The Keel Family Function

The second annual Keel Family Function held at the beautiful Cherokee Farms in Lafayette, GA proved to be a wonderfully diverse weekend, full of blazing sets from some of the most talented acts in the region.

Friday April 2nd

Driving to Lafayette you could tell that spring was in the air.  Blooming cherry blossoms and bright green lush fields blanketed the foothills of Northern Georgia. Cherokee Farms is made up of 200+ acres of rolling farm land which made a great spot for this up and coming family function. Within the venue finding a place to camp was relatively easy with 4 different areas to choose from, we decided to drive behind the main stage where there was an abundance of shade and lots of flat grassy areas. After setting up camp it was time to explore. The main stage looked as if it had been built eons ago, it had an old rustic feel to it, a unique wagon wheel was on the top center and a banner hung in the back which read Wild Man Steve Radio, who happened to be the host announcer for the music this weekend. What really caught my eye was the cool collogue of art painted on the shower house to the left of the stage, with the likes of Mr. Bubbles in the forefront which made the showers stand out and strangely inviting. Turning around, another stage about 50 yards away was setup for the late night sets and the talent who played between the set breaks on the main stage. Just behind the second stage were a line of about 10 to 15 vendors.

If you were in the mood for tie-dyes then you were in the right place, there was probably enough tie-dye clothing for everyone there. A variety of choices of food for the weekend ranged from tasty brick-oven pizza, seafood, and BBQ. I had a little of everything and I have to say the BBQ sandwich was top notch.  

After a quick glace of the surroundings it was time to pull out the schedule to see what good music was coming up. On the main stage the schedule said Soul Grass Rebellion at 7pm but I believe they got a late start. I later found out that is was URI from Druid City, Alabama. This band definitely brought the funk.  They brought a nice stage presence by getting the audience involved in a little music trivia during the set.  The bass player would play a couple of licks from songs of well-known artist like the Temptations and Michael Jackson and someone in the audience had to guess what song it was. Following URI was Lefty Williams, hailing from Atlanta, GA; Lefty brought a nice rock'n Cajun flare to his music with songs like Fire on the Bayou and The Shanty Song.  He also complimented his set with a nice cover of Sugaree.   Backing up Lefty was (Duane Trucks - Drums, Kris Dale - Bass, Rick Doviak - Guitar and Chris Spies - Keys.) all who take this bluesy Cajun feel to the next level. On top of the fantastic musicianship the harmonic vocals from Lefty and his band were very pleasing to the ear which seemed to get everyone moving.  I highly recommend checking Lefty Williams out when visiting Atlanta. Next up came the one and only Col. Bruce Hampton accompanied by his band The Quark Alliance with very special guest DJ Logic. The on beat scratching of DJ Logic meshed amazing with Col. Bruce's crunchy guitar rhythm.  Space is the Place was one of my favorite songs where the two genres meshed so well. Seeing Col. Bruce still ripping it up after all these years was amazing to witness.  Lefty Williams also sat in and spiced up the already raging set.  Getting into the night The Pond Farm Pickers followed Col. Bruce on the stage right behind us. The Pond Farm Pickers are Caroline Pond - Fiddle and Vocals, George Pond - Bass, Andy Pond - Banjo. The band had a wonderful array of quirky fun loving tunes with a ragtime feel that really set off a frenzy of dancing souls. I found myself enthralled with the chemistry between Caroline's violin and George Ponds upright bass, you could tell the two of them have been playing together for years.  

