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If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Monday, July 27, 2015

Marshall Bluegrass Festival: Another Weekend, Another Great Festival!

Bluegrass All Around at Marshall!
Another perfect July weekend and another awesome Michigan bluegrass festival in the books!  The second of Michigan's "Big Three" annual festivals, the Marshall Bluegrass Festival is fast becoming the "must see" event of the summer.  Featuring a ridiculously affordable weekend ticket, Festival Promoter Jeremie Cole has managed to not only keep his late Uncle's festival running, but continues to grow and improve it.  In addition to three full days of music and some of the best parking lot picking to be had, Jeremie and his army of volunteers manage to provide a ton of activities to keep attendees busy throughout the days.  Card, golf and "corn hole" tournaments were well attended and it looked like everyone was having a great time.  As usual, everyone in attendance was well behaved, friendly and generous, making for a very family-friendly weekend.

Learning from the Pros
Friday and Saturday featured excellent bluegrass workshops in the afternoon.  The Bluegrass Mountaineers put on an excellent harmony vocal workshop featuring two young men and the A Capella Gospel performance of the Summer!  Daniel Phelps of Out of Mind Bluegrass talked about Tony Rice style flatpicking and put on quite a demonstration.    After the banjo workshop, Kurt from Harbourtown presented an excellent bass workshop that also included some nifty swing licks.  The mandolin workshop hosted by Brian Aldridge (a banjo player!) and Skip Cherryholmes of Sideline was a lot of fun as well.  Like most festivals, these workshops featured a good mix of tips from the pros, Q&A sessions and demonstrations.  The friendly, personable and outgoing presenters made them both engaging and entertaining as well.

Uncle Betty Gettin' It Done!
Being the smallest of Michigan's major festivals (though the others better watch out if the full campground this year is any indication!), the Marshall bluegrass Festival relies more heavily on local and regional acts to provide the entertainment.  However, this year's thirteen bands brought the talent, energy and entertainment of a lineup costing ten times as much!  Out of the Blue kicked things off  on Friday night with their high-energy traditional bluegrass.  Their dobro player, George Laker, continues to impress me as one of the best in Michigan.  The Grand Rapids area bluegrass band Uncle Betty contributed a fresh interpretation of classic, hard-driving, blue collar bluegrass with killer harmonies, great flatpicking and an agressive, bluesy banjo.  Overall, this was one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend somehow managing to be true to the tradition and inventively new at the same time.

The Blankenships
The Blankenship Brothers returned to the stage at Marshall.  This "family band" boasts some of the best pickers in the state.  While their covers of both classic and contemporary bluegrass standards are incredible, I can't wait for them to get some original material together and really make some waves in the Michigan bluegrass scene!  Host band, Harbourtown jumped right in with a high-powered set of their own.  As the band continues to meld with new guitarist John Coffey, their sound is developing into a much more polished, rich mix of standards and eclectic covers.  Their on-stage banter is as entertaining as always and they drew one of the largest crowds of the evening.  I'd never heard headliners Blue Mafia before and was totally impressed with their set.  Killer drive, great harmonies and a powerful female voice combined to electrify the Marshall crowd.

Future Bluegrass Rock Star in the Making
Saturday brought additional sets from Out of the Blue,  the Blankenships and Harbourtown.  It sometimes amazes me how much real bluegrass talent there is in Michigan.  These bands are every bit as good as the headliners at larger festivals!  Coffey's six-year-old grandson Gavin Connelly joined Harbourtown on stage and received thunderous applause for his rendition of "Great Big Woman and A Little Bitty Bottle of Wine".  Ottawa County and New Outlook also contributed great sets (it seems like a lot of bands bring "a little something extra" to Marshall).  Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers contributed an excellent old-school bluegrass set on the backs of a relatively young band.  Their "High Mountain Harmony" is second to none and really shines on Ralph Stanley covers.

