By: Michael Mut

 

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and everyone in the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina who were negatively impacted Hurricane Matthew.

 

The fall edition of the bi-annual Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival happened in Pittsboro on October 6-9, 2016, featuring mainstay headliners Donna the Buffalo, and AJ Ghent, plus Bela Fleck, and many more, as well as our Miami-based brothers and sister in Cortadito and Elastic Bond. Unfortunately, this incarnation of the festival was burdened by a direct strike by the storm, which by that point was a Category 1 storm that dumped more than 15″ of rain on the state in roughly 24 hours.

 

Sadly, the festival lost a lot of money due to the fact that people understandably stayed away in droves. They are currently running a FUNDRAZR crowd funding campaign to help offset their losses. Please consider making a small donation to help keep them afloat.

 

The band’s experience quite memorable. It was the first time we had ventured out of the state to play a festival, really our first time out of South Florida as a band. We endured a series of soggy highs and lows, great moments on stage and off, connected with scores if not hundreds of people who had never heard of us before, and spend a lot of time driving in a 15 passenger van. And we learned some valuable travel lessons, as well. Click here to view a gallery of images from our trip.

 

It must have been the Sunday or Monday before the festival when it became evident that the storm would have a serious effect on South Florida right around the time we were schedule to leave. This caused me to seriously doubt our ability to go on as planned and even question whether there would even be a festival to begin with. By Tuesday, Florida and North Carolina had both declared a state of emergency. It got so that even my eight-year-old son began to ask me if I was going to be able to go.

 

Among the band, spirits were high. We played at Ball & Chain Tuesday night and throughout the evening and to a man, we all expressed a feeling of positivity and a belief that everything would work out in the end. We played one of best sets yet, loose, but energetic. The word from Shakori was that it was on no matter what. They had experienced rainy conditions before, and postponing was out of the question.

 

So we headed out Friday around mid-day, opting to drive up on I-75, which would take us through the western part of the state and then away from the feeder bands and toward Atlanta, where we would stay the night. First important lesson learned: ALWAYS read room reviews before you book a stay. We used Orbitz and apparently the 1.5 star reviews and negative comments didn’t sway us from staying at the Red Carpet Inn, College Park. DO NOT BOOK THERE!

 

I can’t possibly describe how deflating it was to drive seven hours straight, only to check in to a room that had not been cleaned, whose beds were unmade and had all towels dirty and dumped into the bathtub. I guess it was a bad omen when earlier in the day, neither the travel service nor the hotel could find our reservation. Off we went in the middle of the night looking for new accommodations. After our fourth drive-up try, we finally (luckily) found two rooms at the Days Inn Suites. Band settled in for the night – personally I got maybe two to three hours of rest and no deep sleep.

 

The next morning, we were surprised to hear about a certain presidential candidate’s hot mic confessions about how he treats beautiful women and what body part he usually grabs them by, as well as reports that the hurricane had veered to the north and was bearing down on central North Carolina. Suddenly realizing that we had delayed our departure and set a course away from Matthew, only to now have to drive into the teeth of it, we set off for Raleigh-Durham to pick up our keyboard player Chip. He had been unable to get off of work early enough to get in the van in South Florida.

 

From a stop in South Carolina, the storm was menacingly visible from a distance, the sky to east a foreboding and dark shade of gray. Then came five or six hours of driving into the wet fury of the storm, a treacherous voyage on I-85 illustrated by the numerous cars, vans and semi-tractor trailers awkwardly strewn across the side of the road. Finally scooping up Chip at RDI, we at last headed for Siler City, which is just outside of Pittsboro and the site of the festival.

 

Thankfully, the ride over to the hotel was uneventful, the band’s mood noticeably improved by the completion of our musical piquete. After some surprisingly tasty Chinese food delivered to our presidential suite at the Days Inn & Suites, Siler City, and a disco nap, the band was ready to give it our all at the Cabaret Tent. Thankfully, the rains has subsided to a light drizzle, but the entire festival grounds were one giant muddy tract. All of the acts on the Meadow Stage had to be moved to the Dance Tent, where we were scheduled to play, and the time slots were about 90 minutes behind schedule. No biggie – we had driven 14 hours to be here. We were unfazed.

 

Having to follow fellow Miamians Elastic Bond was  not easy task. Sophie and the boys, including our friend and producer Jose Elias subbing on guitar and tres, put on an amazing show, their cool, Latin grooves and fantastic stage act enchanting the 400 or 500 people crammed under the cover of the circus-like tent. They were very gracious in promoting us as coming up next, and did not do an encore, even though the crowd was begging for one.

 

We took the stage around 11 p.m. and did many of our usual standards, including “Manteca” / “En La Playa Giron”, “Mother Smother”, “Guayabera” and “Chunk”, plus brought up trombonist Sam Savage, who was there with Elastic Bond, for “Picadillo”, then Elias (tres) for “Chan Chan”. We closed with a blistering version of “De Cara al Sol”, with the crowd solidly in the palm of our hands and dying for one more. Even though the chats of “uno mas“, we also declined an encore our of respect for the next band waiting in the wings.

 

The next day, Sunday, we couldn’t have asked for better weather: 58 degrees, cloudless skies, and a slight breeze keeping everything cool. We all piled into the van and headed back to the festival, this time enjoying the back country drive in the light of day. After having a farm fresh breakfast and organic coffee, myself and most of the band made our way back to the Meadow Stage. We were lucky to catch most of the set by Elias’ traditional Cuban band Cortadito. The truly are keepers of the traditional son flame.

 

This time we played a similar set, but added “Fonquetazo” as our set opener and a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”, which we dedicated to our Mother Earth. The crowd was super-receptive once more, cheering us loudly and dancing along to our tunes. They even applauded my somewhat awkward plea to not vote for candidates who do not support the environment, and politely chuckled at my joke about the five conflicting NWS text messages I had received the day before. We again closed with “De Cara al Sol”, which was great in spite of me clamming on my little solo spot.

 

We walked around a bit, but then soon jumped in the van and headed for home. This is where the real adventure begins.

 

Although cell service was pretty spotty all around, we should have checked the status of I-95, which was the quickest route home. We decided to head east and although it was pretty smooth sailing at first, we were soon forced off due to a highway closure. Flooding and damaged road way made us deviate west through rural NC, around Fort Bragg, and finally back east toward I-95 again. Big mistake.

 

We were once more forced off I-95 in Lumberton. We saw lots of downed power lines and power outages everywhere. Cell service was again bad. At least we could listen to the second presidential debate on AM radio. EMS seemed ill prepared for the post-storm effects, they were having trouble communicating via radio, and were literally reading maps to figure out how to re-route traffic going South.

 

Stuck in a line of cars going nowhere for about 45-60 minutes, we deciding to go back the way we came and, eventually shoot back west toward Charlotte. I get chills thinking about how lucky we were to have decided to double back when we did. Had we not, we could have been there in that line of cards when the levees broke. We picked up I-77 there and drove south east in South Carolina toward I-95, which was unaffected at the point and all points south. Around 11 p.m., we were FINALLY on our way home.

 

There were times when I doubted myself for deciding to push on ahead and honor our commitment to the festival. In the end, I think we gained much more by showing up and out than by staying home, despite what my son, ex-wife and girlfriend thought.
This is going to lead to bigger an better things, and represents another step in the direction we need to head as a band and as musicians. Click here to view a gallery of photos.
Happy Shakori!
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