After a lackluster lineup this spring, Shakori Hills doubles down with talent for its fall festival. Between 4 p.m. on Thursday and midnight on Sunday, more than 60 bands will offer variations on music that is—sometimes alternately, occasionally simultaneously—old-time, bluegrass, blues, international and indie rock. Below, find five bands you'll want to catch during the long outdoor weekend.
The late Bob Marley's backing band plays another outdoor festival while the local kids (and, just maybe, their parents) get lifted: Go ahead and roll your eyes. But for all the hackneyed jokes one is able to make about Marley, his adherents or the legal battles in which his heirs have been entangled since his 1981 death, The Wailers still sound exceptional live. He may lose lawsuits, but Aston "Family Man" Barrett sports an unassailable bass tone, keeping the root of this Jamaican form in supreme shape. There are more inventive and energetic bands on the docket this year at Shakori Hills, but there's something paradoxically intriguing about standing in a relatively intimate field on a cool Carolina autumn night listening to a few pioneers of reggae—and, of course, more than a few proxies for the departed. (Sunday 7:15 p.m.)
HOOTS & HELLMOUTH
For years, Philadelphia string band Hoots & Hellmouth toured the country, stomping boots and shoes on stages so as to turbocharge its rather wistful folk-like songs. They found some fans, rising slightly in the same tide that made stars of The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons and a horde of other musicians with songs, guitars and stories to sing. But after some personnel changes, the band emerged this year with Salt, a well-considered and even-tempered album that put a premium on grace, not gusto. Whereas previous Hoots & Hellmouth songs could feel like bluegrass-rock curios manufactured with cheap plastic, the best of Salt feels carved by hand in ancient, salvaged wood. If you've previously dismissed Hoots & Hellmouth, these new tunes and their newfound poise offer another reason to listen. (Friday 5:30 p.m.)
As a festival, Shakori Hills embraces a wide range of styles, often including bands that draw from various shades of world music. But travel budgets, touring timelines and other logistical hurdles can make it difficult to bring the street-level practitioners of some of those sounds stateside. The young singer Fatoumata Diawara has lived nearly half of her life in Paris, though born to Malian parents in Côte d'Ivoire. Still, her warm and welcoming voice—as well as the traditional dancing skills that became her initial calling card—have been enough to push her toward international stardom. Her full-length debut, last year's Fatou, is a jubilant rhythmic tangle, while her live show is a multimedia celebration boosted by a band good enough to vamp while she dances. (Saturday 10 p.m. & Sunday 1:15 p.m.)
J.P. HARRIS & THE TOUGH CHOICES
J.P. Harris & the Tough Choices are a country band from Nashville. OK, now forget that you know such, because, especially in 2012, Harris and his revolving rhythm section sound little like what you might expect from Music City. With tattooed hands and a bush of a beard, Harris looks like an outlaw but sings like an original, with a twang that immediately sets a quintessential honky-tonk scene. Hard-touring and hard-living, Harris writes songs where the tears have already dropped into the beer, which has been imbibed long enough to let the sadness shift to shit-talk and shenanigans. If you miss the Two Dollar Pistols, there's no tough choice here. (Saturday 8:30 p.m.)
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, Nashville polymath Casey Driessen was busy teaching at a fiddle camp run by one of music's most recognizable and most crossover-prone violinists, Mark O'Connor. Driessen quickly crafted a solo cover of "Billie Jean," picking the bass line from an electric fiddle before shifting to his acoustic to emulate Jackson's definitive vocal performance. Somehow, after more than three years online, the resulting YouTube clip has garnered only about 29,000 views, making it a minor blip on the viral video radar. Still, the video offers evidence of the sort of no-boundaries ideas you can expect from Driessen, an instrumentalist good enough to be considered among the best but not hidebound by that reputation, either. (Friday 10 p.m. & Saturday 4 p.m.)
This article appeared in print with the headline "Harvest time."