Twenty years ago, music festivals were a rare thing here in the U.S. Over in places like Europe and Japan, they have been happening for years. I went to a few great ones while I was stationed in Germany in the Army in the late 1980s, most notably one in Heckeheim that featured such diverse acts as (and remember, this was 1990) Tina Turner, Jethro Tull, Alannah Myles, Simple Minds, Chris De Burgh, Fury in the Slaughterhouse, and Gianna Nanini. Nope, I'd never heard of Gianna Nanini either, but I do like the way the Italian pop singer's name rolls off the tongue.
I got back home after the Army just in time to see Perry Farrel start Lollapalooza. I never got to attend a date on that traveling alt-rock festival, but thanks to its success, folks over here began to see that music festivals in the U.S. could be safe, fun, and, most importantly for those producing the events, lucrative. Lollapalooza begat the H.O.R.D.E (Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere) Festival, then the all-female Lilith Fair Tour and the Warped Tour. The Warped Tour is one of the few fests that still tours the country. Most of the other music festivals are staged in a single location, and provide a multi-day experience with an amazing enough line-up to draw music fans from all over the country. The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, is the current king of the American fests. For the last decade, folks have flocked to the tiny Tennessee town, where the festival organizers have purchased a 750-acre plot of farmland that turns into music heaven for four days each June. Other well-known festivals include Coachella in Indio, California, Bumbershoot in Seattle, and yes, even Lollapalooza in Chicago. That latter fest no longer travels, but instead follows the current trend of having music fans come to the music.
Now Charleston stands poised to add itself to the list of cities hosting an annual music festival. Last October, the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival made its debut at Blackbaud Stadium, and by all accounts was a rousing success. Over three days, folks got to see performances by acts such as My Morning Jacket, Warren Haynes, Eric Church, Train, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Steel Pulse, among others. The Zac Brown Band played headlining sets all three nights of the festival. Brown himself helped create the event, and because he is just as much a foodie as he is a musician, Brown wanted to combine the two passions. Concert-goers last year had the chance to sample food from some of the South's best chefs while watching the show. Those willing to pay for the privilege got to sit at tables on the stage and experience the music while professional chefs served up delectable meals for them. It was a huge undertaking that had its risks, but it happened without a hitch—at least that's what it looked like to me. If you didn't get a chance to attend last year's soiree, here's a YouTube video of My Morning Jacket performing "One Big Holiday."
I was overjoyed to hear that the Southern Ground Festival would be returning to Daniel Island this year on October 20 and 21. Charleston has tried multi-acts, multi-genre music fests in the past—most notably Chazzfest a few years back. Chazzfest had a great line-up (Al Green, Buddy Guy, Son Volt, Sam Bush), a good location (the Family Circle Tennis Stadium), and decent weather, but attendance fell off sharply in year two, and the event was doomed. I don't see the sophomore slump being an issue for Southern Ground. For starters, the festival's organizers have wisely condensed the event from three days to two. Next, the list of bands is just as impressive as last year's. No, check that: this year's line-up is better. We're talking The Avett Brothers, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, The Wailers, Los Lonely Boys, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Jerry Douglas Band, and The Zac Brown Band. That's just a partial list. And they recently announced that Gregg Allman and John Mayer would be sitting in with The Zac Brown Band during its nightly sets at the festival.
Once again food will be just as big a star as the music. The Stage Boxes are back, as are the guest chefs. The Southern Ground Fest has also expanded to Nashville. That two-day festival, which featured a largely different line-up, happened last month and was a hit in Music City.
I'm looking forward to heading out to Blackbaud Stadium next weekend for two days of great music and great food. If you haven't purchased your tickets yet, you can do so here. Single-day tickets are available, but I can almost guarantee that if you go Saturday you'll want to come back on Sunday. I implore you to come out and check the event out though. The only way cool stuff like this will continue is if it's supported.