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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yet Another Hot Band and Cool Bluegrass Venue

Show Review:  Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys weekly residency at the Wolverine State Brewing Co. 

Wow!  What a terrific couple weeks of SeMiBluegrass! (Like us on Facebook or follow us by email!).  On a whim, I headed out Tuesday night to the Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor.  Literally right around the corner from my Dad's place, I'd walked by there a million times and never noticed it before.  Who knew a pretty good microbrewery and great live music venue was so close at hand?  Live music that night was supplied by Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, playing their weekly gig at the brewery.  Both the bar and the band were MUCH more than expected.

The "Sampler"--always a good idea (but pretty big here!)
First...the bar/beer.  Wow!  Basically a cinder block building, they've managed to set up a really comfortable and inviting bar.  I LOVED the hot-dog cart  guy set up outside (what a great example of two businesses helping each other out).  There was abundant outdoor seating, lots of room at the bar, and plenty of tables for friends to sit, enjoy a beer and listen to the band.

Having never tasted their beer, I ordered the "sampler"--10 small beers for $13.50 (this is usually the best value at a microbrewery).  However, I am used to the "normal" 4oz sample of each beer, and the Wolverine pours a 6oz  (or is it 8!) glass of each of their hand-crafted beers.  I'd definitely recommend splitting the sampler with a friend if you want to walk/drive home (as opposed to crawl/crash).  Based on my brother-in-law's theory that "there are two kinds of microbreweries--those that make 10 colors of Bud Light and those that loose money, I prepared to be disappointed and dove right in.  The first three beers (an American, dark and amber lager) were definitely "type 1" beers.  Happily, the rest of the rack proved to be pretty good, with the "Green Thumb IPL" really standing out.  Friendly bartenders, an impecibably clean facility,  and a diverse, mellow crowd combine to make for an enjoyable evening.  My only negative observation was is that there's only two "single seat" bathrooms (one male, one female) so there was usually a line for the restroom.

Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys
I had first heard the Flatbellys when they played a Bluegrass Bash set with our buddies, Chasin' Steel in Marquette.  I liked their groove up there.  However, I love Linday Lou and the Flatbellys!  (Readers may notice that I usually really like most of bands I review.  Rest assured this is due to the fact that I don't usually see any really bad bands, and wouldn't write up any who were.)  By any measure, this was a great live show.

Lindsay Lou has a complex and powerful voice that easily cuts through the murmur and babble of a bar setting and really sets off the sound of the band.  The whole band was tight, rides an upbeat, driving groove and has obviously come together during their busy tour season.  They've apparently also worked out the intricacies of making their PA sound good inside a cement block building (can anyone say "locker room"?).  All the instruments could be heard and the overall mix was rich and melodic--without being overpowering (I hate being in a bar where you either can't hear the band, or have to shout to hear the guy next to you).  The vocals were crystal clear, and the harmonies spot on.  I loved their mix of original tunes and bluegrass standards done with an old time / swing / jazzy feel to them.  The standout song (to me) was their cover of Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out's My Angeline--an updated version of the classic Angelina Baker.  Not a pure cover (who could ever approach the perfection of Wayne Benson's Mandola part on that song), the Flatbelly's mix of darker, low vocals with a touch of swing in the chorus is really, really, really superb!

Nothing better than "With Special Guests...."
The coolest part of the night (well, the first set anyways, as I had to leave early--"school night" and all) was when the Flatbellys called up some special guests.  First was Peter "Madcat" Ruth, an incredible Ann Arbor-based harmonica player I was familiar with from his appearances at the Marquette Area Blues Fest in the past (definitely NOT a SouthEast Michigan (SeMi) nor bluegrass even, but a fantastic Labor Day festival none-the-less).  Instead of playing through an amp, he played "acoustic style" through a vocal mic and it sounded fantastic!  I'll admit, I'm a fan of the harmonica in blues AND in bluegrass (Flatt & Scruggs anyone?), and Madcat is one of the best.  I was pleased to hear he recorded at least one track on the band's upcoming album.  Before the end of the set, the band also called up a trumpet player (Serious talent here--U of M music student?  Didn't catch his name, sorry.   Update: Ross Huff of local band the MacPodz!  Thanks to the anonymous poster below.).  The new 7-piece ensemble launched into something that started out a bluegrass instrumental,  moved into a 40s era vocal torch song, metamorphosed to a Spanish-tinged jazz piece, and then something pure jam-band...and awesome.  I was too mesmorized to take a good picture, so this one will have to do.  Overall, I found this to be a very cool venue for live bluegrass, and Linsay Lou and the Flatbellys to be very entertaining and well worth the effort to catch them live--anywhere and everywhere they play!


  1. thanks for your comments and I am glad the GreenThumb suited you!
    ET Crowe, owner/marketing director
    Wolverine State Brewing Co.

  2. Brilliant trumpet player is Ross Huff of The Macpodz!


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