Dunegrass Music Festival: Saturday
Words & Photos By Brandon Picard
Saturday August 7th, 2010:
I was woken up Saturday morning by the feeling of a cool breeze steadily making its way through my tent. I sat up on my newly acquired foam mattress, took a deep breath, and smiled. The sensation climbing out of my tent was pure joy. My man Phil is late a sleeper so I took it upon myself to get the day rolling. After a quick cleanse, I was off. There was something about this particular day that made me feel added delight. Again, the weather was perfect! I cannot express enough what I mean by perfect. The sky was the bluest of blues. The temperature at that time, around ten o’clock, was 72 degrees. A gentle breeze, just like Friday, hit you whenever necessary. Perfect. Anyhow, I made my way around the outside path of the festival grounds to see if anything interesting was happening. Being somewhat of a family oriented festival, I wasn’t surprised to see many children with their parents doing arts and crafts under the Dunegrass provided “Kids Tent”. It was so great to see the joy on these kids’ eyes, knowing also that their parents were surely having a wonderful time. As I approached the stage area I could hear the finishing touches of an open mic set. Mornings at Dunegrass in my past experience have all been extremely mellow times. The field scattered with a community of resting citizens. Many blankets covered with comfortable people catching some last minute rest before the day began. I grabbed a coffee from a very kind local vendor and made my way to what eventually would be my “morning writing spot”.
I began simply free writing about the previous day. About the great times that took place. I then found myself indulging about the day to come. The things I was excited about. Catching myself about a half an hour later, I had written 3 full pages about Saturday, before noon. I laughed for a moment and allowed myself some relaxation time, understanding the day hadn’t yet begun.
The first act I caught on Saturday was Marco and Asim. It was a perfectly fitting set for the morning. A very relaxing acoustic set with catchy poetic lyrics driving the group in the simply direction they undoubtedly strive for. After my delightful cup of coffee and a soothing set from Marco and Asim, festival promoter Ryan Lake and his daughter Mia were due up. In meeting Ryan the day previous, I immediately took a liking. He is the kind of person that with a brief conversation you feel as if he’s been a friend for some time. I was anticipating his performance since the day before. I was pleased to see that it was noted of Ryan’s efforts with Dunegrass, and he was warmly welcomed to the stage. Ryan and Mia made their musical talents evident right away.
The soothing harmonies of Ryan and his daughter echoed throughout the main field area as I made my way closer to the stage for some pictures. The sand in front of the stage made for a rather comfortable seat as I enjoyed their songs. While Ryan and Mia finished up I made my way back to camp to grab Phil and make our way to Lake Michigan.
Attending Dunegrass in 2008, the festival site laid right in the heart of downtown Empire, just blocks from Lake Michigan. This year however, the site was moved inland about 8 miles. The festival had arranged for a shuttle to take festival goers to and from the lake as they pleased. We jumped on the first shuttle out, around noon. There were set to be three stops. First stop was the town of Empire, where there was a market, local pub, and a couple other knick knack shops. Stop two was the beach, just blocks away from the town. And of course the third stop was the festival, about 15 minutes inland from Lake Michigan. The shuttle was set to continue this route all day long, and folks could jump on and off as they pleased. I was really excited to see that a shuttle was provided. We were dropped off in town and made our way to the market from some cold beverages and snacks before heading to the beach. Walking through the town many folks attending the festival were also roaming. You could tell this was exciting for the town folks as many sat a gawked at the magnitude of people that their small town was enduring.
Phil and I made our way slowly through town and towards the beach. With the sun making its way towards the top of the sky, it was the perfect time for a dip. We tossed our backpack and towels in the sand and headed for the water. I had been swimming in Lake Michigan many times before, and every time was the same, beautiful.
The water was so refreshing. In past years, I remember the water being frigid. Not today. We kicked it in the water for a solid hour, thoughtlessly playing in the water like two 4 year olds. After an uplifting swim in the lake we made our way back in to town to grab some beers and catch the shuttle. We were told by the shuttle driving when being dropped off that his continuous loop from town, to beach, back to festival would take roughly 25 minutes. We found a comfortable spot right in front of the market that we had been dropped off at earlier, and waited. And waited. And waited. We began seeing a large number of Dunegrass attendees lining up near the shuttle drop off. You could see the concerned look on many faces as the minutes turned into an hour. There was no shuttle. Even if the shuttle did end up showing up, how were they going to fit the crowd that had stacked up over the past hour in this small conversion van? People began getting irritated, including me. I was looking forward to Rachel Davis’s set and here it was 3:15, half way through her slot.
With one main road to and from the festival, I thought our best bet was to begin walking and try to catch a ride. Again, the festival grounds, from where we were, was a solid 8 miles. Case of beer in hand, we started walking. Thumbs out sideways, isn’t that the national sign for pick me up? Car after car flew by, pulling into the other lane as to avoid us scoundrels. I began to worry, just a bit. Not that I was in danger, but that I was missing some important acts. 8 miles would surely take a couple of hours. About a mile into our trip, we saw a car pull off in the distance. It worked. We had successfully hitchhiked. Lovely Laura, a local writer for a family newspaper in Empire was kind enough to give us a lift. “You’re heading to Dunegrass right?” she asked. “How could you tell?” I answered back. She happily drove us the remaining miles back the Festival. We thanked her the whole way. Arriving back at the festival, it was close to 5:00.
