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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/

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Whadda Hoot! Forestville 2017

Just a Little Festival In the Woods
Sometimes, when you bring together people in a spectacular setting, and mix in some live, local music, you have an event that mystically gains the power to transcend mere entertainment and build an ephemeral community bound by mutual interests and respect.  Add to that some perfect summer weather,  a handful of high-quality local food trucks, thousands of trees, millions of stars and a crowd of enthusiastic music/beer/mountain biking fans and you have something truly special.   Such was the case this past weekend at the Forestville 2017 Music Festival in Marquette.  Over the past three years, organizers Laurie Neldberg-Weesen of the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN) and Andy Langlois of Blackrocks Brewery have put together a unique event to raise funds for the NTN--which maintains miles of non-motorized trail systems (cross country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, snow biking, etc.).  Set deep in the woods at the Forestville Trailhead, they erect a soaring parabolic stage and put on two days of live music and craft beer sampling.  Due to limited parking, attendees are encouraged to camp out under the trees and leave their cars in off-site parking (the festival provides shuttle transportation). Those not wishing to camp are provided free shuttle transportation to and from Marquette, which not only alleviates the parking pressure, but eliminates concerns about drinking and driving--a brilliant idea that should appeal to many other festival organizers!

90 Seconds of Pizza Goodness from Copper Crust Co.
In addition to the music and beer, Forestville invites some spectacular Food trucks to participate and feed the hungry masses.  Of course, legendary Dia de los Tacos (defending their second Food Truck Taco of the Year title) was on hand, killing it with the most flavorful and satisfying street tacos in the country!  They were happy to oblige my "no carb" diet with a shell-free Ms. Piggy, which--complemented by their home made taco sauce and a squeeze of lime made the very best taco salad I've ever eaten.  Copper Crust Co. was also in attendance with hand-crafted, made-to-order artisan pizzas charred to perfection before your eyes in less than two minutes in their 800 degree wood fired oven.  Definitely the award for hustle went to the guys at Superior Mobile Koney, who were not only the first to set up on Friday, but stayed up into the wee hours of the night satisfying the cravings of beer soaked revelers.  More impressive even, was that they were back at it at the crack of dawn with amazing breakfast  burritos to fuel the early morning risers and mountain biking enthusiasts out for a sunrise ride.

Hand Crafted Excellence Abounds
Just as much a part of the event as the music are the Michigan craft brewers who assemble to offer samples.  Host/Sponsor Blackrocks Brewery (Marquette) was there with a full lineup of unique, high-quality offerings.  Their Raspberry Razzle (a dry hopped cream ale with a subtle dose of fresh raspberry) was a real standout.  I also enjoyed the slightly salty No Pepper Gose from The Mitten Brewing Company (Grand Rapids)--a little bit sour, very smooth and an almost savory aftertaste.  Really unique and satisfying on a hot day.   Dark Horse Brewery (Marshall) was a huge hit on Friday night with their Smells Like a Safety Meeting.  Of course Bell's Brewery (Kalamazoo), Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids),  and Short's Brewery (Bellaire) were there in style, with a full line-up of their massively popular beers.  Short's even brought their high-quality hard cider operation, Starcut Ciders, with both semi-sweet and semi-dry varietys that made for a nice change amid the high-octane beer offerings.   Local favorites Ore Dock Brewing Company (Marquette) rounded out the offerings.  If you're not familiar with Ore Dock, check them out.  They not only produce some crazy good beers, but are an active sponsor and host of live music in Marquette, presenting not only local bands, but regional and national touring acts on a regular basis.

Just Ask Piglet--Sombrero Sound is the Best!
And then there's the music.  Forestville offers an eclectic mix of bands from a variety of styles, so there's something for everyone--whether it's on the electrified main stage, or the smaller, more intimate (and often acoustically driven) side-stage between acts.  Making it all work is Jim Supanich of Sombrero Sound Company.  Having seen Jim's work at various festivals, I'm definitely of the opinion that he may well be the best sound man in Michigan.  Throughout the festival, Jim provided pro sound that was rich, lush and crystal clear--whether you were in the beer tent, in front of the stage or even deep in the woods--you could hear every nuance of every note.  Remarkably, even though he was pumping out volume at 90+dB, you could hold a conversation with your neighbor without shouting--even in front of the main speakers.  As a tribute to his monitor crew (Dan and Tracy Zini), it struck me that I heard nary a squeal of feedback or request for "more of this in the monitor" during the entire weekend!  Andy even hired a DJ/Lighting crew to contribute some animated laser graphics on the stage roof throughout the show making this one memorable venue.  To really hear the difference Sombrero Sound makes, you should check out the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival, Free the Music Fest or Marquette Area Blues Fest this summer--you won't be sorry!

