Smilefest, Deerfields, NC- 5/27-29
Gonzo, PBR and the Smilefest Express
Got picked up at the airport by a blonde chick who had a PBR in one hand and some sort of local smoke in the other. Well, alright – I’m liking North Carolina already. Everybody at the fest was smart, shared their groove and had grins throughout the three days of experimental improv, acoustic bliss, punk bluegrass and down home city funk. The Main and the Pond Stage showcased a well-coordinated rotation of diverse music.
On Friday, The Codetalkers with Col. Bruce Hampton and Jimmy Herring opened with a 25-minute ear decibel-shattering jam that had Hampton and Herring juicing riffs to a mountain top extreme on a monumental "When the World Comes Tumblin’ Down." This was followed by the equally euphoric chord dance of "Time is Free." Drive-By Truckers played a hot 17 song, 90-minute set that ranged from Jim Carroll’s "People Who Died" to AC/DC’s roasting "Let There Be Rock." The Truckers are America’s best Southern Rock Punk BBQ in Hell band. Barefoot Manner played surreal bluegrass by way of Radiohead through the digital delay loop tunnel paved by Phish on a sublime seguefest: "Mudhen>Little Man>Pulse>Little Man>Mudhen Reprise."
On Saturday, Jorma Kaukonen played country folk and blues on some tasty afternoon numbers like "Serpent of Dreams" which was dedicated to Airplane and Hot Tuna bassist Jack Casady and "What are They Doin’ in Heaven Today?" Bela Fleck’s Acoustic Trio played instrumental geographic journeys quoting riffs from Django Reinhardt to Zeppelin’s "Stairway to Heaven." Keller Williams played with special guests Larry and Jenny Keel on acoustic and standup bass, respectively. Trippiest part of the weekend was hearing Keller’s versions of Hendrix’s "The Wind Cries Mary," Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall – Parts I and II" and the Dead’s "Dupree’s Diamond Blues." Bela Fleck sat in on "Thirsty in the Rain" on banjo. Cadillac Jones sported red Adidas outfits, 40 ouncers and some real housewrecking funk on the Pond Stage on Saturday where even the drummer dressed in the proper theme with a shirt that read: "Kiss Me. I’m Loaded." The crowd ate it up so much, I thought they’d push the stage into the pond while groovin’ to everything from "Upper Decker" to a nutzoid version of "East Coast Eddies" that damn near caused epileptic seizures.
New Monsoon played a tight and very heavy metal meets bluegrass by way of world stomp music while enduring 45 degree late night weather and a borrowed banjo for Bo Carper (his instrument was broken by the airline while traveling to NC. You just can’t keep a good band down – borrowed instrument and all, New Monsoon was the highlight until Sunday eve. Jeff Miller on lead guitar was a great combo of Jimmy Page and a headbanging Angus Young as he wasn’t about to let the cold eve air disturb the crowd’s mood. Nary a buzz kill in sight! Closing the evening (early morn?) Lotus played an atmospherically cosmic set by offering techno mystique at 3 in the morning. Mist floated off a nearby pond, a half moon hovered overhead and an amazing light show rocketed into the trees lining the back of the crowd.
Jonah Smith, a Brooklyn, New York band recently signed with Relix Records, played a melodic and energetic set at the Pond Stage. Smith on vocals, and the band featuring Marko Djordjevic on drums, spun through rich, soulful songs with a hip hop mentality that made me plan on getting a Brooklyn South Paw or Black Betty ticket sometime soon.
Acoustic Syndicate closed Smilefest on Sunday with their last gig ever – two hour first set, three hour and fifteen minute second set. No special guests. No delays. No technical fuckups. No crying. No bum notes. No pauses searching for material. No bullshit. Everything they had ever played or wanted to play or liked to jam on – and some breakouts, as well: goosebump juggernaut Marley’s "No Woman No Cry" into "Flyswatter" followed by a transcendent "Sugaree>Morning Dew." Zeppelin’s "Heartbreaker" was used as a glorious instrumental cruncher. Raw, beautiful music played with total heart by a bunch of guys who wanted to go out being remembered as a GREAT LIVE BAND. And they did.
The entire band was mentally and emotionally focused – gave everything they had and invented a few new surprises, as well. I was at the soundboard for nearly six hours with the sound mixer and lighting designer; we were either sitting down (mixers and light dude) or laid out in total exhaustion on top of equipment boxes (me) – completely spent but knowing that we had witnessed why we travel 1,800 miles and five hours on a plane: another unforgettable series of dreams in The Golden Era of Live Music.