Yep Roc Records, the Grammy-winning independent label founded by Glenn Dicker and Tor Hansen in 1997, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a three-night series of shows October 19th through the 21st at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro NC, as well as a free Saturday afternoon show at River Park in Yep Roc’s hometown of Hillsborough. In addition to the musical festivities, Yep Roc also collaborated with hometown neighbors Mystery Brewing, who released an exclusive Session IPA in limited-edition collectible cans featuring some of the key Yep Roc 20 artists.
The weekend celebration kicked off on Thursday evening with a sold-out party hosted in the more intimate Cat’s Cradle Back Room for VIP ticket holders and members of Yep Roc’s Completist Program, the label’s fan-focused subscription service. The evening was hosted by the highly engaging and entertaining Wesley Stace, who would go on to continue his emcee duties throughout the entire weekend. After chatting with the crowd and telling a joke or two, Stace played a few songs that included a guest stint by Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. From there, the evening was carried by short but fun sets from Grant-Lee Phillips, local girl Tift Merritt who tried out a few new things (including a bit of electric guitar slinging) on the eve of heading out on tour, and a monstrously received but all too short set from Nick Lowe. Nick had mentioned during his set that his voice was suffering from the extensive practicing he had been doing with Los Straightjackets since arriving in town. The Thursday party was a loose condensed preview of the wonderful things to come over the rest of the weekend. While not as long as many in the packed house had hoped for, the party served as the ideal appetizer for the weekend.
Friday night the big room of Cat’s Cradle hosted the first proper night of the festival, which welcomed all the Yep Roc fans from near and wide. Like the VIP party the night before, the evening was hosted by Wesley Stace who entertained the crowd with self-effacing anecdotes, stories, jokes and even a running product plug for a Nick Lowe lunchbox that was equal parts salesmanship and humor. The musical performances started with Alejandro Escovedo, who was a late addition to the lineup. Escovedo played an electric set that went down an absolute stormer, and set a marker for the other acts to follow. What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that Escovedo played without his usual touring band. For the Yep Roc 20 show, he played with of a group of local musicians that included Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter. The band was surprisingly tight considering the very limited time they had to practice prior to taking the stage. Next up was Australian singer/songwriter Darren Hanlon. Hanlon downshifted a bit from the energetic performance of Alejandro Escovedo but delivered a set that was every bit as engaging, but in a more laid-back manner. Hanlon played modern city-based folk songs solo with an acoustic guitar. While he chatted amiably with the crowd, he let his songs tell the stories. He has definitely taken a page from the modern-day Colin Hay entertainment playbook and is worth tracking down for further listening. Wesley Stace came out between each act maintaining the momentum during the downtimes and extolling the virtues of the Nick Lowe lunchbox. Josh Rouse continued the evening playing as a duo accompanied by a stand-up bass. His set also included a guest appearance by Kim Richey.
With the evening quickly slipping away, Nick Lowe came out backed by Los Straightjackets. Having spent multiple years playing with Nick Lowe and his Quality Holiday Revue, Los Straitjackets provided a solid backing for Nick Lowe’s classic songs. Halfway through the set, Nick stepped off stage for a break while Los Straightjackets ripped it up playing their brand of energetic surf-rock, only to be joined by Nick again for more of his hit songs including “Cruel To Be Kind,” and “Heart of The City” before the rousing conclusion to their set that featured a barnstorming cover of the Batman TV theme. With the Nick Lowe / Los Straightjackets set already being touted as one of the best of the weekend, the crowd had thinned a bit by the time Eli Paperboy Reed came on stage late night to close out the evening. His set was the definition of late night revelry. Backed by the High and Mighty Brass Band, Reed brought the already weary crowd to their knees with a wild set of beer soaked juke joint rock blues and soul.
