Dunegrass Music Festival: Friday
Words & Photos By Brandon Picard
Friday August 6th, 2010:
The anticipated morning had finally come. I was set to take on my first adventure as a Music Marauder. My partner in crime for the weekend was my good buddy Phil, somewhat of a new-comer on the festival scene. Having gone to a couple of the larger festivals with Phil like Rothbury and Wanee, I was excited to see his reaction to a much smaller scaled fest. We departed from the metro Detroit area around 10 a.m., and were headed to the northwest coast of the Lower Michigan, to a town called Empire. This being my second Dunegrass experience, having gone in 08’, I was pumped for the lunacy I knew was to come. Leaving my house, I recall the temperature being much cooler than it had been in the previous days. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky was visible. The four and half hour ride was fairly uneventful with scattered discussions of the weekend to come.
We arrived in Empire shortly before three, and were greeted by wide smiles eager to help. Approaching the ticket area, I could see there was clearly some confusion and disorganization amongst the Dunegrass employees as expected. Like most festivals, Dunegrass is flooded with volunteers, who are always willing to help, but often times don’t have all the answers. I was greeted by a gentleman, and I handed over mine and Phil’s ID’s. Expecting to have my passes waiting for me at the gate I was disappointed to find that our names hadn’t been added to the list. J-man assured me that there would be no issues, and if there was, I was to ask for a good man by the name of “Brother Bear”. In mentioning Brother Bear’s name the man behind the table quickly perked up and said “Well why didn’t you say Brother Bear, hold on one second”. With that, two passes were pulled from an envelope and given to me. I thanked the gentlemen who helped me and jumped back into the car to set up shop.
We decided to camp in the tent/car section figuring it may be a good idea for re-charging phones and such. After being pinned into a tight camping spot (with and obvious plethora of land available) we set up our tent and shade. Having read about the food options prior to coming, we figured it was our best option to plan on eating the wide range of selections at the festival, as opposed to packing a cooler full of food that probably wouldn’t get eaten. A cooler full of beer I figured was all we needed. With camp set, we scurried over to the main stage area to find Soul Patch, a reggae/jam band out of Traverse City, Michigan on stage. I was surprised to see the amount of people I did, however it wasn’t much. Chairs were scattered delicately throughout the main stage field just as I remembered from Dunegrass in 08’. A large circus style shade tent was set up directly out from the stage. We found a spot underneath the tent and took in our first musical experience of Dunegrass 2010.
By the end of Soul Patch’s set, Phil and I were pleased. The slide guitar was a unique addition to a clearly reggae oriented group. The temperature at this point neared a comfortable 75 degrees, with a tickling wind swooping through every so often. With a growling stomach, I decided to test my luck with the local food vendors and headed over to “Dune Pit BBQ”. I ordered a hefty slab of ribs. Boy was I satisfied. Other than my sure shot local rib joint near home, Dunegrass produced some of the headiest ribs I have ever tasted.
Just as we planned to head back to camp and restock on refreshments, a phone call came through. It was The J-man. He exclaimed that his contact, “Brother Bear” wanted to meet us. With that I hung up with J-man and gave Bear a call. Bear insisted that we drop whatever it was we were doing, and head over to the backstage area where he would be to greet us. We approached, and clearly spotted Brother Bear, a genuinely kind man with a clear passion for music. He immediately spotted our “general admission” wristband and told us to take them off. We were taken back into the V.I.P. section where we were introduced to the festival promoter Ryan Lake and given our “all access” passes. Conversations of Music Marauders unfolded and the support everyone showed for the site was tremendous. Bear gave us a couple of bands he wanted us to spotlight, and we were on our way. Excitement built as we realized the position we were in. We were here representing a clearly supported website. With that, we headed back to camp for a cold drink and some celebrations.
Arriving at the stage for Bear’s first recommendation, Full Cord, a feeling of comfort came over me. I realized at that moment, that northern Michigan makes me feel like no other place on earth. It’s among the happiest places I can say that I’ve ever visited. The smiles that illuminated throughout Dunegrass were overly contagious.
