Albino Skunk Bluegrass Festival

Near Greer, SC

I don’t know Glynn Zeigler, AKA Ziggy, but I want to.  He puts on an amazing music event in his own (lovely) backyard in the Upstate of South Carolina.  Gentle foothills, tall trees, perfectly customized old buses, tree swings, toy horse parade, hula hoop stash, grounded houseboat…and that’s just where the children played!  Zeigler’s humor and pleasure shine through both the venue and the music.  I loved the little touches of the mercantile, the coffee stand near the “green room,” that backside of the “barn” for the stage, the false silo, the disco ball hanging from a tree, tractor tire wheel hubs for fire pits, and the fantastic outdoor loo wallpapered with show posters, many signed by cult heroes like Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, & Elizabeth Cook.

We were not able to attend Friday’s festivities, or “Festavull!!!” as Ziggy encourages the crowd to holler, but Saturday alone was worth the 3 hour drive.  We missed Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Donna Ulisse, Narrow Gauge Bluegrass Band, Audrey Auld, the Bent Strings, the Red Hot Poker Dots, Sol Driven Train, O Mello Cello Tree.  We arrived mid-afternoon Saturday, missing the first few acts, but due to a minor communication error, our favorite (since Americana 2010) band, 18 South, was just loading in for their first set.  With six members, sound check can take a few minutes–thankfully!  We set up our backpack-chairs under the trees, not too close to the fire pits, about 25 yards from the stage.  I jokingly commented that I’d never seen so many tie-dyed shirts at a bluegrass festival before.

The people respectfully listened, attentive and polite, early in the day, but as the weather cooled and the stage heated up, adults joined the children dancing beside the stage, some couples two-stepped and shagged, or just improvised the pretzel, or moved with the music in the makeshift aisles or in their seats.  Many others have reviewed Skunkfest itself, with beautiful detail, but I cannot omit my own response to the perfect music festival before jumping into the performances themselves!

I caught 18 South for the first time at Americana 2010, at a fantastic showcase night at the Station Inn.  Mike Bub leads this collection of talented musicians, who got together in between other gigs as leads and supporters for others within Nashville’s country music scene.  We hope to chat with Mike soon for a full Country Fried Rock interview.  18 South brought us to Albino Skunk Fest, but the other bands kept us there–thrilled.  Their second set later in the evening brought out the soulful depth of Jessie’s voice, and their tribute to Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” honored both the song as well as that band’s recent loss.  At Americana, Jimmy Wallace played his tribute to the Peanuts cartoon character, Linus, and one to Franklin on this night.  I like this vibrant homage so much that I bought the CD on the spot and listened to it all the way home on Sunday!

Elizabeth Cook’s second set showed a more relaxed side to the veteran performer, especially when her daddy–a former moonshiner who did time in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, father to 11 children, patriarch of their vaudeville-style country touring musical family–Tom Cook, charmed the audience by telling a joke and singing.  Later, Tim Carroll  played a couple of tunes, and Elizabeth donned white clogging shoes and danced for one of them. In case you’ve never caught her radio show, her twang is real.  I think Reese Witherspoon copied Cook’s delivery of,”Thank you very much,” following each song for the Walk the Line film.

The closest to traditional bluegrass of the evening was Athens, Georgia’s Packway Handle Band.  Their encore amid the audience, standing under the trees, surrounded by clapping attendees, and final gospel number by camera-light made their “extended play” set worth the wait (see earlier mention of a communication error in scheduling).  Rather than rush the guys through their backstage pork chops, we decided to reschedule and are looking forward to our full conversation with Josh in an upcoming post.  Frankly, I was surprised they came over from Athens on UGA’s homecoming weekend, but they had plenty of time to get back to *that* music mecca for a late night show.

Disclaimer & apology:  during the sets for the Sweetback Sisters and the Steel Wheels, the CFR team was chasing the children we brought with us and trying to get them to stop playing and dancing and singing long enough to drink some water and eat something.  Following 18 South’s 2nd set, the children were worn out & the hotel was calling.  We truly missed the chance to hear everyone, but given that all the children slept on the entire 3 hour drive home after a full night’s sleep, we agree that they must have had a marvelous time!

Albino Skunk Bluegrass Festival is sponsored in part by WNCW.org.  We highly recommend listening to their station online, especially for their strong features of both Americana & bluegrass music.

My only complaint is that the fabulous people of Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe in nearby Greenville ran out of their delicious grilled corn on the cob, so instead we ate fresh kettle corn as our vegetable with supper.  (Egad!)

The Twitter feed from #skunkfest until my battery died, oldest at the bottom:

CountryFriedRok fm bill monroe to jimmy martin #skunkfest #bluegrass serious pickin
CountryFriedRok forget charlie daniels, this dude can saw a fiddle @packwayhandle #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok i wanna host smth this cool when i grow up #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok @packwayhandle gettin priorities straight #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok takin requests fm other bands @packwayhandle #skunkfest just walk on in
CountryFriedRok upside down mandolin @packwayhandle #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok 4 part harmony kickin @packwayhandle #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok @packwayhandle josh’s voice is so low! got that twang y’all! #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok @packwayhandle fm #athens #ga playing #skunkfest can’t believe they’re missin homecoming

CountryFriedRok electrified disco ball in the tree #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok ppl next to me brought a sofa out here #skunkfest feels like college
CountryFriedRok @packwayhandle fixin to play #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok kettlecorn for supper! #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok smileys acoustic cafe =yum n grt ppl #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok little kids doing karaoke to bear necessities #skunkfest #back40

CountryFriedRok a capella awesome @steelwheels #skunkfest
serious pickin fm @steelwheels #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok steelwheels are great too #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok lightning mcqueen just told me he’s the new cfr mgr #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok steel wheels up next #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok hanging w josh fm @packwayhandle #skunkfest

CountryFriedRok i feel the burden #gospel 18south #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok most tiedye i’ve ever seen at a #bluegrass fest #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok circles billy preston 18south #skunkfest rockin
CountryFriedRok 18 south sittin on top of the world to #freebird lol #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok 18south still my favorite band #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok sittin on top of the world to stairway to heaven and fleetwoodmac 18south #skunkfest

CountryFriedRok #skunkfest very family friendly great vibe awesome location weather perfect 18south
CountryFriedRok mike bub jammin 18south #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok lightning mcqueen already filled a memory card 18south #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok 18south bluesky allmans riff #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok i wanna live here! #skunkfest
CountryFriedRok 18 south at #skunkfest kickin tail n takin names!