The Jam Room Music Festival’s North Carolina connection is nothing new. The excellent Durham garage band Spider Bags were one of the bigger names on the free, indie-and-rock-leaning Main Street festival’s 2013 bill. With names like Superchunk, The Love Language, and Southern Culture on the Skids, the top of the event’s 2014 lineup played like a welcome tribute to the indie rock past and future of Chapel Hill. And had last year’s bill not been shortened and moved inside the Columbia Museum of Art due to the weekend’s historic flooding, the excellent, spiritually probing Durham folk-rock act Hiss Golden Messenger would have played just before the headlining Blonde Redhead.
And really, it makes good sense that the folks putting together a festival in conjunction with Rosewood’s Jam Room recording studio, a punk and indie institution with a legacy as long as North Carolina’s nationally vaunted rock scenes, would gravitate toward acts from those towns. More than that, these are all great bands, invigorating and distinct, and most of them — sadly and frustratingly — don’t make the short drive down to South Carolina that often. If the festival’s efforts open Columbia up to regular dates from such groups, it’ll be well worth it — besides the obvious value of getting to see them for free in a beautiful setting.
Last night, the Jam Room Music Festival, slated to return on Nov. 12, announced the first six acts scheduled to play this year’s event. The second half of the lineup will be revealed on Sept. 10.
And predictably, two great North Carolina acts crown the initial list. Mount Moriah is a patiently blazing folk-rock band from Durham, blurring the lines between classic country grit and the skewed intensity of indie rock, reaching a new peak of subtle sonic depth and earnest songcraft on this year’s How to Dance. Singer Heather McEntire, raised Southern Baptist and now openly queer, wraps her Dolly Parton-esque croon around geographically specific explorations of her struggles with belief, depression and seeking acceptance in the modern South. With North Carolina’s HB2 bathroom bill (and those who might still seek to copy it here) looming, Mount Moriah’s presence here should prove timely and powerful.
The other exciting North Carolina inclusion is Boulevards, the intoxicating electro-funk outlet of Raleigh’s Jamil Rashad. His 2016 full-length debut Groove jitters, sparkles and grabs the listener with muscular rhythms that more than live up its title’s implicit promise. Think Toro Y Moi without all the sad-sack introspection, or Bruno Mars if he was willing to embrace weirder, more psychedelic funk tangents. It is, like Mount Moriah, a smart and timely booking, grabbing Boulevards as the project’s star continues to rise, and further diversifying the festival’s musical outlook.
The other four acts arrive via strong local connections. Boo Hag, whose recently released self-titled debut EP injects oddball charisma a la Nick Cave into its swampy rock, and Fall of an Empire, whose stoner metal-meets-classic rock aesthetic (captured better than ever on the new EP Croweater: An Echo in the Bone) represents the festival’s first toe dip into heavy music, hail from Columbia and Spartanburg respectively, and both recorded their recent efforts at the Jam Room. Gláss, who approaches old-school shoegaze influences with modern vigor, started in the Upstate before moving to Athens, Georgia, and is still signed to Columbia record label Post-Echo. Gold Light, the bleary and reverb-laden pop-rock outlet of Asheville’s Joe Chang, puts out music through Charleston imprint Hearts & Plugs and has frequently included local musicians for live performances.