—David Menconi, journalist and author
The name may imply a lazy afternoon out in the country, but quite a bit of energy is going into Sleepy Fest. A new day-long live-music festival, Sleepy Fest will make its debut on Oct. 22, 2022, at Down Yonder Farm, a bucolic 20-acre spread in northern Orange County.
“We are trying to find a way to do our own thing, and this is the perfect place to pilot that,” says festival co-organizer Gabe Anderson. “By 2025, we hope it will be a big three-day festival. But here is where we’re starting.”
The debut Sleepy Fest lineup will showcase the roster of Anderson and Saman Khoujinian’s Sleepy Cat Records, a Carrboro-based independent label whose acts include Mipso fiddler Libby Rodenbough, singer/songwriter Chessa Rich and the proprietors’ own folk-music ensemble T. Gold. Longtime fixtures in the Triangle, Anderson and Khoujinian have been making music and plans together since they were growing up in Florida.
Khoujinian has built a budding career as an engineer and producer for acts including Sylvan Esso and Watchhouse, while Anderson specializes in a lot of the behind-the-scenes logistical work. They began Sleepy Cat Records in the summer of 2019 with the motto, “Friends making art.”
“Saman and I like making music and then letting other people find it, so we started our own label,” says Anderson. “Our relationship is founded on doing new and different things to bring to the community. It’s stimulating to both of us to do something new, even when we don’t know how. Lo and behold, a ‘label’ does not mean anything and you can make it whatever you want it to be.”
That also goes for Sleepy Fest, a collaborative outgrowth of projects like the stage Anderson and Khoujinian curated at this past summer’s Festival for the Eno, “Sleepy Cat Presents.”
“We love designing a showcase experience that’s refreshing and honest,” says Anderson. “This festival will be an extension of that. We’ve been to a lot of festivals, seen what’s possible and what we want and don’t want. This festival also showcases our artists. Not in a ‘band = product’ way, but as ‘label = we are people working together, welcome.’ We’ve been to festivals with that vibe and it’s what we want.”
Down Yonder Farm is a fitting venue for such an undertaking. Established in 1978 by the late Peter Kramer and his wife Susan Gladin, it started out as a sheep farm and wool-processing business. It quickly evolved into a music and arts center for a wide range of community events, including recording. Folk-music legend Alice Gerrard made her Grammy-nominated 2014 album “Follow the Music” at Down Yonder, with Hiss Golden Messenger mastermind M.C. Taylor producing.
After Kramer’s death in 2014, ownership of the farm eventually passed to their daughter Jessie. She has been working on updating the site to make it better-suited for events like Sleepy Fest. Along with live performances, the festival will spotlight local artisans and small businesses.
“The energy out there is awesome,” says Anderson. “Jessie’s been putting in a lot of time moving forwarded with that, cleaning up different areas. It made sense for us to do it there with her versus trying to mold into Shakori Hills or Cat’s Cradle. We hope everybody will come out and see this. It’s an exciting thing to see the talent in this community make art together all day in a place that’s outdoors and beautiful.”
Sleepy Fest 2022 – gates open at noon, music goes from 1 to 11 p.m. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale with donation tiers, from $35-$65. Tickets for children ages 5-12 are $17.50, and children 5 and under are free.