We found a spot to sit on the soft grass and took in the wonderful sounds of Full Cord. The first song we heard was “Vincent Black Lightning”, a song written by Richard Thompson, that I had heard The Del McCoury band cover a few times. The traditional bluegrass sound was evident with a new-school spice. The guitarist finger picked his way into my mind, as I recall later that night humming many of his riffs. The attention was passed hastily from musician to musician as each was able to showcase their musical talents. As I looked around the main stage field area I began to see many people levitating from their chairs starting to get their boogey on. It was at that moment knew this would be a party. A gentleman who I never ended up meeting provided much of my entertainment for the weekend. He was nicknamed “The Double Fister” by Phil and I, and I sure hope to have the chance to meet this man sometime soon. Throughout the entire weekend he showed his impeccable dance moves, all the while harnessing two beers, one in each hand. While “Double Fister” got his roll on, Full Cord turned to Pink Floyd and covered “Brain Damage”. Phil looked at me and proudly announced “These guys are good”. I looked back and smiled.
Next up was Jen Sygit and Spare Change, a band I hadn’t heard of, but could clearly see that others had. The sound they produced was delightful. A folk blues sound with somewhat of an edge. At this point, the sun began to slowly drift towards the horizon. We wandered the field aimlessly as the vocal harmonies rang in the background. After circling back to camp quickly to grab our chairs and a tasty White Russian, we headed back to find a place that would become our meeting place for the rest of the weekend. We set our chairs stage right, and that’s where they stayed the entire weekend. As I looked around the field in front and behind me, it seemed as if the crowd had miraculously double since the hours before. Jen Sygit finished on stage, and the delighted crowd exploded in applause.
Now completely dark, K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys were set to get the party started. In my past experience with Dunegrass I found when the sun went down, the freaks come out. Not giving freak a negative connotation what so ever, but the families slowly disappear into tents, and the party animals are on the prowl. K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys dropped into some waltzing, zydeco madness. With a washboard fueling the fire, the pace was up. A dance party had officially started. With the rejuvenated evening crowd, my night had begun. Myself, moving and grooving, I was happy to be at Dunegrass.
After an up-beat set from K. Jones and his Playboys, some amusing conversations ensued. We talked to a couple folks who had clearly been having a fun evening. They were shocked with talent of K. Jones and erupted into a blabber of comical nonsense. I chuckled back and warned them of the madness I was sure to come, with legendary trombone player Sam Williams, formerly of Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He was at Dunegrass with his band Big Sam’s Funky Nation. An urban funk band from New Orleans, Big Sam’s Funky Nation delivered their music with distinct passion. An extremely young group consisting of trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, and Sam on trombone, had as much talent as I’d seen in a long time, technically speaking.
I was extremely impressed with how well rounded the band was. Yeah, Big Sam took the majority of stage attention, but the guitarist and bass player made it perfectly clear of the talents the possessed. Not being a huge brass fan (growing up playing trumpet and disliking it), I was having such a great time. The beat was kept at a maximum level the entire time. Solos were passed from musician to musician like jumping frogs. I remember there being a point when I was so enthralled with what was taking place on stage that I stood completely still observing as the crowd around me moved to the beat.
Jam after jam came, all with explosive yet enjoyable horns. With an over amped Dunegrass crowd, Big Sam’s Funky Nation finished their set with a fitting song, “Big Ole Booty”. Phil and I cracked up as Big Sam and the rest of the band engaged with the crowd chanting “Shake that big ole booty!” The lights went out, the crowd went nuts. The scheduled music for Dunegrass Friday had come to an end.
Making our way back to the tent for some much needed sleep, we decided to wander quickly around the festivals grounds to find any possible late night pickin’. We were both sadly disappointed to find that on this night, the pickin’ was kept to a minimum and many people were tucked tightly into their tents. The day of travel and sun had taken its toll on many festival goers including us. We decided it was time to call it a night as we climbed into our tents talking about the day to come.