Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leslie Bluegrass: A Weekend With The Henhouse Prowlers (Friday)

Article & Photos By Justin Picard
Friday June 11th, 2010

As I sped towards Leslie, Michigan from just north of the Detroit area; my phone rang. On the line was Ben Wright, Banjo-slinger for The Henhouse Prowlers. "Do you have any way of getting a hold of the promoter?" He asked. "We got a flat tire near Michigan City and can't it looks like we may not make our first set." I processed the information and said "I'll work it out." After a minute of brainstorming, I called my secretary (my mother) and asked her to gather all of the contact information from the Leslie Bluegrass Festival website. A minute later, I had a handful of phone numbers and I was making calls.

I called the festival's hot line and was directed to the promoter, Burke's cell phone. I informed him of the unfortunate situation and he calmly stated that it would be taken care of and he'd see us soon. So I shot a text message over to Jon Goldfine, Bass extraordinaire. I stated that the situation was resolved gave him the updated contact info.

A short time later I was pulling into the festival grounds. I was greeted by a most unfortunate site; two police cruisers, one unmarked. They waved me past without any issue. I pulled up to the main entrance and was assisted with tickets and camping information from a couple of older women, clearly excited that the festival was upon us. "What the hell are those cops doing here? They need to beat it." Exclaimed one of the women, with conviction. "You boys camp where ever you like!" exclaimed the other woman.

My brother; Brandon and I pulled into the campground and made our way to the back, as to not be within range of offending people with our late-night antics. We parked our cars front to back to obstruct the open view of the area that would become our raging grounds. As we set up our tent and camping gear, I received a text from Ben. "We're heading to the store, do you need anything?" The only thing that came to mind was "Beer." I then informed him that we would be camping towards the back of the loop if they were interested in joining us, to which I received "We don't camp with wooks." from Ben. Fair enough, I thought.

My Brother and I made our first trip over to the Mainstage to get some bluegrass. Immediately it was clear that the level of attendance would be modest, with small pockets of older folks in traveling chairs occupying the area in front of the stage. As we listened to a group of gentleman, all sporting different color pastel button-ups; it was clear that this festival would be a celebration of the most traditional of bluegrass. The band wrapped up their set it was announced that "The Henhouse Prowlers set was switched to 4:00 pm." I thought that Jon had told me it that their set had been switched to 4:45 pm. That being said, I shot them a text message, "updating" the band on their scheduled time.

Approximately twenty minutes later, as Brandon and I drank our first round of beer and began playing a camping game called "Polish Horseshoes" similar to horseshoes, a white touring van came cruising down the road towards our site.

Enter The Henhouse Prowlers...

I smiled as I recalled the last time I was graced with the presence of this group of wookies/top notch musicians. It had been almost a year since I had seen them at Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI. I was excited. After all, they were my favorite band. The smiles were huge as they piled out of their van. Coincidentally the beer in which Ben was cradling was Dark Horse's "Crooked Tree IPA" a beer that was recommended to me by staff writer and beer conesuer Andy Zimmer. Delightfully coincidental.

It was so good to see my friends; Ben, Jon and Ryan Hinshaw (fiddle). That occasion would mark my first time meeting the most recent addition to the band; guitar beast Eric Lambert. As most people are when a new member joins their favorite band, I was weary. I knew from recordings that his playing fit well into the mix, but I looked forward to see him live. Eric and I hit it off immediately, with discussion of traditional bluegrass to some of our favorites including; Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, ect. Eric's knowledge of specific "Acoustic Allstar" shows blew me away. Then came the discussion of Jerry. I knew right away that Eric was not only a good dude, but insightful when it came to some of my favorites.

The Prowlers were also joined by a young man by the name of "Laird", who was a banjo student of Ben's and would be manning their merchandise for the weekend. Now that almost everyone was in attendance, it was time to start the get down. It was great to catch up with the guys and from the get go there was some friendly shit talking and non-sense. Excellent.

