Scott Miller performs at the 2018 WDVX Camperfest – photo by Lee Zimmerman
To those who reside in East Tennessee, there’s little doubt as to why WDVX has become one of the nation’s — make that, the world’s —foremost broadcasters of genuine Americana music. Whether tracing it back to its roots via authentic bluegrass and the sounds of Appalachia, or promoting any number of up and coming contemporary artists who have learned those lesons well, the station has gained an impressive pedigree when it comes to both sound and support.
Last year, WDVX celebrated its 20th anniversary and reinstated a tradition that can be traced back to its beginnings. This past weekend, WDVX produced its second annual Camperfest, a continuation of a tradition originally begun in 1998, the year after the station began broadcasting from a 14 foot camping trailer located on the grounds of the Fox Inn Campground in Norris, Tennessee. Camperfest, which originated as one of the first music festivals of its kind in East Tennessee, takes its name from the original WDVX Broadcast Camper Studio.
Camperfest was revived last year in conjunction with the station’s 20th anniversary celebrations, and this year, the station upped the ante by featuring several of the most prominent artists in the region, among them, Scott Miller, Sam Lewis, Mic Harrison & The High Score, Royal Hounds, Fruition, Amanda Ann Platt and the Honeycutters, Blue Mother Tupelo, Andrew Leahy & The Homestead, Trisha Gene Brady, Cutthroat Shamrock and Tennessee Sheiks.
Like last year, the 2018 celebration took place at Dumplin Valley Farm in Kodak, Tennessee, a 25 minute drive from WDVX’s downtown studios. Despite the threat of rain, the scene was as idyllic as one might imagine a Tennessee farm could offer, with plenty of room for spreading blankets, basking in the sunshine and securing hassle-free parking. Not surprisingly either, the vibes were as serene as the environs, given that the modest sized crowd was allowed room to roam when not watching the musicians performing inside the barn stage from the comfort of their folding chairs.
Four bands filled the stage Friday night — Leahy & the Homestead, Brady and her band, Sam Lewis with a newly christened backing band in tow, and the Cutthroat Shamrocks. Of the four, Lewis’ set was most anticipated, given the fact that he was touting a new album Loversity, a soulful mix of wistful balladry and an alluring sound reminiscent of classic R&B. Lewis, who spent his formative years in Knoxville, is a consistent crowd favorite, and his easy going demeanor still connects him with those who continue to consider him a native son.
Saturday’s line-up was the fullest of all three days, beginning with Tenneessee Sheik’s homespun sounds and continuing through Count This Penny and into Blue Mother Tupelo, a husband-wife pairing whose approach is minimal but also exhilarating. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar and the shake of a tambourine, the duo’s rousing performance was greeted by a profuse display of audience enthusiasm. The Royal Hounds followed, their wacky brand of rockability proving both as entertaining and enticing as always. That was evidenced by the trio’s rendition of their cult classic, Elvis Is Haunting My Bathroom, and a series of gravity-defying poses on the stand-up bass. Great musicians, they’re always good for giggles.
The next act up, Mic Harrison and the High Score, proved once again why, in the words of emcee Wayne Bledsoe, they continue to boast a reputation as one of the finest rock bands in East Tennessee. They’re not posers by any means, but their instinctual moves, synergy and absolute attitude shows their well equipped to purvey the punchiness and prowess that their country rock anthems deserve.
Amanda Platt and the Honeycutters offered up the sound of Grassicana at its best, one that’s derived from bluegrass with a rock solid beat beside. Platt herself is a sweetly assured vocalist, but the band supports her with finesse, particularly the drummer, who not only keeps the pace but sings back-up as well. A great mix of a classic and contemporary rural regimen, Platt and company offered ample evidence as to why they’re destined to assume their spot as a leading band of the vintage variety.
Scott Miller followed, another former Knoxville musician who once led the band the V-Roys alongside his pal Mic Harrison. The two reconnected on several songs during both their bands’ sets, affirming the fact that the personal chemistry still remains intact. Nevertheless, Miller’s three piece outfit needed no additional accompaniment, their sparse sound proving the perfect compliment to Miller’s ernest and emotional delivery. Songs such as Lo Siento, Spanishburg WVA, Epic Love and How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me, showed why he remains one of the most thoughtful songwriters on the scene today, an artist capable of blending humor with happenstance in clear and equal proportions.
Sunday wound things down and put an early end to the festivities. The afternoon’s highlight proved to be Alex Leach, a musical prodigy who went on to become one of the station’s most popular announcers as co-host of the show, The Bluegrass Special, as well as a skilled musician and banjo player in his own right. His rousing set reminded all those who remained why the station is so vital when it comes to its take on tradition. As this year’s Camperfest proved yet again, that legacy continues.