One of the hallmarks of the McDowell Mountain Music Festival over its decade or so of existence has been the utter diversity of sounds its offered. Such is the case with the 2014 edition, which runs Friday, March 28, until Sunday, March 30, and features a smorgasbord of sounds that cuts across a multitude of genres.
To wit: The lineup for this year's MMMF at Margaret T. Hance Park features the electro soul of Gramatik, the jazzy funk of Lettuce, and indie rock aplenty from Decker, as well as the bluesy Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special, alt-country artists Delta Fifths, and folk rock aplenty from Avery. And that's just on Friday, the first of three straight days that will be filled with rock 'n' roll, soul, funk, Americana, blues, electronica, and much in the way of jamming by local and national artists.
As is true for all music festivals, it's nearly impossible to see every single performer. It's with that in mind that we assembled a list of which national bands, acts, and artists working the main stage at McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2014 that you really don't want to miss come this weekend.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
With four albums under her belt and a crew of Bay Area musicians, San Fran-based vocalist Nicki Bluhm has built her career off a vintage blend of country, R&B, and blues-stained rock 'n' roll. Where Adult Contemporary babes like Grace Potter, Joan Osborne, and Sheryl Crow have drifted into the middle of the road, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are still riding the chill wave with their refreshing West Coast approach to roots music. Instead of a twang you get a breeze and an all-ages fanbase, and combined with opener Joe Pug's taste of Nashville, the result will be sunny, unadulterated Americana. -- Erin Manning
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are scheduled to perform at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 29
Whether fair or unfair, R&B acts get a bad rap in certain circles -- some nonsense about how all they do is make slow jams about sex, Cristal, and the club. There is some truth to such claims, but often they are exaggerated, and artists like Allen Stone are helping dismantle people's preconceived notions about the genre.
Take his 2012 self-titled debut album, for instance. Even a cursory listen to the funky "What I've Seen" will give you insight into Stone's take on the sliminess of politicians and the destructive nature of greed, and although Stone has admitted that the soulful "Unaware" is not exactly a protest song, it does ask people to consider whether the leaders of our country really have our best interests at heart. Pretty heady stuff.
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And though he is not always serious-minded with his content -- "Sleep," for example, is an energetic, gospel-tinged rocker ripe that will make you dance -- even songs with an upbeat feeling, like "Celebrate Tonight," are couched within the context of ignoring your cares for a night because they aren't going anywhere. Socially conscious R&B exists, and Allen Stone is living proof. -- Brian Palmer
Allen Stone is scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 29
G. Love and Special Sauce
G. Love and special sauce combine hip-hop, alternative rock, blues, and funk into a unique sound that harkens back to the '90s when the band was taking part in the H.O.R.D.E. Tour and alternative rock/hip-hop fusion bands like Rage Against The Machine, 311, and Sublime reigned supreme on the radio. G. Love (a.k.a. Garrett Dutton) and his crew also grooved across the airwaves, particularly the songs "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Stepping Stone."
The band, which currently includes drummer Jeffrey "Houseman" Clemens and bassist Jim "Jimi Jazz" Prescott) has always offered chilled-out, relaxed tunes of the soulful groove variety that are made distinctive by elements of the blues that find their voice through various guitar effects and G. Love's harmonica. They're getting to release their 20th anniversary album, "Sugar" in late April, so expect to hear jams from throughout the various eras of the band as they serve up the sauce at MMMF. -- Amanda Savage
G. Love and Special Sauce is scheduled to perform at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 30
STS9 Like many jam bands, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) leave no sound unturned, no rhythm unexplored, and no genre unappreciated. Everything from jazz fusion to hip hop beats to funkadelic licks to psychedelic twists gets represented on the Atlanta-based group's 11 album catalog (with another disc on the way) birthed from their own label, 1320 Records.
STS9 leans heavily on electronic music, citing influences such as Daft Punk. But unlike a lot of the group's contemporaries, they play actual instruments rather than pushing play on a laptop, lending to more improvisation and a full-bodied resonance. This is why the band's self-described label, as "post-rock dance music," is probably their most fitting categorization. Currently, the band is rehearsing and prepping for their twelfth release, which is being produced by Florida hip hop producers, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, among others. -- Troy Farah
STS9 is scheduled to perform at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, March 28
Spend some time with the guys in Slightly Stoopid, and you're bound to walk away with a fascination for the band's business model and a new cologne -- of the skunk variety.