Jan Green and the Six "Band Leaders"
After a long night of parking lot picking that lasted until the sun peeked up, Saturday kicked off with the Band Scramble.  Organized each year by Jan Green (who received a well-deserved "Bluegrass Person of the Year" award), this Marshall tradition is something I look forward to each year.  With people all around the campground volunteering to play on stage and random band assignment there is always music and laughter to spare.  This year was no exception.  Band "One" hit the comedy nail on the head with a mix of on-stage banter and irreverant cover tunes.  Band "Two" featured dueling mandos and Heather's amazing vocals.  Band "Three" featured CJ Outland on stage with his banjo for the first time, while Band "Four" featured his father on guitar and lead vocals.  Band "Five" featured everyone's favorite bass player Katelyn and Band "Six" (the eventual winners) brought down the house with a killer version of Angelina Baker.

Saturday featured some outstanding performances with bands Wilderness Trail and Turning Ground, and the comedy/music stylings of the Moron Brothers.  However, there were two stand out performances that rank among the best I've seen this summer.  Who could not love former IIIrd Tyme Out banjo player Steve Dilling's new project, Sideline?  Back with his driving banjo licks and instantly likeable personality, Steve seems re-energized by bandmate and son-in-law Skip Cherryholmes.  Like a puppy watching his master come up the sidewalk, Skip is all over the stage beating rapid-fire and sometimes percussive licks from his guitar and busting into grunts and shouts of encouragement to pump the band up.  Add in the killer mandolin work of Brian Aldridge and his 16-year old brother Daniel on Fiddle and you have one of the most musically proficient, high-energy bands in Bluegrass today.  The ultimately professional bass work of Jason Moore is just icing on the cake.  If you get the chance, go see them...they are everything bluegrass is supposed to, and can, be.

Out of Mind Bluegrass
The standout band of the weekend was a band the precious few fans have probably heard of, Out of Mind Bluegrass from Columbus, Ohio.  I heard them at Marshall last year and thought they were very good.  However, it is obvious that they spent the past year getting even better!  At first glance, you would suspect that the band was built around the amazing Tony Rice style licks of guitarist Daniel Phelps--and he is very, very good.  However, Brandon Fox is every bit his equal on the five-string banjo and Scott Adkins is by any measure an outstanding manolin player.  Throw in Fox's wife Lisa on the bass and you have a bluegrass quartet capable of covering even the most difficult of bluegrass standards the way they were intended to be played.  What really sets them aside, however, is the attention they pay to their powerful vocal arrangements.  Trading lead, baritone and tenor parts effortlessly, the three men in the band deliver vocals that fit their voices and fill the venue with rich, lush harmonies.  Refreshingly, every member of the band is humble and approachable and very respectful of the genre.  Unlike many of their peers, they also understand the importance of professional appearance, bringing matching clothes for each of their four weekend sets--dress pants and button down shirts during the heat of the day, and formal shirt and tie for the men and matching dress for the lady in the evening.  Watch out, this band is going places.

Overall, Jeremie Cole should be congratulated for pulling off an excellent festival.  I didn't hear a single complaint all weekend, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  I'll be back next year, for sure!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hiawatha: The Exceptional Music Festival

Tasty Traditional Bluegrass from the High 48s
There are some special places in my life.  The Ann Arbor of my youth; where we'd play tag in the park and woods all night, and then jump the fence of some neighborhood pool to cool off before the sun came up.  The East Lansing of my Michigan State Undergraduate experience; where I made most of the lifelong friends I still cherish today.  The northern Michigan town of Grayling; home to fond memories of the spectacular people, places and fish in my life.  And then there's Marquette.  Somehow all the threads of my life--music, fishing, family and friends--converge in this decidedly wild, yet modern city; full of interesting, diverse and friendly folk; pulsating with the vibrant art and music scene that gives life to the city--even in the dark, cold winters; and home to one of the very best music festivals around: the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival.  This was the second year I attended, and the first with my wife and daughter.  All of us were struck with how exceptional this festival truly is; offering something for everyone and doing everything as close to perfect as possible.  I could write an entire book about my experiences there, but I'll share just a few of the really extraordinary things I found at Hiawatha.

