Preparing for its 29th birthday and getting stronger every year, the Festival for the Eno has earned the right to declare itself—alongside parades, picnics and pyrotechnics—a Fourth of July tradition. That "getting stronger" claim is clearly supported by the 2008 musical lineup, arguably the strongest ever and at the very least the most varied and inclusive in recent memory.
So what's required for an Eno River festival? Well, you need an association, a field (several fields, actually), craftspeople, musicians, food vendors and volunteers by the busload. You also apparently need heat and humidity. And as a festival consumer, especially with this year's wealth of musical choices, you need some sort of plan. Or, in the spirit of the festival's fields, several plans, cutting across all three days of the fest. But keep in mind there are more than 100 performers, and we can't mention them all. In other words, yeah, we probably left out your favorite.
SANDBOX BAND: This Raleigh-based quintet's spirited and interactive takes on "Bingo," "Old MacDonald" and other songs we were born knowing makes it the perfect starter band for kids. Saturday.
BARON VON RUMBLEBUSS: The Baron's debut album is Ride the Redd Zeppelin, but Plant, Page and company never had the lemons to do songs about fancy pants and rock robots. Saturday.
APPLE CHILL CLOGGERS/ Cane Creek Cloggers: Kids will love the motion and the noise, and if enough of them demand it, maybe a clog-off can be scheduled. Saturday/ Sunday.
JIM ALBERTI: Puppets, a street organ, comedy and fleas—a time-tested recipe for family entertainment. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
FARMER JASON: Farmer Jason brings the same boundless adrenaline to songs about animals and other aspects of farm living that his, um, cousin Jason Ringenberg always brought to the stage as frontman for proto-country punkers Jason & the Scorchers. Sunday.
AFRICAN AMERICAN DANCE ENSEMBLE: The movement, the vibrant colors and the focused energy are built to thrill—and to educate. Friday.
COMMON WOMAN CHORUS: Self-described "woman-positive choral community committed to musical excellence and social change, that celebrates all life styles and gender identities." Friday.
JOHN DEE HOLEMAN: Storyteller, bluesman and Orange County-born state treasure. Friday.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY PIPES & DRUMS: About 50 strong and chock full of, well, pipers and drummers. Friday.
FUTURE KINGS OF NOWHERE: Big-time acoustic rock-pop from Durham with the take-no-prisoners approach of early Violent Femmes and the anything-goes attitude of early They Might Be Giants. Friday.
KILLER FILLER: Psychesurfia instrumentals suitable for lounging, drag racing or soundtracking a spaghetti Western. Saturday.
REY NORTEÑO: Norteño band from Raleigh featuring three Huerta brothers among its five-man lineup and two accordions. Sunday.
THE PRATIE HEADS: (Jigs, reels, waltzes and harmony numbers) + (guitar, bouzouki, concertina, violin) = (Irish, Scottish, English and early American songs). Friday.
LITTLE WINDOWS: For pure vocal fans: Mark Weems and Julee Glaub perform traditional Irish and Appalachian songs with tight harmonies. Not just a specialty, but an art. Friday.
FIDDLEFOXX: From out of Boston, a fiddler teams up with a human beatbox—or Bruce Molsky meets the Fat Boys. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
DEX ROMWEBER DUO: New Bloodshot signee Dexter Romweber can be found playing in a variety of musical configurations; in this truly dynamic duo, Dex is joined by sister/ monster drummer Sara. Sunday.
THE TENDER FRUIT: The expectation-piercing vocals of ex-Nola singer Christy Smith backed by Staci Sawyer's percussion to make something that no MySpace description can hope to capture. Sunday.
JON SHAIN: "While playing on the road, I get to know a lot of great musicians who don't tour much into the Southeast. I'm happy to see two of my favorite acts in this year's lineup: Washington, D.C.'s The Grandsons (Saturday) and Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Pat Wictor (Friday). The Grandsons combine classic New Orleans R&B with country and Americana influences; they sound like they walked right out of 1959. Pat Wictor plays slide guitar in his lap and has a great earthy sound with a very intricate and nuanced subtlety not usually reached by most blues players." Shain plays Friday with his trio.
JASON RINGENBERG/ FARMER JASON: "Well, I reckon Jason Ringenberg will likely check out Webb Wilder, Dex Romweber
and Chatham County Line (all on Sunday), and anyone else possible, time permitting. Farmer Jason will probably be found at the biodiesel workshop, the canoe rentals and the petting zoo." Them Ringenberg boys play Sunday.
GREG HUMPHREYS: "Through steady road work supporting a string of strong albums, Chatham County Line (Sunday) has developed a very entertaining live show built on tight gather-round-the-mic musicianship and irreverent, light-hearted humor. Set highlights are songwriter Dave Wilson's Nashville Skyline-esque vocal delivery, John Teer's hair-raising high lonesome harmony singing and fiddle tunes, and the suits. And the flag. Southern storyteller Claire Holley (Saturday) delivers thoughtful, well-constructed songs that are engaging in their subtlety and beauty. Catch her while you can: She's squeezing in a new CD release and summer tour before the birth of her second child, due this fall. Set highlights are optimism, warmth, spirituality." Humphreys plays Friday with Hobex.
THE OLD CEREMONY: Granted, not as many members as the NCSU Pipes & Drums corps, but about all this slimmed-down sextet's orchestral pop is missing is a bagpipe. Friday.
GUILT-FREE AFFAIR: Plenty of pop/ soul covers (for your Motown and Al Green fixes), with funk and Latin influences in the rhythm section to set the mood. Saturday.
GIRLYMAN: Multi-instrumental folk-rocking trio with giddy harmonies and a provocatively silly name that fits 'em just fine, thank you. Saturday.
BELLY REVELATIONS: The art of Middle Eastern dance flourishes in the heart of the Triangle thanks to this Raleigh-based troupe. Saturday.
BIG CELTIC FUN: Fiddle-driven Irish and other Celtic music out of Chapel Hill by way of D.C. (and, spiritually at least, Dublin). Sunday.
There are all of the Sunday artists already mentioned—from roots-rock vet Webb Wilder and roots-rock vet-to-be Chatham County Line to the multiple personalities of Jason Ringenberg—plus a skilled Neil Young tribute band (Young Neil & the Damage Done), Bruce "the Guy Clark of the Piedmont" Piephoff and the it's-great-to-be-here joy that Midtown Dickens brings just by showing up. Perhaps above all else, there are the uplifting Sunday morning sounds of the Gospel Jubilators, the Mighty Gospel Inspirations and the Branchettes. Amen.
The Eno River Festival runs Friday, July 4, through Sunday, July 6, at Durham's West Point on the Eno Park. See www.enoriver.org/Festival for details, including ticket and parking information and a complete list of performers. See this week's Now Serving for food tips.