Fantasy Festival: Yep Roc 15

I’m not a fan of professional team spectator sports; that kind of thing has never held any fascination for me. But I sort of understand why others like it, I guess. I also (thank goodness) don’t work in a cube-farm office – got that out of my system back in the mid 90s – so I don’t have to endure endless water cooler chatter about who won the big game last night. My coworkers of that era quickly figured out that I was clueless when it came to sports: then as now I don’t know if the Cardinals (to pick a random example) are a baseball or football team. And I think I heard that the Rams don’t even play in Los Angeles any more.

But I do remember a game-of-sorts that my sports-loving coworkers used to really get into. It was something called “fantasy football.” It isn’t, I don’t think, anything like “band camps” in which you play a vast sum of money to hang out with rock stars slightly past their sell-by date; no, I think it has to do with picking a bunch of your favorite players and somehow pitting them against your friend’s list of players. Maybe I’m wrong.

But if that is what it is, then it’s slightly similar to a little imagination exercise I occasionally engage in: a fantasy festival. If I were a rock impresario with unlimited (or at least substantial) resources, and I wanted to put together a festival with a list of great acts, who might make the list?

As it happens, someone else has done this for me. And as luck would have it, that “someone” is the staff of Yep Roc Records, based in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill region of North Carolina. I live a mere four hours’ drive from the Triangle, and I’ll be attending the festival, designed to celebrate the label’s 15th anniversary. It’s called Yep Roc 15, and the lineup – all acts signed to Yep Roc – is stellar. I’ll be reporting on it a number of times both before and after the three-day festival (October 11-13), and if my smartphone battery holds up, I might do a bit of liveblogging straight from Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, home to the three-night extravaganza.

For a full rundown of the acts who’ll take the stage, visit But here’s a survey of some (not all) of the acts I am most excited about seeing, hearing, and in some cases, meeting:

As co-leader (with brother Phil) of The Blasters, Dave Alvin was a pioneer in what we now call roots-rock. I saw The Blasters way back in 1981, in my fake ID era; that was the only way to get into Atlanta’s Agora Ballroom if you were under age. Alvin’s Romeo’s Escape LP (known outside the USA as Every Night About This Time) featured the amazing, heart-rending “Fourth of July,” a song he’d re-record (in an arguably inferior version) when he subsequently joined X. I saw Alvin onstage last year, and while he leans a bit more toward country than he did in his Blasters days, his story-songs and colorful personality make him a must-see.

There’s so much I could say about Nick Lowe. From his work with Kippington Lodge to Brinsley Schwarz to (most notably) Rockpile and his solo records, he’s consistently turned out some of the finest songs in any genre. While he made his name to some degree as a house producer at Stiff Records in the 70s, his biggest claims to fame are the classics “Cruel to Be Kind” and a song that’s become a standard, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” The success of the latter set Lowe up so as not to have any financial worries. Like Alvin, Lowe has moved in a singer-songwriter direction; his current tour brings him to my hometown (Asheville) the night before Yep Roc 15, and in fact my interview with him will run in the local altweekly Mountain Xpress that week (it’ll be on this blog two weeks after that).

Robyn Hitchcock is in many ways the successor to Pink Floyd‘s Syd Barrett. But he’s much more than that. A prolific artist who has recorded with his groups (The Soft Boys and The Egyptians) as well as solo, the Cambridge-based Hitchcock can always be counted on for droll lyrics fused to winning melodies. I interviewed him many years ago in connection with a reissue of his albums. This will be my first time seeing him onstage.

Los Straitjackets are, quite simply, the world’s greatest instrumental surf guitar band. With their high-concept look and flawless choreography, they’re among the most distinctive bands you’ll ever hope to see. I’ve seen them twice and interviewed them twice (in 2007 and 2011). The current live dates are a special treat: guitarist Danny “Daddy-O Grande” Amis returns to the lineup after wrestling cancer to the ground.

Fountains of Wayne rank among the finest exponents of intelligent powerpop; every one of their albums is filled with wry observations on life, and more hooks than seems fair. I first saw FoW onstage at Bonnaroo 2007, and covered the release of a live concert DVD as well as a break-out solo album by their lead guitarist Jody Porter.

Liam Finn comes by his talent at least in part thanks to genetics. His dad is Neil Finn of Crowded House, and Tim Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House) is his uncle. Liam tours sometimes as a member of Crowded House as well, but his own music offers a more modern take on the classic sounds of his dad’s band. I’ve seen him both as a Crowdie and as a solo opener; in the latter situation he made intelligent use of looping to create rocking songs out of nearly nothing but his voice and guitar.

The Sadies are an astounding band; their 2007 New Seasons album just might be the finest synthesis of rock, country and Americana since early Flying Burrito Brothers. But that’s not all they can do: though their vocal harmonies are a thing of beauty, their soundtrack to the documentary about Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (Tales of the Rat Fink) is an instro-surf extravaganza of the first order.

And that’s just some of the acts on the bill. Also scheduled to appear: John Doe (formerly of X), Chuck Prophet, Minus 5, Sloan, Chatham County Line and host/emcee John Wesley Harding. And several more. And the organizers promise more names are yet to be added.

I’m telling ya: Yep Roc 15 is my fantasy festival. I can’t wait; I’m already working on lining up some interviews. Stay tuned.

Tickets have long been on sale, and both discounted-advance and VIP tix are long gone. But individual day passes remain, at least at the time of this writing. Go get yours now.

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