Photos by Benjamin Slayter
We arrived Thursday evening at Hoxeyville Music Festival at the Mansitee Forest in Michigan, with events starting on Friday afternoon. I secured my tickets, and rolled through the venue to take a peek. (Note that I got permission to arrive early. General Admission will not gain entrance until day one of the festival.) Right away, I noticed that this was the tightest festival venue I had ever been to. Everything was within extremely easy walking distance, and parking was inside the venue, meaning you could easily get to your car during the music, rather than drag all your stuff around with you all day. Camping is available onsite, and unlike most festivals, campers do not have to re-enter security/ticket check in order to get from their tents to the music. This makes for a very festival-goer friendly atmosphere.
We chose to camp a little under a mile away at Kestelwoods Campground. The venue offers port-a-potties only, while the campground just up the road offers flush toilets, a pool. electricity, clean hot showers, and a more quiet evening atmosphere. Venue camping is included in the cost of your ticket, and camping just up the road is about $30 per night per site. For this yippie, definitely worth the extra cash for the quiet at night and the shower in the morning. If you choose to camp offsite, I highly recommend Kestelwoods. The staff was extremely friendly and accommodating, the restrooms were always clean, and the showers were hot, clean, and free of daddy long legs.
Hoxeyville Music Festival has three stages, in order of ‘bigness;’ Hoxeyville Stage, Cadillac Stage, and the Mitten Stage. The Hoxeyville and Cadillac Stages are about a 5 minute leisurely stroll apart from one another, and the portapotties are along the stroll’s path. (By the way, there are MORE than ample potties. I didn’t wait one time to use the restroom. This makes for both comfort, and efficiency). The venue is also host to a sleu of artisans and food vendors, who are lucky enough to be within viewing and listening range of the Hoxeyville or Cadillac Stage.
Friday morning was greeted with a shower, eggs, and a review of the schedule. Now, when Hoxeyville says an act starts at a certain time, they mean it. So, if you want to see a certain show, make sure you are mindful of the time, start and end times are pretty much dead on. We circled what we wanted to see, packed up the cooler, and decided to drive over rather than lug the cooler. Day one entering Hoxeyville was a little heavy with traffic, as attendees were all arriving on the same day. We would learn that it’s just the first day that takes a while to get in and out, subsequent days would be much quicker.
With VIP access, we were able to park in the shade, and right behind the Cadillac Stage. Detour Bluegrass was playing, a band the Lansing State Journal has called “perhaps the best bluegrass band Michigan has yet to produce.” I would have to agree. This 6 piece band features Missy Armstrong on lead vocals and guitar, Kevin Gaugier on the banjo and harmony vocals, Peter Knupfer on a mean fiddle, Zak Bunce on vocals and string bass, Scott Zylstra on lead vocals and guitar, and Jeff Rose on mandolin and vocals. Missy has a sweet soft voice that is reminiscent of Allison Kraus. You can check them out at http://www.detourbluegrass.com/. ; A highlight for me during their 60 minute set was the Youngbloods’ cover “Get Together.” Everyone in the crowd knew the song, and was happy to assist on vocals.
Immediately following, we headed to the Hoxeyville Stage for some Cornmeal (www.cornmealinthekitchen.com). ; Cornmeal is Dave Burlingame on banjo and vocals, Kris Nowak on guitar and vocals, Chris Gangi on string bass and vocals, JP Nowak on drums and vocals, and Allie Kral on fiddle and vocals. While I started to develop a little crush on the fiddle during Detour Bluegrass, my feelings were becoming more genuine for it during Cornmeal’s performance. Allie really knows how to rock that violin! Jambands are my usual circuit, with a like for bluegrass, but after this weekend, bluegrass has found a new home in my heart.
