Posted on 2013/08/02 14:41
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Best of the Fest: J

Let me just preface that this year, Friday seemed like the peak of excitement for many people. With two of the arguably hardest headlining acts in NIN and Skrillex (and of course Death Grips a little later), the nightlife just never got as hot as it did on Friday. That said, Saturday and Sunday may not have been as wild as Bjork, The xx, and The Cure don’t pack as much punch and are a departure from the usual “rocking” headliners, but that left room for other world acts and jazz outfits to wow the crowds. I for one was pleasantly surprised on numerous occasions.

So if I just have to pick five favorites, that does not leave room for Eppai, the wild one man show on the Busker Stop, or Yellowcard (whom I am not a huge fan of, but who put on a professionally entertaining set and might have had me screaming if I was 16), or even Skinny Lister and Mumford & Sons, who riled up the crowd and got lots of new converts to the church of the London folk revival.

Anyway, without further adieu, here are my top five acts from Fuji Rock 2013:

#5 – Uema Ayano on the Gypsy Avalon, Friday from 8:10pm

She hails from Okinawa, and is gorgeous. She can seriously wail on the sanshin (Okinawa’s traditional three-stringed instrument) and sings like she has been doing it for centuries; Okinawan style throat singing has never sounded this beautiful. With a solid band backing her, the petite Ayano packs a vocal punch while getting the party started as she shouts “ii-ya-sa-sa” and jumps around. The crazy blue Mohawk guy from Turtle Island was even in attendance, dancing right in the front row. I think he had a crush on her, too.

#4 – “Soil & Pimp” Sessions on the Field of Heaven, Friday from 12:30pm

I have never seen as much swagger in a jazz session. Style kings, worthy of their title, coming out in bodacious velvet tiger shorts, leopard print hats with rhinestones, silk tuxedos and bathrobes, pimp hats and clock pendants, and completely backed their wild looks with impressive skills, soloing, song-crafting and getting the crowd “crunk” as Shacho “The Agitator” does so well (he once busted out a blow horn). The sax man nearly popped a vein in his head, and the crowd could feel the passion and showmanship.

#3 – Jurassic 5 on the White Stage, Saturday night from 10:30pm

Classic hip-hop with huge festival tricks to get the crowd going, J5 was so tight in their rhyme styling and cutting edge from on high as Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark from the DJ booths dropped live beats, the old-fashioned way. From start to finish it was hype and interactive entertainment with both pomp and humility, on point with incredible confidence and word crafting quick as Bone Thugs at times though always exuding an educated swagger and proving that you can still be a clever intellectual in today’s rap game. This crew of six must have practiced weeks to give as flawless a performance as this. Nobody missed the fact that technical difficulties did not allow for the DJ duo to scratch on that huge turntable, either – a world-class hip-hop performance.

#2 – Jazzanova Live Featuring Paul Randolph on the Orange Court, Saturday from 3:10pm

In the midst of an utter downpour, Paul Randolph was his usual charismatic self, singing so sweetly atop Jazzanova’s über-tight compositions, a seamless blend of live instrumentals, pre-fab minimalist electro beats and a true rising son from Motown, who is in all seriousness a Marvin Gaye reincarnate, a young man who will give Al Green and the rest a run for their money, soulful voice and smooth dance moves to boot. These guys jump from funk to jazz to R&B to soul to electro and all with their own unique and refined flavor. After 15 years as a collective, I think Jazzanova has found the perfect front man who seems willing and able to take this act to the next level. Listen to their underground hit “I Human” off the new Funkhaus Studio Sessions and you will know what I am talking about.

And the number one act of the 2013 Fuji Rock Festival is… Drumroll, please…

#1 – Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba on the Gypsy Avalon Solar Stage, Saturday from 12:30pm!

Where else do you get a chance to be inches from a genius, the brains behind the electric ngoni and his super-talented team from Mali? I actually made eye contact with the band numerous times to theirs and my smiling delight. Soloing like Jimi Hendrix but with no frets and just three strings, Bassekou steps ever-so-slightly on his Cry Baby in snakeskin shoes. Harmonies sung by his lovely wife, two sons and “brothers,” a lively rhythm section, it was that human element, the intimacy of a tiny stage like Gypsy Avalon, and the fact that it was not uncomfortably crowded due to the early time slot which all coalesced to make the show so special, one-of-a-kind and one I will not soon forget.

This is why I keep coming back to Fuji Rock: chances to see superstars from around the world up-close and personal, to make connections with modern-day greats, and to freak out with some unabashed locals to some damn good live music.

Yeah, see you next year Naeba.