“Get Lost in the Great North Woods” is the perfect way to describe Hoxeyville Music Festival. The 8th annual festival was held in the Manistee National Forest in Northern Michigan. Each year Hoxeyville has grown and improved this year followed suit and featured a bigger and better lineup than ever before, cleaner and more organized festival grounds, and the largest crowd to date at around 4,000 people. One of the greatest things about Hoxeyville is the family atmosphere, whether it was a grandparent and grandchild watching a mid-day set, long lost friends catching up at the campsite or meeting a new friend and welcoming them into your family. Throughout the weekend the emcee’s continuously reminded everyone Hoxeyville is not only a festival but a family reunion. The family vibe was definitely present, I can’t recall any other festival that I’ve been to that contained as many guest appearances and collaborations as Hoxeyville, which made it that much more special of an event.
The first band to take the stage of Hoxeyville 2010 was Red Tail Ring, a Michigan-based folk duo comprised of Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo. The duo’s early afternoon performance on the Mitten Stage was an ideal way to start off the festival, heartfelt lyrics sung to several combinations of acoustic instruments.
Detour was the second band of the weekend to take the stage, prior to Hoxeyville I was faintly familiar with Detour, and needless to say their late afternoon set earned them a spot on my playlist. The sextet’s style of traditionally infused contemporary bluegrass provided festival goes with quite the bluegrass experience ranging from mellow foot tapping songs to fast paced foot stomping tunes. One of the most notable songs of the set was “My Life Just Ain’t a Bluegrass Song” which has been ranked in the Bluegrass Unlimited National Survey for the past 5 months.
Cornmeal was the first band of the festival to perform on the main stage which was appropriately called the Hoxeyville Stage. “I’m Still Here” kicked off the set and the band never looked back. The traveling life inspired “River Gap” saw the band drop into high energy jam that had the crowd on their toes only wondering what the band had up their sleeves for the remainder of the set. They didn’t disappoint, fan favorite “Hasten Jason” was an excellent display of the band’s unique blend of lightning fast tempos and unforgettable harmonies. The highlight of the set was a 15-plus minute “Rise Above” in which the band built up to an exploratory trance jam and flowed flawlessly back into the end of “Rise Above.” They brought the energy back up for the set ending “Girl with the Short Brown Hair” which appropriately left the festival in the dancing mood.
Steve Kimock & Crazy Engine blessed the Hoxeyville stage with an hour and a half set of sheer bliss. It’s always an honor to see Kimock, especially with legendary Hammond B3 player Melvin Seals of the Jerry Garcia Band. Crazy Engine’s blend of jazz and rhythm & blues wowed the young fans and reminded the older fans why Kimock and Seals have withstood the test of time and are still atop their touring scene. The eight song jam-heavy set contained everything from Kimock originals like “Tangled Hangers” that display his smooth picking to “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” the classic Little Milton song which featured heavy doses of Seals bringing back the familiar sounds of the Jerry Garcia Band. Crazy Engine’s set never left the crowd bored, at any given moment you could look to your left or your right and see everyone with an ear-to-ear grin and moving feet.
To keep the groove going I walked to the Cadillac stage to check out The Macpodz, an Ann Arbor based quintet who has been spent the past few years impressing crowds across the country with their self-proclaimed “disco-bebop” gave Hoxeyville a full-on performance, not only musically but visually. Band members danced around the stage as they played, letting everyone know they were having just as much fun as we were. Unbeknownst to some and surprising to others, myself included the Macpodz briefly jammed the Umphrey’s McGee monster “1348.” Nearly halfway into the set, the rain began to fall, which lead the Macpodz to play harder and keep the fans dancing. Unfortunately the rain just got worse leading everyone to disperse back to the campsites and automobiles.
The torrential downpour continued for an hour or so, cutting into Friday’s headliner The New Deal’s slot. As the rain slightly let up, the sounds of Jamie Shield’s keys could be heard throughout the festival, leading people to the main stage. Just as it appeared that they were finally going to get some music in, the downpour continued, canceling the New Deal’s set and ending day 1 of Hoxeyville.
Day two began at 11:00 a.m. with Greensky Bluegrass’s Paul Hoffman vs. Seth Bernard. The duo provided a nice hour-long acoustic set which drew a small crowd to the stage but could be heard throughout the campground as everyone got prepared for the day.
