|Robert Randolph and the
Family Band will be performing on Sept. 6 as a headlining act of the 2014 Black Swamp Arts Festival.
(Photo by Sam Erickson)
Black Swamp Arts Festival attendees should steel themselves of another weekend of rhythm in its many
This year’s lineup includes a Saturday night set by Robert Randolph and the Family Band, popular
purveyors of sacred steel, a gospel style the leader single-handedly brought to the world’s attention.
The festival opens with music Sept. 5 in downtown Bowling Green and continues with art exhibits, kids
activities and music through weekend.
Performance chair Kelly Wicks said his committee hasn’t settled on the festival’s opening band, but has
filled almost all the spots, including all those in prime time.
Randolph, Wicks said, is "a monster get for the festival." Steel guitarist Randolph, named as
one of Rolling Stone’s top 100 greatest guitarists of all time, has taken sacred steel from small
African-American Pentecostal churches to major music festival stages around the world, including a long
collaboration with the Dave Matthews Band.
Sacred steel is familiar to festivalgoers. Starting back in 2005 when Calvin Cooke, one of the elders of
the genre, performed, sacred steel acts have been a regular attraction including last year when the
Slide Brothers, a super group produced by Randolph, played a couple sets.
Randolph brings his own stylistic blend to the form and a reputation for lively, unpredictable stage
The performance committee has surrounded this centerpiece act with a variety of sounds. Just about every
main-stage act will perform at least one other set, be it a late-night club show or appearances on the
acoustic stage in the middle of the art show or the family stage.
Some of those sets turn out to be artists’ favorites, Wicks said. The acoustic stage challenges bands to
perform without amplification and the family stage offers a different vibe, including dancing kids
around the stage.
For the Friday show, Dead Soldiers, "the hottest band in Memphis," Wicks said, comes courtesy
of a recommendation of old festival friend Ben Yonas, who initiated a string of Central European bands’
appearances in the past. Dead Soldiers, described as gothic-Americana, has a sound firmly rooted in
Wicks is bringing back roots rocker Nikki Hill who played a show at Grounds for Thought in early 2013,
just as her career was getting into gear. Her first album has just been released.
The Friday night closer, The Infatuations, hail from just up Interstate 75. The Detroit-based band mixes
funk, soul and disco with a muscular, horn-enhanced sound.
A Bowling Green regular, Chicago bluesman Eddie Shaw, will play an 11 a.m. set that will be simulcast on
WBGU-FM during the Blues Breakfast show.
The Saturday afternoon show will present two bands – country rockers Far West and roots rockers Patrolled
by Radar – from the Mongrel Music stable, which has a booked at least dozen bands at the festival over
the years. Mongrel "knows what the festival’s about," Wicks said. Far West and Patrolled by
Radar are "both young bands that want to play."
From Chicago comes Rico, a Latin rock band, that can play a Santana tribute show, but will showcase its
original material in Bowling Green.
Setting up for Randolph will be one of last year’s audience favorites, the Canada-based calypso band Kobo
Town. True to the Trinidadian tradition, the band delivers social commentary leavened by buoyant grooves
and infectious melodies.
Wicks said finding a band to close the Saturday night show after Randolph’s high energy was a challenge.
The London Souls, "a rocking power trio" in the mold of Led Zeppelin and Cream, fit the bill.
Sunday’s show encapsulates the range of music found on the Black Swamp stages. It opens with Kinobe and
The African Sensation, a trio of brothers from Uganda playing traditional instruments.
Following them will be bluegrass diva Claire Lynch, of whom Linda Ronstadt said: "Claire Lynch is a
rare talent indeed. She has a beautiful, effervescent voice which can handle both contemporary and
traditional musics with complete authenticity."
The show closes with the Ben Miller Band, another hit at last year’s show. The quirky trio, complete with
washtub bass, revels in the dark underbelly of American music.
"They opened the festival last year," Wicks said, "and they’re closing it this year."