Friday May 10 2013
Pulling into the festival the breathtaking view of Camp Rockmont filled the landscape. At first glance one can see that Lake Eden is the main focal point of the area with grassy knolls in the forefront surrounded by the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains. I don’t think there’s a bad spot to camp anywhere around. Most people that didn’t drive in nestled along the peaceful lake. One nice thing was that you could pull right up to camp and unload then you could go park where shuttles were waiting to bring you back to the festival. Looking at the program guide I could tell that the LEAF organization is as good as it gets, their mission as a non-profit organization is to build communities and enrich lives through the arts-locally and globally-with festivals, community events, and arts educational programs.
Throughout the day there was so much to see and do if you have FOMO (the fear of missing out) then you’re in big trouble. The festival was set up to utilize all the facilities at the camp taking full advantage of the lake, and surrounding buildings.
After setting up camp I scoped out the site map and took a stroll around the lake to the festival. Throughout the event I noticed more vendors than you could shake a stick at, everyone was here from healing arts to creative arts to amazing local food. One rule that LEAF has about vending is that if it’s not handmade then there is no place for you here which is a very nice concept.
The festival has 6 different locations to see music starting with the main stage called the “Lakeside Stage” where today and tonight some amazing acts, starting with The Honey Island Swamp Band, followed by Papa Grows Funk, Mavis Staples and encoring with Orgone.
Following the path around the lake there was a gym turned dance hall better known as The Brookside Dance Hall. Within the hall during the day was a beginners walk-thru & Contra Dance followed by a Brazilian Dance Workshop, Matuto (“Matuto embraces modern techniques and global influences, guiding their audiences to new worlds through familiar sounds.”) and Elixir, a late night Waltz.
On down the path on the left was a kid’s water park, lakeside beach and Eden Hall. Eden Hall was the place to be with a sweet dock right on the water, during the morning and evening hours you could come a partake in a summer camp feeling buffet with some excellent authentic local food. Today in Eden Hall was Sheila Kay Adams who had amazing ballads and stories of Appalachia as well as Talavya a high energy Indian percussion ensemble, a second dose of Papa Grows Funk, with late night DJ’s Molly Party and MC Yogi.
Beyond Eden Hall was the LEAFlet Kids Village which was huge. My god, this place was all about the kids with so many activities and they even had a performance stage for them. On the stage today the kids got to enjoy a puppet theatre, The Royal Kingdom of Happyland (a world beat for kids), also one of the most famous performers for kids Agent 23 Skidoo with his family style kid-hop. Some of the activities I witnessed were: Face painting, balloon art, a dunk tank, and a costume tent.
Walking back to camp there was one more place I had to venture off to and that was The Barn where a couple of acts performed today, Ben Sollee, who is an amazing Cello player and Matuto with their Brazilian influenced music. After a day of meandering around and observing all the things LEAF has to offer I got to relax and see the 3 main acts of the day Papa Grows Funk, Mavis Staples and Orgone. New Orleans gave birth to Funk and PGF has taken that funk and spawned it to new levels with some impressive improve and some of the funkiest bass lines I’ve ever heard. Mavis Staples graced the stage next and this 73 year old Motown veteran, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy Lifetime Achievement award winner blasted out some stunning vocals. She opened with a stellar Funkadelic cover “Can you get to that”, into a classic oldie “I like the things about me”, she then mentioned that she was there to give joy, happiness and good vibrations, enough to last at least six months. Soon after the chills of goose bumps overwhelmed me when she started singing The Bands “The Weight” which I had heard her do at the Grammy’s with Elton John and others so I was so thrilled to be able to hear it live. She then gave a big shout out to Levon Helm. Mavis, taking a much deserved break, had her band take over who really impressed us with some marvelous instrumentation.
The last band of the night was the soul infused funk band Orgone. Hailing from Los Angeles, this band can throw down like a dog in heat. After getting lost in the groove for a moment their lead vocalist and Original singer Fanny Franklin came out and got the crowd jumping up and waving their hands. The music is so infectious with different styles of funk, they come at you in one cohesive force and seem to be so dialed in with each other making for a pleasurable ride through funky town.
