If you aren't here, you're missing one of the best music festivals in the country. The 10,000 Lakes Festival at the Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes, MN, has enough here for every musical taste and plenty of room for dancing and grooving with your friends.
Yesterday's opener was hot and muggy, but it was a perfect summer day. As the campgrounds opened, it was clear that numbers of festivalgoers were on the rise.
The 10,000 Lakes Festival is fast becoming the musicians' festival of choice. The concert facilities and the campgrounds offer rustic comforts that have improved greatly over the five years the festival has been going. The new General Stores, vending, and acoustic stages in two big campgrounds reflect the festival's willingness to work within the festival culture. VIP also has a General Store this year with a vendor or two.
However, it is always the music that draws festivalgoers. For the past two years, Wednesdays have been the launch of the festival. These nights have become full evenings of music. Five years ago, when the festival started, one or two bands offered to play on the evening before the festival started, usually for a small additional gate fee. That has expanded to these full nights, and last night was no exception.
The Main Stage was dark on Wednesday, but the three other stages were in full swing. The Saloon Stage, now dubbed the Our Stage Saloon to reflect that sponsorship, is a more intimate venue. It is the only venue inside a building and has a full bar. New Orleans musician Jon Cleary waltzed in there an hour before his set on the Barn Stage just to sample some of the local talent that plays on that stage and to enjoy a drink. He took in the Rhinestone Diplomats, a rock band from Minneapolis, that did some vintage numbers, including a song from the 60s film, "The Strawberry Statement."
For the last couple of years, the Saloon stage has showcased regional talent, mainly bands that have been part of the Cosmic Break search and tour. These are bands that have played at a venue in their region and vied for a slot at 10,000 Lakes. The talent in these regional bands has always been exceptional. However, some regional bands, who aren't part of that search, opt to play there because the venue is just more conducive to an intimate setting. The finger-styling of local guitarist Tim Sparks, who played at 8 pm last night, is a prime example.
At 6 pm, Family Groove Company warmed up the Barn Stage, a venue on a hill with a nylon canopy, while Bismarck, ND, band Gypsyfoot set a groove for the Our Stage Saloon. But my slamdunk favorite to open the festival was New Primitives, from Minneapolis. Fronted by percussionist/drummer, Stan Kemper, the band christened the Field Stage and set a standard for the festival vibe. New Primitives brought an Afro-Latin dance beat that had people up dancing and grooving. Xavier Trejo's Latin numbers were remarkable as well as Kempers' spontaneous lyrics as he set the tone on dance tunes and espoused from the stage, "10,000 Lakes will affect you all!" But it is their electric Mariachi version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" that brought down the house.
New Primitives' dance beat was so infectious that Pita, the front man from the Wisconsin reggae band, Unity, was grooving on every word. Fans got to hear Unity's latest incarnation up at the Saloon. The band has a new bass player from the Caribbean that set a more dancehall tone. Fans still got to see Pita's even longer dreds bouncing as he jumped up and down on the stage, allowing his new players to shine.
Dancing fans continued to flock to the Field Stage after New Primitives. Blueground Undergrass, a rock-influenced bluegrass band from North Carolina mixed hoedown with rock twists on these traditional instruments. Their "Old Joe Clark" was decent and fully acceptable by any bluegrass purist. But band leader, Jeff Mosier, never plans on pleasing the status quo. He continued to bring his own signature to old tunes and to introduce new originals.
But the spectacle of the Wookiefoot phenomenon, a band from Minneapolis that has been collecting a mélange of followers and attendant artists, is one to experience. Often called the Wookiefoot Tribe, the band's fan base continues to expand. Based in jam, the band brings theatre to the stage with dancers, fire handlers, and a female chorus. Adjacent to the huge crowd at the Field Stage, the Illumination Dancers put on a fire show that complemented what Wookiefoot was doing.
The Barn Stage offered slammin' Hammond organ in the Los Angeles band, Big Organ Trio. Mike Mangan, the keys player, hunched over a vintage Hammond B3 and was backed up by a creative bassist and drummer. Mangan is Hendricks on keys! He also is enamored with 10,000 Lakes. "I love this place!" he raved after his set. "It's certainly far better than LA!"
But the crown jewel of the entire night was Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. Though the crew had sound problems with Cleary's vocals during the first half hour, Cleary and the band continued to reveal the true showmen that they were by keeping the show going. However, it broke my heart to witness Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" live and not be able to hear Cleary's rootsy delivery. But it was magic when the sound was fixed, and everyone could clearly hear what these New Orleans musicians could do.
Official festival doings wound down at 2 pm with Unity closing the evening. But the campgrounds stayed lively until nearly dawn.