When: May 19-21 2017
Where Moogfest is the hip new kid in town, Artsplosure is the ever-reliable standby, a worthy and accessible free alternative that's now in its thirty-eighth year. Artsplosure has seemed to do more with less by streamlining its music to a single stage of top-notch acts, where the schedule runs from blues to hip-hop and psych rock to flamenco.
Friday night highlights homegrown talent: The ebullient Phil Cook & The Guitarheels headline with joyful, gospel-infused Americana, preceded by Lacy Jags's fuzzy, paisley-printed psychedelia and Rise Rashid's heady hip-hop. Other area acts dotting the weekend's docket include Ed Stephenson & the Paco Band's Spanish and flamenco tunes, The Harris Brothers' Appalachian strings, and Enloe Jazz Big Band on Saturday along with The Fountain Singers' traditional gospel and Violet Bell's enchanting folk on Sunday.
Fresh off February's Grammy win, longtime Stax artist and author of blues staple "Born Under a Bad Sign" William Bell headlines Saturday night, with a set ushered in by the infectious energy of the eclectic High & Mighty Brass Band and rootsy Canadian singer-songwriter Dave Gunning. On Sunday afternoon, charismatic New Orleans outfit Tank & The Bangas—recent winners of NPR's Tiny Desk contest thanks to its offbeat blend of spoken word, hip-hop, and funk—is chased by gritty soul from The Commonheart and the swampy rock 'n' roll of The Seratones. The slate of rising stars is particularly admirable given Artsplosure's relatively small budget, while its diversity reflects the festival's audience—a conscious effort to "book to reflect the community we see," according to marketing director Cameron Laws.
Dominating City Plaza all weekend, Katena—a massive inflatable luminarium inspired both by Hindu temples and the catenary curves of the Sagrada Familia—is the crown jewel of Artsplosure's nonmusic programming. Similar to Architects of Air's luminaria at previous festivals, Katena is the largest of its kind and makes spectacular use of light and color. With a $6 entry fee, festival organizers hope to make the unique experience available to as many residents as possible. "Our goal in doing so is to bring world-class art experiences—typically only available to residents of major urban areas—right here to Raleigh," says executive director Michael Lowder of the expensive undertaking.
Raleigh's free R-LINE bus becomes a mobile stage circulating downtown on Saturday afternoon, offering music, comedy, performance art, and poetry. Kidsplosure offers plenty of crafty activities between sets of storytelling from Mr. Erik, puppetry by Jeghetto, jazz from Enloe and Southeast Raleigh High Schools, and more. Find street performers and over 180 artisans scattered along Fayetteville Street as well.—Spencer Griffith