For almost 15 years, the members of Slightly Stoopid have made music together, and somehow they've perfected one of the most valuable skills a band can achieve -- the ability to hypnotize an audience and hold it there from start to finish. They do it with a stealth groove that emanates from a deep trench of introspective vocal harmonies, tight syncopated percussion, layers of dubby bass, and bowing guitar licks.
The band is the perfect underground success story: They spend close to 200 days a year touring, their album sales (on their own label) have topped 900,000, and their shows sell out at some of the world's most prestigious concert venues. -- Lauren Wise
Slightly Stoopid is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 29
Based on their initial strung-out, jam band sound, one might be surprised to learn that Disco Biscuits recently ranked No. 26 on Rolling Stone's list of "50 Most Important People In EDM" (even ranking higher than names like Diplo and Spinnin' Records). But these guys are the masterminds between Upstate New York's annual Camp Bisco Music Festival (that's sadly taking the year off), which has consistently offered all-star lineups throughout it's 12 years of existence.
EDM fans, if you are looking for a mind-numbing bass explosion to your brain, this is not what you're looking for. The Disco Biscuits are a four-man band that gives mellow, psychedelic performances layered in effects. Their tracks all blend into each other for a unique music experience. -- Amanda Savage
Disco Biscuits are scheduled to perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 29
West Water Outlaws
West Water Outlaws is a blues-rock band that packs a solid punch with their jams, which boast energy to spare. Structurally their music fits a fairly traditional rock format, with loud choruses, catchy verses, gang vocals, distortion aplenty, and bridges that break into band jam-outs full of screeching guitar and vocal solos.
On their recently released self-titled album, however, the Outlaws have switched things up a bit, as the songs populating the 13-track disc (their first full-length record) flow between pedal-to-the-medal anthems ("Bless Your Soul," "Hard to Love You When I Don't Love Me") and looser, bluesier, and Americana-inspired rock ("Rising Sun" "Things I Meant to Say") that even approaches ballad territory ("Something Wrong").
The band isn't shy citing Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Doors as influences, and you can definitely hear it their music. Lead vocalist Blake Rooker belts out impressive, powerful, high-pitched wails reminiscent of Robert Plant, but can quiet things down when needed on songs like "Goodbye Song" without losing any of his power. If we're lucky, the band might just cover a Zeppelin track during their MMMF set and you can witness Rooker painting a picture of the capabilities of his vocal range. -- Amanda Savage
West Water Outlaws are scheduled to perform at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 30
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
Charlie Musselwhite got a lot of mileage (and glowing reviews) out of 2012's Get Up! with contemporary bluesman Ben Harper. Although Musselwhite's stellar harmonica work defines the album's rough-and-tumble sound, it's mostly Harper's project. Whenever Musselwhite takes to the stage, either alongside Harper or out on tour with his own band, he typicallys showcases his vocal prowess and guitar work too, dipping into an eclectic catalog that just begins with Delta blues.
Strongly influenced by the likes of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, Musselwhite began playing in Memphis with icons like Furry Lewis, then went to Chicago, where he was an integral part of a thriving '60s blues scene, played with legends like Big Joe Williams, and formed his own bands. -- Rick Mason
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 30
If you are into country music, it would be surprising if you hadn't heard of pioneering crooner Dwight Yoakam. With more than 21 albums under his belt and decades of tours and chart-topping singles, he's an industry veteran and a trailblazing maverick. He was a big factor in honky-tonk's revival in the '80s and has evolved his music over the decades, most recently releasing the well-received 3 Pears, which included songs co-written with Kid Rock and Beck. Although the country music landscape has shifted, he continues to make music and stay true to his sound. -- Amanda Savage
Dwight Yoakam is scheduled to perform at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 30.
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McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2014 takes place from Friday, March 28, to Sunday, March 30.