By Gordon Anderson

The third weekend in September, for downtown Sanford anyway, will be all about live music music. That’s the weekend — Saturday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 19, from “noon to moon” both days — that Hugger Mugger Brewing and the streets of downtown Sanford will play host to nearly 50 musical acts who will comprise the first ever Carolina Indie Fest, a free music festival with three stages boasting musicians from across the globe, performing styles ranging from country to “astral pop” to rock and beyond.

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“We’re in the home stretch for this thing,” said Jeff Popka, owner of Indie On Air Records, which along with Hugger Mugger and the Sanford Tourism Development Authority is putting on the festival.

“Really at this point, it’s a lot of following through on the details and the logistics involved. But for the most part, we’re ready to roll.”

The roster boasts a mix of young up-and-comers — Michigan’s The Accidentals, for example, aren’t a household name yet, although they’ve been signed to Sony Masterworks since 2017 and have been named to a number of “must see” lists over the years — as well as headlining artists like Paleface, a long time singer-songwriter originally from New York City with nearly 20 albums under his belt and a lineage connecting him to famous acts like Beck, The Ramones and The Doors.

Local country act the Cliff Wheeler Band, which tours regionally and is signed to Indie On Air, will also perform (in fact, it was Wheeler who connected Popka and Emmert when the idea of a local festival was first discussed). The lineup has seen some shifts here and there, which Popka says is normal.

“One thing that’s always fluid is the lineup, and that’s because of real life situations,” he said. “Someone quit, someone got sick, but we have a big list of contacts we’re working from so we’re always able to fill those slots.”

Popka and Indie On Air have been putting on similar events around the country — events which have become annual happenings in places like Texas and Colorado and elsewhere — for several years, and organizers believer Sanford’s downtown makes it a perfect place for replicating the success of those events.

“Indie On Air has been fantastic. They came in here last summer and immediately loved Sanford, and they’ve delivered on everything they promised,” said Wendy Bryan, director of the Sanford Tourism Development Authority. “I think (Popka and Indie On Air) realize the potential we have in downtown Sanford. And the good thing about having them as a partner is that they’re definitely looking long-term.”

Both days of the festival will include three stages — a main stage on Wicker Street near Hugger Mugger, a beer garden stage in the Cole Street parking lot behind Hugger Mugger, and a third acoustic singer-songwriter stage inside the brewery. There will also be “busker” stages set up throughout downtown for anyone who would like to perform a few songs. There will be at least 15 food trucks each day of the event, art vendors and more. Wicker Street will be closed from Horner Boulevard to Moore Street, and Steele Street will be closed from Carthage Street to Cole Street.

Projected attendance is anyone’s guess, particularly for an inaugural event, although Indie On Air’s track record with events of this type tend to indicate between locals and out of town visitors, festival goers may easily be in the thousands over the two day stretch.

“I’ve got 2,000 branded Solo cups for the day,” said Hugger Mugger’s Tim Emmert. “We know these festivals have worked well in the places that are used to them, but it’s going to be an all-new thing for Sanford. But there do seem to be a lot of people who know about it already.”

Popka said that outreach is largely focused outside of Sanford — September will see a ramped up effort to promote to music fans in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Charlotte and elsewhere — a natural, given the tourism-focused element of the festival. But there’s plenty Sanford residents will find to enjoy about the event.

“One thing we’re seeing is that women are really responding to our outreach,” Popka said. “And my history tells me that where women go, the men will go too.”

But for Popka, who says he’s already thinking about the future, attendance isn’t the metric that will determine success, because he fully expects to continue holding Carolina Indie Fest annually going forward.

“It’s the first year,” he said. “Because of circumstances — COVID has the whole supply chain messed up — the list of nuances of putting on a great event have been different. And year one is really about getting a framework on things. So success for me will be about the logistics, making sure we put on a great production, and when we’re done we can look at this as our road map and know what needs to be done to fine tune it.”

Much of the outreach is via radio, but more modern outlets such as Spotify, YouTube and others specifically targeting music fans across the region will also play a large role.


“We already have some indicators — there’s already been a lot of engagement and sharing as far as social media, and we know our hotels are starting to fill up,” Bryan said. “It’s getting hard to get a room that weekend.”

Popka acknowledges that you can’t talk about any kind of large scale event anymore without talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the troubling Delta variant surge, but he’s also confident that the event can be enjoyed safely.

“What we don’t want to do, especially in these circumstances, is pack people in, and honestly that’s probably going to be the norm going forward,” he said. “But I think we’ve got plenty of space. It’s a few city blocks, and the food will be away from the entertainment. It really will be spread out well.”

Emmert concurred.