Josh Phillips Folk Festival was next on the main stage.  The Folk Festival consists of (Elijah Cramer - Bass, Casey Kramer - Guitar, Nick Hope on Drums, Ryan Burns - Keys, and Debrissa McKinney - vocals.) Josh and his Folk Festival have a presence about them to capture you with their appealing likable songs.  The vocals between Josh and Debrissa along with the rest of the band meshed perfectly. I was hoping to hear one of my favorite covers by them, Lionel Richie's Dancing on the Ceiling, but instead we got a sweet rendition of Radio Head's Creep. As well as a few flawless covers, Josh Phillips unique song writing ability along with his catchy melodic tunes has gained him well known notoriety in the region and I am sure it will continue to thrive to a nationwide phenomenon.   Soon after such an incredible set, the late night music was hot, with Sugar Kayne, another great one from Atlanta and 3rd Stone from Gainesville, FL played to all hours of the night. Sugar Kayne's set was best described as an acid, jazzy, trip-hop with a very unique angelic yet primal vocal. I loved the tribal feeling mixed with electronica; it woke me up for sure after such a long day. The late night continued with 3rd Stone who really blew me away.  This Afro-beat, rock'n, reggae funk band was on fire, blending a fusion of world beats with downright righteous lyrics. 3rd Stone is (Wester Joseph-Guitar/Vocals, Anthony Kavouklis - Guitar, Eli Collins - Bass, Quintina Crawford - Vocals/Percussion, Sean McGuire - Drums, and Jose Rosado - Vocals/Percussion.)  It was unbelievable to hear that Anthony Kavouklis playing lead guitar was only 13 years old, wow! Playing like a seasoned veteran, I found myself in awe with his performance.  Closing the night I have to say that I was very impressed with the day's line-up the only thing missing was a set by Larry Keel who happened to be somewhere else playing that night.

Saturday April 3rd

Today waking up was hard to do because the weather was so perfect.  Usually when the sun comes up it's time to get out of the tent or else you would be drenched in sweat but the overcast skies made it much easier to sleep in. Getting a late start on the day I was able to catch the tail end of Bobby Miller and the Virginia Dare Devils from Asheville, NC.  The Dare Devils are Stefan Custodi - Upright Bass/Lead and Backup Vocals, Griff Martin - Flat Top Guitar-Lead and Backup Vocals, accompanied by Bobby Miller on Mandolin. The last couple of songs were great with traditionally rooted bluegrass melodies and some fantastic improvisational solos. I was really looking forward to seeing Bobby later that day in the EYE of the DAWG showcase. After Bobby was The Mosier Brothers Band featuring David Blackmon.  The Mosier Brothers Band are (Rev. Jeff Mosier - Banjo, Johnny Mosier - Guitar, David Blackmon - Fiddle, Brad Laird - Bass, and Jack Watson - Drums.)  Jeff with his electrifying banjo set the tone for this musical journey of newgrass. This high energy newgrass was a great way to start the day.  Since putting his band Blueground Underground on Hiatus Rev. Mosier has since made a name for the Mosier Brothers. Sounding a bit like BGUG, this collaboration has a quieter theme but still holds true to the high energy feeling we received from BGUG. 

Next up was one of the many highlights of the Family Function, The Eye of the Dawg Showcase featuring pretty much all the talent playing throughout the weekend.  There were so many artists they had to play in waves.  The first wave of artist to grace the stage were Larry Keel - Guitar, Jeff Sipe - Drums, Jeff Mosier - Banjo, Donna Hopkins - GuitarLefty Williams - Guitar, Michael Tolcher - Guitar, Bobby Miller - Mandolin, Erin Zindle - Fiddle, and George Pond - Bass.  Larry Keel started things off with one of his traditional bluegrass tunes while everyone else played along then Donna Hopkins played a really nice new original.  Others that contributed great stories/songs were Lefty Williams, Jeff Mosier, and Michael Tolcher. Every song was so uplifting with so many great musicians backing up each other; it was amazing to see how each one adapted to most of the songs they probably had never played before. The next wave of artist to get on stage were Jeff Sipe - Drums, Col. Bruce Hampton - Electric Guitar, Jeff Mosier - Banjo, Caroline Pond - Fiddle/Ukulele, Erin Zindle - Fiddle, Ralph Roddenbery - Guitar, George Pond - Bass, Grayson Capps - Guitar, Scott Mecredy - Guitar, and Sugar Kayne - Guitar, The set just seemed to get better with an excellent soulful bluesy feeling song by Ralph Roddenbery followed by a really nice melody by Caroline Pond titled "We are only human" which was a very catchy tune.

