After two full days of intermittent rain showers, a hazy mist rose from the valley that is Homegrown Hideaways in Berea, KY. The rare full flower moon finally peeked out from behind the dissipating clouds on Saturday night, illuminating the Moonshiner’s Ball Music and Arts Festival to reveal a pristine landscape highlighted by clear streams and green mountain peaks. A prismatic moonbow encircled the celestial body, providing one of the many natural wonders that made the event truly unique. Looking up at that big, bright moon you couldn’t help but feel connected to the lands and people that surrounded you.
Beginning with the first encounter with Moonshiner’s Ball, the Dead Audio team was embraced and welcomed into the community. Upon arrival we were met with a big hug from hosting-band Blind Corn Liquor Pickers‘ guitarist Jeoffery Teague who had flown in from Colorado for the event. It was a warm reunion, feeling as if he had flown all the way back to Kentucky just to welcome us with open arms. It was this kind of display of comradery that would define the weekend as a running theme.
We immediately noticed that those performing at the festival had a vested interest in the event beyond the stage. All weekend bands doubled as volunteers by checking patrons in, assisting with parking and set up and helping to craft a memorable festival experience. It was this attitude of “we’re all in this together” that provided the realization that we were all an important piece of a community and everyone played a role. Indeed, everyone seemed to embrace their neighbor, offering assistance with tents, and a healthy gulp of their moonshine to get the weekend started right.Friday’s lineup would prove to be very bluegrass-centric, providing a smooth, easy transition into the festival. Main Stage acts Trucker Hat Coalition and Bear Medicine kicked things off with beautiful harmonizing and dreamy folk. As the rain continued, the WRFL stage moved from an outdoor tent stage to the side of the Main Stage, allowing for patrons to simply turn their heads to view the next band. This easy contingency plan proved successful throughout the weekend and seemed to go off without a hitch.
Up first on the WRFL stage were Cincinnati-based Dawg Yawp. Think Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles trying their hand at bluegrass and you get Dawg Yawp, who blew us away with their synthesizer, acoustic guitar and sitar-driven folk, even covering Kentucky-native Sturgill Simpson’s “Long White Line.” Here, we overheard band member Rob Keenan’s comment, “Moonshine is a magical thing, I cant feel my fingers but the sounds keep coming.” He wasn’t kidding, and as our personal Ball jars became “half full” we cared less about the rain, and more about the tunes on stage.The sounds rolling over the Appalachian hills got a little heavier as the evening progressed. Acts like alt-folk rockers Vandaveer energized the crowd, playing heavily from their recent album The Wild Mercury. It was a great introduction to the band that will be headlining Lexington’s free summer concert series Phoenix Fridays in August. We were also treated to an explosive cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Tonight’s Noise during their uplifting, dancy set. The first night was closed out by Driftwood Gypsy, who would keep the crowd dancing into the early hours of the morning with their unique sounds of jam funk fusion.
When the campgrounds came back to life early Saturday morning it was clear the rain had taken a toll on the grounds, yet the wetter it became, the audience spirits seemed to become less dampened. In fact, despite the muddy mess left over from the weather, the family atmosphere of the festival became more prominent.
Kicking off the music on Saturday was Americana rockers Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps, serving as the opening artist on the outdoor WRFL stage. Childer’s honest Americana sounds were a great way to wake the camps up. Turning to the Main Stage you would have sworn it was Sunday the way Daniel Martin Moore took us all to church. His soft, melodic voice and acoustic guitar strumming made for a peaceful transition.
As you walked the festival grounds, the free spiritedness became contagious as attendees took part in the non-musical aspects of Moonshiner’s Ball which provides unique outlets of expression for festival goers. Passing by the Kid’s Tent you could find classes on screen printing and the art of blowing bubbles. True to staying involved with all aspects of the festival, Beth and Joel and of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers led a mid-day kids sing along. It was a whimsical setting: feet in the creek, listening to the sounds of a dozen children’s voices echoing “This Little Light of Mine” throughout the Holler. Another non-musical program that took us by surprise was “Laughter Yoga with Jamie Brown.” The class focused on releasing energy through laughter in order to improve attitude and stimulate “happy” chemistry.Early in the afternoon Kansas Bible Company blew us away with their boot-stomping, horn-infused Nashville sound that sometimes drifted into psychedelic rock. Jonathon Scales Forchestra transported us to the Carribbean Islands with his smooth steel drums, covering Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” Later, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades looked like they were having the time of their lives up on stage as they laughed through a fun, super-fast sing-along rendition “The Green Grass Grew All Around” whilst, you guessed it, crushing some shine.
For the Dead Audio Team, the highlight of the WRFL Stage took place on Saturday with the back-to-back performances by Lexington artists. Up first was rapper Sheisty Khrist + Long Jumper. Khrist provided the only hip-hop over the weekend, with their old, crackling mics giving their sound a unique, vintage feel that paired well with their insightful, hard-hitting lyrics. Sheisty’s West 6th family was also in the audience to raise their pales and ambers in support. Long Jumper, aka Thomas Usher, proved to be a huge addition to Khrist’s set, adding cool synth hooks to each track. The drawn out, trippy, electronic outro was quite a surprise as well! Usher could be found playing with several bands throughout the weekend, and it’s easy to see why everyone wants his sounds, and good vibes added to their set.Up next were rockabilly up-and-comers Johnny Conquaroo, who proved there’s a reason why this band is on nearly every bill in Lexington this Summer. Sounding like a young Jack White with Zeppelin guitar licks, Conquaroo threw down with songs about drinking and dancing, things everyone in the crowd could get down with. Be on the lookout for these guys doing big things in the near future! The last leg of music for Saturday night proved to be a very strong lineup that packed a three-punch to end the evening. Blind Corn Liquor Pickers were up first and it was quite the Superjam with members of several bands joining on stage for the main event. The scene was very Last Waltz, being very nostalgic in nature. You could feel the positive energy radiating from the band performing for their friends, which happened to be the entire audience. If you were there, you certainly encountered a band member throughout the weekend, and chances are they helped you, gave you a high five or offered a swill from their jar. Closing down the Main Stage was Brooklyn-based Moon Hooch. The percussion and sax-driven three-piece is known for their furious sets that incorporate jazz and hip-hop, and their show at the Ball turned into a barn-burner with friendly, mini mosh pits popping up throughout the crowd. Saxophonist Mike Wilbur frequently got down on his knees at the front of the stage to showcase his brass skills. When the dust finally settled, Moon Hooch had performed one of the best sets in Moonshiner history.
To wind down from the weekend, Restless Leg String Band performed until the early morning at the Forest Stage to a crowd of muddy, excited festival-goers around a community bonfire. It was the perfect way to end a very exciting day of music and friends.Over the course of the weekend the Dead Audio Team realized that The Moonshiner’s Ball was just that, a Ball. The event was a dance, a give and take between mother nature and the concert-goers, and if there was ever a misstep by either party, you’d never know it. The community that congregates here each year in May knows that they have something special. Whether it’s watching children run carefree through the creeks, sharing stories and shine with your neighbor, or catching a killer set of music from some of the best national and local artists, there’s something for everyone at The Moonshiner’s Ball, and we can’t wait to dance under that full moon again next year at Homegrown Hideaways.