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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting it Done Live

Festival Review: Marine City Music Festival

It's festival season.  I'm encouraged by the number of small communities starting to offer summer music events (often featuring great, live acoustic music).

Best Festival Shirt Design So Far This Summer.
Hankering for an outdoor music fix, I braved stop lights, traffic accidents and non-stop construction last Saturday as I traveled to Marine City (located at the north end of Lake St. Clair, at the base of the "thumb") for the Marine City Music Festival.  Located on the shore of the lake next to the Ferry dock, this small festival was remarkably well put together.  A professional stage and large shady tent  with plenty of table/chair seating made for comfortable viewing, despite the high humidity and mid 90s temperatures.  There was a great food area with on-site barbeque, plenty of cool beer and soft drinks, and ample, clean portable restrooms.  The event organizers were present, and easily spotted in their cool, yellow tie-died shirts (one of the best festival shirt designs of the year!).  There was plenty of parking (including "reserved" spaces for the band--a first!) and the food was excellent

Mustard's Retreat

I originally planned to catch the southeast Michigan sounds of local band, Lonesome County whose set was sandwiched between Ann Arbor Roots/Folk icons Mustard's Retreat and  the headliners, Buffett cover band Air Margaritaville.  The fact that little-ole Marine City pulled in this type of "A" list talent speaks a lot about the event organizers and the state of live music in small-town Michigan.  Arriving early, I got to hear most of  the opening set by Mustard's retreat.  They covered a lot of the "chain gang" folk classics and old-time ballads so crucial to the formation of the bluegrass sound.  Their mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation, solo and harmony vocals and some cool a' capela work made for a truly enjoyable listening experience.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation.
Lonesome County took the stage right on time and quickly got set up.  The front-of-house sound guy was right on the ball, quickly checking the 5 instrument and 3 vocal mics and getting the mix right in record time (too much reverb for my tastes, but that seems to be the "in" thing this summer).  Unfortunately, the monitor guys just couldn't get things right.  After 15 minutes of juggling cabinets, switching microphones and cords and a lot of head scratching, the band first offered to play acoustically (which would have been fine given the tent setting) a then just launched into their set without monitors (which didn't matter--as I mentioned, the front-of-house sound was terrific).  Unfortunately, despite numerous request from the band to "stop messing with the sound" and "we'll play with it as-is" the sound crew kept fiddling with their equipment (complete with uncountable "pops" and "snaps" as live cables were plugged/unplugged during the perfomance) even switching out a microphone IN THE MIDDLE OF A DOBRO SOLO!  Yes, that's right, they took the microphone off stage while the musician was playing his  solo into that very microphone!  This is inexcusably rude at best, and horribly unprofessional at worst.

However, despite the sound problems, I really enjoyed the Lonesome County set.  You really have to see this band live to appreciate how good hard-driving, traditional bluegrass can be.  Their set list of bluegrass standards and "hippygrass" originals has really come together this summer, helped along by some stunning harmony vocal arrangements.  They had the audience's attention from the first note, and even got the (mostly older) crowd on their feet and dancing.  Each song ended to enthusiastic applause and assorted "wows".  This was a great little festival and a terrific band.  A great way to spend a summer weekend afternoon.

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