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Hope, spring and Shakori Hills 

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The poet E.E. Cummings wrote, "while Spring is in the world/ my blood approves/ and kisses are a better fate/ than wisdom." Cummings was neither the first nor the last poet to speak so eloquently on spring, a season whose temperate range and vivid colors inspire romance and hope like no other. But this year—as North Carolina prepares to cast its votes in a presidential primary that still matters in a race that's generated heartening debate and devotion to ideals—the elation and desire with which Cummings wrote seem somehow closer to home. A sea change—needed for so long—feels possible, even if it means, as Lynn Blakey suggests below, a lot of work.

We asked five musicians playing this week's Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival what springtime means in their lives. Whether discussing the weather's relation to the nation's currently charged political atmosphere or the opportunity it affords a new parent with his young child, each musician offered a related if different vision of the season.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY ANNA PODRIS

Speech of Arrested Development, speaking from his home in Georgia (performing Friday at 9:15 p.m. with Arrested Development):

Spring has become my favorite season of the year. It used to be summer, but my wife converted me to springtime. ... It amazes me that everything has to go through this death in order for the rebirth to happen. Wintertime is pretty much a dead season, and most people don't really like that season. Neither do I. I come from Milwaukee, and it's very cold in the winter. But without that winter, we wouldn't have this beautiful time that we're getting into right now. Even politically or musically, things have to die for this rebirth. In the music industry, especially hip hop, there's been this death with popular hip hop for like the last 13 years or so, where conscious hip hop and creativity was not celebrated. It was a very dry season, a very dark period. But we're starting to see a rebirth in the whole scene. There was this huge boom of sales, but it was one of the darkest moments for creativity throughout the music industry. Artists who really loved the artform and weren't just trying to make a fast buck—it was rare they found a home in the popular music scene. But now you're seeing this whole independent, underground revolution starting to explode. That's really encouraging. ...This is by far the most excitement, the most interest that I have ever witnessed in my life, 39 years, for a primary in an election season. I believe that two things contributed to that: One is the motivation and inspiration of Barack Obama. And the other thing—which has to do with spring and winter and summer—is the horrible politics of the Bush administration, which to me made the vision of Barack Obama that much more relevant to the nation. As a black man, it's an extremely inspiring time that I may be able to witness the first black president of the United States. That's an incredible opportunity for me as a black person, and it should be a great opportunity for any person in America. I'm encouraged. It's a good time to be alive.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY ANNA PODRIS

Richie Havens, folk singer and self-described weather bug, speaking from his home in New Jersey (Saturday at 7:45 p.m.):

It's getting really interesting out there. I feel like sometimes I'm running into springtime before it's supposed to be and going to certain places when it's supposed to be and it's not. Springtime is the beginning of everything. Everything: All of the things that are going to grow are going to grow. The weather is going to be conducive to producing things—like kids. I grew up in Brooklyn, so four stages of weather were routine for us. In the last 20 years, I don't think it's ever been like it was there. We started playing different street games. We played stickball. We played scully. We played checkers. We built scooters that are sort of the little primitive scooters kids are riding around today—old skates, a two-by-four, and a box. Everything these days, in the last 15 years, has been building up to the fact that every day now is record-weather. It's still snowing up north. If I was up north, I would be in the snow and I wouldn't feel spring-time at all. Down South, it may be 80 degrees, and you go, "Boy, summer is really here already." That sense of routine has fallen out, so when we get a happy spring I imagine it's more appreciated than it would have been 20 years ago.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY ANNA PODRIS

Lynn Blakey of Tres Chicas, Let's Active and Glory Fountain, speaking from her home in Hillsborough (Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with Tres Chicas):

I get excited, and I get hopeful. The change in the season effects that. [In America,] it has that definite anything's-possible feeling. Flat out, I'm looking for a—not "regime change" because that might be a Freudian slip. But I'm looking for a new government. It's funny that this spring has been as unpredictable weather-wise as the race for the primary. But, ultimately, I feel hopeful. I'm an Obama fan, full-on. I mean, "Hell, yeah!" If Hilary Clinton were a season, she'd be fall or winter. Obama's way more spring. That's how I feel. But the thing about spring, too, is it's tentative. You have to take care of things to get the good summer thing out of it. You have to watch out for the blood-sucking ticks. One minute you're happy, and the next minute you've got seven ticks on you. And your eyes are crusted shut with pollen. It's worth it, though. There's hopefulness in the volatility of it. It's amazing, though, that in North Carolina this year, we're have something to say about all of this. People are excited.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY ANNA PODRIS

Captain Luke, speaking from his home in Winston-Salem on a cool April Monday (Friday at 7:45 p.m.):

I can't stand too much cold, now. Spring's here, but you can't hardly tell it. Used to be warm around here, but it go back and forth. I don't hardly be outside much. I just be inside when it's cold. I make ashtrays and lamps and stuff like that. [Playing music outside when it's warm] is the way it was with me and Guitar Gabriel before we got up with Tim [Duffy, founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation]. In the winter, we didn't do too much stuff. I didn't do too much, anyway. Maybe go to the drink house and sit in there and play music and joke around. ... I played out there in my yard, and [the women] had the fence all covered up. That was during Whistlin' Britches' birthday.

Michael Holland, solo folk musician and co-founder of Jennyanykind, speaking from his home in Carrboro (Thursday at 8:15 p.m. with Michael Holland & Big Fat Gap):

It's funny having a son now. They talk about the seasons at school, so when you have a child you start to relive a lot of things that you took for granted. I'm getting into middle age, and at my age, I'm starting to appreciate all of the seasons, but at the end of summer you're tired of being hot and at the end of winter you're tired of being cold. So spring and fall come, but when spring comes you're reminded of a kind of rebirth. You can see it in the people around you, animals running around trying to mate with each other, college students running around trying to mate with each other. There's something in the air, and you have a lot of energy. ... My son's at a good age now where we'll go to a lot of fiddlers conventions. I like the fiddlers conventions because there are more people playing everywhere, and you can just walk around and see a lot of music instead of being herded to a stage. We'll do a lot of hiking and camping and fishing this spring. It definitely gets easier when the weather gets warmer.

For the complete Shakori Hills roster, see www.shakorihills.org. Edited by Grayson Currin.

  • Five musicians playing Shakori Hills, which begins the festival season this week, reflect on a spring of hope.

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