Country music shines at the North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival


The best of the former North State’s thriving brewing community came together with world-class musical talent at the 10th annual North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival, held just at the north of Charlotte on May 6 and 7.

With more than 35 breweries from across the state on site and music from Jade Bird, Katie Pruitt, The SteelDrivers and Arlo McKinley, the event made a triumphant return to Rural Hill – a former slave plantation turned site historic and private location in Huntersville — after being postponed to 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NC Brew & Music Fest

Christine Pery

Keel launches the festival

The first night of the event, dubbed more of a casual pre-party, featured all things Larry Keel. The wildly underrated guitar picker from Virginia kicked off the event with an abbreviated set with his main project The Larry Keel Experience, featuring his wife Jenny on bass, Will Lee on banjo and Jared Pool on mandolin. A thunderstorm interrupted the set after just a handful of songs, but Keel reappeared after a brief delay with Acoustic Syndicate, who were affectionately billed as Keel Syndicate, with AS frontman Steve McMurry absent due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Together, the hastily assembled group thrived while playing their way through harmonious renditions of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “No Woman No Cry”, Pete Townshend’s “North Country Girl” and “Miles & Miles by Keel, the title track from his 1997 debut album which featured Acoustic Syndicate on its original recording.

To cap off Friday night, Keel returned to the stage with members of his band and Acoustic Syndicate for a “Larry Does Jerry” set honoring the music of Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. The stumbled, string-laden set included everything from Garcia-penned delights like “Tennessee Jed” to ones the band frequently covered like Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight” and everything else from Garcia’s illustrious career. Garcia.

Day two brings top notch beers and tunes

Just like how the dark clouds hung over the first day of the Oktoberfest, they did so again on the second. Luckily, this time around, that’s all they did, with nothing coming in the way of rain other than a brief rain in the early afternoon which quickly died down with the rock sounds of Ashley Heath & Her Heathens and high-octane Abby Bryant & The Echoes. Bryant, the 2019 winner of FloydFest’s On The Rise band competition, dazzled the crowd with performances of the Black Crowes’ original “Had To” and “Jealous Again.”

After these two fiery performances, Arlo McKinley took the stage to reduce the crowd with his mix of old and new sad songs from his upcoming album. This mess we’re in, released on July 15. The first single was “Stealing Dark From The Night Sky”, the cathartic first single from his upcoming project before diving into older favorites like “We Were Alright” and “Die Midwestern”. Despite the dark and emotional ballads, McKinley’s poetic presence radiated through the crowd, bringing people together through the shared experience of struggle portrayed in his music in a way few others can match.

Although her lyrical themes are just as dark as McKinley’s, Katie Pruitt provided an upbeat and uplifting package. A beacon of positivity despite the difficult life she grew up in, Pruitt uses her own experiences to give listeners hope, with songs about the experience of growing up as a lesbian and feeling like she didn’t have her. place in the Catholic church (“Normal”), sanity (“My Mind’s A Ship (That’s Going Down)”) and unconventional love (“Out Of The Blue”), all tunes the crowd has merrily sang and danced with her at the festival.Later in her set, Pruitt covered the iconic Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young protest song “Four Dead In Ohio” before launching into a modern southern protest song called “Southern Roots” as she waved to a more inclusive society for LGBTQ people, people of color and everyone else, is part of the quilt that makes the United States the great country it is.

Jade Bird at the NC Brew & Music Fest

Christine Pery

Pruitt was followed by just as much positivity and pep with British singer-songwriter turned Texas transplant Jade Bird. The artist kicked off his performance as an intimate solo affair, with just his screaming vocals and acoustic guitar guiding the way on stripped-down versions of “Uh Huh”, “Honeymoon”, “Good At It”, “Candidate” and ” I Get No”. Joy” before welcoming his bandmates to conclude the show as a trio. Now joined by electric guitar and bass, Bird immersed himself in emphatic renditions of “Punchline” and “Headstart” with celestial three-part harmonization on “Different Kinds Of Light” and a closing cover that will please audiences of “I” by Johnny Cash. I have been everywhere.

Bluegrass champions The SteelDrivers brought the brewfest to a finale. Known as the band that gave Chris Stapleton his starting point, the trailblazing act have been innovating and amazing fans ever since – and their festival closing set was no exception.

The Steeldrivers at NC Brew & Music Fest

Christine Pery

The band ripped through hits like “Midnight Train To Memphis,” “Ghosts Of Mississippi,” “Where Rainbows Never Die,” and “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” the last of which the crowd helped sing the chorus to. unison. . The band also released “The Bartender” and “I Choose You” from their latest album. bad for youillustrating that even with repeated rotating lineup, the band is still comprised of top-notch bluegrass and songwriting talent.

The same can be said for the festival itself, which has cultivated a growing community of beer and music lovers in central North Carolina for more than a decade. To learn more and stay up to date with North Carolina Brewers’ & Music Festival news, visit To learn more about the Rural Hill host site, visit


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