The Greatest Show on Turf

NC Folk Fest promises another stellar lineup



The Greatest Show on Earth won’t be coming to town anymore. No more plodding pachyderms leading a ponderous parade through the streets, no more high-flying, glittery dare-demons sailing overhead in death-defying arcs. But every fall in Greensboro there’s still a bigfoot stomp making the pavement tremble when the North Carolina Folk Festival takes over downtown for a three-day residency (this year, September 6–8). Some glittery high-flyin’ as well as a plethora of musical acts from around the globe fill the airspace with a deluge of notes from on high.

This year’s lineup once again draws from a catalog of artists and genres that you’d have to be a professional schmoozer with deep pockets to be able to capture in your personal space.

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys are one of the best Cajun outfits performing today. Here’s a group that bridges the gap between old and new, respecting their traditional roots, while writing new original songs that take that sound out of a stuffy museum, and into the streets and clubs. Riley leaves the Playboys back home in Mamou, fronting Racines, a Cajun supergroup. Fiddler Kevin Wimmer (Red Stick Ramblers) had done some recent gigs with the Playboys but with the addition of Chris Stafford on lap steel and electric guitar and BeauSoleil’s Mitchell Reed on bass and fiddle, the band’s sound is like a flip book of Louisiana music and culture with a blast of rockin’ Zydeco mixed in.

Mwenso and the Shakes are a cultural mashup representing Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii, interpreting blues and soul through a global filter. Mwenso also channels James Brown with choreography as arresting as any footwork dreamed up by the original Godfather of soul. 

The Allen Boys bring sacred steel down from Mount Airy, taking their organ replacement steel and electric guitars across the aisle into secular music, churchily channeling the music of Michael Jackson and Al Green along with traditional hymns. 

And if you need a classic soul injection, Booker T. Jones is your doctor. With his band the M.G.s, shorthand for the Memphis Group, Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Duck Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr. were the heartbeat of soul back in the day, backing Otis Redding, and Sam and Dave in the studio and on tour, recording with Wilson Pickett the Staple Singers and Rufus Thomas, while racking up a No. 1 hit of their own with Jones’ 1962 instrumental “Green Onions.”

It ain’t Ringling Bros., but the NC Folk Fest can circus with the best
of ’em.

— Grant Britt

Info: ncfolkfestival.comIt ain’t Ringling Bros., but the NC Folk Fest can circus

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