As the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival draws closer, I honestly can't decide if I'm more excited about the food or the music. I'm obviously a major fan of music, and this year's edition of the event features some great bands (more on that in a moment), but thanks to Zac Brown being as big a foodie as he is a music lover, the senses of hearing and taste get equal amounts of love at Southern Ground.
Last year I was fortunate enough to be seated at one of the incredible front porch stage boxes, which were nestled right up against the stage and came complete with a server, an open bar, and a multi-course meal each night. As the Zac Brown Band, Warren Haynes, and My Morning Jacket performed, my table mates and I feasted on duck confit carnitas, molasses pork belly and ricotta hoe cakes, butter pea pasta, cornmeal-dusted flounder, and roasted carrots. To say that the food was delicious is an understatement. Even the folks not fortunate enough to be seated up on stage were able to sample great food at booths around the grounds of Blackbaud Stadium. We're not talking simple hamburgers and hotdogs, but instead hearty gourmet fare. Even if you're not necessarily a fan of any of the bands playing, you can come out, sample the food, and perhaps discover something new musically.
As far as the band lineup goes, I have a few to which I'm particularly looking forward:
The Avett Brothers—I've been going to see these guys since they were still traveling down from North Carolina to play at the Music Farm a decade ago. The band's 2009 album, I And Love And You, remains one of my favorite albums of the last decade. It has yet to leave my home CD player (yeah, I still listen to those shiny silver things). The band's followup, The Carpenter, which was released earlier this year, is not quite as good as its predecessor, but it's still better than 99 percent of what's out there. The band's live act is electric, with the Avett's stomping, strumming, and singing their hearts out. If you haven't seen The Avett Brothers Live, please do yourself a favor and check them out this weekend.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals—I'll admit it; I was late to the Grace Potter Party. I didn't see the Vermont-based band play live until just a couple of years ago at the First Flush Fest down on John's Island. I'd heard the band was good, and that Potter had a considerable stage presence, but in the end I wasn't prepared to get my face rocked off, which is basically what happened. Potter is one of those human beings that was just born to be a rock star. She carries herself in a way only seen previously by the likes of Elvis, Springsteen, and Bono. Wait until you hear the band belt out "Paris (Ooh La La)" this weekend. I'll be the guy up front throwing the finger horns.
Michael Franti & Spearhead—Franti is one of those musicians who approaches music the same way a priest, rabbi, or cleric approaches religion. Franti's not playing to entertain you, he's playing to convert you to his musical point of view. Although his political stances have softened a bit as he has aged and evolved, Franti's live act is still a force of nature. I'm hoping he performs my favorite Spearhead tune, "Everybody Ona Move." If that song doesn't get you shaking your moneymaker, then you should probably check to see if you have a pulse.
JJ Grey & Mofro—Probably one of the best, most original, and, in my opinion, most underrated Southern rock bands currently performing. Actually, labeling the band as simply Southern rock is wrong, because the band can switch from Southern rock, to R&B, to funk, to blues in the blink of an eye. The song "Orange Blossoms" always brings a smile to my face when I hear it on the radio.
The Charlie Daniels Band—I've actually never seen the CDB. This legendary country outfit is best known for it's '80s hit "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," but I'll be waiting to hear "Long-Haired Country Boy." Don't think I won't be hootin' and hollerin' though when that devil rosins up his bow.
Zac Brown Band—I'll admit that I was only a casual ZBB listener prior to last year's Southern Ground Festival. I'd seen them a number of times everywhere from the Windjammer to Bonnaroo. Perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention at those earlier shows, but when the band came out on the first day of the fest last year and played covers of songs by Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, Pure Prairie League, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Band, I was mesmerized. The band's set the next night was equally stellar. I'm a full-fledged fan now, and I look forward to the band's sets on Saturday and Sunday.
There are plenty of other acts playing over the two days of the fest. Go to southerngroundfestival.com and check out the full lineup, which now includes John Mayer and Gregg Allman sitting in with ZBB. It's going to be a great weekend of music on Daniel Island.