As 4:00 neared, the Prowlers prepared for their first of four sets. They utilized their outdoor dressing room to shuffle into their suits. They went from wooks to dapper gentleman in a matter of minutes. In order to get the merch over to the mainstage, they drove the short distance and unloaded their merch/gear backstage. A few minutes later and Brandon and I were on our way to what would be my brother's first live experience with the band.

Set One:

Carolina Moon, Shadow of a Man, Doin' Alright, Drifter, Hope You've Learned, Take Me Back, Sunny Side, Uncle Bubba, Sitting Alone, Georgia Mail.

After "Uncle Bubba" a gentleman wandered over to me and asked if that track was on either of their albums. I said "Yes." He smiled and said "I'm blown away!" Then making a dash towards Laird and the merch table. Another gentleman named Lou, was very excited about the Prowlers. He bought two cd's and a t-shirt. He had a lot of questions for me about the band as well as some advice that he gave to the band, freely. Lou was very kind and it was exciting to see someone take such an interest in the band, right from the get go.

Following their set, they drove the van back over to camp and loosened up a bit. However, as they are professionals; the party didn't start until they had fulfilled the days obligations. We spent the time prior to their 7:15 pm set relaxing, grilling and trying to keep cool in the warm sun as they composed the evening's set list. As 7:00 rolled around; The Prowlers slipped back into their uniforms and one by one made their way back over to the stage, instruments in hand. Just prior to the second set, a couple of my brother's friends; Phil and Tony arrived for their first bluegrass experience. Their lack of bluegrass experience was exciting to someone like myself who has a great appreciation for the music. I anticipated that they would be blown away by what the witnessed that day.

As I walked over to the stage with Brandon, Tony and Phil; I informed them that it was The Prowlers first gig playing together and to be understanding of their musicianship.

Set Two:

Turn Me Loose, Cold Sheets of Rain, Back Up and Push, Borrowed Time, Mountain Girls, Cumberland Blues, Syracuse, First Train Robbery, Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Don't Even Say Goodbye, Caroline, Mandy Jane.

Encore: Morning Dove

Midway through the set Phil turned to me with a smile and said "Their first time playing together... Sure." I smiled back, with a sarcastic look.

Their obligations fulfilled, it was time to let loose. The beer began flowing, The Bug sprayed was unleashed, shit-talking commenced, and the evening was underway. It was essential that firewood be obtained to Brandon headed off to make it happen. He wandered back about twenty minutes later empty-handed. He told us that it was on it's way. He had met an odd gentleman, who said he'd bring it right back to us. When Brandon asked if the gentleman knew where we were camp the gentleman replied, "Right there in the back..." Odd indeed.

Shortly to follow the gentleman showed up with a golf cart full of firewood. We inquired about the necessity of a fire ring, but the gentleman said there was no need, "... just be sure not to burn the place down." The fire was lit and the drinking continued. Slowly the instruments came out. The music began with Ben and Ryan doing some traditional claw-hammer banjo tunes. Soon after Jon stepped in with the upright.

As Eric slowly drifted into slumber, a gentleman scurried over to the fire, guitar in hand. "I heard some G-runs on a bass, so I thought you might need a guitar." Stated the gentleman. He was welcomed to the jam with openness and he did not disappoint. He fit in as if he had known the Prowlers and had played with them before. Someone would call out a tune and they'd go right into it, without hesitation. Minutes Later Eric came to and fetched his mandolin.

I had a blast that night; singing and listening to my favorite band pick songs around the campfire. As I glanced around the fire, Laird sat listening/learning, Brandon lay in the grass with a smile on his face, Tony appeared to be emotional with excitement behind a pile of empty beer cans, Phil sat quietly smiling and the Prowlers gave me one of the most enjoyable musical night of the 2010 festival season thus far. The 5:00 am realization hit hard as one by one the troops disappeared into their tents. I wandered around the campground alone, I heard a few groups still picking away.

I drifted back to camp and climbed into the tent. The sunrise would bring a whole new day of music.


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