James Ross Kiefer, Editor-in-Chief
After driving through the scenic back roads of North Carolina for nearly an hour, I pulled off to a single lane road that lead to a small farm. Turning onto a dirt path I began to see several colorful signs for tickets and camping, people in tye-dye operating tractors and the sound of bluegrass music cresting over the pasture. I was definitely at Shakori Hills.
From Thursday through Sunday, the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance offered festival goers a wide array of music, food and workshops. Those attending were allowed to camp in various zones around the festival, and after securing a spot by the Dance Tent I started exploring the festival.
Vendors sold items like pottery, hand pressed shirts, soaps and items crafted by Native Americans. Artists had come to sell original prints of their work, many from out of state. Sellers like Karen Casey and New World Glass focused on things like glass made jewelry, while Reciprocities and Unity Outfitters concentrated on sustainable products.
Popular treats around the festival included items like tater-tots fried in duck fat and bowls of curry and rice. BreakFAST & Beyond, who specialized in using local and free range ingredients, offered an absurd helping of food with their breakfast platter. Containing a whopping amount of eggs, bacon and potatoes all smothered in gravy, it was the perfect way to recuperate from a night of dancing.
Obviously the biggest pull to Shakori Hills is the musical acts. With headlining acts like Donna the Buffallo, Beats Antique, Danger Muffin, Phil Cook & The Guitarheels and Dr. Bacon, each of which offer wild and lively jams, a large crowd was definitely expected. This isn’t to say that the headliners dominated the festival, as some of the biggest highlights of the entire weekend came from some smaller acts.
On Friday night the Music Maker Review took over the Cabaret Tent for over three hours. Hosting blues guitarist Cool John Ferguson, Harvey Arnold and Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, the supergroup played an impressive repertoire of powerful blues songs. Each guitar solo by Cool John managed to top anything from before, with soaring high notes, energetic runs and some gnarly blues mojo.
Zoe Van Buren, a Program Associate with the Music Maker Relief Foundation, talked about her Shakori Experience. “I’ve had the greatest time tonight,” she said smiling. “This is my first time with Music Maker at Shakori and it is just such a blast to have such a loving and appreciative audience for people who really care about roots music. [They] show up for it, support their local music scene [and] come out for these amazing artists and I feel really thrilled that we get to give them such an incredible experience all in one.”
Another highlight of Shakori was the Beats Antique performance. Formed in 2007 and hailing out of Oakland, California, Beats Antique mixes world music with fusion, electronica and dance. Incorporating a trio of belly dancers and an array of props into their set, while only being comprised of guitar, saxophone and drums, made their performance almost feel like a narrative, but with a mystical aesthetic.
A personal favorite of the festival was the Poetry Slam. Pitting both amateur and long time poets against each other for a variety of prizes, the Slam captivated an intimately sized audience for over two hours. Grand prize winner Imagine, who uses they/them pronouns, spoke about their winnings. “I’m flabbergasted,” they said. “There were so many great poems and so many great poets and so much dope poetry going on, but I’m very honored, and very humbled that for some reason the judges thought, through some arbitrary numbers, that my poetry was the best.”
Imagine went on to say “I love Shakori because it’s an amazing experience. There’s so much love and energy and positive vibes, there’s just like this great open space where you get to get away from stress, and like this whole other universe that you just go to. It’s just like this place where you can really be free and there’s no judgement.”
Part of the Shakori experience is seeing how the festival draws in such a wide range of people. Ranging from toddlers to seniors, the festival offers up activities that can be enjoyed by the entire family. “I’ve been coming to Shakori ever since I was 12 or 13-years-old,” said Daniel Fields on his nostalgia for the festival. “It’s so great to come back later in my life and everything is the same, it’s still the same festival, it’s just bigger and nicer.”
The Shakori Hills Festival returns to North Carolina in the spring from May 3-6, 2018. More information can be found at their website https://shakorihillsgrassroots.org/.