After a 30 minute break, Steve Kimock and Crazy Engine took the stage (www.kimock.com). ; Steve Kimock has been a part of several Grateful Dead themed bands including Kingfish, Phil Lesh and Friends, Rhythm Devils, and Ratdog. Crazy Engine features the aforementioned Steve Kimock on guitar, his son John Morgan Kimock on drums, the amazing Melvin Seals (who has spent about 20 years with the Jerry Garcia Band) on the Hammond B3, and Trevor Exter on bass and vocals. After delving in to some bluegrass, we are able to enjoy some jamilicious music. The boys were rhythmic, upbeat, and ON. John Morgan Kimock is just a kid, but beats the drums like he’s had a life full of experience.
Immediately following, we head over to the Cadillac Stage, as some clouds roll in. Rain? Maybe…we decide toenjoy the Macpodz (www.themacpodz.com) before we go give a listen to The New Deal. The Macpodz are five guys from Ann Arbor who have an eclectic, hip, electronic, almost techno, but cooler than techno kind of a beat going on. We’ve got Nick Ayers on percussion, flute, and vocals, Brennan Andes on bass and vocals, Jesse Clayton pounding on the keys, Griffin Bastian banging on the drums, and Ross Huff on trumpet, flugelhorn, and vocals. They have quite a following, too. Most the crowd was singing along to songs I was hearing for just the first time. As the sprinkles turned to drops in the sky, we headed for a tent, but the true fans stayed as thunder crashed and the drops turned to gushes of rainfall. A crew tarped the instruments, yet the Macpodz played on. Finally, they eventually had to stop.
The New Deal performed a sound check over at the Hoxeyville stage, but that was all the music they could muster up for the evening as the National Weather Association pulled the plug on their show. They promised to make it up to us next year.
The rain continued until about 4 in the morning, turning my air mattress in to a raft, but by the time we were up in the morning, rain ceased, clouds parted, and we were treated to sunshine and no more showers the extent of our stay.
We started the day off right with my favorite bare footed, untucked shirt wearing boy, Todd Snider (http://www.toddsnider.net/fr_home.cfm) who opened with “Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males.” Yes, that is the name of his song. And, yes, you can guess that he is a singer with a political twist. Todd Snider is more than just a singer-songwriter, he is a story teller. When you go to a Todd Snider show, you can expect to laugh, possibly cry, and maybe even become politically outraged. For sure, you will be entertained. About halfway through the set, a special guest, Vince Herman (a founding member of Leftover Salmon, and more recently of Great American Taxi) joined him on stage. The two played so well together. My favorite part was when they covered a version of “Senator’s Son.”
A short jaunt to the Cadillac stage to hear the Ragbirds (http://www.theragbirds.com/html/flash.html), another Ann Arbor group, already in progress. The Ragbirds stars Erin Zindle (vocals, violin, mandolin, banjo, accordion, percussion, and probably anything else you could throw at her), T.J. Zindle (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals, trumpet, and percussion), Randall Moore (drumset, djembe, and percussion), Dan Hildebrandt (bass and percussion), and Tim Dziekan (conga, djembe, harmonica, and percussion). How to describe their sound? They have everything. They played everything. They are gypsy, blues, bluegrass, African, jammy, and bumpin. They covered Jesus Jones’s “Right Here, Right Now,” played an African folk song, a Romanian love song, along with many originals. Members constantly changed up their instruments, and kept the crowd bouncing and wanting more in the shade of the Manistee Forest. My original plan was to leave just in time to catch Greensky Bluegrass open, but I was so curious as to what they would do next, and so enjoyed the shade (Hoxeyville Stage is out in the open), that I stayed to the end.
Another short walk, and we caught Greensky Bluegrass (http://www.greenskybluegrass.com/) just a few minutes in to their set. Greensky is a kick ass group from Kalamazoo featuring Anders Beck on the dobro, Mike Devol on the upright bass, Mike Bont on the banjo, Paul Hoffman on the mandolin, and Dave Bruzza on guitar. These boys played a variety of old school bluegrass, mixed in with some jams, and smiled and bopped their heads the whole time. It is quite evident they thoroughly enjoy what they get to do for money. The absolute best part was when Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, the drummers for the Grateful Dead, and now Rhythm Devils graced the stage for the finale. More than the pure enjoyment of the music was the look of gratitude and “we made it” on the faces of Greensky. My cheeks hurt from so many smiles.
