Echoes of revolution, positivity and respect for the Earth bounced all over the venue, from Ralph Rodenberry's "You and your light can change the world" to Sol Driven Train's "Humble yourself before the Earth," to Michael Franti's "Everyone deserves music, sweet music." The festival gave a little taste of the flavor of Asheville, NC, which is exactly what any festival should do for its guests. It was like the city of Asheville had a day in the park... the sights, the sounds, the community of peaceful people, those out there driven to make a better world... everyone smiling, art flourishing, families enjoying together... It's that same feeling I get on a trip to downtown Asheville; I leave inspired, conscious and deliciously fulfilled.
We arrived at the gate around midnight and were greeted with smiles from friendly staff members. Check In went smoothly enough, and we felt lucky to be escorted in the gates and towards our camping. We enjoyed the beautiful Carolina sky and moonlit treescape and then caught some much needed rest before our first music extravaganza of the season. We woke to a beautiful first day of June, sun shining, banjoes picking. We were situated beneath an apple tree in the orchard near a creek; there is no better setting to wake up to, I'll tell you that. This venue is breathtaking, in the hills of North Carolina, surrounded by natural beauty, as inspiring as settings come. Our neighbors were all very friendly and smiling. We were eager to make our way into the stage areas. I hate to miss music, so I am typically the one running around, schedule in hand, watching time and missing out on the relaxation that's zen for most... Thankfully this schedule was full, but not overwhelming. Shows ran back to back from the Mountain Xpress mainstage to the Greenlife Grocery stage on the pond. The contained stage area allows for a relaxing stroll between shows. We could hear the sounds beginning to crank up with Possum Jenkins on the Mountain Xpress stage, the mainstage, warming into the day with some soulful country rock sounds. We walked around enjoying the artists and retail vendors, which were very conveniently located around the perimeter of the stage area. The food vendors were a bit separate, like a forrest food court, and there was an excellent spread of favorites like Barley's Taproom, Bearly Edible and The Green Light Cafe (mi favorita) amongst others. I enjoyed a lovely Thai coconut curry from Green Light and head towards the Greenlife stage for a little Incognito Mosquito. Right on the water, this stage is a sight... There was a light breeze blowing and IM's funky jam sounds were achieving liftoff for the day. The dancers' feet were warming up and chests were beginning to pulsate, ah. Then Bombadil gave an exciting performance on the mainstage; their unique art pop was humorous and highly entertaining with a theatrical flair, reminiscent of the Avett Brothers, although much younger. It was youthful, exciting and a little crazy. Sol Driven Train kicked it up into high gear for me with their music with a message; I walked in on "Humble Yourself Before the Earth, Humble Yourself before creation..." This is what it's all about to me: amazing music that gets you moving, on your feet, feeling it, and speaks to your mind in a positive way, so as to activate our consciousness. The trombone, sax, bass and drums were tight and so in tune, and the lyrics were thought provoking, with that YEAH! YEAH! factor. Even the slow tunes pick you up. Lyrics like "wish I'd loved you but it ain't so," while light and playful, are still honest, witty and insightful. They called on all kinds of creative rhythm, and even got the audience to clap along in time... One of the vocalists said a lady had dubbed their unique style "redneck hippie world beat." HAHAHA. He sang, "Music is my Jesus, and it's like church every day," to a resounding yooooowwwwhoooo!!! from the crowd. The DJ Williams Projekt took the main stage next and did not disappoint. So smooth these cats!!!! They warmed the crowd into feeling funky with that jazz/ R&B sound riding on the hip hop beat. They brought me and kept me on my feet singing Sweet Jesus. Oh those horns! Oh, that rhythm! And Oh! that soul. The day was fully in swing now, people relaxed and kicked back into the weekend. It was bright and sunny, but not too hot. I hated to miss Home Grown Artists Fifth House, who I'd heard great things about, but my feet were telling me a break must be had. That's the only drawback of an unrelenting lineup. Returning to the mainstage area, I caught Shannon Whitworth's sweet and sensitive country sound. A light gentle rain was falling and it felt just like this song. "Won't you teach me how to fly," she sang longingly... This girl has a wholesome feeling, but with sweet secrets... My 7 yr. old niece was hula hooping around, loving it. Barefoot Manner, who I fell in love with at this very venue two years ago at Smilefest, took the Greenlife Stage with that same foot stomping good time I remember and love. Those poignant melodies touch your soul-spot, all the while rocking you on your feet; the dirt was flying now. Michael Franti was cavorting amongst us bringing a heightened excitement. This sweet bluegrass built the day, rising in intensity; at this point everyone was flocking to the Mountain Xpress stage for the highly anticipated Acoustic Syndicate set. The announcer said that he thought he'd never get the chance to introduce them again... and now, in a jubilant moment, he'd gotten his wish. What can we say about Acoustic Syndicate? This show was triumphant, like communion to their loyal fans. The energy was high... Then Ras Alan & The Lions took it up the next step with the revolutionary vibe. "1-2-3-4; We Don't Want War" was the first lyric I heard rounding the hill at Greenlife. Yeeeah. We're on our feet now, up with the energy, ready for this magical night. "Organic! Don't Panic!" aha! I love it! Appalachian Reggae, yyeeeeah. He told us to "Give Thanks!" That's what I'm talking about. Spread the message! Spread the word, through music. These guys have been playing reggae in Appalachia for 20 years, they say... This was the perfect way to set the tone for Michael Franti & Spearhead, the ultimate revolutionary. I have such a profound connection to him, his purpose and his power. He is a key to the dream of our generation: those who wish and long for peace on Earth can find hope in the light of Michael Franti's presence. The last (and first) time I saw this artist was last year at this very time: at Smilefest right here near Asheville. Spearhead has it going on another level. Each member, from