“We want to be as safe as possible,” he said. “We want people to act safely, so wear a mask in groups, go get your vaccine. Even the first shot would be helpful.”

For Popka, the opportunity to connect artists who have a passion for the music they write and perform, is the biggest driver of these events.

“What I want most is for the people there to enjoy themselves and feel the passion from the artists. We just want to get that energy across,” he said. “Music is a unifier. When people are together listening to music, they’re hopefully not going to be arguing about politics or having any other type of conflict. And I think we could all use that right now.”


“Paleface is a gem, a brilliant man…one of the greatest songwriters on Earth.” — The Avett Brothers

“We used to go to all the open mics together. Paleface taught me Daniel Johnston songs on the sidewalk and let me sleep on his couch. He’s a great songwriter, a generous friend, and a big influence on my early stuff.” — Beck

“Melodic songs with a sunny vibe while maintaining an edge.” — The New Yorker

Paleface was schooled musically by underground icon Daniel Johnston, and soon discovered at an NYC open mic, by Danny Fields (The Stooges, The Ramones, MC5), who managed him for eight years. He’s been called a major musical influence by a wide range of artists including Beck and The  Avett Brothers.

Additionally, Paleface is a visual artist, and his bright and bold music-lyric inspired paintings are collected by fans worldwide.


Rolling Stone “Band to Watch”, and Nashville’s newest country sensation, Willow Hill, has quickly become one of the hottest groups on the rise.

The charismatic husband and wife duo have developed a groundswell fanbase with their modern twist on a classic country sound: infusing quirky fun-loving energy, heartfelt storytelling,and a captivating live show that has made them a go-to for festivals.

Regularly touring both internationally and nationally up to 200 dates per year, Alexandra and CT Fields previously fronted the acclaimed rock group, Lovebettie. The group was voted in the top 3 out of 20,000 acts to perform at The Grammys and performed The Official Lady Gaga Afterparty for her Monsters Ball Tour.

In the first year as Willow Hill, the group shared bills with multitudes of national acts including Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown, Aaron Lewis and many more in support of their debut album, Highway One.


A self-styled “astral-pop” and “soul rock” artist from Delaware who has been singing her whole life, Nitro Nitra began a career in music in 2019 after having a “mystical, spiritual awakening” she says freed her from “repetitive loops of mental bondage.”

Nitra’s goal as a musician is to create a shared experience by lifting her fans up to a place where they can open their minds to new levels of existence and awakenings of their own. Her voice has been compared to Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, Tina Turner and Diana Ross.


“Among the most emotionally compelling songwriters of our time.” ~ NPR

The Accidentals are a Michigan trio that blends indie folk, pop, bluegrass, rock and more.

Long before glowing acclaim from ​NPR ​and ​Billboard​, packed shows, unforgettable festival appearances, millions of streams, and collaborations with everyone from BTS to Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the journey of The Accidentals commenced in a public high school classroom in Traverse City, MI. As the story goes, concertmaster​ ​violinist Savannah Buist, and cellist, Katie Larson, raised their hands at the request for volunteers to play a music boosters concert and wound up being musical soulmates.


Momentum keeps flowing for grunge-alt-rockers Tough On Fridays. Over the past five years, the band has been turning heads and gaining throngs of fans for their ability to artfully smash together pop, indie, and grunge into their own brand of infectious, in-your-face rock ‘n roll.

Well-seasoned performers throughout the Texas music circuit, Tough On Fridays has come to be known for their enthusiastic live shows.


The Cliff Wheeler Band came together in 2017 to record some tunes Cliff had written. Once the album “Wheeler” was complete, the band — featuring Cliff on guitar and vocals, his son Garret on bass and Johnny Hardy on drums — decided to stick together and do some live performances.

Debuting in Nashville, Tennessee at The Local, the band’s live shows began garnering attention from music industry insiders and other artists. They soon began climbing the Indie charts in the U.S. and abroad.

Based out of Lemon Springs, the Cliff Wheeler Band continues to tour and write, and they’ll play two sets (one unplugged) at the Carolina Indie Fest in downtown Sanford on Sept. 18-19.


A Michigan-born Nashvillian, Sarah Faith is an artist-songwriter that builds her musical catalog and sound around her life’s experiences.

As an Indie Alternative/Americana artist, Sarah has been strongly influenced by a diverse musical background including classic rock, alternative, and some country music. Her warm, soulful voice brings fans songs written about close-to-the-heart stories with a distinct kind of vulnerability and realness.

Having dealt with depression and anxiety most of her life, Sarah aims to relate to her audience through her struggles.


Modern rock band Hope Darling creates music with beautifully passionate vocals,  blissful melodies, and a brilliantly immersive full-band sound that entrances audiences.