A Beautiful Setting for A Festival
The tourist park campground in Marquette is really one of the most beautiful settings for a festival you can imagine.  Bordered by the City of Marquette, Northern Michigan University and the ironically misnamed Dead River, this beautiful park's grassy fields are shaded by towering pine trees.  It is easy to forget that you are only minutes away from the largest city in the Upper Peninsula.  Bathrooms (both permanent and portable) are convenient and exeedingly well maintained.  Hot showers can be had at almost any hour.   There are plentiful electric and water hookups for the camper/RV types, as well as lots of soft grass for tent campers  and lots of trees available for the increasingly popular "hang a hammock" crowd. Be forewarned, nearly every square inch of available space is taken up by fellow campers, with dozens of tents springing up between the campers like mushrooms after a spring rain.  However, your fellow Hiawathans are generally friendly and very respectful of each other, so you are far more likely to find friends rather than problems occupying the next camp site!

Bonsoir, Catin Keeps 'Em Dancin' Well Into the Night!
Being a traditional music festival, Hiawatha is free to choose only the best bands from a variety of genres--bluegrass, folk, cajun, Celtic, songwriters and more can be heard on the main stage, as well as the second stage "dance tent", various workshop and jam tents, and even the kids/teens areas! Each year a somewhat oddball act seems to grace the stage.  This year it was Polyphony Marimba, a 10-piece marimba ensemble playing African-based melodies.  In addition to their obvious musical talent, every member of the group is an excellent entertainer, dancing, laughing, executing "stick tricks" mid-song, and generally grooving to their music--and what a groove it is!  They were awesome on stage, but really tore up a demonstration at the kid's area. 

Second Stage Dance Tent is THE place to be!
I also really liked the traditional Minnesota bluegrass group the High 48s.  While their set of bluegrass standards on the main stage was first rate, it was their appearance in the dance tent, playing fiddle tunes behind a square-dance caller that really blew me away.  The banjo, fiddle and flat-pick guitar on "Big Sandy River" were the best I've heard all summer.  Progressive/Acoustic act the Duhks drew large crowds, as did the exceptional Cajun group Bonsoir, Catin.  With an all-female front line and an exceptional drummer, this band kept the second stage crowd on their feet and dancing late into Friday night with traditional Cajun tunes sung with passion, energy and good nature.  The dance floor was packed with hundreds of dancers, while and even greater number stood or sat to watch the set from the grass surrounding the tent. 

The Dead Pigeons in the Dance Tent
As if that wasn't enough, Saturday featured an amazing set under the dance tent by Minneapolis newgrass/bluegrass outfit The Dead Pigeons. Even though they include a drummer (who plays with the largest straw brushes I've ever seen), their sound is decidedly on the traditional bluegrass side--perhaps due to one of the most amazingly complex and intricate fiddlers I've run into aw well as an awesomely rich and deep lead vocalist paired with killer harmonies from the rest of the band.  The Dead Pigeons had the crowd on their feet and dancing from the first note, and never let up.  The highest complement I can pay them is that my wife--a self-professed 80s hair-rocker--heard them playing and came running on the stage  to hear them.  A highlight of the evening was a 20-minute medley of popular music covers.  Ranging from "Wagon Wheel" to TLC, from Alice in Chains to "Alice's Restaurant" and a rousing cover of "Don't Stop Believing" that had the crowd singing along; drowning out the band on "...born and raised in south Detroit", the song had something for everyone, and everyone LOVED it.  Hard to believe they could top this, but the rest of their set continued at the same energy level and left the crowd sweat-soaked, exhausted and completely fulfilled at the end of the night.

