We scoured the Shakori Hills schedule for this spring 2010 edition and selected the five performers you should see at least once during this four-day festival. Washburn and Fleck join these ranks, of course, as does Bassekou Kouyate, the Malian ngoni player Fleck will join in Silk Hope.
Old-time country and primal blues. Torchy jazz and hot-picked ragtime. Gospel numbers and naughty ditties. Since the mid '90s, the Asylum Street Spankers—at core, a trio with friends—have blended vintage styles under the tag line, "the way God intended, without the use of demon electricity." And if you believe the title of the band's new collection of spirituals, that approach has made them God's Favorite Band. (Saturday)
Lately, it seems as if you can't swing a dead banjo without hitting a group resurrecting the traditional. That's not a complaint, just a nudge to keep looking for ways to separate the leaders from the pack. For Wilmington-based Big Al Hall, it's a towering voice that, whether he's tackling "Gospel Plow" or a Reverend Gary Davis song or presenting a like-spirited original, makes you feel hard times and see in sepia. (Thursday)
Aimee Argote, who has performed as Des Ark both solo and with a backing army of musicians for a decade, first played Shakori Hills when she lived nearby in a little cabin she built on her parents' land. She lives in Philadelphia now, meaning her local performances aren't to be taken for granted, an argument bolstered by her brilliant new album, Don't Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker. Whether moving gingerly through hushed numbers or slashing aggressively through stormy rock, Argote's writing and singing reveal raw nerves as live wires. (Thursday and Friday)
Young Carrboro couple Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin will likely be saddled by comparisons to David Rawlings and Gillian Welch for years to come. But in the world of tender and spirited roots tunes, you can do a lot worse. Indeed, Frantz and Marlin do possess the same disarming, charming essence that has long made Rawlings and Welch crossover stars. And their tunes, which sway naturally from plaintive ballads to spry jumpers, earn their keep when it comes to such lofty comparisons. (Thursday and Friday)
Sure, the hook is that this zydeco band, almost exclusively a fraternal order, is led by female accordionist (and sultry singer/songwriter) Rosie Ledet. But with music this zesty, who cares whether a man, woman or a squeezebox-sporting crawfish is out front? Ledet was raised in rural Louisiana with, in a common roots-music theme, more interest in rock 'n' roll than in the homegrown sounds around her. But a Boozoo Chavis concert set her on the road to zydeco, and here we are. (Thursday and Friday)