The southeastern music festival scene is becoming saturated with festivals geared towards any and every genre that comes to mind. This is by no means a bad thing! Just about any weekend you can venture out to one of these pop up music and art communities and become engulfed in everything it has to offer. There are many large festivals that boast extensive live-ups comprised of the top performers in the world, yet come with a hefty ticket price and a lack of intimacy with the community as a whole. Smaller festivals tend to be more community-driven, yet lack any real “star power” in the line-up. Combining the best that both have to offer is rare feat in the music and arts community, but Fly Free Fest has found its niche exactly there.
This past weekend (October 10-12), the second annual Fly Free Fest was held in Lafayette, GA, just 45 minutes south of Chattanooga. The festivals grounds provided for a quaint set-up of three stages perfectly nestled into the Northwest Georgia Mountains. From the moment you pass through the front gate, you are greeted with endless smiles and positive attitudes from the event staff and volunteers. For such a small and young festival, not enough can be said about the high level of production and professionalism exhibited by everyone involved. Everything was done out to the fullest extent to make sure the patrons had an enjoyable experience and were able to actively be a part of the thriving community known as Fly Free Fest. The campgrounds were just a very short walking distance from the stages. The food vendors were top-notch (and affordable). The music line-up contained big national acts as well as many talented regional performers of all genres. Even in spite of some sporadic rain throughout the weekend, it didn’t seem to phase anyone there in the slightest. From beginning to end, there was a truly intimate, sustainable, eclectic community built that will not be something soon forgotten about by those who attended.
FRIDAY TOP HIGHLIGHTS
If all the attendees weren’t already in full festival mode by the evening, there was no doubt everyone was all on board once The Main Squeeze started. Singer Corey Frye’s angelic voice drew in the masses from the campground, then the rest of the band was relentless in their pursuit to build a raging funk experience like no other. Just when you thought they couldn’t funk any harder, they busted into “I’ll Take Another” (off their 2012 debut self-titled album) and took funk to a level you didn’t think existed. There aren’t many certainties in the music industry, but this young band is destined for success.
The Motet closed out Friday night with a headlining set full of authentic funk grooves that created an atmosphere where dancing was the only option. The band (from Colorado) has been playing music together since 1998, which was fully showcased by how tight they were as a group. The term “seasoned performers” can’t accurately describe how comfortable they are creating groove after groove on stage together.
Friday’s music on the main stage got started with Asheville-based band Empire Strikes Brass, a relatively newcomer to the brass band scene. Even though this band is new, their members are far from green, also performing in bands such as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown and Squirrel Nut Zippers. They’ve managed to give brass band music an electronic music edge, creating a unique style all their own. It gives a refreshing sound to two genres that can easily get caught up in overdone clichés.
From the moment these guys started their trombone-led parade in the crowd before the show, Opposite Box had the attention of all festival goers without question all the way up until they ended their set jamming in the crowd again sans electricity. There just simply isn’t an adequate genre to label them with, much less combining two or three! Expect big things in the future from this eclectic group. To put it simply, these guys define “party.”
There’s something about being on remote farm in the foothills of the Northwest Georgia Mountains listening to Railroad Earth that just feels right. The whole landscape of the region is completely epitomized in their music. They walk a line of being traditional roots-oriented bluegrass while maintaining their rock and roll sound, which made them a perfect fit for a headlining set at this eclectic northwest Georgia festival!
Fly Free Fest did a wonderful job of scheduling great bands throughout the day, even the first groups of the day. Danimal Planet was first up on the Nimbus stage on Saturday, and they were by no means a “filler” band just to fill up space. With influence from the likes of Sigur Ros, Alt-J, Flaming Lips, their sound was one of the most intriguing of the festival. Even the rain couldn’t tear the crowd away from their inspiring set that methodically built soundscapes layered together to form a rich and vibrant work of art unlike any other.
In a raucous high-energy show that saw each member of the band play just about every instrument on stage, the Octopus Project gave the audience members plenty of opportunities to jump around uncontrollably. The Austin-based band could be considered experimental indie pop, but their live show adds an entirely new dimension of energy and stage-presence that can’t be expressed on recordings. You just simply cannot watch this band passively. Their presence is highly addictive.
By far the most surprising act from the festival, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra had the entire campground abuzz following their inspiring Sunday afternoon set. Most attendees hadn’t heard of the group beforehand, but there’s no doubt everyone at the festival was left in awe when they were finished. The band is led by steel pan player Jonathan Scales, who is accompanied by bass player Cody Wright and drummer Chaisaray Schenck. Each member practically gave the audience a master class at virtuosic playing for their respective instrument.
A Dan Deacon show fully defines “crowd participation,” in the highest sense. Some artists have the crowd puts their hands in the air and clap. Some encourage dancing. Then there’s Dan Deacon. After a few songs, he split the crowd down the middle and appointed each side a “team leader” to direct that sides dance moves. Then he formed a giant circle of people in front of the stage and had the “fastest man in the audience” run in a circle and give high fives and bring friends with him, which turned into the entire audience running in circles. There was an endless human tunnel that everyone got to run through and be a part of. Some might call these “gimmicks,” but don’t get me wrong, it created a live concert atmosphere completely unique to Dan Deacon in which people who don’t normally dance end up willingly shaking their bodies all around like they just don’t care.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong wrapped up the main stage lineup on Sunday night with an all out dance party. In an all-encompassing set that included the themes from Ghostbusters and Spacejam as well as some of their own funk jams such as “F.U.” and “Melting Lights,” these guys put on a hell of a party that closed out Fly Free Fest in style.
In the end, the 2nd annual Fly Free Fest was an absolute success because of the atmosphere they created. The community built between all the performers, festival goers, vendors and staff was a seamless bond that harbored a comfortable space where everyone felt welcome. Expect big things to happen in the future for this young festival!
Written by Alex Hinson
Photos by Katie Davis