This year, Hope Darling released a five-song EP, which they are supporting with live performances. This comes on the heels of having been a winning finalist in 2020 for the Jack Daniels and iHeartRadio National Battle of the Bands.

The band has also performed at South By Southwest and at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (both in 2019). At one point they opened up the 97X Next Big Thing Concert. Hope Darling had a song placed in Spike Lee’s “She Gotta Have It” series on Netflix. The band’s success also includes a nomination by Touchtunes as a national breakout band.


What happens when you mix a little Outlaw Americana with the Ramones?

Throw in two seasoned and talented vets from the wildly popular Saint Luke’s Drifters, a rhythm guitar animal from Government Cheese, drummer powerhouse from Vegas Cocks and The Woggles and you get Nashville Non-Profits. Drawing from their tours coast to coast, they serve a blender full of loud rock & roll, country and punk.

“Nashville Non-Prophets bring the refreshing sound of hard driving rock and roll…with a slight southern flavor. With their fast pace and growling guitar and vocals, they manage to evoke the good old days on the fringes of punk rock, without being a throwback.” — Gina Bacon WFMU


The Weep sound described in one long run-on sentence:

Mixing in all the stuff about music that’s really cool, and deleting all the really crappy parts, WEEP has created a sound that is as new as any idea executed well, and as fresh the memory of the first time you were laughed at for wearing that floral shirt to school, and as cool as that floral shirt.

Weep is an American rock band from New York City whose music combines elements of ethereal wave, gothic rock, shoegaze, post-punk and synthpop. They were formed in 2008 by singer and guitarist Eric “Doc” Hammer (formerly of Requiem in White and Mors Syphilitica, and writer and voice actor for the animated television series The Venture Bros.)


Founding members Meghann5k and Matt Youngblood spent the last four years touring small venues under various names and with several lineup changes before deciding on “Addie Tonic” in 2020. After a series of singles released by Indie On Air Records, the band released their debut EP, “Crashin’ Cars & Fannin’ Flames” in 2020.

Addie Tonic features frontwoman Meghann5k (vocals, guitar) and Matt Youngblood (lead Guitar, vocals) as a duo, plus they also perform as a four-piece electric rock band. Their sound is somewhere between the melancholy dreaminess of Mazzy Star and the alternative rock style of Courtney Barnett.


Emily Cole is a multi award-winning alternative pop singer/songwriter with music out on all platforms. She has been awarded Pop/Contemporary Vocalist of The Year 2019 by the Josie Music Awards; acknowledged as a Songwriter, performing for the Muscle Shoals Songwriters Festival in Alabama; and acknowledged as an Emerging Artist, performing three Showcases for the Mesa Music Festival, Arizona’s premier emerging artist festival.

While her music is alternative pop, Cole goes acoustic for her live shows. She performs as a solo artist, a duo, and with her full band, accompanying herself with guitar, ukulele and keyboard.


The haha charade story began in basements, living rooms, and garages. The band’s underground following led to their founding in September 2018. Hailing from Wilmington, Delaware, haha charade merges different genres to coin their unique style, which they attribute to a collaborative artistic approach to everything from songwriting to artwork and performance.


The Loose Strings Band (LSB) is an all girls band from Galax, Virginia. The band has been together for 11 years, playing at bluegrass conventions, weddings, benefits, churches, reunions, festivals, and more. They are known in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and beyond for their tight vocal harmonies and sweet rhythms.

The band has just completed a new album, As We Travel. The album is a unique blend of old and new selections with a bluegrass twist. It has a different flavor from their first album, Journey with No End, which consisted of original songs mostly written by the band members.

The Loose Strings Band has traveled throughout Southwest Virginia and beyond playing for many different types of shows, including performances at IBMA Momentum Awards, IBMA Bluegrass Ramble, Dollywood’s BBQ & Bluegrass, Bristol Rhythm & Roots, Merlefest, SPBGMA and The Song of the Mountains PBS show.


Rachel Messer, a singer-songwriter raised up a little holler in Fort Gay, West Virginia, draws her inspiration from the classic country (and even bluegrass) greats who paved the way before her.

With performances all over the United States and fans across the world, Rachel has worked hard to spread her voice and love for storytelling. Released 2019, her EP “California Sunrise” captures authentic country music from a personal place. She has recently released her single, “Red Carpet Gal.”

Messer, like Sanford native Britton Buchanan, was once a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.”


Close your eyes and burn down reality! Which is exactly what your ears will be doing as they take in the heady sounds of Chicago trio Mudflower. Their newly emerging sound of modern rock drumming, grunge-kissed guitar riffs, and sumptuously moody vocals create a unique blend of rhythm and blues influenced by the likes of Junior Kimbrough, The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr.

