Last year as spring gave way to summer, Castle Street came alive with the sounds of Railroad Earth, Todd Snider, Acoustic Syndicate, Randall Bramblett Band, L Shape Lot, and Lipbone Redding. Local radio station 98.3 The Penguin, in celebration of their 10th anniversary, rendered the Americana stylings with a portion of the proceeds benefitting nonprofit Step Up for Soldiers.
In conglomeration with Huka Entertainment and Pipeline Events, the festival moves to the riverside at the Cape Fear River Festival Grounds between the PPD building and the Isabel Holmes Bridge this year. The event will benefit Chords for a Cause, a nonprofit that helps those in need.
Showcasing another batch of Americana/jam band outfits, Leftover Salmon (LS) will be among the performers. With a career spanning three decades, the newly reborn group features musicians ranging from 25 years old to 65 years old.
Currently comprising Vince Herman (vocals, guitar, washboard), Drew Emmitt (vocals, mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar), Greg Garrison (bass, vocals), Alwyn Robinson (drums), and Andy Thorn (banjo, electric banjo, vocals), they will take the stage with the legendary Billy Payne of Little Feat. With a long-standing career, their line up has had quite a few changes over the years, including the death of founding member Mark Vann. Despite a brief hiatus in the early- to mid-aughts, LS perseveres. Among the new additions is Thorn.
Joining the band four-and-a-half years ago, Thorn recalls listening to the band during his youth. He grew up in Durham and attended college at UNC Chapel Hill in the ‘90s. Now Thorn revels in the opportunity to add to the band’s legacy, writing new songs and performing old favorites.
“[I love playing] anything off the ‘Euphoria ‘album,” he describes. “They’re classic tunes that take me back to high school, going on road trips and listening to that stuff. It is really fun to be playing it with them now”
As well, Thorn now boasts a few songs he crafted himself, such as the title track off their 2012 album “Aquatic Hitchhiker.” He also wrote “Light Behind the Rain” for the same album. An instrumentalist, Thorn primarily cultivates the music for the piece with Herman and Emmitt undertaking the vocals. Collaborations yield results, as exemplified by a new single, released through a partnership with Breckenridge Brewery, “High Country.”
“It was such a beautiful day, [and] we were hiking on the continental divide in Colorado,” Thorn tells. “[We] started singing ‘I wanna be in the high country,’ and saying all of these things that we did. By the time we were done, I had all these ideas in my head. I went back down to the cabin and got out the guitar.”
Former bandmates and friends, who share his love for LS, will be in attendance at the music fest, along with his family. Adding to the renion-vibes, LS will once again share the stage with Jeff Austin of the Jeff Austin Trio.
Finding his musical beginnings in Kindergarten via choir class, Austin has always had a knack for vocals. His formative years consisted of musicals, and pop music he listened to on AM radio in the ‘70s and ‘80s; however, his propensity to never allow himself to be pigeonholed eventually led him to his current bluegrass inclinations.
Accepted to the conservatory at the University of Connecticut, Austin dropped out at the end of his first year because of the constraints. Inspired by the works of The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, he joined a crowd of jam band and bluegrass enthusiasts. Their inattention to vocals gave Austin a niche to fill.
From the Bluegrassholes to Yonder Mountain String Band (Yonder), he forged a career for himself. “If I had stuck it out [at the conservatory], my life would be completely different,” he muses.
However, his endeavors with Yonder, too, came with boundaries, perpetuating his split from the group and the creation of the Jeff Austin Trio. Austin’s musical outfit will be completed with Ross Martin and Eric Thorin at the Penguin Music Festival. Forming his own musical outlet supplies him with the freedom to make each song tailored to its inspiration.
“I sound way different from one song to the next,” he explains. “You listen to My Morning Jacket records and [frontman Jim James] adjusts his voice, tone and his attack to fit the person in that song. I find [that] incredibly inspiring.”
His performances exude the same diversity. Transforming each recording for the audience, he adjusts his vocals and tempo depending on the swells of crowd appreciation. “I need to let whatever’s around influence me,” Austin elaborates. “It’s not compromising who you are; it’s being conscious of your audience and of your situation.”
Mandolin Orange (MO), touring in support of their third release, “This Side of Jordan,” will also play. Native to North Carolina, the duo consists of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz.
“We first met at a jam with The Big Fat Gap bluegrass band,” Marlin explains. “Emily and I knew a lot of the same tunes and ended up singing them together that night.”
Since that meeting in 2009, they’ve been playing together. The duo have released three recordings: “Quiet Little Room,” “Haste Make / Hard Hearted Stranger” and “This Side Of Jordan.”
“Our main focus in making records is to serve the songs,” Marlin says. “With each record we have put out, we’ve been able to hone in a little more on how best to do that. Because of that, I feel like each attempt has been a little stronger.”
MO derives their aesthetic from gospel, folk, and bluegrass tradition, whisking listeners gently through southern Appalachia.
“We are looking forward to more touring this fall and finding time to start on the next record,” Marlin discusses. “[We are] stoked to be coming back to Wilmington!”
Infusing a faster-paced sound at the festival will be Greensboro bluegrass, soul and rock blending band Holy Ghost Tent Revival (HGTR). Complete with banjos and a horn section, the cacophonous, fun sound that North Carolina music lovers have come revere promises to break the sound barrier at the music festival.
HGTR began recording their danceable and infectious tunes after forming in 2007. Six handsome musicians— Stephen Murray, Matt Martin, Kevin Williams, Hank Widmer, Charlie Humphrey, and Ross Montsinger—compose the band.
Also providing eargasms throughout the day will be Keller Williams, a.k.a K-Dub. He boasts a catalogue music, extending back to the early ‘90s. Hailing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, his sound comes loaded with soul, quirkiness and fun. The one-man-band performer merges bluegrass, folk, alternative rock, reggae, electronica, dance, jazz, and funk.
Forming well over a decade ago, local legends Mac and Juice Quartet’s sound will also permeate the riverside. The band generates a wide-ranging rock sound. Mac Nelson (guitar, vocals) Brian Raynor (guitar, vocals), Jason Moore (bass), and Brian Mason (drums) make up the band. The band self-released their album,”Step into the Light,” in 2012, and it’s available on iTunes.
Indie-rock band Nick and the Babes, containing Nicholas Bailey, Graham Bailey, Rob Wank, and Dail Reed, will play their creativity evoking melodies. They open the show at 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at through Penguin, Port City Daily, Gravity Records, or Momentum Surf and Skate
Penguin Music Festival
Cape Fear River Festival Grounds
111 Cowan Street
Sat., May 31tst, 1 p.m.
Tickets: $35.00 to $70.00