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The Best of the Fest 

This year's best bets for CityFest Live

Let's begin with what we know about Charlotte music festivals. They're not as diverse -- now or ever -- as similar ones held in Atlanta and Columbia, SC. Secondly, there have been serious location concerns in the past, with the festivals being held on unbearably hot asphalt and even gravel, as well as concerns over stage set-up and re-entry hassles. Last but not least, they always contain Darius Rucker in some way, shape, form or fashion. This year we get Darius in his best-known role, as lead Blowfish (as far as other, non-Darius black folks on the bill, you're pretty much limited to the Village People and the few odd shag bands).However, this year's CityFest Live does have its performers to recommend. While none were likely big risks for the CityFest folks, their inclusion makes for a more enjoyable concert-going experience for those with tastes that tend to fall outside of the mainstream. What follows is a short list of some of the performers that we recommend, with a short synopsis of why they're worth your time.

Friday:moe. Taking their name from the old Louis Jordan tune "Five Guys Named Moe," the band do a fair enough job of melding together college rock, circa 1990 (Meat Puppets, Redd Kross) with some Grateful Dead-style bluegrass and jazz flourishes (to their credit, the band openly admits being very influenced by Jerry and Co.).

Gov't Mule Since the death of bassist Allen Woody, the band has regrouped with a series of "roving" bassists, which was likely a smart move (Woody always did the work of two bassists anyway, what with four-hour plus concerts all the time). Bringing in some big name ringer probably wouldn't have worked, anyway -- Woody's shadow is a large one, and the band feels more comfortable with relative unknowns that understand and complement the music. As opposed to unknowns like myself who just compliment the music.

My Morning Jacket A five-piece band from Louisville, KY, MMJ is ostensibly a vehicle for group leader Jim James, but remains a fine band nonetheless. Sort of a countrified Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), James crafts super-fine songs that work within the classic country tradition, but manage to work wherever you might file the band (indie rock, alt.whatever, new traditionalist). Probably here out of some sort of happy accident, but who's complaining? Perhaps next year's organizers might check out who's playing at Cat's Cradle or Ziggys in the days preceding and offer them a gig, too.

Saturday:Foo Fighters Million-dollar ringer Dave Grohl and company are the biggest "alternative" draw on this year's bill, and may well put on the best show of the weekend. Grohl -- who also has guested on recent projects by Cat Power, Queens of the Stone Age and Killing Joke -- usually manages to get behind the drumkit at some point during a Foo Fighters shows, sometimes dueling with coverboy/drummer Taylor Hawkins.

Steve Winwood He's been seeing chances and taking them since he was a young man in the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. Hell, you don't need me to tell you about him -- he's Steve Frickin' Winwood! And while he can be a bit of a cheeseball on occasion, he manages to be lovable while doing it. Plus, the man can still pound the (piano, keyboard, organ) keys like very few others.

The Transplants Comprised of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, Tim Armstrong of Rancid, and neophyte screamer Rob Aston, The Transplants will likely be unknown to most of the crowd, despite their excellent self-titled record and past, considerable track records. There's more electronica and electric noise here than you might expect from the members' resumes, but it all works -- uncommonly well, in fact. The band has begun large-scale promotional and touring plans, so this might be a good chance to check 'em out early on.

Caitlin Cary The ex-Whiskeytown fiddler and singer has just put out her second record, the excellent I'm Staying Out, once again proving the merits of the band she shared with Ryan Adams. She's not going to smash any monitors or cuss out the soundman, but she may kiss her drummer (husband and ex-WT drummer Skillet Gilmore). To boot, her voice will raise the hairs on your arm at least once during her show, guaranteed. In the good way, of course.

Bob Weir and Ratdog Formerly of the Grateful Dead, now of "The Dead" and Ratdog, 'lil Bobby Weir has made a nice career out of a mediocre (though somehow endearing) voice and a jangly guitar tone that just won't quit. In my humble opinion (IMHO to you computer wonks), some of Weir's catchiest -- and most, er exploratory -- work is with the Ratdog crew.

The Disco Biscuits Bisco, as they so affectionately call themselves, were recently called the "best live band in America" or some other such truck by none other than The Village Voice. That's certainly open for debate, but they have raised the jam band live bar considerably in the past couple of years. Which, in and of itself, is enough to recommend them.

Ron Sexsmith Folks who saw Sexsmith open for Coldplay at the Grady Cole Center a few months back don't need me to tell them how good a songwriter this guy is. Whether or not Sexsmith's languid vocal rhythms and hushed emoting will go over well in the open air with thousands of drunks milling about is a different story entirely.

Cave In From being hardcore metallurgists to space rockers to major-label credibility signings, Cave In has done it all, usually quite well. Would they be playing this festival were they not on a major label? Not likely. Do we care? Heck no.

Sunday:Widespread Panic Sunday's biggest draw, and for most folks, likely the biggest draw of the whole event. Sure, they're not the Grateful Dead, and sure, much of their improvisation you can usually predict before it happens. What they are is an event, and one that's usually sort of enjoyable once you let your hair down (or get stoned). Strangely, the area in which the band is possibly underrated is in their original songwriting. Not that thousands of twirlers could really give a shit either way.

Hobex Greg Humphreys' new soul extravaganza has become a touring machine as of late, and we're all the better for it. The band's newest, U Ready, Man?, is a fine primer on the band. Again, seeing them at a festival isn't the same as seeing them in some tiny club. Then again, they might actually be able to fit everyone on stage for the first time.

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