The Friday night music was kicked off by local Party-Funk band Frank an da Beanz who combined mid-90s neon fabulous style with danceable grooves to get the party started. The band combines classic covers with a variety of deeper cuts to keep things interesting.  Frontman/Bassist Evan Simula keeps it funky and contributes some stellar vocals to the mix.  Jake and Brian trade lead and rhythm on guitar and Drummer Chris and Peter on keys keep the energy on "eleven". 

While the crew switched over the stage, guitar phenom Andreas Kapsalis hit the stage with his unique fingerstyle/tapping/rhythmic songs.  You have to watch the video to appreciate all he does.  Great singer and a really nice guy as well.

Closing out the show Friday were local legends Conga Se Menne who brought their Finnish Reggae stylings to the north woods and got the entire festival up on their feet.  Don't be misled by the genre-mishmash and semi-goofy lyrics.  This band features some of the best professional musicians I know including Derrel Syria on guitar, David Ziegner on bass and a rhythm section lead by Darrel's son Ethan on the Congas.  I really enjoy this band every time I see them and I'm glad they're starting to play some of the downstate festivals.  

Nights at Forestville often feature a spontaneous jam session where musicians from stage, as well as campground amateurs join in for some funky-cool jamming.  You never know what you'll see (as evidenced by the short video clip above).  Andy wisely cuts off these electric jams at 1:00, striking a balance between the needs of those who want to keep the party going, and those trying to catch a few winks under the stars.

The main event on Saturday kicked off with local rhythm band Logjam who elected to set up in the woods and get things going with their mashup of native and African drum rhythms, Mardi-gras themed belly dancing and quirky lyrical stylings.  Impossible to categorize, it was none-the-less enticing and drew folks from all over the festival grounds to see them in action.

The day was jammed packed with music from this point on.  However, since I had volunteered to cover the front gate for quite a bit of that time, I didn't get the chance to shoot any video.  I did listen to every act through the trees, and wandered back to take quite a few pictures, so I'll spotlight a few of the standout acts. Andreas Kapsalis once again performed a killer set of his original tunes.   My favorite jam-band of the day, The Marsupials followed with a high-energy, funkified, hyper-active set of driving music that was just as fun to watch as it was to listen to.  Local Old Tyme Stringband/ Bluegrassy act Wild Hack followed with some hard-driving (mostly) acoustic music that got the crowd moving--very "Semibluegrass".  I'm familiar with Travis Swanson from various blues projects.  However, this jazz-influenced quintet (drums, upright bass and two saxophones to compliment Travis' guitar) really lets him spread his musical wings and soar.

Lost Dog & the Big Hustle (wsg Sven Gonstead)
Bluegrass duo John Gillette & Sarah Mittlefehldt blew up the side stage with some traditional bluegrass and sweet harmonies.  I could easily see them playing one of the bigger downstate festivals next year (maybe Charlotte or Marshall?).  Local young-guns jam band Lumi was up next with their world-rhythm section and funky bass-driven sounds.  Very enjoyable and very polished.  Blues/Rock/Jam combo Lost Dog & the Big Hustle hit the side stage with some hard-working, blue collar jams and lit the dinner crowd on fire.  I missed Tyler Dettloff's set (gate duty) but loved his fok/blues set.  This young man has an old soul, and brings a remarkably nuanced sound to his songs with solid guitar work, souldful vocals and some self-acompanied percussion played on a suitcase.  He's playing Free the Music Fest and the Marquette Area Blues Fest in the coming months, and I can't wait to see him live.

Port Huron band The Gasoline Gypsies, despite a GPS malfunction and hair-raising adventure with a travel trailer and some two track roads, arrived to treat the crowd to a set of original, rock and roll music.  I've gotten to know these guys pretty well, and you will not find a harder working, more genuine group of young men around.  In true gypsy spirit, once you have met them, you are "family".

G-Snacks in a total Rock Star Moment.
The unenviable talk of following the Gypsies fell to local brass/jam band Who Dat Brass, who know how to bring the party and mixed some original tuba-driven funky tunes in with some tasty covers to get the crowd dancing.  The band has an instant coolness that's hard to define, and yet seems endlessly approachable and affable.  I have seen few bands able to connect with an audience as easily as they do, and it leads to a great time for everyone.  Saturday headliners, G-Snacks out of Traverse City ended the show with a funky, driving jam complete with light show, fog machines and rock star poses.  As the beer-fueled dancers worked off a couple of pints in front of the stage, the moon rose over a perfect, cool summer evening and capped of a terrific weekend of music.

Pitching In with the Gypsies
The next morning, as campers got up early and left (the site hasto be vacated by noon), I walked the ground and was impressed by the "leave no trace" ethic that was so evident.  In part due to some dedicated volunteers collecting trash and equipment in the morning, and partly due to the diligence of all the festival goers, there was no trash to be found and no damage evident to the grounds, grass or facilities.  I even caught members of the Gasoline Gypsies volunteering to help remove the remaining fencing from the grounds.    As I left the grounds just before noon, I looked around and--like a midsummer's night fairy garden--the magical, mystical, musical wonderland that had existed the previous day was gone; replaced by the trees, the birds and the sky; along with the memories of friends new and old and the faint echos of melody and rhythm carried on the warm summer breeze.  Goodbye Forestville.  See you next year. 

