It must be a huge hassle to move an event the size of the Black Mountain Music Festival, but it looks like they’ve done it: Having averted all potential disasters, the festival is now securely ensconced — for the second year — in its new home at Flat Rock’s Camp-Ton-a-Wandah.
The lineup this year is, as always, spectacular [see sidebar for a complete list of performers]. Festival favorites Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band — the funky, bluesy, jazzy, shake-it-’til-it-falls-off combo — are back as co-headliners. And holding down the prime 10 p.m. Saturday night slot on the main stage will be the stunning, high-energy “Afro-Celt” sensation, Laura Love, who graciously spent some time with me on the phone recently.
Love, now 38, had a hard time of it growing up. Her mom, Winifred Mae Jones, was a jazz backup singer who raised Love and her sister alone in Lincoln, Neb. Jones was also battling mental illness, and the kids were in and out of orphanages and hospitals. Love left home at 16, lost touch with her mother after a while, and hasn’t heard from her in 15 years (in the liner notes to her most recent Mercury Records CD, Octoroon, she asks anyone with any info on her mother to e-mail her).
Her father is Preston Love, a big-band sideman and band leader, who was not married to Love’s mother. For years, Love believed he was dead; in fact, he was married to someone else. They occasionally speak these days, but she regrets not having had a real relationship.
She eventually settled in Seattle, where she began to play bass in earnest with what she calls an “annoyingly pointless” grunge band, Boom Boom G.I. Then, in response to some scathing criticism and some terrific teachers, Love began to write and record her own songs. She released three discs on her own label, Octoroon Biography; she toured regionally and nationally; she began to get noticed. In 1994, Love was one of 30 performers invited to appear at Carnegie Hall for the first New York Singer-Songwriter Festival.
It can be argued that the slave trade, the Irish potato famine, the Scots Highland clearances at the hands of Queen Victoria, and the Acadian driftwood that came down the Mississippi to New Orleans, have all combined to force together the rhythmic, melodic and lyrical influences that, in different proportions, make up the whole of American popular music — from jazz to blues to R&B to funk to rap, from hillbilly to bluegrass to rockabilly to rock … and Love manages, in her own original way, to encompass all of these influences, the whole shebang.
At Carnegie Hall, she performed solo, her voice an electrifying neo-Celtic keen, slapping deep funk grooves out of her bright red electric bass, and dancing, beaded braids flying. The crowd reportedly went nuts. The result: serious national recognition and a contract with Mercury Records.
Love’s voice on the phone is surprisingly normal, considering the sharp, forceful growls, wails and yodels that punctuate her singing. “I’m defined by my limitations,” she says, laughing, when I ask how her sound came to be. “I didn’t really set out to become Afro-Celtic. I can’t do anything but what I do with my voice. I really like to sing in that high, lonesome style. It’s where my voice fits. I love bluegrass, and I love Celtic music, Appalachian music, that northern European-derived sound. … I love to sing like that, but my feet and my hands love to thump on the bass and dance.
“My mother and father were both light-skinned black people, but there’s all kinds of stuff mixed in there. I know there’s Native American, and I know there’s European blood in there — I know I’m a mix of all those things, and sometimes it almost feels like I have a body memory for things that I haven’t learned intellectually. Or maybe that’s all a bunch of horseshit. … But it’s true that a lot of good music comes out of bad times, and some people think music should be preserved as museum pieces, pure and separate. But I’m not into that separate-but-equal thing. I’m with the together-but-equal camp.”
Her lyrics read almost as well as they’re sung, which is rare, and it’s tempting to look for political messages. It’s obvious that she’s on the side of peace, love and understanding, and she’s not afraid to sing about same-sex love and lust. But she’s presenting feelings, and that’s different from preaching about how you should feel.
“One of the things I’d like to be better about, and like to see, is more thinking — long and hard — about the impact of irresponsible consumption, over-consumption,” she explains. “So I write about it, but it’s because I find that I’m most happy when I’m connected to what I consume, and I’m least happy when I have more than I need, and I’m wasting it. … I think — hokey as it is — that the personal is the political.”
Love’s passion these days, besides music, is gardening; she grows food for herself and her neighborhood, as part of a community-supported agriculture project. So how does she feel about leaving her garden behind to tour? “I’m not into heavy touring, a-city-a-day kind of thing, where you don’t get a chance to experience anyplace,” she says. “But I love to go to festivals, like Merlefest [where she’s a regular], or Black Mountain, where you can be there for a few days and really get a sense of the people, the land, the place.”
@boxhead:The scoop@boxtext: Directions and ticket prices:
The Black Mountain Music Festival runs May 22-24 at Camp-Ton-a-Wandah in Flat Rock. From I-26, take exit 22 and head toward Flat Rock and the Carl Sandburg home. You’ll travel 2.5 miles on Upward Road, which will end at Route 25, Greenville Highway. Take a left and go .8 mile to Little River Road (the Flat Rock Playhouse will be on your right.) Turn right onto Little River Road. Go 2.2 miles and make a left on Lake Falls Road. The festival main gate will be 300 yards up on your right.
Advance weekend tickets, available by phone through Thursday, May 21, are $65 for adults, and $30 for youths ages 10-15. (One free youth ticket is included in the price of each adult ticket, and children 10 or younger are always free.)
When purchased at the gate, weekend tickets are $70 for adults and $30 for youths, with no free youth tickets.
Weekend tickets include Friday- and Saturday-night camping. Bunkhouse beds are also available; call for details and availability. Day tickets are available in advance or at the gate, with a “nominal” parking charge added to tickets purchased at the gate.
Day ticket prices are: May 22, 10 a.m.-2 a.m, $17.50/adult, $10/youth; May 23, 10 a.m.-midnight, $22.50/adult, $15/youth, or after 6 p.m., $19.50/adult, $12.50/youth; and May 24, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., $14.50/adult, $5/youth. Overnight camping is not permitted with day tickets.
Food is available, or bring your own. Alcohol will not be sold, but you may carry your own. Coolers are allowed.
At press time, the schedule was still tentative and subject to change. Headliner performances are: Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band, on May 22, 10 p.m.; Laura Love, on May 23, 10 p.m.
Other performers include James McMurtry, Jimmie Dale Gilmore (for a preview, catch him May 21 on Letterman), Blue Highway, Roy Book Binder, Greasy Beans, John McEuen, Acoustic Syndicate, Michael Reno Harrell, Trout Fishing in America, Elastic String Band, B.J. Bowen, Babba Seth, Bill Phillips, the Dowden Sisters, the Willie and Joe Show, the Void Brothers, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Annie Lalley, Wake, Strangefolk, Valorie, Hardy Wallace, Aaron Pratt, Matt and Katt’s Hillwood Blues, and the Newcastle Boys
Take your instruments for open-mike sessions, workshops and jams. Check at the gate for schedules and locations.
For more info or to purchase tickets, call 281-3382 or visit their Website at www.mindspring.com/~bmmf