A Truly Professional Sound Crew Makes All The Difference
I heard hundreds of people over the weekend expressing what I already knew--the second stage (aka: dance tent) is THE place to hang out at Hiawatha.  More than just a second stage for acts to appear, the tent is used for a variety of activities.  Each morning starts with a Yoga session under the tent, accompanied by tasteful, live music from an acoustic musician. All afternoon various dance workshops are offered--square, celtic, middle-eastern, etc.--often with a band from the main stage providing the music.  The intimate setting of the afternoon dance workshops, and the high-energy, no-holds-barred attitude required of the nightly dances combine to produce the best sets of the weekend under the tent.  However, it is the incredible sound system provided by Sombrero Sound that really puts things over the top.  Top-of the line digital mixers and amps, and appropriate sized speakers for the venue allow for full-rich sounds without being overpowering.   Yet, you can hear every instrument, every voice, clearly from anywhere around the tent.  Ever though the weekend features a diverse and eclectic lineup of bands, both electric and acoustic, with often complex stage plots, Jim and his crew handle changing the bands efficiently and effectively.  Most telling of all...not once during the weekend did I hear a band member ask for "a little more _____ in the monitor" or witness even a single squeal of feedback from the dance stage.  This is simply the best, most professional sound company you will find. 

The Best of the Best!
Hiawatha is also among the most family-friendly of all Michigan festivals.  The beautiful, rustic setting and approachable bands offer a bit of something for everyone.  There is a "kids area" offering musical workshops, crafts and activities all weekend long.  Local teens host a "teen scene" tent with age-appropriate activities for teens--hemp bracelets, tie-dye, wood-burning and henna tattoos.  There is small artshow/vendor area on site with various items for sale.  In a sea of festival tie-dye shops (and there were some EXCELLENT ones there) it was nice to see the Upcycled Closet with their "old t-shirts transformed into skirts" ware.  Really an excellent concept, well-produced by the friendliest couple at the festival.  Check them out at a show or festival near you!  There's also some incredible food on site.  Mostly local and as varied as they come, my family and friends sampled everything and pronounced it all excellent.  However, the best-of-the-best is definitely the Dia De Los Tacos food truck.  And it's not their incredible taco offerings (which are spectacular), or even their quirky, funky blue truck.  It's the people working inside the truck.  They have an infectious, feel-good attitude.  You can just tell that they love what they do, and it shows in every plate they pass out through the window.  Find them next time  you're in Marquette and give them a try.  You will NOT be sorry.

Great venue, great music, great event, great food and great people.  What's not to like about Hiawatha?  Nothing.  Until next year, Happy Hiawatha (we miss you already!).  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Folk-In-The-Woods: The Best Little Festival You've Never Heard Of

Just A Little Stage In The Middle Of The Woods
To quote my good friend "it's about the people, the places and the music...and always in that order."   Nowhere was this more evident than at the 15th Annual Folk-In-The-Woods Music Fest near Port Huron.  There was definitely some of the coolest music I've heard all summer there.  And it's an ridiculously cool venue.  But it was definitely the people; the volunteers who pitched in to make everything happened; the musicians who went out of their way to prepare something special for their performance; and the crowd who let it all hang out while somehow managing to remain honest, polite and respectful to everyone there; it was the people who really made this a special event.  It was my first time there, and because of the people I met, I know I will be back every year to renew old friendships and make new friends.

No Better Place For Live, Local Music
Just as a fisherman is reluctant to give up their favorite fishing spot, it is with some hesitation that I share my review of Folk-In-The-Woods.  It's one of those quintessentially quirky little events that is just big enough to somehow work out, and small enough to be intimate, unique and special.  I fear that if it gets much larger, it may lose some of it's personality and soul.  Like Johnny's Speakeasy, the event runs on the simple "Don't Be One, Don't Bring One" motto.  However, it is simply human nature that if enough people we to show up, "One" would inevitably do something to ruin it for everyone else.   So, while I will share some thoughts and observations from the weekend, you must excuse me if I remain intentionally vague about the specific details.  If you want to attend in the future, keep your eyes and ears open, and look into following some of the acts mentioned here, and I'm sure you'll figure out how to get there.