Click the link below to view more pictures from the event.    Please share this album freely and TAG YOUR FRIENDS IN THE PICTURES.  Like what you see?  Follow SeMiBluegrass online (www.semibluegrass.com) or "like" us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SeMiBluegrass).

PHOTO ALBUM LINK: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1759068097444128.1073741856.452509294766688&type=1&l=7eb1352802

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Killing Time w/ the Gasoline Gypsies--Album Release and Show Review

Letting it all hang out with the Gasoline Gypsies!
Just a short review of the outstanding album release show I saw last weekend at Otus Supply featuring Tripp N Dixie, the Mike Leslie Band and the Gasoline Gypsies.  First off, the Parliament Room at Otus Supply continues to evolve into the premier live, local venue in southeast Michigan, presenting the best in both local, and nationally touring acts in an intimate setting, with friendly staff, great bar offerings and some of the best food in town. If you have not caught a show there yet, you owe it to yourself to pay them a visit.  On a perfect summer evening, just past the longest day of summer, the Gasoline Gypsies introduced their new EP Killing Time (available on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon.com) to a packed house of fans and Port Huron faithful.  What a show!

Rockin' out with Tripp N Dixie!
Kicking off the evening were Pontiac-based Tripp N Dixie, a six-piece electric rock and roll band encompassing everything that defines the Southeast Michigan rock scene--driving rhythms; skin-tight guitar arrangements; and over-the-top vocals.  Frontman  Rozz Rosales is able to capture the mid-90s grunge-rock attitude and stage swagger, with an updated sound defined by his crystal clear, dynamic and soulful vocals.  Guitarists Adam and Mike trade lead and rhythm lines seamlessly.  A driving rhythm section of drums (Scotty), bass (Brian) and Keys (Conner) fill out the band's sound and keeps the crowd on their feet and dancing.  With songs ranging from dark and soulful to bright and energetic, the band's set covered the gamut of modern Michigan rock and proved infinitely interesting and entertaining to watch.  Check them out.

The Mike Leslie Band killin' it!
The evening continued with the Mike Leslie band.  You may be familiar with Mike as the lead guitarist from seminal Seattle-based rock band Candlebox.  On this night, he stepped out with a stripped-down power-trio setup featuring Johnny Albert Abel on bass that absolutely defined "in your face rock and roll".  His high-powered lyrics and killer lead playing could very well have stolen the show this evening, but Mike, always the consummate professional, donned a Gasoline Gypsies tee shirt for the set, remembered to give frequent shout-outs to the bar, and other bands, and even invited the Gypsies on stage for his closing number, a rollicking cover of the Motown classic Heard It Through the Grapevine which featured a "four hands, one bass" solo from Johnny and Steve of the Gypsies. Very entertaining and professional and a must-see act when they make it to a venue near you!

Most of the Gasoline Gypsies (Joe, Caleb and Steve)
Like all good album release parties, the Gypsies played through the entire album (as well as a couple of old favorites) as the night went on.  All the songs this night showcased what makes the Gypsies special--the incredible songwriting, vocals and super-clean lead licks of frontman Caleb Malooley; the lush and complex, sometimes funky bass lines and harmony vocals of Steve Briere; the super-tasty rhythm and lead playing of "new guy" Neal Love--who is really developing a unique style with the band; and--who can forget--the super-clean, super-crisp drumming of Joe Makowski (who ended the night with one of the finest drum solo's I've heard).  Something's Got to Give is a deeply introspective and somewhat haunting ode to lazy days and suffering motivations.  Run Baby Run features toe-tapping, infectious rhythm/melody line supporting some of the best harmonies the boys have recorded to date.  View From the Gallows is a scorching, powerful song that features grinding lyrics and soaring guitar work.   Salem, recorded live, is a driving song that balances Steve's thunderous bass licks perfectly with dueling/twin guitar lines from Caleb and Neal--coupled with killer harmonies, this song is an instant favorite.  The title track Killin' Time is a poignant, angst-ridden power ballad, balancing the dark lyrics with bright, somewhat dissonant harmony vocals.  Norma Jeane is a tune that's been floating around on various YouTube videos and demo CDs for a couple years now and is a funkified favorite of mine--a song that always gets the crowd dancing. Smoke 'n' Chew  is a folk-funky, high-energy, good-time party-rocker that the Gypsies chose to end the night with, and which features an impossible to describe drum solo from Makowski.  I have the Gypsies on my calendar for a couple more shows this month, so watch for more from these guys.  Not bluegrass, but definitely awesome to watch live (though rumor has it Caleb is more than a passing fan of bluegrass, so who knows...).

More pics from the show HERE