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Sunday, July 8, 2012

More Than Great Beer at Bell's!

Show Review:  Dragon Wagon wsg Back Forty at Bell's Eccentric Cafe (Kalamazoo, MI)

While not exactly a Southeast Michigan venue (it's a 2 hour drive from my Brighton home), Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo has really come on the scene as an excellent place to see live bluegrass.  I'd been meaning to go for a long time, and found myself with some time on my hands this weekend, so I loaded up the car and made the trek.  Boy, am I glad I did!

view from stage.jpg
This construction photo gives you a feel for the space.
For a mere $6.00 cover charge, I was able to see not one, but TWO, great live acts in a fantastic setting.  In order to accommodate great live music (especially acoustic music), the management at Bell's apparently tore out the back wall of the bar and has added on a large, spacious, and warmly appointed back room.  There is a lot of comfortable seating (even a second floor balcony with a great view) as well as a spacious dance floor in front of a world class stage.  What can I say about the sound system?  It is probably the best I have heard in any bar setting (rivaling even the sound at the Ark in Ann Arbor).  The bar stocks a large variety of Bell's beers, as well as assorted soft drinks.  Even the immaculately clean bathrooms are well thought out with multiple stalls, a large hand washing station and lots of room.

Back 40--Bad Picture, Great Band!
I arrived as Ypsilanti's "Back Forty" (www.backfortymusic.com) took the stage for an electrified funkgrass set.  I had never seen them before, and was in for a treat.  I didn't know what to expect from a "semi" bluegrass act featuring a drum set and all electric instruments (bass, guitar, mando, fiddle).  They blew me away!  While not traditionally bluegrass, their set is definitely grounded in the newgrass tradition.  Excellent original and cover songs, coupled with superb musical talent, a driving rhythm section that pulls the audience into the groove and great stage presence make this a very entertaining group.  I intend to catch them when they play live closer to home--as often as I can!

Dragon Wagon Doing What They Do Best!
After a short break to reset the stage, Ann Arbor's "Dragon Wagon" (www.dragonwagonband.com) took the stage.  They were definitely in their element and had the crowd on the dance floor from the very first note.  I've heard these guys (and gal) a few times previously, so was blown away by how good they sounded over the Bell's PA system.  You could hear every note of every instrument.  Even at full volume, the instrumentation and voices rang clear over Fritz's driving drums.  Likewise, I was intrigued by the awesome, full sound bass player Mike was getting from his "ukelele bass" (you HAVE to see this to believe it).  The band worked through almost two hours of music with a single 5-minute break, all set to the flashing lights and booming thunder of a torrential summer storm.  Their unique sound really fits their mostly-original music selection and keeps the crowd engaged for the entire show.  I was highly amused by their cover of Salt-N-Peppa's "Push It"...lyrics and sounds that should NOT be coming out of a bunch of dorky white kids, yet somehow kind of cool!

Overall, I loved this venue and loved the show!  Even though the two hour drive there was bad, and the drive home at 2am was worse, I wouldn't hesitate to make the drive again to catch a cool, local act.  I know some of the brewhouses / bars in the SeMi area are starting to host these kinds of gigs--I only hope they catch on and thrive.  

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