DJ Sessions: Off The Radar Festivals

Mar 28, 2014

Many have heard of Bonnaroo and Telluride, but what about Asheville, North Carolina’s Moogfest?

WFPK music director Kyle Meredith and Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson look at some smaller niche festivals across the country, and music attendees can expect to hear.

Songs Heard In This Segment

Dan Deacon, “True Thrush”


Jonny Greenwood, “Suite From ‘There Will Be Blood’”


Band of Horses, “Slow Cruel Hands of Time”


Beck, “Heart is a Drum”


Dean Wareham, “The Dancer Disappears”


Festival List


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It's HERE AND NOW, and it's time now for the HERE AND NOW DJ Sessions.


TOM PETTY: (Singing) There goes the last DJ.

JAMIE FOXX: (Singing) DJ, won't you play this girl a love song?

JET: (Singing) Dance, little DJ, come on.

RIHANNA: (Singing) Come, Mr. DJ...

HOBSON: Today, we are joined by Kyle Meredith, music director at WFPK in Louisville, Kentucky. Kyle, welcome back.

KYLE MEREDITH, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

HOBSON: And we're going to be talking today about some artists that will be performing at music festivals. And not the big ones like Coachella, which is coming up next month, but some of the smaller ones, right?

MEREDITH: Yeah. You know, it just got to a point, I think, you know, it's nice that America has finally become this great festival country. It wasn't always like that. And there are plenty of big ones out there. And there are also lots of copycats out there who are just kind of cookie-cutters that go away within a year or two. So suddenly, it's become really attractive having these smaller festivals that are really kind of almost niche festivals specializing to certain sounds.

HOBSON: And one of them is called Moogfest. It's in Asheville, North Carolina. And one artist who is going to be performing there is Dan Deacon. Let's listen to his song, "True Thrush." It's from the album "America."


DAN DEACON: (Singing) Don't touch the flame of the burning decay with the lies you've been sold. Let the nightmare unfold if you don't mind. And they're all out. I'm lost there alone. No hand to hold high. Spread those wings wide and take me along. Now show me the sky and tell me I'm home.

HOBSON: So tell us about Dan Deacon.

MEREDITH: They call him a mad scientist. This guy, you know, once you can see him up there, and he kind of stands like a regular DJ. But what he was doing - what he is doing with music is, you know, something different. It's really innovative. He even created his own app that people can interact with him while he's onstage. I think there's something to do with mixing the songs live. You can help mix the songs. But he pays attention to it. You know, it's not - he's not just up there programming music. He is actually communicating with the audience.

I mean, he's got a great stage show, anyway, and I think you have to have, when you're just a man up there with a few tools. You know, especially with Moogfest, I mean, the whole thing is about, hey, let's find artists that are doing innovative things in music, that are trying new things instead of just, you know, what we've gotten used to. And Dan Deacon is a prime example of that. He is trying lots of things. And everything might not work, but it's fun to see him try.

HOBSON: Yeah. And it certainly does sound like something a mad scientist would do.


HOBSON: Let's get to the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is happening this weekend, where people will be able to hear this by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame.


HOBSON: Wow. That is unusual.

MEREDITH: Well, this isn't how most people know Johnny Greenwood. But he has kind of this double life, where he scores films. And Big Ears Festival, much like Moog, I guess you would call it the sister festival, too. I think they're even owned by the same folks. They're more about, like, the cult icons, folks like John Cale there, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth and her new band. So these are some of those really cult icons who are doing some more, you know, the smaller projects, the more inventive projects that you're definitely not going to hear on the radio.

HOBSON: Well - and what we're hearing from the score of "There Will Be Blood." I wonder how that even happens at a music festival. Is he going to have a full orchestra on stage?

MEREDITH: Yeah. He's going to be with an orchestra performing there. It's, you know, and like a lot of music festivals are out, you know, in a big open field, Big Ears happens in a couple of theaters inside Knoxville. So you actually get that intimacy, as you would need to really hear something like that performed.

HOBSON: There is also the Newport Folk Festival this July, where we will hear from the Band of Horses. Let's listen here to "Slow Cruel Hands of Time."


BAND OF HORSES: (Singing) The slow, cruel hands of time turn you into molten lava, oh, my. A place on the right, you can stop for a while. Look out for the policeman. There's no streetlamps, only three buildings, and one of them is vacant. It's taken all day, the packs feeling heavy and soon enough. Backwards down the mountain, the axel is grinding, pull into the wrong drive.

HOBSON: So it's kind of a mixed of, what, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jim Croce?


MEREDITH: I can hear a lot of that. I've never heard the Jim Croce thing, but it's definitely there. They used to get a lot of references to My Morning Jacket because of their earlier stuff, too. Band of Horses is a perfect band for Newport. I mean, this is one of the longest-running festivals. It is - the Newport Folk Festival maybe made famous first by Dylan going electric all those years ago at Newport.

These days, it's not just, you know, for traditional folk people. I mean, you do have bands like Band of Horses, but it's all bands that still are steeped in folk. Also, it's kind of out on a little island. They don't even have lights or anything up. So once it goes dark, the festival's done, and you're ferried back across. It's a really, really nice, picturesque place. And it always has a solid lineup. It's just a really pleasant way to spend your weekend at a festival.

HOBSON: Well - and another group that will be performing there will be Rodrigo y Gabriela. They've got a new album coming out next month, which is called "9 Dead Alive." Here's "The Soundmaker" from that.


HOBSON: Kind of a hint of flamenco in there.

MEREDITH: Yeah. This duo is amazing to see live. Guy-girl, they only use the acoustic guitars. They infuse metal into it. But it's always in this Latino, you know, Spanish sort of way. All the percussion is done with their hands while they're playing, and it's just - it's amazing.


HOBSON: And we've got time for one more, Kyle, and I want to go right back to your neck of the woods, in Louisville. This July, there is going to be the Forecastle Festival, where we will hear from the recently reunited Replacements, and also from Beck. Let's listen here to "Heart is a Drum."


BECK: (Singing) Free as a driving wheel, circling around your iron will. See only what you feel. Keeps you turning when you're standing still. You tried to run from trouble when it comes. You follow the drum, keeping time with everyone.

HOBSON: Kyle, I imagine you're going to be sitting there in the front row.

MEREDITH: Yeah. I'm a little bit biased, maybe, because it's right in my hometown. But I think Forecastle has one of the strongest lineups this year, and that's even against some of the bigger ones. Beck - I mean, everybody's excited to have a new Beck record. The reviews, it doesn't matter who, you know, you talk to, this is a great album. It's going to be a pretty big deal.

And now, 12 years in, I think, Forecastle is, it has really kind of proved itself. Now co-owned by the same people who run Bonnaroo, AC Entertainment, it's become something that isn't just for Louisville and the region. I mean, folks are coming from around the country as a destination for this. So...

HOBSON: Although I'm just wondering why they don't put it in October or something like that. Louisville in July?


HOBSON: It's probably pretty hot.

MEREDITH: Yeah. It gets a little sweltering. But it's right there on the river, so at least there's a bit of a breeze.

HOBSON: Kyle Meredith, music director at WFPK in Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks so much, as always, and have a great time in Knoxville this weekend.

MEREDITH: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. It'll be fun.


HOBSON: And, as always, you can find a full list of everything that we heard at Here and now is a production of WBUR Boston and NPR, in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.


And I'm Sacha Pfeiffer. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.