Jomeokee Music & Arts Festival 9.14.12 - 9.16.12

Jomeokee Campground
Pinnacle, NC

Words By Lena Brodsky & Scott Shrader
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

The Jomeokee Music and Arts Festival that took place September 14-16 in Pinnacle, NC boasted a stellar line-up, but actually a smaller attendance than we expected. The smaller sized festival allowed for some more intimate shows, and a chance for the attendees to mingle with the acclaimed artists.

Arriving at the Jomeokee Campground we could tell there was a buzz of excitement and anticipation. Camping was spread out in all directions around the two stages, the main, “Mountain Roots Stage,” which featured mostly bluegrass and is a permanent structure on the Jomeokee grounds, and the smaller, temporary stage, the “Head Jamz” stage. Most of the camping was done in open fields, and it seemed like vehicle camping was the more popular choice, although, while drinking a nice cold beverage, we watched quite a bit of people park in a field and haul their weekend supplies up the hill. There was also VIP camping in a wooded area behind the stages, where people decked out their spots with living room furniture, fancy lights, tapestries, and one group dared to back up their old VW van on top of a cliff, which overlooked a scenic pond.

The stages themselves were at the bottom of a sloping field, so that the crowd could sit up near the top, where the art and merchandise vendors were set up, and could still see over the standing crowd. While exploring the grounds the first night, we discovered a little wooden stage hiding in the woods, labeled the “Lester Flatts Pickin’ Stage.” The stage harkens back to the 1970s, when it was the center stage of a Lester Flatt's Bluegrass festival; at Jomeokee, bands gave more intimate shows and workshops at the small stage.

The music started promptly at 12:30 on Friday, before most people had really arrived. After eating a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast burrito from the Free Lovin’ Food Eatery we wandered down to the main stage where The Heritage was starting to play. The band, from nearby Winston-Salem, NC, had a funk rock fusion sound. They did a few covers, like “No Diggity” and “Jungle Boogie,” and caught a stride with a dance groove in their last song, but overall it felt like they were lacking, and definitely had some room to grow.

The next band, Invisible III, based out of Asheville, NC had an instrumental-jazz-fusion style that got things going after The Heritage’s somewhat bland set. There was some down-tempo grooves lead by a unique bass sound and a very present organ that gave them an original and interesting sound.

From 2:30-3:30 pm things got a little weirder with “Captain Midnight.” The festival emcee decreed their sound “Waterbed Rock and Roll,” and the description actually made sense after watching their set. They definitely had a more vibrant look than any other band at the festival— the keyboardist and backup singer both wore hot pink wigs and the entire band wore creative outfits. Their “Help on The Way” cover was on point. It was well executed, but they also put their own spin on the Dead cover.

The next set belonged to Twin Cats, a progressive rock 5-piece outfit based out of Indiana. The Midwest band, which frequently plays with UV Hippo, delivered a nice taste of their synth-driven trance jams. Showcasing their funk and fusion roots style, they impressed the Jomeokee crowd and people began to really trickle in during their set.

After the Twin Cats sound there was a drastic shift to Bluegrass, and a size-able gathering instantly assembled for Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. The band rolled through a few originals from their new album: “The Classics,” “I’m No Doctor,” “Take the Time,” and “How Can it Be Wrong.” Larry’s hyper speed flat-picking guitar style had everyone’s attention. Jenny Keel was of course holding down the bass to make way for Mark and Will Lee’s ear-pleasing mandolin and banjo playing all afternoon. Larry dedicated “Ramble on Rose” to a friend and, soon enough, Keller Williams came on stage to sing the classic Dead tune with Larry and friends. Halfway through the solo Keller signaled to Larry and Keller’s signature “mouth trumpet” was thrown into the mix.

After Mr. Keel’s bluegrass, Floodwood took over on the “Head Jamz” stage. Their sound, which transcends many different genres, is definitely different from what fans of moe are used to (Floodwood includes Al Schneir and Vinnie Amico from moe). They offered a different pace and style of bluegrass for the audience. There was a heavy country influence, but they still kept it fast paced. They closed their set with a solid “Cumberland Blues.”

The Jimmy Herring band was up next. The well-known Widespread Panic member, sometimes referred to as “the White Wizard,” has been focusing on his solo project all year. It’s a sound of guitar shredding jazz-fusion backed by Jeff Sipe, Neil Fountain, and Matt Slocum. Herring delivered a high-energy set that had the audience following through every twist and turn of his guitar. They showcased two classic Beatles covers "Within You Without You" and "A Day In The Life," and also played a few tracks off the new record "Subject To Change without Notice."

Switching gears, and stages, again, the crowd turned out big for Keller Williams with the Travelin’ McCoury’s. They opened up with "Mullet Cut." Keller was very energetic and the rest of the band really seemed to be having a good time. Each member had his chance to sing a song or lead a solo or jam. A slowed down version of "Freeker by the speaker" translated well to the crowd. The band was very tight and played most of their songs from the new album, "Pick." Near the end of the set, Keller invoked the term, “clusterpluck” and brought out Jeff Austin, Larry Keel, and, for a brief verse, Del McCoury, to the stage, for “Bumper Sticker." The presence of multiple Bluegrass mainstays sharing the stage was a preview for the anticipated bluegrass jam.

