By Pete Zamplas
Creative folk rock trio The Wood Brothers are among main acts in the LEAF Festival, which is Oct. 17-20 at Camp Rockmount in Black Mountain.
Other main performers include Angelique Kidjo’s Remain in Light, Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, La Santa Cecilia, Natalli Rize, Southern Avenue, and We Banjo 3.
Reach for the Stars is the festival for this the 49th edition of the twice-a-year festival of music, dancing, a poetry slam, roving performers, arts and crafts, healing arts vendors and workshops, lakeside fire show, costume parade and other family activities.
“Up above is a celestial blanket, beckoning our vision to higher possibilities,” LEAF Artistic Director Ehren Cruz stated. “The artists selected transcend expectation, defy all convention, and capture the essence of what it means to embrace one’s fullest potential. From the shores of Benin, to the mountains of Colorado, to the forests of Ireland, to the city streets of L.A….over 15 nations will unite at Lake Eden to share a vision of who we are when we release all expectations, dive deep into our creative passions, and reach for the stars.”
The Wood Brothers play on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4:30-6 p.m., as the festival’s closing act. The trio returns to LEAF, where they played seven and a half years ago. The band toured Europe late last year.
Oliver Wood plays lead guitar and vocals. Chris Wood is on upright bass, harmonica and backing vocals. Their cohort Jano Rix is a multi-instrumentalist.
Oliver is seen as the frontman and main songwriter. Yet all three in the group share writing credits on their newest album. Oliver has an earthy down-home voice. His roots folk steers the brotherly duo’s eclectic blend of blues, folk, country, jazz and gospel.
Chris, 49, is four years younger than taller Oliver. Chris was more focused and driven as a teen musician, said Oliver (who is still longer-haired) on their website.
Growing up in Colorado, they heard their molecular biologist father play folk music and their mother read her poetry that inspired their eventual song lyrics. Chris said on his web bio they shifted from rock “back to American roots and blues” for its “roundness, warmth, and mystery.”
Their tenth and latest CD is entitled One Drop of Truth, and came out early last year. It is their first self-produced release. Oliver calls it the “freest album we’ve done,” and the one that was “most fun” to record. They took their time, recording it over a year in several studios in Nashville.
This ten-song CD is also their most stylistically diverse, song to song. “Sky High” is fast-paced with funky slide guitar. “Seasick Emotions” is intense, whereas “Sparkling Wine” flows out of a hypnotic funky base line.
A surreal ballad is “Strange As it Seems” about a romantic rendezvous. Oliver penned it and initially recorded it. Chris Wood added a bowed bass and Rix played melodica and piano to get a dreamy sound.
The opening tract, “River Takes The Town,” is country-folk. Next is “Happiness Jones,” with an eclectic Americana sound and dry humor about writing best whenever suffering.
The title tract’s lyrics include: “Rather die hungry…than feasting on lies. Give me one drop of truth…I cannot deny.” Odder lyrics are in “Laughin’ or Crying” about what a woman spots in Brooklyn: “crows kissin’…underneath a rainbow… she saw a big fat rat in the subway…carryin’ the key to the city…if that’s not a curse then I’ll be…”
The Wood Brothers first recorded (a live CD) in 2005, after their paths crossed a year earlier. Oliver’s funky blues band opened for Chris’ famed Medeski, Martin and Wood in Winston-Salem in 2004. Oliver also jammed in MMW’s closing set, to their jazzy rock fusion instrumentals.
Chris said it felt “creepy” seeing his brother use similar improv “impulses” — as if an identically-thinking twin. The act, now a trio, has flourished for 14 years as Chris’ popular side project to MMW which has lasted over a quarter century.
MMW keyboardist John Medeski produced two early Woods CDs. He calls Chris Wood “technically so solid. I felt this kinship with him, rhythmically and energetically. He could do anything you showed him, and then he’d remember it.” Medeski describes Oliver Wood’s songwriting as “deep,” and old-styled. Oliver said Chris creatively adjusts Oliver’s songs, to be more “cool and unique.”
Education is a huge component of year-round efforts of LEAF Schools & Streets. Some of its students get to perform in the LEAF Festival. LEAF International Costa Rica plays Saturday, Oct. 19 at 10-10:30 a.m. Also on the main stage, local youths get to join the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra Sunday 12:30-1:45 p.m.
Scales is based in Asheville. He noted the U.S. State Department invited him to again perform overseas, as a cultural ambassador — this time in Kazakhstan, in this past June.
His jazz-rock fusion band won Music Video Asheville’s Best Cinematography award this spring, for the video “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child” as directed by Daniel Judson. The dark-lit video featured Scales’ steel pan percussion in super close-ups, also mingling in a church. Oteil Burbridge, the two-time Grammy-winning bassist, recorded on Scales’ CD. For a schedule of performers and Aug. 2-3 and other info, check: www.theleaf.org.