Saturday May 11 2013
Saturday was another fun filled day of activities and music starting off with a partner’s yoga, Native American flutes and a very wild mushroom walk. During breakfast in Eden Hall I had the pleasure of watching Stella who are a 7 piece all female A Cappella group singing some old time tunes such as Rock-a-Bye Baby, Rock-a-Boogie and some pleasant gospel. On the main stage the music started off with Kid-Hop sensation Secret Agent 23 Skidoo who rapped with backups from his wife and daughter MC Fireworks. The set comprised of some songs off his most recent album “Make Believers” like Magic Beans which is a little story about Jack and the Bean Stalk that most of us have heard before and a collaboration with DJ Adam Strange called Gotta Be You. I have had the pleasure of seeing Skidoo countless times and have seen his daughter blossom in to an energetic confident MC that I’m sure is going to be a star of her own one day.
Another fantastic verbal extravaganza was the LEAF poetry slam contest which took place in Eden hall throughout the day until the finals later in the evening. Some very passionate poetry was being flung around with a fluid wave of immense emotion.
One of the most surprising highlights of the day was a band from Zimbabwe, Oliver Mtukudzi & the Black Spirits. The best way to describe their music is to pretend String Cheese Incident goes to Africa, with an uplifting heart felt danceable acoustic sound. Oliver is one of the most prominent musical idols in Zimbabwe and all of Africa. Mtukudzi offers a plethora of music overflowing with bright African melodies and lyrics with messages of encouragement and love. The words are married to a unique style called "Tuku music" (Tuku is his nickname), where Mtukudzi draws upon traditional forms of Mbira, modern Jiti and South African Mbanqanga. In layman's terms, it means Mtukudzi's has a deep voice, strong chorus of background vocals, and a highly danceable interlocking rhythm of African drums and acoustic/electric guitars.
Headlining tonight was the Latin infused band Ozomatli. This band defines itself as a truly multi-cultural melting pot of music. Starting with a strong Latin foundation, they toss jazz, hip hop, dub, reggae and rock into a funky stew that can't help but make you move your feet. Seeing these guys in concert and hearing the raw talent displayed in this band brings you closer to a world of diverse culture. If you weren’t tired after all that then the late night was the way to go, a long trek up the side of the mountain was the bon fire of all bon fires with a drum circle that resonated though the valley giving a warm cozy feeling on a mild yet brisk night.
Sunday May 12 2013
Sunday was another day of way too much to do in such a small amount of time. I swear, with so much going on the festival should be a week long. I think today they had more types of yoga then you could shake a stick at. There was Chakra Yoga, Slow Flow Yoga, Thai Yoga, and Prenatal Yoga. If you weren’t into yoga but still wanted to be one with the earth there was also Open Heart Meditation, Shamanic Healing or a Barefoot Doctors Healing; for lots of people this was as good as going to church on Sunday.
The music today consisted of a fantastic array of musicians including Bela Flecks wife Abigail Washburn who was a force to be reckoned with on her banjo, also Peter Rowan and Steel Pulse closed out the day. Abigail’s music is American Folk music at its core, well written, well played, and well sung. Washburn's songs are clearly rooted in the traditional American musical styles of bluegrass, folk, country and gospel. True cohesiveness and fully immersive songs, full of nuanced emotional textures and subtle yet insightful lyrics. She is the real deal when it comes right down to it.
Missing Peter Rowan I meandered around catching some of the Contra Dancing finals as well as a Step-Dance contest. Around 4:15 Steel Pulse, one of the legends of Reggae took the stage. Steel Pulse has been one of the most sought after reggae band of our time. Their ability to take the essence of one of the most recognizable tones and giving it more life and heart then anyone today. There set was a mix of passionate political and social protest with moving Rasta roots, Who would have imagined that their origins started in the U.K rising out of humble Birmingham to become one of the U.K.'s all-time greatest reggae acts and a globally revered band.
Summarizing LEAF, I’d have to say that it is definitely one of the most organized, well put together festivals in the country. With each coming year LEAF works to raise up to 300k to support Arts Education for kids, their message of learning through the arts has made me a believer in the notion that communities of this nature can make a difference to the kids around the world for the future. I recommend to anyone that has been to this festival to become a LEAF member which supports the outreach programs, not only are you giving to a good cause but you are also rewarded with LEAF festival perks. Luckily they have spring and fall LEAF so I can bask in the glory of world culture twice a year.
Article by: Brad Winecoff
Photos by: Cameron Yeager