Grammy Award-winning chief mastering engineer Ted Jensen with Sterling Sound in Nashville, will master the band’s first EP release “Sleep Tight.” Jensen has worked with an extensive collection of artists including Alice in Chains, Green Day, Norah Jones, The Police, Santana and The Rolling Stones.


A unique synthesis of jazz, hip-hop, old school R&B, reggae and rock, Amittai Blakk conveys an unmistakable intensity and soulfulness that carries listeners to another place. Drawing from diverse influences, including Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Parliament Funkadelic and Rare Earth, Amittai Blakk has forged a sound uniquely their own, and one that defies genre — a sound that follows no traditional rules. Through collaborative songcraft and seasoned, professional musicians, this six-piece, Charlotte-based band is already a “must-see” live act, built to blow out an audience, and poised to take college campuses and festivals by storm.

The seven-song debut release, The Love We Share, is an explosive and dynamic tour de force, merging impressive and accomplished musicianship with powerhouse vocals to forge an immersive auditory experience. The band tackles such universal themes as love, addiction, eternity and equality.


2Digh4 is a country/rock/pop band founded by brothers Landon and Aubrey Digh from Fuquay-Varina.

Formed in 2014, 2Digh4 has played at multiple big events, including the Carolina Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach in 2016 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, in 2018. The brothers write original songs for the group. In 2019, 2Digh4 released its first single, “North Carolina.” It had its first radio debut on July 28, 2019 on 94.7 QDR and also on 98.5.

In addition to their own songs, 2Digh4 entertains audiences with a variety of songs by other artists spanning from yesterday’s music to today’s.


Charlotte-based Carolina Reign describes itself as simply a “bad ass rock band.” The band released a new album in 2021 and is currently touring the region to promote it.

Lead singer Krystal Kodada was raised a pastor’s daughter and was brought up on only hymns, gospel and the oldies. Her ability to “belt it out” started in her early 20’s when she started mimicking Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Pat Benatar, Melissa Etheridge and Celine Dion, just to name a few. She managed to win second in the nation for a vocal competition out of Denver, Colorado and opened for Lita Ford and Firehouse as a result.

“There is alot of soul and feeling in that voice,” one reviewer wrote. She’s joined on stage by bassist Jim Helsel, guitarist Kory Jones and drummer Mike Long.


Caroline Keller Band are storytellers at heart. Timeless melodies and thoughtful, reverent lyrics draws the listener in and transports them to another time and place making each performance more of an experience.

Keller says their main goal with their songwriting is to be “authentic” — authentic to themselves and authentic to their audience. Strong songwriting and musical prowess brings the songs to life whether it is in a small, intimate venue or on one of the many larger stages that the band has performed on during its career.

Keller was the 2019 Queen City Country Music Female Artist of the Year.


Skylar Love is an emerging artist that hails from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. You really can’t put a title to her style — it’s a mix of singer/songwriter meets indie pop rock with a whimsical dark twist. She is a unique talent with music that is energetic, compelling and passionate with the ability to speak to the heart with her expressive and moving lyrics. She is influenced by the vocal stylings of Edith Piaf to Billie Eilish. Skylar is creating her own style and reputation as a mesmerizing live performer, growing and learning every day.


Carrie Asher is your favorite feisty folkster from San Antonio, Texas.  As a singer-songwriter, her music is a bunch of fun, hopeless romanticism filled with some sass and spunk.

  This last year, she was signed with Indie On Air Records & doing what she can to keep pushing forward.  Asher has opened for some of the heaviest rock and punk bands and she always holds her own. She keeps her performances lively and always has the audience’s attention either with her powerful vocals or by  injecting some short stories between songs — she’s certainly not shy.


Ebb & Nova blends indie rock with Americana, forging their own brand of infectious melodies and eclectic songwriting. Since releasing their debut album in 2017, Ebb & Nova has opened for notable groups such as Good Charlotte, Gin Blossoms, Lewis Watson and O-Town. They cite their influences from artists such as Coheed and Cambria, Yo-Yo Ma, Stewart Copeland and Death Cab for Cutie. Vocalist Lauren Padgett’s inspiration to perform came from Don Edwards, the famous cowboy singer and guitarist, who is her grandfather.


Hanging Cities is a natural musical progression from frontman Jason Paul Jeka’s solo project that was backed by founding members Tim Lorenz and Nick Hon. As the trio continued to work on new music, it was clear that they needed to make the union official and began performing as Hanging Cities at the 2019 Homegrown Music Fest in Lisle, Illinois.

Hanging Cities brings both a nostalgic but modern approach to alternative rock. The now four-piece lineup continues to work on their upcoming debut album while also returning to the stage.