With 30 minutes and a sound check before Keller Williams (http://www.kellerwilliams.net/) was set to start, we decided to take a tour of Vendor Village, devouring a grilled cheese sandwich, and we were ready for Keller. While I have been a huge Keller fan since the 1990’s, I have never seen him live. For one reason or another, I’ve missed him at festivals, wasn’t able to catch him on tour when he was close to me, and was even out of town for a wedding once when he played in my own town. I was super excited to see him live. I’ve enjoyed his music, and have even read a little bit of his blog from time to time, but really believed that he had a whole band accompanying him when he played. I was in complete and total utter amazement at what this one man was able to do with some technology, a guitar, and a personality. It took me a little bit to realize that he was looping all his music. On stage were two electric guitars, a bunch of pedals, electronic drums, a keyboard, and a whole lot of other stuff to make a one man band.
Keller played a few favorites of mine, including “Apparition” and “Freaker by the Speaker.” He also played a song about the pigeons shitting on the stage, which was hilarious! As is customary when Keller plays, friends joined in. Included in this line up was Tim Bluhm, Sikiru Adepoju, and ending with the entire Rhythm Devils up on stage with Keller. Hearing Keller play Dead was the highlight of the fest for me. I hoped that with Rhythm Devils up next that they would return the favor, and share a little of their set with Keller.
After catching Bob Weir and Phil Lesh with Furthur, I was excited to piece a few more members of the band together with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart in Rhythm Devils. Maybe if I piece all the instruments together along with Jerry’s voice in my mind, it would be like going to see the Grateful Dead, a band I never had the pleasure of seeing live.
Like I said, Rhythm Devils (http://www.rhythmdevils.net/) is led by former Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart, and matched with several other musicians at different stages of their tour. At Hoxeyville, the two were with singer/guitartist Tim Bluhm (of the Motherhips), percussionist Sikiru Adepoju, guitarist and vocalist Davy Knowles, and Andy Hess on bass. They jammed on with several originals, mixing in quite a few Dead songs. Two highlights were “Uncle John’s Band,” and then “Friend of the Devil” with Keller Williams. As I hoped, Keller did get an invitation to play.
Sunday began with a nice drive to Traverse City for a sit down meal for breakfast at Americal. We made it back in time to give a listen to Four Finger Five, which led right in to Ultraviolet Hippoptamus (http://www.uvhippomusic.com/), my favorite never before heard band at the festival. Ultraviolet Hippotamus is Brian Samuels on bass, mandolin, guitar, and vocals; Sam Guidry on guitar, bass, and vocals, Russel James on guitar and vocals; Dave Sanders on keyboards and vocals; Casey Jones on percussion, and Joe Phillion on drums. Put them all together, and you get an electric, mystifying, crowd pleasing sound. I enjoyed UV Hippos so much that I would be willing to travel at the chance to see them again live.
A short walk over to enjoy Greensky’s second show before hearing the final act, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (http://karldenson.us/), which consists of Denson (saxophone, flute), Ron Johnson (bass), Chris Littlefield (trumpet), Brian Jordan (guitar), David Veith (keyboards) and John Staten (drums). What they have together is a wind instrument heavy melodic sound. I genuinely enjoyed their sound, as it reminded me a little bit of music my father listened to when I was a child, but with a modern twist. Mo’ Town’s horns combined with this decade’s lyrics and beat. It was amazing. He was kind enough to give us an encore, which was a nearly 15 minute long jam called “Soul Drifting.” A fantastic end to the weekend.
Hoxeyville ends on Sunday at about 9 in the evening. Several attendees took off at some point during the day, but we managed to stay one more night and get a good night’s rest before heading back to Wisconsin.
To all the volunteers and workers who made this event happen, many thanks. I look forward to Hoxeyville 2011.