October 13 was a gorgeous day in Auburn, full of smiling people, fantastic music, and the kind of generosity that gives me hope for the future.
The Gnu Fall Festival was a fundraiser for Gnu Arts, the nonprofit that runs The Gnu’s Room bookstore in Auburn, Alabama. It also runs a new publishing imprint called Solomon & George, and soon will be operating the Gnu Mobile, bringing arts, music and literacy education to the surrounding community.
The festival featured 8 straight hours of music, plus vendors from as far away as Savannah, Georgia. All told, the Gnu Fall Festival raised more than $1,000. Stay tuned for more events.
The day began with an empty lawn as producers Neal Kelly and Scott Waters set up the gear:
The festival was held at historic Pebble Hill, an old Auburn home that now serves as the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities.
As Neal and Scott got things ready for the music, the vendors started to arrive from all over the area, including from Mama Mocha’s Coffee Emporium, the coffee shop and roastery inside The Gnu’s Room.
First on the bill was Teacup and the Monster, the only band I didn’t get a photo of for some reason. So here’s a photo from their Facebook page:
They were followed by Ellington Way, a duo whose voices — both individually and together — were beautiful and sounded incredible out there on the lawn on a gorgeous fall day. They sang acoustic versions of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” among others. And they played a couple Christmas tunes, too, because why not?
Next up was Low June, made up of Scott and Ashley Waters from Savannah, GA (though now living in Auburn). Another beautiful set of acoustic music, including one of my all-time favorite songs, Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet,” which many people will know from the version sung by the Indigo Girls.
Less Than Heroes hit the stage next, rocking out with the first electric guitar of the day. I was starving by this point and went to grab lunch, so I missed most of their set. Sorry, guys! (Oh, and I found out that Quintin Smith, in the middle of the photo below, had just come from MCing a robotics competition. So obviously he’s a guy I should know, because us nerds need to stick together.)
A big crowd of pre-teens showed up while Less Than Heroes were playing, there to see the next act, Shanna Henderson, who rose to fame on a TV show called The Glee Project. Two Gnu Arts volunteers — Neal and Brittny — described her voice as giving them “chill bumps,” which are what I would call “goosebumps.” As a friend pointed out online, the southern phrase makes more sense.
I was particularly looking forward to the next performer — singer/songwriter Katie Martin, who’s now based near Atlanta but hails from Auburn. I’ve written about Katie before (here and here). She has an incredible voice — rough and raw and sounding like it could cut through steel. And her songwriting features her voice to great effect. She also makes smart use of loops, both to create multi-voiced harmonies and to create guitar backgrounds so she can solo over them. If you get a chance to hear Katie, take it.
The Gnu Fall Festival featured the same one-two punch as the recent Fall Boogie, namely Katie Martin followed by the hard-driving blues of Tony Brook. Brook’s band was in fine form, running through a list of tunes from previous records and from an upcoming album. The weird fluorescent lighting and the big old house in the background gave the entire performance an otherworldly quality. Tony Brook is another musician worth looking out for.
As I understand it, the final act of the festival, Adventure The Great, often features as many as 13 musicians. Last night they were a stripped-down duo, which was a great end to a gorgeous day and night of music. Their voices rose up into the night and sent everyone home happy.