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10 Bands To Catch At Blue Ridge Festivals

Old Crow Medicine Show

It’s been a decade and a half since BRO started covering regional festivals. Accordingly, here’s a look at some of our favorite artists who have ascended from side stage upstarts to prime time headliners, as well as newer acts on the rise.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Back in 2004 Old Crow Medicine Show released its breakout album, O.C.M.S., which contains the ubiquitous sing-along “Wagon Wheel” among the riveting set of high-octane old-time romps and heartfelt country rambles. The acoustic outfit was an early force in a revivalist movement that yielded many young bands that infused traditional string-band music with rock energy. While trends flare and fizzle, Old Crow has remained a steady favorite among its hardcore fan base and, despite line-up shuffles, continued to write songs that always feel relevant in the present tense of Americana.

The band’s April-released album, Volunteer, was produced by hot-handed Nashville studio workhorse Dave Cobb. Breakneck boot-stompers like “Flicker and Shine” and “Shout Mountain Music” prove the string-busters haven’t lost velocity, while the honky-tonk swagger of “Dixie Avenue” will fit right in on big Southern stages this summer. The sextet is making the festival rounds this year, performing at DelFest, Papa Joe’s BanjoBQ, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, FloydFest, and the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.

Kindred Spirit: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, a shaggy hard-plucking outfit from Wisconsin, delivers a similar front-porch rawness that will please fans of Old Crow. The group is touring behind new album The Ode, the first release from the Infamous Stringdusters’ new label, Tape Time Records. The hard-touring crew will appear at DelFest, Hoopla, and FloydFest.

Photo Niel Krug

First Aid Kit

Six years ago this Swedish sister duo turned heads in the roots world with the sweetly harmonized “Emmylou,” a melodic folk tune that affectionately named-dropped country music legends. A few years later Klara and Johanna Soderberg brought that song’s namesake, Emmylou Harris, to tears when they sang a version of her iconic “Red Dirt Girl” at an awards ceremony. The siblings, now well established and making records for Columbia, have expanded their sound on the January-released Ruins, which angrily comments on the recent revelations of systemic sexual assault and harassment through the distorted punk stomper “You Are the Problem Here.” Catch them at Bonnaroo.

Kindred Spirit: Nashville’s Caitlyn Smith has penned tunes for Meghan Trainor, Lady Antebellum, Dolly Parton, and Garth Brooks, but earlier this year the songwriter for the stars decided it was time for her own turn in the spotlight. Throughout the new record, Starfire, Smith shares her way with words through her own powerful voice, poignantly singing about the emptiness of chasing Music City dreams in “This Town is Killing Me.” Performing at the Lockn’ Festival.

Jason Isbell

When BRO published its first festival guide 15 years ago, Isbell was working the circuit as a member of Drive-By Truckers. The story of his departure from the band amidst alcohol dependency and his redemptive rise through sobriety has been well told, and now, after notching multiple Grammys for his recent solo work, Isbell is a roots music hero continuing to cement his place as one of Nashville’s most authentic voices. By touring relentlessly with his backing band the 400 Unit, which on the best nights includes his wife Amanda Shires, Isbell has also developed a tight, dynamic live show that emphasizes his honest lyrics through just the right mix of rock, soul, and twang. Festival appearances: Papa Joe’s BanjoBQ, Gears and Guitars Festival, Sloss Fest, Forecastle Festival, and FloydFest.

Kindred Spirit: Kentucky tunesmith Tyler Childers continues to sell out increasingly larger venues behind his Sturgill Simpson-produced record Purgatory. Festival season will be an optimal time to catch him, as he heads to some of the region’s biggest bashes including Bonnaroo, Hoopla, and FloydFest.

Mavis Staples

Gospel and soul icon Mavis Staples has continued her late-career comeback, releasing her third straight Jeff Tweedy-produced album, If All I Was Was Black, last fall. Full of heartfelt, activist sentiments that recall Staples’ efforts during the Civil Rights movement, the record delivers a sweet-spot combination of the singer’s golden voice and the gritty alt-country that Tweedy has perfected and contorted throughout his own career. At 78, Staples has a hearty slate of tour dates ahead of her this summer. In addition to regional shows this month in Charlottesville, Va., Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta, Ga., she’ll also perform at Bonnaroo in June.

Kindred Spirit: The hair-raising vocals of husband-and-wife duo Michael Trotter and Tonya Blount-Trotter propel the burgeoning gospel-folk group the War and Treaty. Known for delivering fiery performances with foot-stomping tent-revival fervor, the band will get crowds moving this summer at Shaky Knees Festival, Papa Joe’s BanjoBQ, Bonnaroo, Red Wing Roots Music Festival, and Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.

Photo: David James Swanson

Jack White

After a three-year break from the road, Jack White is back at it, touring behind the ambitious new album Boarding House Reach. Throughout the effort, the former White Stripe’s garage roots are still in the mix, but he takes them on a wild ride into retro funk, dramatic rock, and electro chaos. White always puts together interesting backing bands, so these songs should be smoking live at festivals like Shaky Knees.

Kindred Spirit: The best parts of 70s rock have been reborn in rising band Greta Van Fleet. Led Zeppelin comparisons have been abundant for the young Michigan quartet, and it’s easy to hear why. Guitarist Jake Kiszka has Jimmy Page’s shredding blues riffs down pat, while his twin brother Josh has a wailing howl that makes him sound like the spawn of Robert Plant. Despite the similarities, Greta Van Fleet doesn’t come off like a tribute act; instead they possess an authentic ability to reboot a sound many people have been missing. Festival spots: Shaky Knees, Carolina Rebellion, Hangout Music Festival, and FloydFest.

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