Col. Bruce soon followed with another bluesy rock'n song; other great performances came from Scott Mecredy and Sugar Kayne. I could probably type a full page about this showcase alone it was so good.  Up next on the main stage was my favorite unheard of band from the weekend, The Ragbirds. The Ragbirds are Erin Zindle - Vocals/Violin/Mandolin/Accordion/Banjo/Melodica, TJ Zindle - Guitar/Vocals, Randall Moore - Percussion, Travis Harrett - Drums, Max Lockwood - Bass. I would have to say out of all the talent from the weekend Erin Zindle had to be one of the most talented, I bet if you handed her any instrument she would be able to play it. This band from Michigan set off a mystical journey that would send anyone listening into a music coma.  I can't really put them into a genre but I will say that it is quite a diverse range. From African Beats to Irish Celtic Jigs, this Folk/Rock band hands down has the rhythm to move you physically and mentally from the first note to the last. After such an amazing set it was time to take a break.  A couple of hours later I had to make it back for the Atlanta favorite Ralph Roddenbery and the Side Effects. Seeing Ralph before I knew he was good singer/song writer with his bluesy rock feel, but with a full band it just added so much more range to his performance. The Side Effects are (Scott Mecredy - Guitar, Michael Hurwitz - Bass,) Also sitting in was Justin Roberts on Bass and Jack Roberts on Drums. Ralph with his sweet raspy voice set precedence for the night to come.  Like Josh Phillips, Ralph is one of the best song writers I have heard in a long time.  His tunes catch your heart lyrically; combined with his country rock'n twang I see why he is so loved in his home town of Atlanta.

On into the night I decided to rest up for the main act, Larry Keel and the Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge are Mark Schimick - Mandolin/Vocals, Jason Flournoy - Banjo/Vocals, and wife Jenny Keel - Bass/Vocals.  Larry Keel sure put down the hammer and whaled out some great bluegrass showing us what a real family function in all about. The set was over the top, the playing was stunning and so innovative compared to most traditional bluegrass. Taking bluegrass to the edge is what Larry Keel seems to like to do when on stage to add to mix Dual Drummers Jeff Sipe and another gentleman that I could not make out sat in for a bit which was just down right awesome. It was a hoedown for sure. Soon After such a cultivating set Michael Tolcher took the stage, sitting in with him was Rev. Mosier, another drummer combo with Jeff Sipe and Duane Trucks, yet another gem from Atlanta this singer/song writer is right up there with the best blending a bit of rock, pop and blues. I was captivated by some of the meaningful lyrics sung by Michael and really look forward to checking him out soon. Donna Hopkins and Friends popped up on stage next. Donna was accompanied by (Jeff Sipe - Drums, Charlie Wooton - Bass, Chris Spies - Keys, and Rick Doviak - Guitar) Donna also from Atlanta can downright play.  She blends together a bit of blues with a lot of soul.  Belting out like a modern day Janis Joplin her extraordinary originals found their way to the crowd and seemed to lift everyone's hearts and feet.  I found myself thinking about how she gets right to the point with her music and doesn't waist anytime portraying her meaningful songs. After such heartfelt performance by Donna I need to rest up if I was going to make it into the late night music. 

The late night I have to say was extraordinary with Digital Butter and Zoogma feat. DJ Logic. Digital Butter is from Chattanooga, TN (Adam Staudacher) and (Becky Ribeiro) make up this electronic R &B soulful duo.  Mixing together such music one would think that it was not possible but Digital Butter conquers the beats and mesh together their own soulful style.  The last band of the night was Zoogma which to me was icing on the cake. Zoogma from Oxford, TN consist of (Justin Hasting - Guitar/Synth, Matt Harris - Drums, Preston Boutot - Keys, Brock Bowling - Guitar/Tables, Ryan Nall - Bass.) This 5 piece electronica band started off with one of the coolest covers, The Ghost Busters theme.  They culminated a blend on melodic, crafty beats, some the best I've heard in a long time. Throughout the night they just raged it harder and harder until I was about to fall over from exhaustion.  This was for sure one of the highest energy dance parties of the weekend.

This weekend was fantastic!  It was really nice to see when a function like this can run so smoothly and bring the artist together with their adoring fans in such a peaceful beautiful place. It seems so perfect when everyone can be part of something so special and not get lost in the shuffle like at some of the larger festivals. I can't wait until next year's Keel Family Function III.