Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Venue-surfing the Carrboro Music Fest

Carrboro Music Festival (9/28) was the best way I've spent a Sunday in a long time.

What a great concept for a festival: instead of herding people into a narrow, fallow tract, the town of Carrboro transforms their whole downtown grid into a living, breathing festival space. They get local bands to play, all day and evening long, at over 20 indoor and outdoor venues within strolling distance. They do it on a Sunday, when parking is eased, and the coup de grace: they make it free. Streets and sidewalks are full of people venue-surfing, giving the pleasant sensation of urban bustle in an area with the geographic footprint of a village. Music lures into courtyards, concert halls, grassy knolls and parking lots. Real kitchens and bars offer food and drink (especially drink) fit for grown-ups. It's a truly civilized, all-ages show.

I won't describe every song in the jukebox, but blog-relevant: I did catch Razpa's set. They were very well-received, I looked around and saw lots of heads bopping, feet moving. Nice crowd. Particularly inspired by the guitar-driven cumbia, Manu Chao cover "Desaparecido," a Mick Jagger lookalike did noodly dance steps, with a tall can of Clamato Chelada in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That about sums it up.

The party really got started, for me, at twilight, when I got to Tyler's Parking Lot in time for a quick cuddle (figuratively speaking) with the Tim Smith band, before my dance date with Saludos Compay. Tim, aka Mr. Goodvibes, will give you a contact-high on life with his jazzy flute, sax of plenty, and that remarkably floating falsetto voice. Orquesta GarDel's Peter Kimosh shares bass duties here, a most excellent foundation for the reggae-inspired groove, and Robert Cantrell brings his Afro-Cuban skills to the congas.

As dusk fell behind the porch-like bandstand with a rustic American flag mural painted on the wall behind it, dancers coagulated in the yard in anticipation of Saludos Compay. I was heartened to see Robert Cantrell keep his seat behind the drums, adding weight to the trio's backbone, Pablo Valencia, Erich Lieth and Chuck Nolan. Though tiny (as Latin bands go), without timbales or vast horn choir, Saludos Compay generates an authentic dance groove by hewing close to the simple, time-tested formula of Cuban son montuno, with some of cumbia's rasping bounce.

Rather than edgy, hard and urban salsa, this rural dance music springs from the tilled earth. A perfect fit for the freespirited Orange/Chatham milieu. Dancers sprawled like wheeling cogs across the courtyard, reverberating to the hypnotic, primal pace of son. It's been awhile since I caught a full-blown dance set by Saludos Compay, and it was nice to be reminded why they have one of the most dedicated followings in the Triangle.

Join their e-list to get schedule updates via the band's website. Saludos Company will occupy the dance tent at Shakori Hills late Saturday night during the Grassroots Festival (10/11).

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