by Joe Schwartz
I'd heard about this little festival off in the fields of Pittsboro with veggie-thing tortillas, men dancing in chicken suits, how-to instructions on biodegradable products and music under the moonlight. Last weekend was my first Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance: The festival has become something of a local staple, with eight spring and seven fall events already completed. It's got the quirky art and handmade wares, the classic festival food, yoga, nature walks and music from folksy to country to reggae to indie. It's a one-size-fits-all pill for good, muddy fun.
I journeyed Thursday, mainly drawn by Roman Candle, a band that got its start in Chapel Hill and that's since taken its mix of alt-country and pop-rock to Nashville to flourish. They returned to the Piedmont on the heels of their second album, Oh Tall Tree in the Ear, but the show was more about reclaiming roots than pushing CDs.
Lead singer Skip Matheny said the band had never played the event, but they had attended as fans. "It's nice to be back in familiar ZIP codes," he said between songs that came mostly from the acclaimed 2006 album, The Wee Hours Revue.
The crowd was small, mainly made up of 20-somethings bending their knees to the rhythm in wide open spaces, and an older, more experienced crowd reclining in foldable chairs, nodding along. That didn't stop Matheny and his cohorts from thrashing about, doing duck walks and even ending the hour-long set by grating a mic stand against an electric guitar. The strings screeched empathically. But the highlight of the performance had to be the half-dozen children of the performers who filled the back corner of the stage, dancing—sometimes to the music even—with glowsticks around their necks. They provided the energy of which everyone else fed, making the very-local, very-intimate show a memorable occasion.
Off in the distance, across the manmade wooden bridge and beyond the Christmas lights, the Hotwires played their old-fashioned bluegrass, upright bass, fiddle and all. The Raleigh quintet, playing in the Cabaret Tent, had what to date is the best song lyric I've ever heard: "Went out back, tried to hotwire a cow. If you don't believe me, just try to milk it now." Top that off with a cover of "I Know You Rider," and you've got a dance floor full of bodies moving.
As if that didn't provide enough diversion, Dub Addis, an Ethopian reggae act, capped off the night with a set full of "Put down your weapon. Put down your gun. Let's come together."tunes. This festival may be grassroots, but it doesn't lack for variety. I, for one, will be back.