Last week I told you all about the history of the Albino Skunk Music Festival and how it has come to be the “Greatest Show on Dirt” as it celebrates its 25th year in the Upstate. I talked about the festival’s origins, past performers, and all of the things that make it the Upstate’s premier music festival year in and year out. Today, however, I just want to focus on the music at this weekend’s event… it is a music festival, after all, and the bands are its reason for being.
A quick glance at the 18 bands appearing at this fall’s Skunk Fest and I have roughly the same set of emotions that I have for roughly every Skunk Fest lineup I have ever considered. Generally speaking, most of the bands are brand new to me, a few I am a fan of or am at least vaguely familiar with, and a few make me scratch my head and wonder how Glynn Zeigler managed to book THAT band. Upon listening to them all, I am then reminded that Zeigler has a tremendous talent finding and booking a lineup of music that does not have a weak moment from the time the first band takes the stage Thursday afternoon until the final notes float off into the night late Saturday evening.
My first look at the lineup sees names like The Larry Keel Experience and The Tim O’Brien Band, both bluegrass loyalty and exactly the type of names Skunk Fest attracts for headlining duties Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. The Larry Keel Experience is Keel’s core band in which Jared Peel (mandolin) and wife Jenny Keel (bass/vocal harmonies) join the flatpicking guitar legend for an unforgettable listening experience. This is Keel’s third visit to the Skunk Farm while Grammy winning Tim O’Brien makes his inaugural appearance at the festival with his full band in tow.
I have ceased to be amazed by such prominent and critically acclaimed artists coming to Skunk Fest but I have to admit having a holy shit moment when I saw reunion sets for Seven Handle Circus and The Deadfields included in this year’s lineup. Both are high energy acts guaranteed to get the crowd on its feet every time they step on stage and both have created some truly memorable Skunk Fest moments. Anyone who was in attendance when Seven Handle Circus took the Skunk Stage by storm in full hazmat suits… or jean shorts and wife beaters… or Wu-Tang Clan t-shirts (complete with cover songs, of course) know that they are in for one hell of a performance Saturday afternoon.
Much of the rest of the lineup was unfamiliar territory for me but listening to each band coming to the Skunk Stage was a treat to the ears. 8 Ball Aiken is a Nashville based, Australian born artist with solid blues sound a far cry from the bluegrass-centric focus of Skunk Fests of yesteryear. He plays Thursday along with an onslaught of jam-grass from South Hill Banks and honky-tonk country courtesy of Western Centuries, just to name a few of the opening day bands to look forward to.
Friday, 8 Ball Aiken returns to kick off the day while a full day of music builds to Larry Keel shutting down the evening. In between you will have artists like Sugarcane Jane returning for the third time, this time with a full band that includes guitars, drums, and pedal steel added to the duo that has visited past festivals. Singer/songwriter Lindsay Lou also visits for the third time and is always a crowd favorite.
Saturday is the festivals biggest day of music with the likes of The Deadfields and Seven Handle Circus playing early afternoon sets, Lindsay Lou returning for a second day, and Tim O’Brien doing his thing before Skunk alum Sol Driven Train wraps things up deep into the evening. Despite all of these acts I am familiar with, I am most intrigued by Upstate (as in Upstate New York, not South Carolina). Led by three female vocalists accompanied by everything from upright bass and guitar to mandolin and saxophone for an eclectic blend of rock, folk, gospel, and R&B. Zeigler tried to get them signed up for last year’s Skunk Fest and one can only imagine that they will be well worth the wait.
To make Saturday all the more enticing, the weather is actually not going to suck for a change. Temperatures that were not enjoyable in July and have overstayed their welcome into October are finally giving way to a day with highs in the 70’s. It all comes together for the perfect opportunity to listen to some darn good music in the company of some darn fine people, both in attendance and also serving as volunteers (in some cases dating back to the original festivals). Skunk Fest is more than just a festival but a community as well and it is always refreshing to see it all come together.