Charlie Mars thinks Camel Crushes are kind of weird. I learned that little tidbit about the Mississippi singer-songwriter when he joined me on the deck of the Pour House for a smoke on Oct. 18 following Mars' set with Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks. Among other things, he asked me to help crack his voicemail pass code. Luckily for him, Nancy Drew mysteries were a childhood staple of mine, and in a few short minutes we were able to determine that the password was in fact his birthday. Go figure.
Earlier in the night, Mars played an acoustic gig at Billy Reid on King Street where the singer was kind enough to pass around a pen and paper and invite everyone who attended to be on his guest list at the Pour House. A real Southern gentleman that Charlie Mars, despite his opinions about Camel Crushes.
The following night, I raced down to the Music Farm with a makeshift bike light attached to my Huffy Tiempo to see what Passion Pit had cooking in the wake of several tour cancellations due to frontman Michael Angelakos' mental health issues. Apparently, what was cooking was bacon. During Passion Pit's "Eyes as Candles," I noticed the overwhelming aroma of pork belly in the room. My aforementioned detective skills kicked into gear, and I now believe that there's a new strain of pot going around, one that cleverly disguises itself as everyone's favorite breakfast side in order to throw off the bouncers. Just kidding. Angelakos seemed to be in good spirits, and his performance was charming, though seemingly short. By the time the smell of bacon was gone, only 50 minutes or so had passed, according to my not-so-smart phone.
Saturday marked the beginning of the Second Annual Southern Ground Music Festival, with an impressive 23,000 people attending the Daniel Island event over the course of both days. A personal highlight of Saturday took place when the Wood Brothers performed in between the Avett Brothers and the Zac Brown Band's sets. I'd never seen the Brothers before, but I was absolutely mesmerized. And apparently so were the guys in Blackberry Smoke, who later mused that the Wood Brothers are "a very soulful band." Later, the Avetts returned to the stage to join the Zac Brown Band for an endearing rendition of Ryan Adams' "My Sweet Carolina."
The night followed with several special guests, including the one and only Gregg Allman, John Mayer, and Darius Rucker, who joined Zac Brown for "Wagon Wheel." Brown covered Mayer's "Neon," and although Mayer didn't sing a note, folks went crazy over his guitar skills and the funny orgasmic faces he made while he played.
At previous shows around town, I've noticed a certain something that I've come to believe is necessary at concerts: rowdiness. But after Southern Ground, I have to say that there's something to be said for a more intimate show. The lights and massive screens were a little cheesy and over-stimulating, and I wound up feeling like I was on some crazy Las Vegas game show. The other festival-goers seemed to dig it, though.
On the second day, I got to hang out backstage. There was a world of children happily playing on swing sets and families roaming around eating picnic food, not at all what you might envision the backstage of a high profile concert to look like. I spoke with Coy Bowles, guitarist for the Zac Brown Band and a children's book author, about an award he had just received for Amy Giggles: Laugh Out Loud. Coy talked about the inspiration for the tale: a friend's wife who had been bullied as a child for her boisterous laugh, and now holds it back as a result. "When she told me that story, it blew me away," Bowles said. "Kids can be brutal."
Over on Blackberry Smoke's tour bus, the guys were relaxing while watching The Andy Griffith Show on two big screen TVs. Singer/guitarist Charlie Starr greeted me with a smile and offered me a couple of chocolate-covered espresso beans from Trader Joe's. "You have to try these!" he exclaimed. As I popped one into my mouth, drummer Brit Turner joked that we would all be tripping in 15 minutes. The trip never came, thank goodness, but the guys quickly felt like old friends as we discussed what they've been up to. "Tour, tour, tour," Starr answered. When asked who they'd most like to tour with, it wasn't a shock to hear Starr say the Stones. The clock's ticking, fellas. The guys also spoke highly of their friend Chris Robinson, and we all agreed that a collaboration with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood should happen in the near future. Next up, Blackberry Smoke will head out on the Simple Man Cruise, a Lynyrd Skynyrd thing that they've taken part in for about seven years now. The Dirty Guv'nahs will also hop aboard that same cruise following their gig at the Pour House on Nov. 3.
The night carried on with performances by Michael Franti, Blackberry Smoke, and, of course, the Zac Brown Band. Allman and Mayer returned to the stage for "Melissa" and "One Way Out," and I noticed an old soul in awe over Allman's vocals as he sang, "Lord, it just a might be your man, oh baby, I just don't know."
On Monday morning, I had a chance encounter at the little store where I work. A hip little group made their way inside, and it was obvious they were from out of town. In fact, among them was brother-sister duo Christian and Sarah Dugas, who had performed at Southern Ground the day before. Sarah said she thought J.J. Grey put on a fantastic show at the fest and, in her opinion, it was probably the most memorable one of the entire two-day event. (Blackberry Smoke had said the same. Now I'm kicking myself for missing him.) Check out Sarah and her brother on the track "Another Day," where her saucy vocals feel like the love child of Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill.
Once again, Zac Brown and company pulled off another successful Southern Ground Festival. Here's hoping that they return next year. And hopefully, they'll add a few of our local acts to the bill.