Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance

One of the most bucolic settings to see music in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area is at The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, which has been happening every spring and fall, on a 75-acre farm in Pittsboro, NC, since 2003.

The festival has on-site camping, food and craft vending, and is very family-friendly. There are lots of activities designed for children, the grounds are very clean and forested, and it's generally a much more relaxing and peaceful experience than larger festivals. It's also held at the best time of the year, before the summer heat sets in, whereas the larger festivals always seem to pick the hottest week in July, on land with not a tree in sight, which never makes sense to me.

Thursday night was headlined by one of the bigger names Shakori has booked, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Lukas is Willie Nelson's son, and although there is a similarity in their vocal phrasing, Lukas and his band are much more rock and roll. Promise of the Real has also been Neil Young's backing band since 2015. 

After debuting some new songs, including one about outer space, Lukas & POTR launched into familiar tunes from their recent self-titled album, like "Four Letter Word," "Fool Me Once," "Find Yourself, and of course "Carolina," which Lukas is pretty much now required to play at any show in the Carolinas. A new song with the lyrics "Turn Off the News and Build a Garden" really resonated with the audience. POTR is a great band, and their bass player, Corey McCormick, is a standout. Lukas closed out the set with three covers, Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," Tom Petty's "American Girl," and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." 

As with many festivals, it's impossible to see and write about every act, so I'll just mention some highlights. On Friday, Arson Daily, a Raleigh 3-piece band, delivered high-energy, melodic rock, with some great guitar playing. One of the standouts was a psychedelic, reverb-heavy version of Elton John's "Rocket Man." Meanwhile, in the Cabaret Tent, there was an excellent, classic blues jam, featuring the legendary Cool John Ferguson

After that, I checked out Maj Deeka, another Raleigh band that is proggy, funky, and has a Frank Zappa influence. In addition to their originals, Maj Deeka broke out covers of Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree," and Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." Another Friday standout was the Jose Albizu Jazz Trio, led by their standup bass player. Finally, I saw Zach Deputy close out the night, with his amazing, one-man band combination of vocals, guitar, samples, drum machines, and breakbeats. Truly mesmerizing.

On Saturday, I made a point not to miss Travers Brothership, an awesome band from Asheville, NC. Kyle Travers is a great guitarist who plays a Gibson SG with a definite Duane Allman influence. He, twin brother/drummer Eric, along with phenomenal singer/bassist Josh Clark form an amazing rhythm session, aided by keyboardist Ian McIsaac. In addition to their stellar originals, the audience was treated to covers of Tower of Power's "What is Hip," and "Keep on Growing" by Derek & The Dominoes. 

Later, I caught Lucas Ashby's Braintrust Ft. Cyro Baptista. This is an excellent jazz band, with two percussionists, keyboards, stand-up bass, and some great Afro-Cuban rhythms. Next was Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, a West African band that's very danceable. Diali plays the traditional kora, but blends it with more modern sounds like ethereal electric guitar & 5-string bass, for a real multi-generational sound. My Saturday night closed out with Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, an ensemble of two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and horns, that was full of funk and soul.

The festival closed out on Sunday with sets by Ellis Dyson & The Shambles, featuring Katharine Whalen, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, funky dance ensemble Turkuaz, and finally an all-star jam with Donna the Buffalo, one of the founders and hosts of the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. Festival goers left a little wet and muddy from periodic showers, but mostly happy, and ready for the next Shakori Hills Festival, coming up this October.

Review by Alex Marsh

Photos by Willa Stein