FAYETTEVILLE — The crowd raised to its feet Friday (Aug. 24) night as the David Grisman Folk Jazz Trio strode onto the stage. The dulcet sounds of Grisman’s mandolin quickly quelled those thirsting for his trademark riffs and rhythms.
Accompanied by his son Samson Grisman on bass and Jim Hurst on guitar, the trio delighted long-time fans and converted new ones. Their performance capped off the first full night of folk, bluegrass and Americana music of the Fayetteville Roots Festival at the Walton Arts Center.
Between songs Grisman quipped, “There are rare copies of CDs available in the lobby. Any accountant worth his salt, in these economically troubled times, would advise you to put some money in CDs.”
The Walton Art’s Center Main Stage acts were rounded out Friday evening with 3 Penny Acre, Hoots and Hellmouth and The Steel Wheels.
The Steel Wheels performed “There’s A Rain Comin’ Down” to start its set, at times surprising the audience with the band’s exceptionally tight four-part harmony. Hoots and Hellmouth played a relatively subdued set until the last few songs, when they busted loose. Sean Hoots tossed his hat off, threw his glasses off, and then blasted into a jam session, promising the crowd there would be more of the same at George’s Majestic Latenight Stage Saturday evening (Aug.26).
Fayetteville’s own 3 Penny Acre opened the evening of acts on the Main Stage. In addition to performing, band members Bryan Hembree, Bernice Hembree and Bayard Blain have been serving as the host band for the festival. Their set included a brand new song, “Gibson,” and the title track of their last album, Highway 71. The lyrical references to kin and things familiar captured the mood and spirit of featuring local roots at the festival.
Friday afternoon there were four stages in perpetual motion to choose from. Jim Bloom of Folk Alley was on hand to not only introduce many of the acts but also simultaneously broadcast performances to all 50 states and to 150 countries around the world.
Carrie Elkin’s performance on the Starr Theatre stage showcased her powerful voice and her energetic style. As her energy grew she began to twist her feet back and forth as if to screw her body into the stage, fervently grasping the ground lest she take flight. And then she sang “Roots and Wings:” She’s got roots/ she’s got wings/and she’s gonna fly.
In an interview after the show, Elkins concedes “I’m torn between nesting and taking to the road. Once I get into a song I get a mix of feelings like I’m going to take flight or, and I feel like such a hippie for saying it, like I’m about to levitate.” Her music will make you feel the same way, hippie or not.
Songwriting skills were featured throughout the day and were often commented upon. Ben Bedford performed on the Fayetteville Listening Room stage, singing “Cahokia,” based on the Mississippian mound builders that disappeared with European arrival in North America.
“After learning about the site and what happened to them, I wrote this song. Because that’s what I do, I’m a songwriter.” “Cahokia what secretes do you keep/with your bones buried deep in the hill.
Fayetteville’s Still on the Hill showcased their local songwriting skills. They shared with the crowd that after an afternoon visit with Jessie Jones, an old gentleman who lived in Cass, they wrote four songs based on stories he told them about the land. He passed away a few months later, before hearing them. “Everything Changes” paid homage to the longstanding cyclical nature of land usage in the Ozark Mountains.
The Roots and Branches Stage (outside on Tyson Plaza) featured Susan Shore and Michael Cockram singing witty and insightful tunes. Chad Elliot contributed a hard-driving beat to the outdoor stage with his performance of “Bluebonnets Don’t Grow Around Here.”
“I wrote that song about a guy who walked past my house every day. You can’t just walk by a songwriter’s house every day and not get a song written about you,” Elliot added.
An impromptu stage, the “Baum Walker Main Right” stage is set up in the lobby to entertain while people got their beverages, partook of the wonderful local food, and while they moved from stage to stage. Melody and Morty did a set that included the John Prine favorite, “In Spite of Ourselves.” John Elliott contributed to the lobby stage in his wistful voice that was compared by some in attendance to that of Paul Simon’s.
Kingfish Dive Bar and George’s Majestic kept the music flying for the night owls. Charliehorse delivered a hard-driving powerful set to a very enthusiastic crowd who packed Kingfish. The David Mayfield Parade was on display at George’s to a small but definitely enthralled crowd. Mayfield marched back and forth across the stage and even out into the audience, leading them into a frenzy of musical ecstasy. The Carper Family shut down the lounge where the crowd danced to their trademark sound.