Sun Ray Music Festival August 27-29, Carlton, GA (just outside of Athens)
The last time you perused these pages searching for the inside scoop on summer festivals you learned a little about SmileFest. I went, and now I know exactly how Hunter S. Thompson must have felt like in Vegas, fear and loathing in a hotel hosting a huge cop convention. DA's from around the nation convened in one location talking shop and weary of outsiders does not make for a comfortable environment. The same can be said of SmileFest- only I think there were more police there, and I can never pretend to be as eloquent or intoxicated as the Good Doctor himself. Granted, the soundtrack in the air at Van Hoy Farms was delightful, which made the police state vibe tolerable.
Now, onto and into an event that will be held within a stones throw of my backyard, the Sun Ray Music Festival. More often than not I'm agreeable and eager to experience new things. Just your average fun loving guy with a wide open mind- until the conversation turns to music, when I become a bit of a zealous patriot defending the local turf, my beloved Athens audio scene. Until now, the only thing that my neighborhood lacked, aside from a beach or other interesting geography, was a full-blown music festival. The first annual Sun Ray event (August 27-29) will, without question, fill the void. Promoter Daniel Chapman, from 2 Dogs Productions, has assembled a righteous line-up and arranged for unusual diversions for what promises to be one of the finer summer experiences this side of Bonnaroo. Throughout the arduous process of coordinating acts and volunteers, securing 212 acres of private property, and arranging for a 65 foot Ferris wheel to spin non-stop, Chapman has remained committed to the goal of showcasing local talent for local music fans. "Being from Athens, I knew something like this was needed. It's basically for everyone [bands and fans]...it was time to bring the music back home!" Oh, and along the way he decided it wouldn't hurt to line-up a few heavyweights too. Sun Ray will feature sets from the likes of George Porter Jr., The Radiators, WAR, and Acoustic Syndicate. Chapman proudly boasts that, "It's grassroots, and it's Southern-fried, but we're not being disrespectful and forgetful of others- we've got some jazz, some funk, some hip-hop…"
About a half an hour outside of Athens you'll find a sleepy little town called Carlton that without a doubt has never seen anything like this before. The town is not alone, most patrons and performers will be taken through a time warp of sorts as Carlton makes Manchester, Tennessee look like Manhattan. Privacy should not be an issue. "I don't even know where it is," admitted William Tonks of the band Barbara Cue (featuring WSP's Todd Nance). "I think it's [Sun Ray] gonna put this place on the map." Barbara Cue will be playing the main stage on Sunday afternoon, and the band is relieved to be out of the studio and in front of fans after putting the finishing touches on a record that should be out this September. Tonks, a long-time Athenian, remembered the days of the Super Jam events that used to take place in these parts featuring the likes of Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, and Dave Matthews, but nothing like Sun Ray comes to mind. "In terms of a multi-day festival, I can't recall anything…certainly nothing on the scale of what they're trying to do now." Moonshine Still's gregarious front man Scott Baston, a former Athenian himself agrees that a festival like this, in a town known for music, is long overdue. "When I first heard about this, I thought 'is this really gonna happen?' I think Athens has needed something like this for a while, and now I'm excited." When asked if we can expect to catch Baston in the festival's laser tag arena or on the Ferris wheel he didn't flinch, saying, "I'm scared of heights, but I promised my wife we'd spend some time on that wheel." For Baston and the boys in Moonshine the road has been home for a while. They've crisscrossed America this summer playing high profile gigs (High Sierra) and experiencing the woes of Texas law enforcement. As for the mind-blowing
High Sierra experience, Baston was proud of the "huge southeastern representation" and the fact that "We got to be with our friends…In California it seems as though there are a lot of disconnected scenes, but in Georgia, the Carolinas, the Southeast we're all friends, we all mingle…I think it's the best scene in the United States." As for the Texas dilemma, Scott lamented, "I can't say I wanna go back anytime soon…let's just say it's true, don't mess with Texas."
A quick glance of the artist roster reveals a definite Georgia theme, so I became curious how all these bands that essentially came up together are all experiencing similar levels of success- simultaneously. Tishamingo guitarist/vocalist Cameron Williams felt that the answer was simple, and it lies in the hard working, blue-collar work ethic Southern bands share. "Everybody is constantly touring, working hard- sometimes insane routes…We don't get to see each other a lot, but when I catch these bands every once in a while it's always fresh, everybody's always working on something new, and that's important." Speaking of hard work Tishamingo has just finished a new record with producer David Barbe, tentatively titled Wear and Tear that should be out on the Magna Carta label in January 2005. As for the "insane routes" Williams is hoping that Tishamingo's flight plans don't prevent them from catching Sun Ray sets before there Sunday evening slot, "I'm just hoping we get there on time, we'll be flying in from Little Rock." He wouldn't mind making plans for the second annual festival right away either, saying, "I hope everyone gets there friends out there so we can get this thing going next year too!"
With so many friends on the hay farm during the weekend I have to suspect that sets will be riddled with guest appearances that usually translate into memorable once in a lifetime experiences. Gaurav Malhotra, percussionist in Captain Soular Cat, confirmed my suspicions of an all-star jam of sorts taking place. "Oh yeah, you can definitely expect something…I mean, so many of our teachers, influences, and contemporaries will be there. At High Sierra Moonshine and P-Groove joined us on stage and we closed it down together, so at Sun Ray who knows?" As for being back home and playing smaller festivals and hometown shows, Malhotra said without a trace of sarcasm, "That's our bread and butter man…After three or four years of touring and perseverance we've made progress, and our sound constantly evolves and changes through gradual turns but we're just taking our first steps, and we're lucky enough that folks are digging what we're doing!" You can find out what the Soular Cat crew is up to on Saturday night on the auditorium stage, and don't be surprised if the evening takes on that family reunion vibe. Pull up a chair and pass the potato salad.
So there you have it folks. Three days of camping and calamity in a quiet corner of Georgia with all of our finest talent on display. See y'all there!