The LEAF Festival marked its 20-year anniversary in May, and last weekend’s event was the 41st biannual celebration. And while it’s grown and evolved over the years, there’s also the sense that LEAF has remained true to its core principals and preserved its earnestly freaky essence. Undeniably family oriented, the festival feels safe without being obsessively G-rated. Weirdness is celebrated on many levels and exploration — especially in the artistic sense — is encouraged.
From The Barn stage on Saturday, Sparrow Pants of The Resonant Rogues introduced a spooky, crazy, Euro-vintage, multi-time-signature song by stating, “We’re about to get weird. I’m really into weird.” Swing dancers and belly dancers both moved to the band’s wild beats and, in case anyone pegged it as a mature-audiences-only show, the Resonant Rogues followed up their Barn set with a second performance on the Roots Family Stage.
In fact, the family stage proved to be a great spot to catch experimental acts. The Jaden Carlson Band played there on Friday, filling the dusky air with guitar and keys melodies that were at once fluid and wrench tight. The Fairie Kin performed there (as well as throughout the festival, on stilts, dressed as honey bees), as did powerhouse spoken word artists Climbing PoeTree (who also made a fierce appearance onstage with Rising Appalachia on Friday), and local guitarist Marcel Anton, who also contributed his talents to Jeff Thompson’s Asheville-by-way-of-New Orleans set at The Barn on Friday.
Thompson put on a heart-on-sleeve show, sharing songs from his most recent album as well as his own renditions of favorites from New Orleans, his hometown. His cover of “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” ached as much as it rocked. Thompson ended his set with Dr. John’s “Such a Night,” turning the refrain, “If I don’t do it, somebody else will” into a raucous sing-along. “That should be your mantra for LEAF,” the musician told his fans.
The Barn is always a great spot to discover new music, and one of this season’s best finds was New Orleans buskers-turned-stage band The Roamin’ Jasmine. In crisp suits they performed a kind of lesser-known American songbook of gems, such as “That’s a Pretty Good Love” by Big Maybell, and vintage Calypso offerings. The band performed as if their horns and strings were on fire, but they were trying to be polite about it. Lead singer Taylor Smith’s voice sounds like its been dragged through a blackberry patch, at once thorny and sweet.