A bit older, a bit wiser and still down-home

In a time when the music festival has turned into big business, the Flat Rock Music Festival has slowly but surely built its name around a casual, front-porch feel. For the past 12 years, the festival has built a reputation of providing some of the best music around, with beards and down-home attitudes included at no extra charge.

Chill perhaps, but not subdued: More than 20 years into their careers, the Subdudes are still going strong. They’ll be joined by dozens of other talented performers at this year’s Flat Rock Music Festival.

Flat Rock features all the usual perks you’d expect from such an established music festival, including plenty of food stands and vendors. The festival also includes a “Kid’s Village” with dedicated performers and activities.

On the musical front, this year’s festival includes a host of local talent, along with the annual singer/songwriter contest, which features performers from all over the Southeast.

And what music fest would be complete without a few big names to draw crowds to the stage? Here’s a rundown of this year’s headliners:

The Subdudes: For the past 20 years, the Subdudes have been bringing their brand of New Orleans-inspired roots music to the masses. Now back after a five-year hiatus, the group is showing audiences all across the country that there’s no rust on the machine. That’s not to say that there isn’t a new wrinkle or two to show off — the band’s 2006 album, Behind the Levee (Back Porch Records) features a more textured, modern sound a la the smooth space-age bachelor-pad music of Steely Dan, while still keeping the rootsy sound that the Subdudes are known for.

The Waybacks: The Waybacks are so steeped in bluegrass tradition that—even as you read this—the members of the band are probably sitting in a circle playing the time-honored songs that have echoed through the mountains over the past 100 years. Not that they’re stuck in the past, mind you. As one of the foremost proponents of newgrass, the group combine this mountain music with jazz, jug-band tunes and rock ‘n’ roll leanings to create a filling musical stew.

Carolina Chocolate Drops: There are few original superlatives to foist upon the Carolina Chocolate Drops, mostly because the band has received kudos from magazines such as Rolling Stone and Relix. The band’s whimsical-yet-bluesy reimagining of string-band music serves as both a compelling listen and as a history lesson on African-American influences on string bands. This is a group to watch; catch them in a smaller venue while you can.

Randall Bramblett Band: While he may not exactly fit into the roots-oriented feel of the Flat Rock Music Festival in sound, Randall Bramblett exemplifies the festival’s credo of honoring great musicianship and songwriting. A veteran of more than 20 years on the road, Bramblett has toured or recorded with Steve Winwood, Gregg Allman, Traffic and Robbie Robertson. Now, Bramblett is putting aside his rather impressive resumé of rock, and instead is focusing on his own music. The pulsing rhythms and bluesy guitars collide with Bramblett’s raspy (yet sweet) voice.

Other noteworthy performers include Barefoot Manner, Sol Driven Train, Ras Alan and the Lions, The Ginn Sisters, Rod Picott and the Stray Dogs, Blue Mother Tupelo, Jackson Crossing, Every Mother’s Dream, The Near Misses, Mieka Pauley, The WhipperSnappers Family Band and more. Visit www.flatrockmusicfestival.com for a complete schedule of performers and events.

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]

The Flat Rock Music Festival
what: A celebration of ego-free live music
where: Camp Ton-A-Wandah, Flat Rock
when: Friday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 30 ($80 for weekend pass, $25-$45 for day passes. 692-2005)


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