A first time show for me was Chicago’s Van Ghost. Having heard of them before I decided to stay at the main stage for their set which I’m glad I did. Van Ghost repertoire consists of Americana and folk influenced tunes that pleased the small but enthusiastic crowd content.
There isn’t really a way to classify That 1 Guy’s performance except strangely intriguing. He took the stage dressed in black with his custom instrument constructed of metal pipes, gears, a bass string, and electronic buttons and cut loose. His unique style of rhyming seemingly unrelated words over the sounds he creates from his instrument certainly provided for a spectacle.
Todd Snider’s first appearance came during his solo slot on the Hoxeyville stage, his singer/songwriter style is ideal for a late afternoon set, especially at an acoustic heavy festival. Snider’s set was rather entertaining, he incorporated humorous catchy tunes, serious attention grabbing tunes and a good portion of banter to keep the audience involved throughout the set.
Hailing from Ann Arbor Michigan, the Ragbirds are no strangers to Hoxeyville, every year their set always holds a special spot at the festival. There’s something about the band’s world influenced sound that brings people together. Looking through the crowd one can find the gypsies dancing up front, the older crowd toward the back bobbing their heads, and everyone in between in the middle dancing. “Morribayassa” a West African instrumental with the lyrics of “Fly Away” an old gospel song appeared early in the set to get the dancing started. The Ragbirds’ set was one of the many collaborations throughout the weekend, Macpodz keyboardist Jesse Clayton emerged mid-set for “The Frame”, which was a nice touch. Overall it was a success, rarely was there a moment where people were standing still.
The first of two Greensky Bluegrass sets took place on the Hoxeyville Stage Saturday evening, which was potentially the most surprising set of the weekend. Despite the Kalamazoo quintet’s relentless touring schedule they always have a spot or two at Hoxeyville. This year their first set was packed full of energy, the band honored the seasoned Hoxeyville veterans with a set focused primarily on older tunes like “Old Barns”, “Hoxeyville” and Radio Blues.” Toward the end of the set Greensky pulled out all of the stops and brought out Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and Rhythm Devils for a mind blowing “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.” This was the most magical 15 minutes of the festival, the energy on stage and in the crowd was unimaginable. All five members of Greensky had a fixed ear-to-ear smile on their faces, as did Billy and Mickey. The camaraderie on-stage was on point, all seven musicians were making constant eye contact, lending their ears to one another, and feeding off the energy from everyone else. The only way to describe the set is pure bliss.
Up next was the one-man-band mastermind Keller Williams. When I hear the word festival, Keller Williams is one of the first people to come to mind. Keller seems to make more appearances on the summer festival circuit than most, whether it is his solo gig or one of his many other projects. Coming off of a summer touring with the Rhythm Devils, one could only wonder what was going to happen during Keller’s set. He kicked the set off solo with “Apparation” but quickly invited out current Rhythm Devils guitarist Tim Bluhm for a Mother Hips tune “Gold Plated.” Bluhm remained on stage for a Keller staple, the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song.” Keller then quickly dropped into “Freeker By the Speaker” one of his more experimental songs which contained a Keller signature loop jam that had the crowd in a dancing frenzy. A quick rendition of Amy Winehouse’s radio hit “Rehab” made an appearance mid set. The last five songs of Keller’s set were a nice surprise, one by one members of the Rhythm Devils emerged to join him on stage. First off was Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum for an extended “Boob Job” followed by young gun Davey Knowles and Andy Hess of the Rhythm Devils for “Short Show.” To end the set Keller brought out Billy and Mickey for “Brown Eyed Women” and “Scarlet Begonias” overall it was an energetic and guest filled Keller Williams set.
Birthday shows are always a fun time to let loose and have fun, that’s exactly what Vince Herman did during the Great American Taxi set. Throughout the show a few friends decided to take the stage and make Vince’s birthday celebration a little more fun. Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass added dobro and Todd Snider joined for some vocal and guitar duties. The Taxi ride was short but successful as I had to make my way back to the main stage for the Rhythm Devils.
