The 2013 Festival Prospectus
North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival
Where: Huntersville When: Saturday, May 11 Drive time: approx. 1 hr. 45 min. Why go: Research shows that music is exponentially more appealing when paired with quantities of beer, but conversely, beer is also made more enjoyable when consumed to music. That’s hard science, and the North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival is grounded in it, which makes one wonder how the single day Huntersville brew-haha made it to a third year in this state without being legislated out of existence.
No, really, go: There’ll be enough hot picking and hell-yeah moments from Acoustic Syndicate and Peter Rowan to form a solid idea of what MerleFest would be like in literally any other place in the country. The jewel here, though, is the funk-tested, ska-approved Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds.
Lake Eden Arts Festival
Where: Black Mountain When: May 9-12 Drive time: approx. 2.5-3 hrs. Why go: The bi-annual LEAF is a music and arts festival in the most truthful sense — arts education is 1, via numerous advocacy and instructional sessions, and getting down is 1a. When it’s time for the latter, however, LEAF doesn’t mess around. Plus, it has easily the best camping of practically any festival anywhere.
No, really, go: The Spring 2013 edition builds on their usual top-heavy booking philosophy to offer more rounded music programming, but it still overflows with soul, New Orleans funk and multi-ethnic sounds. Mavis Staples and Steel Pulse carry on their custom of having excellent headliners, but a middle card that includes Papa Grows Funk, the Honey Island Swamp band and Hindi emcee MC Yogi is a worthy one.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
Where: Manchester, Tenn. When: June 13-16 Drive time: approx. 7-8 hrs.
Why go: The biggest and baddest of them all, Bonnaroo is the rising tide that lifts all ships in booking economics. There’s a small spike in concert bookings in surrounding states for weeks on either side simply because of the enormous amount of music it brings, but the truly intrepid (and physically fit) festivalgoer can consume a sizable chunk in four arduous days.
No, really, go: It takes a truly mindblowing lineup to list William Tyler, owner of one of the best records of 2013, dead last on an order-of-importance lineup of 80-something names. Bonnaroo has that truly mind-blowing lineup. Between Tyler and Paul McCartney, there’s decadence unheard of outside of the Kentucky Derby — Billy Idol and Bob Sagat seem like throwaways against R. Kelly and David Byrne & St. Vincent respectively. There are no holes anywhere, save for possibly the four-hour Saturday night headliner slot where Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers are almost the only options (except for William Tyler!). These are the bands on the receiving end of bands on the receiving ends of two of the most vicious lambastings of the year — the Fall’s Mark E Smith called Mumford “retarded Irish folk singers, while Jimmy Fallon, Nick Offerman and Blake Shelton’s rendering of the cloying “Ho Hey” as the Chickeneers was a marked improvement. Maybe the people targeted by that programming maneuver have another hole to worry about, namely the one their brains are leaking out of.
Charlie Poole Music Festival
Where: Eden When: June 14-15 Drive time: approx. 1 hr. Why go: Sometimes a low key, undemanding weekend of music is just what the doctor ordered, especially when it honors one of the most important old-time pickers by honoring one of the greatest among the New School. John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will receive a lifetime achievement award from the festival board, as well as serve as Friday’s headliner emeritus.
No, really, go: The only thing Charlie Poole did better than pick a banjo was make moonshine.
FloydFest Where: Floyd, Va. When: July 25-28 Drive time: Approx. 2 hrs.
Why go: Purely on visual appeal, Floyd- Fest is hard to beat. The world becomes a fisheye panorama when viewed from the festival’s Blue Ridge seating, but lineup is consistently excellent, the shows go late, and it rarely feels crowded. It’s just about everything one could reasonably want out of the festival experience, even if the festival’s 12 th year takes a palpable step back from last year’s gargantuan haul.
No, really, go: Last year’s overall headliner of Jackson Brown backed by Dawes and Jonathan Wilson was a coup that can’t be repeated, but this year’s placement of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and the Lumineers in the catbird seats was a focus-grouped swing-andmiss. But that’s what the beer garden is for, and this year’s undercard with Gogol Bordello, Michael Kiwanuka, Jason Isbell, Bombino and Ben Sollee tops last year’s.
Wild Goose Festival
Where: Hot Springs When: August 8-11 Drive time: Approx. 3 hrs. 30 min. Why go: The Wild Goose Festival bills itself as being at “the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and art,” a sort of Burning Man for the faithful of early Abrahamic religions. The music is great up top with the Indigo Girls, Speech from Arrested Development (the hip-hop group, not the show), and songwriter Phil Madeira. It gets a little bit shaky for agnostic music fans the farther down the list you go, but there is a great spot by the most excellent Greensboro band David Wimbish & the Collection.
No, really, go: A couple of years before her infamous rant at Yoshi’s that got her blacklisted pretty much everywhere, Michelle Shocked said some equally deplorable things about gays from a Wild Goose stage while it was still at the Shakori Hills site. The fact that any outrage was more or less contained in-house is a little bit telling.
The John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival
Where: High Point When: August 31 Drive time: Approx. 15 min. Why go: Because John Coltrane is not only a figure of extreme importance in jazz, but in the history of sound, period. A festival in his hometown that seeks to pay homage to that legacy should be absolutely worthy of consideration, plus Christian Scott is performing this year and he’s so good it hurts.
No, really, go: From the first note that headliner Dave Koz and Friends play, it will become clear that someone has a fatally flawed understanding of exactly what it is that Coltrane meant to jazz. Sometimes train wrecks provide for great entertainment.
Where: Chapel Hill When: August 31-September 1 Drive time: Approx. 50 min. Why go: ProgDay is a gory vivisection of the one musical underground that no one really wants to own around gentlefolk. It’s a festival for those who think Rush and Kansas are waaaay to mainstream and that songs with single-digit runtimes are for pansies.
No, really, go: They have diatonic arpeggios for days, my friend, and the cosplay opportunities are too good to pass up.
Where: Ferguson When: June 21-23 Drive time: approx. 2 hrs. Why go: An intimate, somewhat local festival hosted by professional good guys the Mantras just sounds like a great time. This is the second Mantrabash after a short hiatus wises up a bit, moving from the dead of June’s heat to the shadier dog days.
No, really, go: The lineup takes on a decidedly more North Carolina-centric bent this year, providing an excellent chance to get acquainted with the jam revival happening in the state.
Hopscotch Music Fest
Where: Raleigh When: Sept. 5-7 Drive time: approx. 2 hrs. Why go: Currently the best homegrown music festival in North Carolina, the greatness of Hopscotch is in the discovery. The feelings of inadequacy that come from looking at a lineup where you can make any sort of immediate connection to maybe a quarter of the bands subsides once there’s aural evidence that it’s all really, really good music.
No, really, go: The Breeders are going to play Last Splash in its entirety, and Sleep is going to make some Raleigh hearing aid startup a lot of money.
Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit Where: Asheville When: Oct. 25-27 Drive time: approx. 2 hrs. 30 min. Why go: The binary fission that occurred with Moogfest over the winter left electronic fans all the richer; the Moog namesake event is on hiatus until 2014 while it reorganizes under the guidance of Detroit Electronic Music Festival promoter Paxahau, and AC Entertainment claims the sweet Halloween weekend slot to host more costumed vice as the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. Moogfest’s return will unfortunately coincide with MerleFest, pitting legend against legend and turntables against mandolins.
No, really, go: There are more artists to come, but an initial offering that includes industrial gods Trent Reznor (in two incarnations) and Gary Numan, a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel, jungle and dancehall legend the Bug, and synth pioneers Silver Apples, among others, is one hell of a start.