After a late night of hard musical partying, the Yep Roc faithful were up and out early in the Saturday sunshine. Yep Roc hosted a small acoustic performance and Q&A session with Mandolin Orange, Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet, and Kim Richey at their at Redeye Distribution Headquarters in Hillsborough. From there, it was off to River Park for a free afternoon show that was streamed live by UNC-TV. The weather was absolutely perfect, with plenty of sunshine, a nice breeze, and some subtlety cool fall air. The park was lined with blankets and lawn chairs as both dedicated Yep Roc fans and curious weekenders shared comradery and some great musical performances from Yep Roc artists including The Stray Birds, Kim Richey, Jim Lauderdale, Tony Joe White, and a headlining set from hometown heroes Mandolin Orange.
The weekend celebration concluded back at Cat’s Cradle on Saturday evening for another run of captivating performances. Wesley Stace, who had done a yeoman’s job of keeping the crowd entertained and filling the lulls between acts all weekend, continued to impress as he took his hosting into the final run of acts. The Saturday night finale began with Wesley playing a few of his own songs before handing off to five-piece New York City rockers Jeremy & The Harlequins who took the crowd on a nostalgic journey through a set of classic ‘60s inspired rock & roll. The Saturday night crowd was keen to party and in good spirits when Denver’s Dressy Bessy hit the stage for a rollicking set of harder edged indie rock with a slightly sweet melodic core. Frontwoman Tammy Ealom was insanely charismatic whether she sang at the microphone with a Billy Idol like sneer or prowled the stage attacking her guitar alternating between big smiles and making silly faces at the fans lining the front of the stage. The Set by Dressy Bessy was definitely up there with Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets as one of the top performances of the weekend.
Yep Roc Records proudly bills themselves as the artist-driven label that proudly refuses to be labeled. Their willingness to release music from artists who span both genres and generations was keenly felt at Yep Roc 20. It was certainly apparent Saturday night as Dressy Bessy gave way to Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones. The Alvin brothers rose to prominence as founding members of California rocakabilly band the Blasters in the early 80’s before Dave Alvin left the band in 1986 to pursue a solo career. The now iconic elder statesmen appeared in good spirits as they played a short set of extended songs ending with the Blasters’ classic hit “Marie Marie,” before being joined by guest Jimmie Dale Gilmour and ending with a triumphant cover of the Youngbloods “Get Together.”
The evening once again shifted gears, this time picking up speed with the rocking and rhythmic guitar stylings of Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express. Chuck and his bandmates were absolutely on fire as they played through a fun and rocking set that was notable both for the songs played as well as Chuck’s not so subtle hint that he didn’t want the entire set recorded via iPhone. Watching a fan who had not lowered his cellphone at all during the set, Chuck playfully approached the front of the stage and took the phone from the fan, continued playing with the phone clamped in his teeth, and ultimately dropped it back on the drum riser. After the song was over he returned the phone and suggested to the fan that he put it away, telling him “That’s your first warning.” Despite the passive aggressive suggestion that fans should watch the show in person and not through their phones, both Chuck and the crowd continued on in good spirits. With the evening bleeding into the next morning and the crowd thinning a bit, due to a long day and longer weekend, The Fleshtones took the stage to close out both the night and the weekend. New York’s The Fleshtones built a cult following in the late 70’s at iconic venues CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and went on to be the first band to be booked or play at other iconic venues including Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, and the original 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.. Despite all of the years behind them, the band played like they hadn’t lost a step. In fact, they played with such an intensity and passion that many bands half their age would struggle to keep pace. Despite their weariness, the crowd was whipped into such a frenzy that one overzealous fan actually threw a chair on the stage, prompting some ugly stares and a stern warning from the band. Despite the moment of reckless abandon, the crowd and the band carried on and brought down the curtain on the weekend and the 20th Anniversary of Yep Roc records. It was a long, fun-filled journey. We are already looking forward to Yep Roc 25 and beyond!
Check out our photos from the opening night VIP party below, as well as links to photos from each day of the festival.
Photos from Day 2: HERE
Photos from Day 3: HERE
Photos from Day 3 Finale: HERE
Yep Roc 20 VIP Party @ Cat’s Cradle Back Room – October 19th 2017