October 12 2014 – Charleston South Carolina
It was going to be impossible to top the music and atmosphere of yesterday. But there was still a lot of on offer and I needed more time today to check out some of the food and other merchandise stalls.
Again, I aimed to be early. Judging by yesterday, the crowds should be really thin at the outset enabling a stage front position very easily. The general parking area had moved since yesterday (maybe due to the difficulties of getting out at closing time?) and was further away from the Blackbaud Stadium, too far to walk this time in fact. The shuttle buses were those iconic and universal yellow school buses – with the wheel base that never looks quite right to me – so having a ride in one of those is a first.
There were no delays getting in today. I headed straight for the merchandise tent, which had a good array of festival material and specific artist wares as well. The Zac Brown Band stall was the largest and most impressive of all. Those boys sure have a serious footprint around these parts.
Yesterday’s ‘over 21 so I can get alcohol’ wrist band had to be replaced with a separate Sunday one, even though I was in fact a day older than when I got the previous one.
Cupcake Winery, out of San Francisco California, had a tasting van set up on site and I wandered over to that while the crowd numbers were low. On the white grape side, they had a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and prosecco and they all tasted pretty good this morning. One of the guys working there, Jason, was very helpful and we talked a good deal about New Orleans and the time he spent living there. His views on the Jazz and Heritage Festival and living in the city were very interesting.
The first band had started and I could hear them quite clearly from the tasting area. Run River North is a Korean/American indie folk rock band and they were stoking it up on the Charleston Battery stage, in their brief, thirty-minute time slot. I left a little early because I needed to be at the Southern Ground stage on time.
Old 97’s were on. Back home, I’ve been listening a lot to the deluxe version of their seminal 1997 album Too Far To Care (which I haven’t had for that long) and I have an enormous affection for it. The lead singer Rhett Miller was at the Americana festival in Nashville last month but I couldn’t get to see him. So I ensured I was right up front and centre for my first sighting of the band live. They have a muscular sound, blending Texas cow punk and power pop into an alt. country sensibility, with respect for traditional country. What makes a band stand out from the crowd, like say The Replacements or The Dream Syndicate? Well, I guess that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Anyway, Old 97’s fit the same stratum, full of energy and attitude, but with an ear for the melody and the ability to make acute observations.
“Barrier Reef” was feisty, a Merle Haggard cover was interesting and respectful, “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” was fun, “Wish The Worst” was pleading and “West Texas Teardrops” was sensitive. The boys from Dallas Texas released a new album this year – it’s called Most Messed Up and I am very keen to hear it. It was a thrill to get to see Old 97’s live.
The Steep Canyon Rangers from Asheville North Carolina put on a great show at the Charlotte Battery stage. I saw them in Raleigh for the IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass event and wrote about that set at some length, so I won’t repeat it here. “Stand and Deliver” sounded great, “Camellia” was sweet and the closing “Auden’s Train” was dynamite.
The Wailers changed the tone and their well-trodden, classic reggae set list never fails to get the crowd into a chilled-out, happy frame of mind.
The only Australian band at the festival is Sydney-based folk-rock Boy & Bear who have released two albums. The crowd liked their easy, harmony rock. They currently are on an extensive tour of the U.S. and the U.K. It was good to see a pair of (Tasmanian) Blundstone Boots on stage.
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn looked tiny, seated with banjos on the main stage. Hard to pick up visually but there was no trouble with the sound. The dual (not duelling?) banjos were again sounding great (I caught them at Raleigh too) and I tried to pick up the differences in style between the two – Bela’s bluegrass and Abigail’s traditional mountain claw hammer styles – still a work in progress for me. During one of Bela’s intense solo, he inserted Flatt and Scruggs’ “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” which was fun. Their music was as soft and gentle as the breeze.
It was time for a bite and a half-dozen mixed risottos were delicious (although a big serving, better to share). Clay Cook, yet another member of Zac Brown Band to have a solo set, was good – “Mountain Time” was a worthy opener. I’m starting to get the picture that ZBB have a heap of talent in their number.
On the home stretch now. Govt Mule with their trance jamming, guitar prominent material and the presence of The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was a nice reminder that this time next week, I will be in New Orleans.
I didn’t hang around for the second Zac Brown Band set. I felt that I had sufficient exposure to the Band as a whole and individually over the past two days. Interestingly, ZBB has just been announced as headlining at the (newly named) Big Sky Blues & Roots Festival back home in Australia next Easter.
So, in summary, the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival was a seriously good outing. Even if you are not a mad Zac Brown Band follower, there is plenty to enjoy here. If you love ZBB, look out for next year’s event! For me, it was a great experience. Darrell Scott, North Mississippi Allstars, Old 97s, Greensky Bluegrass, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn were all fabulous. The format is tremendous (no clashes), the sets really move along, the location is well removed from any distractions and the weather has been great.
Now, to work out where I’m going tomorrow…