The Open-Air Acoustic Side Stage
So what, exactly, is Folk-In-The-Woods?  It's an informal music festival started fifteen years ago by current host Connie and her late husband Dave.  Originally a mostly musician attended, private party in the woods, it slowly evolved into  a full fledged weekend music festival complete with entertainment, camping and food.  Connie, and her current husband Sean, have continued the tradition.  Set in the middle of a soaring woodlot on the grounds of their herb farm, Sean and Connie maintain a small stage and minimalist infrastructure to present acts both acoustic and electric.  A couple of portable toilets are provided for the women in attendance.  The "men's room" is beyond rustic and involves assorted pinwheel "targets" to entertain the boys while nature calls.

Funky, Functional and Funny
Their modest PA system provided excellent sound that could be heard throughout the grounds.  The sound man was in constant motion, handling two different stages as well as an impressive mix of acoustic, wind and electric instruments with ease and elbow grease.     Music started at approximately 6:00pm both nights of the weekend and lasted into the wee hours.  Ample parking and copious "rustic" camping sites are mowed into the fields surrounding the wood lot.  Most in attendance chose to tent camp as there is no water or electric available (though bringing my pop up camper in was not problem at all).  With a party atmosphere and BYOB philosophy there is simply no reason for anyone to drive home after a night of music and fellowship.  Most remarkable of all, the cost for festival--camping, a night full of music and complementary dinner--was just $10 per day!  It's hard to believe, but I head that they actually broke even or made a tiny bit of money on this year.  This is simply the best live, local music deal you will find.

"Staff" Shirts (get it?)
How do they pull it off?  Once again, it was the exceptional people at the event who made it all happen.  First and foremost,  Connie and Sean are beyond generous with their home, time and talents.  Every act found time to offer a heart-felt "Thank you Connie and Sean!" during their set, which was routinely met with a round of hearty applause.  Beyond inviting a couple hundred people to a music party in their back yard, both of the hosts are musicians as well (Sean on the bass and Connie on  saxophone) appearing with their own bands as well as "guesting" with others during the weekend.  In addition, various assorted family members, band members and miscellaneous  "band wives and girlfriends" all pitched in to take care of the countless little tasks it takes to pull of an event of this magnitude.  They were easy to spot with their tongue-in-cheek "staff" shirts.  From taking money at the gate, to passing out trash bags and water, and even collecting and sorting the trash, the volunteers kept things rolling smoothly all weekend.  There are simply not enough words around to thank "Meat" and the crew who spent the entire weekend cooking for everyone (and I mean ALL weekend, with little or no break)  High quality ingredients, simply prepared and lovingly presented under the trees made for a fabulous eating experience.

 "Wagon Wheel"--But I Actually Like It.
So how was the music?  Varied, eclectic and fantastic!  True to it's folkie roots, there were a variety of singer-songwriter, folk and bluegrass-based acts.  Most of the acts were drawn from the local Port Huron area--an unbelievable music scene I simply must dive into a little deeper.  I wish I could write about all of the acts here, as they were, without exception, fantastic.  As it is, I'll try to share some of the stand-out moments and acts that made an impression on me.  Opening act Joe Smith set the stage with a tasty selection of guitar cover tunes both classic and modern.  On the second day he did break my cardinal rule and covered the jam circle classic "Wagon Wheel".  However, by inviting his friend and Gasoline Gypsies' frontman Caleb Malooley to join him on harp, the song was transformed from festival cliche to a hard-driving, bluesy and soulful sing-along.  So I'll give him a pass on this one.  With Joe's set I started adding songs to my "gotta learn that one" list--a list that continued to grow throughout the festival eventually spilling over onto a second page!

The Uniquely Incredible Bronze Mambas
Friday night featured a distinctly more modern, electric-guitar driven approach to festival music including the bizarrely named and supremely talented "Butter Hair" contributing classic blues and rock covers featuring killer guitar licks and one of the very finest harmonica players I've heard (and I've heard a LOT of very good harmonica players!).  Early in the evening was a surprisingly innovative and entertaining set by the Bronze Mambas.  A pure modern rock trio, the band has a very unique, effects-driven sound.  Probably the coolest thing about them is their lack of a bass player (not that you'd notice, as a combination of electronic bass emulation, octavizers, and a lower-than-normal-tuned drum kit fill in the bass lines).  Totally not my cup of tea genre-wise, but I would totally go see these guys again, as I found them to be incredibly engaging and listenable.