At last the time had come for the recently reunited Rhythm Devils to take the stage for their headlining slot. Although they had already made their presence known, everybody was waiting for a full-on set of classic Grateful Dead songs. I found it a little strange that the cover of “Hey Bo Diddley” opened the set, although it was in heavy rotation in the Grateful Dead repertoire set opening covers always surprise me. Other than the one minor curve ball, the set was flawless. The new lineup of the Rhythm Devils is incredible, 23-year-old guitarist Davey Knowles really brings the power, when given the chance to play with legends like Billy and Mickey most people would show signs of tameness, not Knowles, he steps on stage and plays like he’s been part of the band for years. The sound of the 2010 Rhythm Devils is very blues influenced and fresh. Billy and Mickey are on point, the interplay between the drummers is a sight to see, it’s great to watch musicians who have been playing together for 45 years still smile and enjoy themselves as they did at the beginning of their career. The 14-song set contained songs spanning the Grateful Dead’s career ranging from the 1965 “Cold Rain and Snow” to the 1976 Hart composition “Fire on the Mountain.” It’s hard to pick a single highlight as the band was practically flawless from start to finish. Deep into the night following the Rhythm Devils set, the booming drums and crashing cymbals still held a spot in my mind. It was a supreme way to close the most epic day of the festival.
Hailing from the Windy city, Strange Arrangement brought their own brand of progressive funk to Hoxeyville. The set kicked off with “Pegasus”, a bass driven song that got the early afternoon crowd dancing. Up next was “Mo” a catchy tune about accidentally leaving a friend at a gas station on Phish tour, the humor driven song evoked smiles throughout the crowd. Toward the end of the set, Terrance Massey from the Kalamazoo based funk outfit Funktion stepped on stage to contribute trumpet to the song “Siete.” There wasn’t a down moment in the hour long set, Strange Arrangement made a name for themselves with this performance.
I’m not sure if it was a typo on the schedule or if it was intentional but Four Finger Five was listed at 'Four Finger Give.' And give they did, the usual trio gave the afternoon crowd quite the treat in bringing out some of their friends for the second half of the set. First up was Jason Knott on bass for Might Decline, the addition of a second bassist was a nice touch, Knott remained on stage. The next two additions were Terrance Massey trumpet player for Funktion and Jesse Clayton on keys from the Macpodz. The Four Finger Five (Give) set was quite the treat for all.
The six-headed beast of the Midwest, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus was possibly the most anticipated band of Sunday. The Grand Rapids based band has been hitting the road hard over the course of the past couple years but they always have a place in their hearts for Hoxeyville. Bassist Brain Samuels let everyone know Hoxeyville is their favorite festival of the year to play. The explosive segue heavy set kicked off with “Square Pegs, Round Holes>Run Rabbit Run>That 1 Jam” which had the crowd in a dancing frenzy. The Hippo slowed it down a bit with “Giants” but brought the energy right back with the Dave Sanders (keys) lead “Choral>Verlander” the latter being a Hoxeyvile debut. Perhaps the highlight of the set was the recently revived “I.G.C.S” which segued from “The Scar.” The energy throughout the set was perhaps among the highest energy throughout the weekend. Hats off to the Hippo boys!
Greensky Bluegrass took the Hoxeyville for the second and final time of the weekend. Greensky followed Hoxeyville tradition and had a set full of friends and special guests. Karl Denson contributed his flute skills on “Train Junkie” and remained on stage for “Foggy Mountain Special.” The always wonderful Rachel Davis took over vocal duties on one of her original songs “Sweetwater Sea”. Frequent Greensky collaborator and guitarist Seth David was the next one to join the boys on the 16 plus minute “King of the Hill.” Joshua Davis joined the band on guitar for “Walkin’ the Dog” and “Last Winter in Copper County.” Finally, Macpodz keyboardist Jesse Clayton finished off his busy weekend by joining the band for the fast paced “Broke Mountain Breakdown” which featured a nice funk jam in the middle.
Finally the time came for the final performance of the festival, none other than Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. The Southern California funk outfit closed out the festival in style, bringin’ the jazzy- funk to Northern Michigan. KDTU gave Hoxeyville an hour and a half of non-stop dancing. The set ranged everywhere from jazzy tunes like “We Got to Understand” to self-exclamatory “Funky Song” and everywhere in between. The second half of the set was more jam heavy than the first, all it took was a little warming up. Sometimes it’s hard to have any fuel left in the tank come Sunday night of a festival, not in this case. The Sunday night stayed to party and so did KDTU. “Soul Drifting” closed out the set with a bang. The 15-plus minute funk jam was the right way to close out Hoxeyville 2010.
Hoxeyville 2010 was a success, a weekend full of surprises, one can only imagine what it has in store for 2011…