Photos and Writing by Jason Robey
The first annual Queen City Jam Session featured a solid line up, fun environment, and a great starting point for what will hopefully be an ongoing festival. The event took over the NoDa brewing property with two full outdoor stages, a local art vendor market, and a performances on a small stage inside the taproom. Rounding out the festival checklist are the VIP tent and a selection of food trucks.
The 40-band line up included several well-known local and regional performers, in addition to the headliners each night. The artists represented a decent variety, mostly within the typical jam-band driven festival scene, but definitely had a strong bluegrass and Americana tone. The two main stages sat side by-side, with staggered start times, allowing attendees to set up their lawn chairs in one position and see both stages, or for those “riding the rails” to simply slide over at each change.
The festival kicked off on Friday afternoon with probably the most diverse schedule of the three days. Soul and funk were well-represented with sets by Greg Cox, Delvan Lamarr Organ Trio, and Cyanca, while the Rebirth Brass Band brought a little New Orleans jazz to the day. The headliners of the first night were all about that bass. Bass Extremes featured two of the most revered bassists in music, as Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey brought a mesmerizing performance to the crowd that was growing by the minute. Another bass legend, Oteil Burbidge would follow them on the main stage, finishing off the day. Burbidge, also known for playing bass with Dead & Company since 2015, played a set mostly made up of Grateful Dead songs, but with a much different style, focused on bass lines and funk.
Saturday started with a performance from NC artist Victoria Victoria, whose set was highlighted by a spot-on cover of the currently popular 80s Kate Bush tune “Running Up That Hill.” North Carolina continued to be highlighted as vocalist Natalie Carr showed her impressive pipes, while singer/songwriters drew impressive crowds to the taproom with a line up including Dane Page, Taylor Winchester, Failift, and Fedor & the Denim Denim. Outside, the sounds of roots Americana echoed across the field with the likes of Della Mae and Nikki Lane through the afternoon. Spafford offered a more rock-based set with their exploratory jams, followed by the indie rock outfit The Mountain Goats. The Infamous Stringdusters headlined the evening, combining a bluegrass performance with a dazzling light show. Their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” was both a highlight of their set and a defining moment of the festival so far.
Rain early Sunday morning set the festival up for cooler temperatures for the final day. Quentin Talley & the Soul Providers kicked the day off with a set of soul tunes, followed by Asheville’s Fireside Collective, who kept the bluegrass vibe in the air. Jazz Is Led offered an interesting set of instrumental jazz covers of Led Zeppelin songs, featuring violinist Emanuel Wynter, who also played the indoor stage as a solo artist on the first day of the fest. Sarah Borges contributed the Americana set for the afternoon. Crowds gathered once again in the taproom for Emily Sage, Sinners & Saints, Adeem the Artist, Bob Margolin, and Bill & the Belles.
The homestretch for the festival brought a lively performance by indie rockers The Nude Party, followed by the blues rock of North Mississippi Allstars, featuring one of the more guitar-centric sets of the weekend. The night and weekend closed in similar style to Saturday night, with Greensky Bluegrass. They had an equally impressive light show to complement the string-based set. Their well-known bluegrass cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” was a standout performance of the entire weekend. As their show wound down, the clear weather enjoyed at the festival all weekend gave way to pouring rain with only five minutes left of the music. All in all, the Queen City Jam Session was a well-put together weekend, with great bands, a heavy local presence, and a great overall crowd vibe. Hopefully we’ll see this happen again next year.