The Likeable and Listenable Hare of the Dog
Two very unique acts really stood out on Friday.  The first was acoustic trio "Hare of the Dog" featuring Gasoline Gypsies' Caleb Malooley on acoustic guitar and Steve Briere on stand-up bass along with Caleb's girlfriend Autumn on vocals.  Their stripped down acoustic sound was as clean, crisp and polished as was their killer three part harmonies.  Presenting classics from Johnny and June Carter Cash and Gillian Welch to more modern covers from the Civil Wars, the trio blended great musicianship with affable likeability and commanding stage presence to deliver  an engaging and entertaining performance from start to finish.  The sound of the upright bass under the trees was so perfectly appropriate for the setting it is a wonder more acts didn't opt to go this route.

Connie (Center) and some of the Little Big Band
The second stand-out act was Connie's "house band" the aptly named "Little Big Band".  By my best count this was a 14-17 piece big band with drums, guitar, bass, keys backing up a mixed horn section (trombones, trumpets and assorted saxophones).  The band crammed onto the cramped stage and let it rip!  Not your typical offering at this type of festival, but the crowd ate it up, frequently breaking into raucous applause.  They played a good mix of golden-era big band classics with some more modern jazz numbers.  The band was as tight as they come, and the attention paid to the arrangements was obvious.  While each member of the band contributed to the sound, there was a trumpet solo in the middle that really floored me.  Wish I could make out who it was on stage, but I was content to just close my eyes and listen.

Some Native Howling Gypsies Action
While there were a LOT of great acts on Friday, the final set by The Native Howl set the standard for all other sets this summer.  Kicking off late into the night, and climaxing well after 3:00am, their high-energy folk-infused rock set may, or may not,  have drawn the attention of the local police department, but did bring an "early" end to the evening with the final two acts choosing forgo their set (although one did move to Saturday).  Driven by the killer guitar and bouzouki licks from Alex Holycross and perfectly complemented by the banjo and guitar styling of Jake Sawicki, the Native Howl's set of completely original material was as high-energy as you will find.

Hoycross and the Hair
With "thrash-grass" head-banging and hair tossing aplomb, Holycross and Sawicki kept the pedal to the floor and turned the volume up to max.  They drew and incredible amount of energy from the crowd with each song soaring to impossible new highs.  The crowd loved them.  By the middle of the set there were very few people left in their chairs, opting instead  to crowd around the stage, dancing and grooving to the howling rhythm.  In the middle of a new song, composed for the event, the band swapped members with their friends the Gasoline Gypsies, eventually replacing one band with the other in the middle of the song before coming back together in their "Native Howling Gypsies" configuration for the finale.  As the set drew to a close, Holycross took on the role of emcee, directing all the musicians onstage (include a special guest appearance from Connie and David Everitt from the Little Big Band) and passed out all the drumsticks, tambourines and other percussion instruments he could find to the crowd.  This truly organic band/crowd mashup ended the night on a perfect musical high note.

No Name Band on the Acoustic Stage
After a long night of live music, and apparently some campfire jamming lasting until dawn, the sun rose on another great day of music.  By 8:00am I wandered from my campsite back to the stage and was astonished to see that either an army of magic fairies or--more likely--some dedicated volunteers had already cleaned up the stage area, emptied the trash and reset everything for the next day. Saturday had a decidedly more folkie feel than Friday, featuring more acoustic/traditional instrumentation and making a lot better use of the excellent acoustic side stage.  Kicking things off was two you men; friends from the local music scene.  They had no real band name, instead choosing to make a name up during the set, a recurring gag to kill time while retuning between songs (a must with the heat and humidity of a July afternoon).  Their mix of cover and original material was very good and a lot of fun to listen to.

