for it in a big way, stacking its 13th lineup with a lot of weight up top and a comparatively thin undercard. Is it still worth the ticket this weekend? Absolutely, so long as the weather holds.
1. Ms. Lauryn Hill – Thursday, 10:15 p.m.
Lauryn Hill’s mythos has essentially outgrown her artistic output, which isn’t all that difficult with but a single, but legendary solo album and collaborative album from which she draws (Blunted On Reality might as well not exist). There’s an entire generation of listeners who know her more for her recent jail stint, habitual lateness or outright no-shows than they do for the game-changing brilliance of Miseducation or The Score. On a positive note, she seems to have put all that behind her. To say she came up big in a high-profile spot at the recent Bonnaroo Music Festival would be an understatement; Hill was magical on the same stage upon which Bobby Womack played his final show just hours earlier.
2. Lettuce – Saturday, 12:30 a.m.
Funk bands are a dime a dozen these days, but Boston eight-piece Lettuce sharply surpass the designation. Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno and former Pretty Lights beatman Adam Deitch form a potent combo with journeyman bassist Adam Coomes, but there’s so much more to what makes them great, not the least of which is probably the best set of Dilla covers out there.
3. The Campbell Brothers – Sunday, 11:15 a.m.
Occupying the “take your ass to church” time slot that the Mighty Wonders of Winston-Salem carved out a couple of years ago, the Campbell Brothers are one of Sacred Steel’s most unsung institutions. It just so happens that they’re playing within a couple of hours from Robert Randolph and the Lee Boys, so communion is going to have a lot of company.
4. Thievery Corporation – Friday, 11:00 p.m.
A model for truth in advertising, Thievery Corporation appropriate international culture with unrivaled éclat. That, in a sense, makes them the perfect headliner for a festival that’s existed in a near constant state of acculturation during its 13 years. After last year’s fiasco, FloydFest pretty much doubled down on the tacky this year with its “Revolution” theme, clenched fist iconography and agitprop typeface, but it’s hard to care much about that when you’re swimming in TC’s Indian/Middle Eastern/Latin downtempo grooves.
5. Ancient Cities – Friday, 3:15 At times, Charlotte’s Ancient Cities have that session-y polish of their sprawling folk/prog forbearers Toto and America. Being somewhat of a Queen City supergroup, it’s not all that unexpected. Other times, they just want to hit their drums or blow their horns as hard as they can, and that’s what makes their brand new s/t debut one of North Carolina’s best releases thus far in 2014.
6. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite You could say that the Grammy that Charlie Musselwhite shared with Ben Harper for 2013’s Get Up! is a bit of a makeup call for his six previous snubs. Bobby Rush and James Cotton both put out better albums, but it was Musselwhite’s turn as these things go. It’s not that Get Up! wasn’t worthy, it’s just that both Harper and Musselwhite have far better material on their own.
7. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops have gone from vital new voice in African American string music to the King Crimson of oldtime in relatively short order. The band won a Grammy in 2010 and then spending the next three years turning over its lineup and seeking a modicum of stability to its sound. The late Sunday set on the smaller stage is a chance for a proper accounting, however, because
8. Ray Lamontagne – Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
After Ray LaMontagne was christened as the heir apparent to Van Morrison’s blue-eyed soul throne after his debut Trouble 10 years ago, he’s had a quiet, if steady career mainly because he shies away from the spotlight. Maybe that’s why his fifth album, Supernova, slipped by so quietly, despite his best set of songs since Trouble, and some stellar guitar work from Dan Auerbach.
9. River Whyless – Wednesday, 5:45 p.m.
Asheville folk-rock quartet River Whyless have quietly been garnering praise since their 2012 debut album, but maybe the most ringing endorsement came from Paul Janeway, frontman of St. Paul & the Broken Bones, following their Winston- Salem performance a month ago.
10. The London Souls – Thursday, 9:30
Possibly the only true rock band on FloydFest’s lineup, the London Souls have a believer in Abbey Road production guru Ethan Johns, who produced their 2011 debut. The ferociousness with which this duo attack their live performances affirm his support. !