Mike Swanson went to Loki Festival after giving us a nice preview of the event, and he definitely came away psyched with what he saw.
The Halloween spirit was in full effect at the inaugural Loki Festival. This weekend (10/10-10/12) further established Deerfields, NC as one of the most ideal small festival settings. Despite scattered rain Friday and Saturday and a few lengthy set breaks, it was overall an amazing weekend, packed with some seriously funky sets, as promised.
Cake was not the mystery headliner, as was announced a few weeks back; there were some complications and they ended up backing out. The real mystery headliner was the infamous Karl Denson. Unfortunately, due to some work obligations, I missed this early evening set on Friday, along with Project Percolator. I figured that KD would be hopping in and out of different acts throughout the weekend as he is known to do, but unfortunately, this was not the case.
I arrived Friday night just before The Roots began pumping up the energy. I really enjoyed their “Masters of War” cover.
After a lengthy sound check, and a crowd chanting “We want the funk!” The Big ‘Ol Nasty Get Down with George Clinton answered with force. There were so many different artists coming in and out of the action, it was almost difficult to keep track. Check out some shots from this set and you’ll get the picture. The heart of this get down was the all male brass section on the left, with members of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Boot Band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the Asheville Horns, and the all female vocal section on the right including Laura Reed and Debrissa McKinney from Deep Pocket, and Kendra Foster and Belita Woods of the P-Funk All Stars. In their first live performance, the B.O.N.G. sure brought a full arsenal of funk expertise.
It would seem a difficult task to follow this epic get down, but luckily Lettuce was on deck. They immediately got the crowd groovin’ to many of the songs off their ultra-funky album Rage! The best part about this set was the wildly charismatic vocal delivery of Nigel Hall, who if I remember correctly, was not at All Good this summer, though he is on the album. Man, can this guy wail. Especially on songs like “Move On Up” and “Makin’ My Way Back Home.” Laura Reed and some other of the other lovely ladies from the B.O.N.G. also jumped on stage and got down with Nigel.
The most impressive section of the weekend was without a doubt Saturday night; I don’t think I have ever danced so hard through 4 straight sets. It began with the Peruvian Pedicurists. I was a little worried that it might be overkill with 6 guitarists on stage (Col. Bruce Hampton, Tim Reynolds, Jeff Sipe, Papa Mali, Brian Stoltz, and Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel for a few tunes). Eventually I realized from the skill level of each artist that they knew just how to contribute the right amount of sound to create one powerfully potent Peruvian Pedicurist jam session (say that five times fast).
The real hard hitting percussion came after the Pedicurists, beginning with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, then ¡Sueñalo!, and Toubab Krewe. Antibalas performed a very creative rendition of Bob Marley’s “Rat Race” transforming it into a more fast-paced and upbeat number. They were a true rhythmic delight.
I had never heard of ¡Suénalo! before Loki, but I became an instant fan. Their hillside set was a blend of Cuban infused rhythms, catchy vocals, Latin hip-hop, and all sorts of percussion and steel drum action. If ever possible, I would love to catch these guys in Miami, where they reside. I have never been, but I sure got a taste of what it would be like seeing them on their home turf in Little Havana. I was really caught off guard when the trombonist busted out the conch shell. This added a very pure tone to multi-layered sound of ¡Suénalo!, and when he started playing two shells at the same time with harmonizing tones, my jaw dropped. That takes some skill.
Toubab Krewe was up next on the main stage, and they really brought the intensity of the night to its peak, which also involved a very well-timed rain shower. It started to pour just as Toubab was getting to the height of their set; it was too perfect. Toubab ended their set with a commanding drum circle, as everyone gave their instruments a rest and hopped on percussion. I’m going to go ahead and say this was my favorite set of the weekend.
The only real complaint I had about the festival was the switch to a DJ following Toubab. After some rhythmically intense live performances, the mood completely changed as DJ Nu Stylz came on stage began mixing mainstream hip-hop and club music, including the Humpty Dance. I mean, come on, really? After that nothing really picked up until Sci Fi, but that wasn’t until almost 4am. I can’t complain though, overall it was a great Saturday, just wasn’t feeling the Humpty Dance nor any record scratching after Toubab Krewe’s stellar performance (no disrespect to the Digital Underground, just wrong place wrong time).
Sunday turned out to be the most enjoyable weather, with a clear sky, an absolutely gorgeous North Carolina fall foliage beginning to shine through, as well as some very talented musicians yet to hit the stage. Donna Jean and the Zen Tricksters was the ideal Sunday afternoon set up on the hillside stage, with the pond and the rolling hills of Deerfields as a backdrop. Nothing like some classic Grateful Dead to put you in complete relaxation mode after a long weekend of dancing. They played a great “Shakedown Street”, and guitarist Tom Circosta (whose voice sounds almost identical to Bob Weir) harmonized nicely with Donna on “Samson and Delilah.”
Matt Butler’s Everybody Orchestra was very fun to watch. Jon Fishman and the gang seemed to be having a blast, soaking up the great weather and scenery. I also really enjoyed what Marco Benevento (The Duo) and Justin Perkins (Toubab Krewe) added to the mix on Keyboards and Kora, respectively. Great selection of musicians you got there, Matt.
The highlight of my weekend followed this set, as Jon Fishman picked the table spot right next to me backstage to enjoy a post-set meal. I ended up joining in a conversation with him, his good friend, and a few others. He is one truly intelligent and intuitive guy, which is no surprise when considering the scope of his career as a dedicated musician and performer. I feel like in most cases, one can’t come without the other, especially for musicians who rely heavily on spontaneity and improvisation. What an unexpected treat that was.
Although I had planned on beginning my trek back to Charlottesville shortly after this, I just couldn’t leave, and the worry of being exhausted at work the next day disappeared completely once Toots and the Maytals began playing “Pressure Drop”. Toots really is king when it comes to getting a crowd going, and his fancy foot shuffling gets me every time.
JJ Grey and Mofro followed with some good ol’ southern rock, and sticking with the theme, they definitely squeezed in some funk, especially when Marco Benevento joined in. He played many of the tunes off of his latest release Orange Blossoms.
This set was followed by Papa Mali, who had been all around this festival. Members of Toubab Krewe, Marco Benevento, and others joined him onstage. I got excited when they began playing because that had some real potential to be a great festival closer, almost bringing me back to the previous night’s performances, but they were cut off at midnight due to an unexpected Sunday noise ordinance. It was probably a good thing for me, as I began my all night journey back home.
Thank you to all that had a hand in yet another great get-together at Deerfields. I look forward to the next adventure in the beautiful hills of North Carolina…