Whiskey Before Breakfast?
Next up was Heritage String Band.  A decidedly old-tyme band with fiddle, guitar and hammered dulcimer.  Lots of traditional music from them including the lyrical version of "Whishey Before Breakfast" belted out with overwhelming enthusiasm by a couple of their folk-singer friends.  Joe Smith repeated his set (with the before mentioned Wagon Wheel cover) followed by a great duo act Jake & Dutch.  Following them was a fantastic classical guitarist who played a killer cover of of Classical Gas.  Most of these acts chose to use the Acoustic Side stage, and there was something special about watching them play with a backdrop of pine trees moving slightly in the faint breeze--seemingly always in time with the music coming from the stage.

Most of the Barone's WSG Alex (Native Howl)
Fifth Avenue was a very unique band with throwback female vocals on top of a talented 7-string bass player who can--with the help of a looper pedal--handle bass, rhythm and melody all by himself.  Throw in a friend on drums and you had a funky, cool band.  Up next was bluegrass act The Barones and their slightly newgrassy approach to music. Hey, they covered a Steeldrivers song, so you know I loved them! This quirky group features KILLER vocals from most members of the band and an eclectic mix of instrumentation ranging from classic bluegrass instruments to a ukelele and even a glockenspiel. When Alex Holycross from from The Native Howl joined them on stage with this bouzouki I was blown away with his approach to bluegrass flatpicking...sort of a Jamie Johnson meets Zac Brown meets Jimmy Martin thing.  I would love to see him in a pure bluegrass setting someday (maybe a SeMiBluegrass jam?).

The Gasoline Gypsies Doing Their Thing
Crowd favorites the Gasoline Gypsies hit the stage next, and--true to their form--hit it running at full throttle.  Their choice of "Abilene" as an opener was inspired as it got the crowd up dancing and let drummer Joe Makowski unleash his mad drum skills early.  True to form, Rob's energetic rhythm, Steve's  enthusiastic bass work and Caleb's rock-star leads combined into an hurricane intense wall of sound that washed over the crowd and got everyone up and dancing.  Mixing crowd favorites from their last album with newer material the set was definitely upbeat and high energy.  It was hard to believe, but the crowd was even bigger than the night before and they were all once again crowded around the stage listening to what the Gypsies were saying.

Vox Vidorra
While the night could have ended on the Gypsies' high note, the crowd was in for a tasty and delicious surpise.  The band Vox Vidorra from Grand Rapids took the late night stage.  Lead singer Molly's soundcheck vocals took the pumped up crowd and rendered them silently speechless--and it was nothing compared to what was to come during the set.  I honestly can't tell you what genre they belong to.  Soul is probably close, but there's some rock, some Latin, some funk, some Reggae/Ska and some classic jazz in there somewhere.  Somehow, this schizophrenic mix of musical styling perfectly complements Molly's powerful, soulful and sultry voice.  With Tina Turner moves, KoKo Taylor soul and  Aretha Franklin attitude she dances, struts and sings her ass off across the stage, backed by three incredibly talented, multi-instrumentalists (they take turns playing guitar, drums and keys--sometimes switching in the middle of a song).  With Vox Vidorra you don't have a choice, you WILL be up dancing for the entire set.  I love the "double peace signs" or "double Vs" the crowd holds over their head while Vox Vidorra plays.  At least five people (myself included) downloaded their album before they left the festival--it's that good!

Pauly Z Taking It Out With A Drum Solo
I could write an entire review of the final act, local party band the Poltroons, but let's just say that they took out the night with a fun, sometimes irreverent two hour set of originals and cover tunes with a cool vibe.  Drummer Pauly Z wrapped it all up with a killer drum solo.

So there you go.  Folk-In-The-Woods.  The best little festival you've never heard of.    I guess I'll just have to go see all of these bands when they play locally to get my fix of the cool, friendly vibe you find where good people play live music in the middle of the woods.  Happy Folk to you all!  See you next year.