Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival (shakorihillsgrassroots.org)
Where: Silk Hope (approx. 60-80 minutes) When: April 19-22 Why you should go: Shakori is essentially the gateway to the summer festival season in this region, with the spring event kicking everything off this weekend and its fall event culminating with the final throes of warm weather. The weather is anything but oppressive (though it does get chilly ’round morn), and the lineup is a cozy, familiar group of core players like Greg Humphreys and Donna the Buffalo that reinvent their sets every six months. No, really, go: Shakori often has the frustrating tendency to put their most appealing acts on Thursday night, and Leftover Salmon find them- selves in that slot on their first tour to support an album in eight years. Elsewhere, the outstanding Colorado indie folk group Elephant Revival and Pittsboro’s African neo-traditionalists Diali Cissohko & Karaiba sweeten the lineup on more opportune days.
Where: Wilkesboro When: April 26-29 (approx 60-90 minutes) Why you should go: The 25 th year of the revered pickin’ and (sometimes) rockin’ festival brings a somewhat underwhelming lineup for such an important milestone, but MerleFest has rarely ever been in a hurry to outdo itself. Bela Fleck & the Original Flecktones and Los Lobos on Friday night, followed by the Punch Brothers and the Tedeschi-Trucks on Saturday are enough to get excited about, even if the Paul Simon pipe dream went up in smoke.
No, really, go: To hear the Waybacks cover the Eagles! But seriously, while Eagles covers may sound like a trip to the Malebolge to some (and that they’ll be playing the Eagles is uncertain), the steady stream of guest players they attract to their yearly Hillside Album Hour is the reason why you can’t find a seat at the wicked hot stage 10 minutes before tipoff. Outside of that, bookend performances by Vince Gill and Marty Stuart keep the festival’s mission to toe the line between bluegrass and country true.
Lake Eden Arts Festival (theleaf.org)
Where: Black Mountain
When: May 10-13 (approx. 2.5-3 hours) Why you should go: LEAF is a music and arts festival in the most sincere sense — they make clear that their mission is arts education first, via a host of excellent outreach programs, and getting down second. When it’s time for the latter, however, LEAF doesn’t mess around. The Spring 2012 edition is consistent with the festival’s top-heavy booking philosophy, bringing blues legend Taj Mahal, heir to the afrobreat throne Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, and the always stellar Wood Brothers.
No, really, go: LEAF traditionally goes light on the middle card to balance quality music with more eclectic performance types, but Philly DJ King Britt is a name that would jump off of any festie bill. His recreation of New Orleans gospel-folk legend Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Preservation Hall album, which he’ll present on the main stage, offers some unique opportunities following a set by the NOLA jazz ensemble themselves.
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (bonnaroo.com)
Where: Manchester, Tenn. (approx. 7-8 hours) When: June 7-10 Why you should go: Never mind having Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Shins and all living Beach Boys on the bill; like a summer spent waiting tables, a trip to Bonnaroo is a rite of passage. It’s equal parts miserable, enlightening and just flat-out fun, and by now, no one cares anymore that it’s owned by MTV (kidding!). No, really, go: Buried at the very bottom of the lineup is a guy for whom the Roots and Orgone are probably fighting to the death to play alongside. Remember that hauntingly perfect voice wooing Walter White’s conscience as he blows up some jerk’s BMW in Season 1, Episode 4 of “Breaking Bad”? It belongs to Darondo, the enigmatic soul singer who only played a handful of shows in the ‘70s, made a few incredible singles, and then drove his Rolls Royce off into the sunset. Always leave ’em wanting more.
Mantrabash Music and Art Festival (mantrabash.com)
Where: Ferguson (approx 1.5-2 hours) When: June 21-23 Why you should go: An intimate, relatively local festival hosted by professional good guys the Mantras just sounds like a great time. This isn’t the first Mantrabash, but after a short hiatus, it’s back and swinging for the jamband revival fences with Particle and Brothers Past on the bill.
No, really, go: At the end of June, it’s going to be sweltering, with most of the brow sweat supplied by headliners the Robert Walter Trio. It’s the super-heavy Hammond guru’s only trio show of the summer, which will be rounded out by Greyboy Allstars drummer Aaron Redfield and Tea Leaf Green’s Reed Mathis.
Where: Floyd, Va. (approx. 2 hours) When: July 26-29 Why you should go: Plainly stated, FloydFest is awesome. The scenery is breathtaking, the lineup is consistently excellent, the shows go late, and it rarely feels crowded. It’s just about everything one could reasonably want out of the festival experience, and the festival’s 11 th year promises maybe its best lineup ever. No, really, go: On Thursday night, the onstage collision of Jackson Brown, Dawes and Jonathan Wilson amounts to Laurel Canyon indiefolk porn, but it’s the lesser known of those three names that’s most intriguing. Earlier this year, there was a bounty for over 2 TB worth of credit for a perfect CD rip of Jonathan Wilson’s Frankie Ray on one of the most secretive music sharing communities on the internet. It was and still is easily the largest such bounty ever proffered on that, or any other such site. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. Point is, someone thought very, very highly of an album by the Forest City-born songwriter that never got a proper pressing. Likewise, so did the black market, with the few copies in existence going for around $400 online.