Taking place Friday and Saturday of this week, May 31-June 1, in Canton, North Carolina, it features a slew of diverse artists—among them, Calexico, Milk Carton Kids, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Kat Wright. We talked to one of the festival organizers about its origins, its intention, and its overall success to date. (Above photo the official festival photo; image below, by David Simchock www.davidsimchock.com / courtesy CMMF)
BY FRED MILLS
The summer festival season begins anew—having already been sufficiently primed/goosed by numerous pre-summer festivals, which seem to occur earlier and earlier each year—with festival-goers and musicians alike fairly frothing at the mouth over, respectively, the ensuing fun-potential and the ridiculously easy paychecks.
One relatively young event is the two-day Cold Mountain Music Festival, May 31-June 1, occurring in Canton, North Carolina (specifically: 25 Wormy Chestnut Lane, Canton, NC 28716). Canton is about a half-hour west of Asheville, already renowned for its thriving music scene, and the hills of Western N.C. are similarly alive with the sound of music (to paraphrase a great philosopher). And as we pointed out not long ago here at BLURT, it’s to be “a tasting board of artists ranging from the folk, funk, Americana, bluegrass, and post-rock worlds, with highlights including Grammy-nominated alt-rockers the Milk Carton Kids, critically acclaimed “desert noir” duo Calexico, crowd-favorite jamgrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, fast rising troubadour J.S. Ondara, “soul queen” Kat Wright, the equally Stax-worthy Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics, and improvisational genre-benders Driftwood, among others.”
There’s an interesting angle here, too: the family-friendly camping festival, now in its third year and located in Pisgah National Forest at the wonderfully scenic Lake Logan, is put on by the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in order to support the work of the ministries of the Lake Logan Conference Center and Camp Henry. Doesn’t exactly sound like your garden-variety sex/drugs/rock’n’roll gathering, where topless girls get hoisted upon the shoulders of their E-gobbling boyfriends and frats on leave from campus slam beer-bongs in between actual bong hits, eh?
I posed that question, or at least my somewhat toned-down version of it, to Lake Logan Conference Center’s Development Director Michelle Robinson, as I was curious to learn if the festival organizers have ever encountered raised eyebrows when informing someone about potential looming collisions between Dionysian youth practices and Faith-based church cultures. I got a firm “LOL” from her…
“We haven’t seen any of that,” chuckled Robinson. “I hope it’s respect for the place we are in and for those around us. If we are to continue to have this festival, we can’t have issues like drugs destroying the vibe. Christians are not excluded from liking good music, be it rock ‘n’ roll or any other. And we count it as a blessing that we have very poor Wi-fi here—people aren’t walking around with their faces in their phones. Instead, they are connecting with their neighbors and enjoying nature. It’s amazing to watch.”
In our conversation, Robinson professed to be a big fan of music festivals in general, adding that she has prior experience with large such events. She always had a hunch that the Lake Logan setting would be an ideal one for such a gathering, and explained that while the venue had always been used primarily for summer camp and church groups, “the festival arose as a thought between a few long-time supporters of Lake Logan and myself—I knew we could make it happen. My best friend is married to one of the Steep Canyon Rangers, so she was very helpful, as were the Rangers, with getting the first one going. We knew the location was perfect for it! It took a lot of work that first year from the entire planning committee, the Diocese staff and Lake Logan staff—I’m always afraid our head of facilities will retire! We have great people at Lake Logan and in the Diocese office in Asheville. Everyone works hard to make this a success.
“And there is a great deal of organization to it. I work for Lake Logan and Camp Henry, with support from the Episcopal Diocese of WNC. And Bishop José McLoughlin has been our strongest supporter. He understands our goal [is] to bring all people together in this place where all are welcomed. He lets us do the job and trusts us to make good decisions.”
Good decisions, indeed. Early on, the festival organizers determined that strategic partnerships would be key, and by the second year they had brought on well-respected and -connected Asheville concert promoter and talent buyer Jeff Whitworth, of Worthwhile Sounds, to help line up performers, along with Chad Stewart of Asheville’s Sound to coordinate the lighting and sound systems. (Robinson: “He’s the best, so that was an easy choice.”) Also in the mix now: Haywood County’s weekly newspaper the Smoky Mountain News, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority helping out with some of the talent costs, and the Haywood Sheriff Department for festival-related security and traffic control (not to mention accompanying bureaucratic hoops). Plus, plenty of participation from local breweries, food trucks, and regional merchants—crucial for probably every kind of music festival on the planet.
Robinson adds that another crucial element in mounting a solid festival is lining up sponsorships in order to cover the costs of the booking budget. “We have been successful financially so far,” she says. “It isn’t a huge profit yet, but we keep growing. We have many generous sponsors who come back year after year to help us make this happen. And the Haywood TDA gave us a grant this year that has been a huge help for getting great talent. In terms of genre, we stress that this festival is not a bluegrass festival. We love bluegrass and we have it on the schedule, but we don’t stop there. We want diversity in the music and in the musicians. This year, we have some great soul acts, Americana, folk, country, and bluegrass—and some that I’m not sure how to categorize, but it’s good music.”
And she’s quick to point out that the Cold Mountain Music Festival is intended to be more than simply musically inclusive:
“This festival sort of announced to the community that Lake Logan is open for all. We are not a private campus and we welcome all. You don’t have to be Episcopalian to be here. We host artist retreats, family reunions, private retreats, dancing, and the list goes on and on. Last year, our new-ish Executive Director, Lauri SoJourner, opened Lake Logan for annual memberships. That has been a huge success with our neighbors. People can come out for the day to enjoy the lake or to fish.
“We really do welcome all.”
For further reading about the festival, check out my interview with Joey Burns and John Convertino, of Saturday evening headliner Calexico, along with don’t-miss featured performer Kat Wright, who plays late afternoon on Saturday.. – FM
Check out the festival line-up and visit www.coldmountainmusic.org for tickets, festival tees and more info — with The Milk Carton Kids, Kat Wright, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, Joe Lasher, Calexico, J.S. Ondara, The Travelin’ Kine, Yonder Mountain String Band, Logan Ledger, Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, Noble Cider – Taproom & Cidery, Hit the Pit BBQ Co., Driftwood and Mo Pho Pho Sho.