The headliners for Friday night represent the two very different sides of the festival. The first was Stephen Marley, who performed a very organic reggae set that didn't stray far from his father’s roots. Marley’s very hyped intro, which went on for a song and a half before he came to the stage, was a little drawn out for some people's taste. There was a slight R&B/funk feel to the originals and to the few covers he did, “Exodus,” “Buffalo Soldier,” and “Could You Be Loved.” There was a huge energy shift when Yonder Mountain String Band came on. The band seemed very happy to be playing. They delivered a lively set with almost no slow tunes to keep the crowd bouncing into the night. The combination of “Years with Rose>Girlfriend is Better” really got the crowd excited and dancing. It was a great way to end an amazing day of music.

Saturday began like your typical second day at a camping music festival. There was grogginess, a need for coffee, sustenance, and the impossible, a shower. At least there was a band like The Broadcast, from Asheville, NC, which got things going early in the afternoon. They surprised the audience with their vintage rockin' sound. The female vocalist was a cross between Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. Their cover of “Whipping Post” threw everyone for a surprise and the band converted a handful of new fans.

After Floodwood performed for a second time, The Mantras, a “jamtronica” outfit from Asheville, came out and brought the jams from their very first song. The Mantras had unique lead vocals, but honestly the singer took away from the vibe, which was much stronger during the instrumental jams. They did an excellent rendition of Meat Puppet's "Lake of Fire," which led into a nice original titled “Hobo Ken.” We really enjoyed their set and would recommend checking them out.

Next up was the Emmitt-Nershi Band, which opened their set with "Black Clouds," a String Cheese Incident original. The song translates nicely into an acoustic style. The Jomeokee crowd got much bigger for the group. Fans representing SCI had their flags in the audience. It was a high energy set with very little slow points. "Colorado Bluebird Sky" was a personal highlight, hearing the song out of its usual context was a treat.

We really got into the classic bluegrass when The Del McCoury band came on. Classiness and charm rose significantly, at least on the stage if not in the audience, while Mr. McCoury graced Jomeokee with his presence. Del was all smiles and provided the crowd with lots of good banter. "Blue and Lonesome" was played as a nod for Bill Monroe's 101st Birthday and there were great cheers when he played the crowd favorite, "Asheville Turn Around."

After Del, who was instrumental in getting so many big names committed to the festival, left the stage, we switched gears again to watch Lettuce. A guy’s shirt in the audience said it all, “Lettuce Turnip the Beets,” and that is precisely what they did with their heavy funk, dance party. It’s always cool to see Eric Kranso laying low and not calling all the shots. Jimmy Herring sat in for a face melting duel solo with Kranso that had the crowd jumpig up and down.

Saturday night also gave us a second set by Yonder Mountain String Band, and then after a set break, the Bluegrass Jam. Yonder kicked off the show with “Sideshow Blues” and got the crowd moving. They played more slow ballads than the night before, but the set was still solid and enjoyable. The closing segment of “Ten>Follow Me Down To The Riverside>Ten” with Jason Carter on fiddle really showed Yonder’s diversity of styles when it comes to jamming. During a heavier, darker bluegrass jam, Jeff Austin’s vocals almost sounded satanic at one point, with the effects added. After Yonder played one set they took a break and then invited many more friends onto the stage for another set. It started off with Andy Thorn and Drew Emmitt playing two John Hartford Classics “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie>2 Hits and the Joint Turns Brown.” Both songs featured mandolin and banjo solos/duels from each member. From the start it was clear that this was going to be a special kind of jam. Next up, Ronnie and Robbie McCoury came to the stage to showcase their picking styles with the boys. Michael Kang and Al Schnier followed up by playing a rocking version of “Death Trip.” Closing out the night, Jason Carter was welcomed back to the stage along with Billy Nershi. The jam couldn’t have ended on a better note; a very tasty “Shady Grove>Wheelhoss>Shady Grove” closed out the bluegrass section and left the crowd feeling metaphorically high.

The last set of the night belonged to Matt Butler’s “Everyone Orchestra.” The idea is that Butler creates a new musical experience everywhere he goes with world-class musicians and never ceases to blow minds, and Jomeokee’s Everyone Orchestra was no exception. Holding it down was Jimmy Herring, Al Schnier, Jenifer Hartwhick, George Porter Jr, Jeff Sipe, Michael Kang, and that’s just dropping a few of the big names involved. The musical adventure took the crowd on an improv rollercoaster that didn’t let up from the first note. Covering all kinds of ground through out the set, Matt Butler always had the crowd involved by clapping on time, yelling cues, and so on. Every musician on stage was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. It was obvious that this was something special and there was no better way to end another phenomenal day of music.

Sunday morning was soggy and much cooler than the days before. Downpours during the night had drenched all the festivalgoers, and many were discouraged by the overcast sky and left early in the morning. Despite feeling dirty and damp, there was nothing that was going to stand in the way between us and The Del McCoury Band playing a “gospel set.” There was a nice crowd that came together Sunday morning, committed to riding out the final performances. Del and the band joked about being up so early, and also about Del telling the audience the night before the wrong time for the Gospel set, it was a good laugh shared by all. Del asked for requests, talked warmly with the crowd, and soothed our souls on the rainy morning. “Orange Blossom Special” was an instrumental request from someone in the crowd. “I’ll Fly Away” was a lovely treat to hear and, of course, no gospel set would be right without “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
The weekend, which had been full of sunshine, blue skies, shady spots, grassy hills, beautiful views of Pilot Mountain, with what looked like a giant nipple on top (running joke through out the festival), and nonstop amazing music, seemed to be over on the damp Sunday morning. After seeing Del’s gospel set we felt it was time to make the trek back home and back to reality.

Scott's Friday Photo Gallery

Scott's Saturday & Sunday Photo Gallery


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