|The Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Review On Stage at Milan |
In a summer full of over-the-top Michigan bluegrass festivals, the Milan Bluegrass Festival
at KC Campground
was one for the record books. Despite mid-90s temperatures and humidity levels making it feel more like a mid-winter sauna than a mid-summer campground, attendance was definitely up and the crowd was treated to some incredibly innovative and spectacularly interesting events that teamed up to make this festival unique and the "must-see" event of the summer. Not only do you get to see the "A-List" of Bluegrass at Milan (Rhonda Vincent, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, Dailey & Vincent, the Gibson Brothers
and Blue Highway
all played this year) but promoter Mark Gaynier continues to bring in new, fresh and exciting acts to expand the bluegrass audience. The old-time sounds of The Wayfarers
(more on them below) and a thunderstorm inspired entirely acoustic set under the pavillion by Mountain Faith
stood out this year. The youngsters in Breaking Grass
even managed to mix in a medley of current-day pop hits without anyone noticing (well, not too much anyways). Overall, this was definitely the best listening show of the summer. However, like every bluegrass festival, it was what happens OFF stage that makes things special, and Milan was no exception.
|Pickin' a Few with Friends Old and New|
Bluegrass festivals has always been about community, and Milan is no exception. Arriving early in the week, I set up the "SeMiBluegrass Jam Tent" in our usual spot--out in the grassy field north of the pond. The crew from the Ol' Hippie Bluegrass show was setting up their TeePee next door. Brian from the UP and Tammy from Monroe set up their tents nearby. As the week went on, festival friends and neighbors continued to arrive, set up camp nearby and drop by to say "Hi!" By Thursday, an ad-hoc neighborhood had sprouted amidst the grass in our little field. Though I see most of them only once a year, we picked up where we left off, sharing gossip, cold beverages and old songs as we renewed the friendships we have forged around bluegrass for yet another year. The BBQ dinners served each night as a fundraiser for T.H.A.N.K.S. (Tailgaters Helping Aid Need Kids' Spirits)
help bind the community as they break bread together over some pretty amazing chicken and pork loin. The festival serves as home-base for the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association
, who--in addition to getting kids interested in bluegrass through their "Instrument Petting Zoo
"--inducted a group of people into their "Hall of Honor
" during the festival for their efforts to "Preserve and Promote Bluegrass Music in Southeastern Michigan". As I always say, "It's about the People, the Places and the Music...Always in that Order!"
|Jerry Interviewing SEMBMA President Bill Warren|
Know for camping out of a Teepee at Milan, Jerry Eicher, the long-bearded, tie-dye wearing host of the Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Show
(live Saturday at 10 pm & Wednesday at 8 pm on 95.3FM (WQTE) Adrian, MI and Saturday morning at 9 am on 90.3 WCWA (Owensborough, Ky) brought their new LIVE Internet show (courtesy of worldwidebluegrass.com
) to the Milan Festival. With an RV borrowed from his niece and nephew, some cool decorations and long Cat5 cable to the campground office, Jerry created the "Jam in the RV" for the show. The concept was simple...broadcast live from 9pm to 11pm each night with interviews and live performances from the bands and people associated with the festival. With a little mountain-man/hippie magic and a twinkle in his eye, Jerry managed to create a work of ephemeral perfection.
|The Wayfarers "Live from the RV"|
Nearly every band managed to pop into the RV and record an interview a play a live piece. On Thursday, The Wayfarers
from Ohio set the RV on fire with their incredible high-energy take on old-time bluegrass instrumentals. Gathered around Jerry's Ear Trumpet Labs Microphon
e, this group of young friends puts a distinctly modern spin on pre-bluegrass era mountain music with the driving clawhammer banjo of Jake Loew and classically trained fiddle chops of Kenzie Maynard perfectly complementing the complex three- and four- (and sometimes five-) part harmonies. Josh Harman (guitar) and Brandon Bankes (mandolin) provide enough drive for two bands. Like any good "Semibluegrass" band, they know the words to most of the fiddle tunes you hear at a jam--a rare skill set that makes those old standards new and fun again! The homemade washtub bass of Nathan Zangmeister serves as a perfect metaphor for this band. Unusual, home-made, unexpected and somehow perfect for the music.
|The Infamous Pimento Cheese Incident |
Jerry likes to have fun, and perhaps no one epitomized that ethos than when Becky Buller stopped by the RV with banjo-player and Bluegrass Junction (XM) Radio personality Ned Luberecki to play a couple of fiddle/banjo tunes and sample some of Jerry's home made pimento cheese (apparently a running gag on the Becky Buller World Tour). Becky has made a career of mixing great music and singing with an approachable and affable personality on stage. Her shows are just good, wholesome fun! In the RV, that personality exploded into a non-stop hour of good humor, good friends and good eating. Luberecki's instantly likeable personality and "made for radio" voice seamlessly melded with Buller's innocent looks and quick wit to create comic gold. Ned trying to do the play-by-play of the Pimento Cheese tasting while Becky--with mouth completely, yet daintly, full--mumbling "It' Good! It's soooo good" was comic genius! When I looked over at Jerry trying to keep it together and move forward with the interview, I couldn't help myself...I was on the floor laughing. I'm sure Jerry recorded this and it's sure to be one of his most downloaded podcasts on his Ol' Hippie Bluegrass Show website.
|Red, White and Bluegrass Band|
Jerry also interviewed many of the folks who make the festival special: young guitar-picker Jesse Manns threw down some hot guitar licks; I talked about the SEMBMA Hall of Honor; Bill Warren hyped the Instrument Petting Zoo; campground owner and festival promoter Mark Gaynier made it on the air to talk about next year's lineup. However, the most special moment of the entire festival came when--needing some live music to fill up the show--Jerry reached out to some of the campground jams to come into the RV and do a live number or two. First to answer the call was the quintessential Milan Bluegrass campsite group the informal Red, White and Bluegrass Band
. Long-time festival attendees will recognize brothers Sam Costelli (guitar) and Tam (mandolin) with their nephew Reno Costelli (bass) and Fossil Creek Bluegrass Band
fiddler Darrell Wagner from their all-night, full-throttle and full volume, free-wheeling jam by the pond.
|Costelli Campsite Jams|
Several things combined to make this truly a memorable performance. Many years ago, I attended my first bluegrass festival at Milan. Wandering around the campsite at night, a novice guitar player with my guitar hung around my neck, I stopped by several campsites and listened to campers jamming late into the night. When I got to the pond, in the middle of whirling, 20-person jam, Sam Costelli noticed me hanging around just outside the campfire light and said "Hey! Get that guitar in here!". I mumbled something about being a beginner and not very good, but they were having none of it. I have made it a point to stop by the Costelli Camp and pick a few tunes every time we are at the same festival. It really is kind of a family and I wouldn't miss it for the world. Even more special in the RV this night was Darrell's 13-year old daughter Lauren. I've known Darrel for about eight years now, and--like me--his daughter loves to hang around the festivals with her dad. I've literally watched Lauren grow up at festivals. So, when Lauren joined the fellas on the radio and stepped up to sing the harmony parts with her Dad there was a passing of the bluegrass torch from one generation to another right there, for everyone to see--and it was spectacular! Video says a lot more than a 1000 words, so I humbly present this:
I've included some photos from the Festival below. Feel free to tag, share and use freely with credit to www.semibluegrass.com. Want more great semibluegrass content? Subscribe to the blog, or better yet, follow us on Facebook!