We said our goodbyes to Laura and made our way to our camp, to grab a change of clothes and quickly get over to the main stage and salvage what was left of the evening. As we approached the field, we saw many people leaving the stage area. I looked at Phil with concern. We both shrugged and continued on. Getting closer, I could see a group of musicians performing in the field, but no one on stage. It became distinctively clear what was going on. The power had gone out. There we stood, after hitchhiking back, to find a musical festival with no power. Laugh, was all we could think to do.
A small group of musicians began to form stage left, directly in front where we sat. I noticed, Anders and Michael from Greensky Bluegrass pull their instruments out from back stage and make their way towards us. For the next hour or so, we sat listening to a great acoustic set.
When the power was finally sorted out, Dunegrass went into speed mode, making up for lost time. Rachel Davis had fit her set in just before the disaster, so she wasn’t part of the scrambling madness. Band after band performed like rapid fire, each granted about 45 minutes. I caught glimpses of The Preservation, Ralston Bowles, Jessica Lea Mayfield and Delilah Dewylde with The Lost Boys.
Making our way back to camp we ventured through the backstage area. A Frisbee came whizzing by my head and smoked the parked car directly in front of me. “That’s not your car is it?” a voice from behind be asked. It was Michael from Greensky, playing with Anders and a couple other guys. “No” I said, “You’re lucky”. We both laughed as I continued on.
We stocked up on our refreshments for the evening and quickly hurried back over the stage to catch the beginning of Greensky's 9:00 set. The crowd in front of the stage was large, as expected. Greensky has been one of my favorite bands since I saw them about 3 years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was exciting to finally see a band at Dunegrass that I knew and loved. I knew that the next hour and a half was going to be a dance off. “You all ready to party?” Anders asked over the mic. With that, Greensky dropped it. Playing some of their more popular jams to start, I was ready for some more danceable instrumentals. Phil and I had just seen Greensky the week prior to Dunegrass at the Wayfarer Bluegrass Festival in Detroit and anticipated an extremely up beat set.
With the snap of a finger, rain started pouring down. It was perfect timing for me. Everyone started cheering and dancing twice as hard as before. Realizing the situation, Greensky immediately dropped into some funky ass instrumentals. Making their way to the front of the stage were Anders on dobro and Dave on guitar. A shredding duel ensued.
In the midst of the downpour I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Want a sip?” a voice from behind me asked. Holding up a bottle of Wild Turkey, the wook smiled. “Hell yeah” I replied as I grabbed the bottle from his hand. After a quick chug, I was rejuvenated. The funkiness continued as folks on stage scrambled to get the equipment covered and out of the rain. The repetitiveness of the jam positively motivated the crowd into cheer and dance. Within 5 minutes of my warming Wild Turkey gulp, the bottle was on stage being passed amongst the musicians. For the remaining hour of Greensky Bluegrass’s set it rained. I mean it poured. Everyone was soaked, but happily dancing.
As always, Greensky dominated, showcased by dobro master Anders Beck. When the show ended, I realized I was surrounded by a lot of Greensky virgins. People talked amongst themselves excitedly about the heroic set in the rain. Greensky, per usual, rocked the house.
Conversations continued around us as Steppin’ In It got set to do their thing. The rain had completely stopped, and following a solid Greensky set, spirits were high. Steppin’ In It was a group introduced to me by a great friend of mine, Matt. A few years back, I was fortunate enough to have seen these guys perform in an intimate setting, at my friend Matt’s barn.
As Steppin’ In It got underway, I began to realize the difference 3 years had made. Instead of the lounge music I had heard in the past, Steppin’ In It was amped to a whole new level. The stage presence of all the musicians had clearly gained confidence as joking and storytelling quickly became the theme of the show. As the musicians were being introduced, my attention honed in on the organ player. “The Reverend” Mike Lynch brought it to the next level. Where did I know this guy from? I know that I had seen him before. Right then, Josh Davis, Steppin’ In Its front man introduced Mike and commented on his role with Larry McCray, a blues guitarist I absolutely love. Not only had I seen this guy at Dunegrass 08’ playing with Larry McCray, but only a week ago, I saw “The Reverend” in Detroit playing keys with a local blues phenom, Laith Al Saadi. “Wow, this guy plays with everyone” I thought to myself. Steppin’ In Its performance was instrumentally sound. With pretty boy Josh Davis leading the way, their transformation from lounge groove, to blues, bluegrass, and funk was delightfully in my favor. With some steady Hawaiian sounding slide guitar and a knee tapping slap style stand up bass, the beat was up. Along with “The Reverend” doing his gospel thing, a taste of electronic harmonica, and John Mayer sounding Josh Davis on lead guitar and vocals, Steppin’ In It proved to be a musical powerhouse at Dunegrass.
The rain by this time was completely gone, and the potent stars began to fill the sky. With very few scattered lights throughout the field, it made for a picturesque night sky.
Rootstand took to the stage for the midnight set. Having seen these guys before, I knew what I was in for. Instrumentally speaking, Rootstand is manageable. I just have an extremely hard time with the clustered, jumbled vocals. This being my third experience with Rootstand I was hoping for a possible full band transformation. I was sadly disappointed. The rap like reggae vocals are incoherently distracting. With a random “Michigan” or “Dunegrass” reference thrown in over-periodically, the crowd cheers as if something great just happened.
For me, it’s nonsense. To be fair, instrumentally, like I stated before, was acceptable. With that, we headed away from Rootstand and into the festival camp area to see what kind of shenanigans we could get up to.
With my pen and paper tucked deeply in my backpack, we sat down with a group of folks in the field singing and drinking to the acoustic sounds of a mellow guitar. Before long, as 4 a.m. approached, my eyes began to close. We managed to scuffle back to the tent and zip up for the night. Dunegrass Saturday, OUT.