Carolina doesn’t forget its roots at the Mountaintop

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Music on the Mountaintop is an annual music festival held the last weekend in August on the western side of the Eastern Continental Divide, in Boone, North Carolina. In its third year, what started as a class project by two Appalachian State University students has turned into a true definition of the fruits of spirited effort and hard work.

The weekend of August 27-28, twenty-eight acts made their way to Boone and performed for upwards of 5000 folks over the course of two days with headliners Keller Williams, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Sam Bush and Railroad Earth rounding things out each night.

Overall, there were far too many acts to see in their entirety, so as is the case with most festivals, decisions had to be made. The promoters did a first-class job of inviting a variety of musical styles, but if one was to categorize the majority of the acts, most of the bands fell within the confines of folk and rock. While many of these had bluegrass instrumentation, it was not an event made up solely of authentic bluegrass bands.

keller1.jpgFriday began with one of the most amazing acts of the weekend in Holy Ghost Tent Revival. Through a blend of plugged and unplugged instruments, the high energy performance was delivered to an enthusiastic audience. Most of the crowd made their way to a set on the smaller stage, from a band rooted in Appalachia: North Carolina natives, Big Daddy Love. The band played as though they enjoyed every minute and the resonance built throughout the gatherers. And, a festival in North Carolina would simply not be complete without regional favorite, Josh Phillips Folk Festival, that accumulated quite the throng for the entirety of their early evening run through.

Keller Williams headlined the first evening. Always a crowd favorite, he started his set by playing backstage over a wireless connection. As he made his way onto the stage, he launched into a free form jam that segued into the lyrically manipulated “I Love California,” with Carolina substituted for California. As the song closed so did the stomping, and the loop machines began. Keller’s perpetual and astute use of loops is where his renowned status derived. Alternating between his array of stringed instruments, the proverbial “wow” came when he provided renditions of Grateful Dead classics “Franklin’s Tower” and “Deep Elem Blues.”

Closing the evening was Asheville’s Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, who delivered a set that proved The Booty Band has once again returned to its roots as a master of the Funk. The highlight of the show was former bandmate Josh Phillips’ sit-in, which did not include much in the way of sitting as the band danced with abandon. The return-for-the-moment by Phillips absolutely ignited the crowd, as the entire audience danced and cheered from a place that displayed their depth of sentiment for the group of performers on the stage in front of them.

keel1.jpgSaturday began with a sky full of sunshine, moderate temperatures, and even a breeze.  Larry Keel & Natural Bridge set the tone for a day that many would spend soaking up authentic bluegrass sounds. They also were the first glimpse of any music that many attendees would witness. Keel’s wife, Jenny never ceases to deliver on standup bass, and this show was no different.

Acoustic Syndicate succeeded Natural Bridge and continued the bluegrass trend. A band of true Carolina notoriety, Acoustic Syndicate is a family-based band with tight vocal harmonies that has been pleasing folks around their parts for many years. At the close of the set, Larry Keel would become a temporary member of the syndicate as they delivered a rocking version of “Skin It Back.”

The first headliner of the evening was “repeat offender” Sam Bush who has played at all three Music on the Mountaintop Festivals. He (on both mandolin and fiddle) and his band played from Sam’s extensive catalogue of material and everyone in attendance appeared to know every song.

Railroad Earth closed the festival. Railroad Earth is a heavily stringed band, driven by acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo. Bush rejoined the stage that he had left only hours before to sit in with the band in a rendition of their “1759.”

And with that, another festival was in the books. There was not too much overlap in the scheduling of the bands. The crowd was well-behaved and attentive to the music from the three stages. Once again, the festival that started as a class project – a true grass-roots idea – was a success by all accounts

Click the thumbnail for more shots from Chris Hight

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