keys to drums and flow to guitar, brings the thunder. In their shows I feel like a battery on a charger, receiving all the energy I need to carry me through the next chapter of life... After being on my feet marching and shouting, it was another unavoidable break... to my dismay I had to miss Bridge, another Home Grown Artist we've heard raves about. We made it back for an intense Toubab Krewe set, full of material we'd yet to hear; these guys never disappoint. I slept blissfully. Saturday morning I was happy to rise and smell the NC air; it felt damp and we all prepared for rain. Lost Ridge Band and Thacker Dairy Road warmed up the Greenlife stage at 10am. Then the Barrel House Mama's took the mainstage. I trekked over a bit fast, as I had been particularly interested to catch these gals. I arrived to the sweet sounds of "Think with Your Heart; Think with your mind...." Ah, the tight harmonies: very sweet, yet groovy too. Artvandalay got the jam going like last night had never ended with high energy grooves and insightful lyrics. CX-1 took Mountain Xpress stage next; Oh, the agony of a festival schedule you couldn't conquer unless you had a caddy and a traveling couch. Once again I was pained to miss a part of this show. I arrived just in time to hear "This music life is the life for me..." These guys have the vision for humanity that resounds in my heart. Ralph Rodenberry tugged at my heart strings last year at that festival whose name I can' t remember, and I was so pleased to hear his voice coming from the Greenlife stage. He's all about the message, too. "Let the message in ... or the message might get lost..." Once we made it to the stage, the show was already up like a revival. Apparently others feel his music like I do! A high point in the show was the anthem Sister Mama... "You brought the light brand new..." All the mamas were dancing and reveling in the awesomeness of the moment. I'll never forget "you and your light can change the world..." On the mainstage, the Afromotive put on an amazing show as always; it's impossible to stand still while these guys are delivering. Over on Greenlife, Menage put out some silky smooth country sounds full of longing. "Too many bridges I can't cross..." The sound went real funky too, rocking, sassy and soulful. These two gals really get in touch with their mojo on stage. The audience was primed for the highly anticipated Avett Brothers' show, and it was as rousing as ever. I love how these guys push boundaries of sanity, grip our souls with passion and rock our socks with unbelievable energy. At this point, there had been talk flying all over the place about a storm moving in... folks were preparing to dance in the rain or retreat... Purple Schoolbus took Greenlife, followed by Donna the Buffalo, Jen & the Juice, Keller Williams and the WMDS, YO Mama's Big Fa Booty Band, and Strut. It was an amazing lineup of music, and tons of folks stayed out. To make it easier on those of us who had to retreat, you could hear the sounds echoing from the stage clear into camp. This is the best way I can possibly imagine to fall asleep. On Sunday, I enjoyed the trek to the stage area, pausing to appreciate all the art; sentiments like wisdom, harmony, compassion, respect, enjoy, relax, Power to the Peaceful, etc. decorated the fields. It's special touches like this that illuminate this magical experience. Over at the Greenlife stage, the lovely Rebecca Jean Smith kicked off the shows, followed by Beaconwood. When I arrived, Hope Massive had the stage and the Asheville vibe was in full force. Michael Franti said that Asheville had soul... and he was right. It's so nice to see everyone dancing and relaxing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Swimmers enjoyed the lake, kids played, artists painted, writers wrote, inspired by the beauty of it all. Hope Massive brings the positive life force with those tight reggae & hip hop beats. The next act, to me, embodied the whole spirit of this festival: The Evergreen School Marimba Band. Again, I remember how awesome these kids are from that festival whose name I can't remember... It made me smile to see them again. It was so nice all this weekend, with all you beautiful Asheville people and all your beautiful Asheville vibes, seeing and meeting you all weekend and then getting to see these children on stage: this is what the whole thing, to me, is all about: a beautiful way of life centered in music, peace and happiness. It was great to see such a big crowd for these talented kids. They played a variety of compositions on the marimbas drawing on all kinds of world rhythms with incredible skill. It was heartwarming and highly impressive. When one of the graduating 8th graders thanked Sue, the conductor, it was a cold chill moment... so special. He said he plans be become "some drummer" in "some band" someday and this was the start of it all. When I had a chance to speak with Sue, the instructor, she said that the marimba band is all about community; she said there's no way you could do this with one person; they do the load in, load out,etc. all by themselves, and learn such valuable lessons of cooperation which they pass down through generations. A quick walk to the kids' universe on site gives the same heart warming feeling. The area was full of art and activity run by awesome volunteers. At some point during the festival 50+ kids in full costume marched through the grounds and on stage to the delight of proud parents. Special guests visited the kids' universe throughout the weekend playing songs for the kids and spreading good cheer. My sister and her 7 & 15 yr. old daughters had a life shaping experience at this festival. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing them enjoy this experience that was so new to them, so eye-opening and influential. They experienced another way that life can be: peaceful, joyous, healthful and fuuuuunnnn!!!! All this in stark contrast to their home-work-walmart routine on the "outside." That's it. There is hope for the world. Larry Keel and Natural Bridge finished out the festival with a special performance, calling on guest pickers from Acoustic Syndicate and CX1. Always right at home here in these mountains, Larry delivered his signature optimum energy performance driven by that special something you just can't describe... Funny, I saw this artist for the first time at that festival...what was its name? Happyfest? No... Sunshinefest?...no... All I can remember is that everyone was smiling, smiling, smiling. This festival reminded me so much of that... - Review by Lori McKinney - Photos by Robert Blankenship