In appraising Rising Appalachia’s headlining turn at the 10th annual River Rocks Music Festival on April 18, I feel caught between the two chief criteria by which I normally judge such local bookings: How good/cool/interesting is the performer? How recognizable is their name in Columbia?
On the first point, Rising Appalachia, the fantastically harmonizing, charmingly adventurous duo of Leah and Chloe Smith, is without question a great get. The New Orleans-based outfit’s organic, minimalistic approach sits comfortably between rootsy traditionalism and indie experimentation, making it an act that can appeal to a wide variety of music fans — the sweet spot River Rocks, which benefits the Congaree Riverkeeper, has long occupied.
“They illuminate lines connecting gospel, fiddle tunes,” The Bluegrass Situation’s Steve Hochman wrote of last year’s Leylines album, “African and Irish roots and interpolations of contemporary urban folk and soul.”
But I remain skeptical about whether Rising Appalachia’s name will grab a ton of attention in Columbia. To my knowledge, the group has never played in the area — definitely not with such a prominent placement — and while it has buzz in certain festival and critical circles, I’m not sure how much that notoriety extends into the Midlands. Certainly, when weighed against last year’s headliner, Justin Townes Earle, Rising Appalachia doesn’t quite rise to the level.
Still, it’s cool to see River Rocks hang its hat on such a distinct and invigorating act. And perhaps the festival will succeed with what seems like a different approach this year. Moving from near the river to BullStreet’s Central Energy event space, the festival will only feature three other acts — Asheville’s The Fritz, Charleston’s Little Bird and Columbia’s Blocker — emphasizing other attractions: local food trucks and craft beer from SweetWater Brewing Company, live demonstrations from the Center for Birds of Prey, rock climbing, a bounce house, face painting and balloon art.
The festivities go from noon to 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale now for $12 in advance.