Nestled away in the Manistee National Forest in the northern part of the mitten lie the beautiful grounds that Hoxeyville Music Festival calls home. The ninth installment of the festival proved to be one of the most exciting and eclectic lineups to date. Hoxeyville has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2002 when it was a small family gathering. Over the years the crowd has gradually increased, nearly reaching it’s 5,000 person capacity in 2010 and 2011. This year’s lineup boasted acts such as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Umphrey’s McGee, and the Mickey Hart Band (the only Midwest appearance on the tour). Another first for Hoxeyville was expanding to four days. Greensky Bluegrass played a special “Sound Check” set on Thursday night. The festival also brought back the High Five Program, which is green organization that aims to educate crowds on how to keep the festival clean and in return, they are awarded with a “high five.” The program seemed to work exceptionally well as it was one of the cleaner festivals I attended this summer.
Greensky Bluegrass kicked the festivities off around 7:30 pm with the appropriately titled instrumental “Hoxeyville.” The “Sound Check” set proved to be a great way to kick the festival off as Greensky ran through nearly 20 songs. The show consisted of a written setlist and an improvised set, both sets were composed of original songs and a healthy dose of covers.
Kalamazoo’s 7-piece funk outfit Funktion officially started the festival Friday with an early afternoon set that got the crowd dancing. Several members of the band took lead vocals at some point during the set each showcasing some sort of stage-sliding dance move. Next up on the second stage was Steppin’ In It. The Lansing-based Americana band has been a Hoxeyville staple for years and always brings a good afternoon vibe to the festival. Strange Arrangement, Chicago’s up-and-coming progressive rock/funk band took the main stage by storm. This was their second appearance at Hoxeyville and they let the crowd know they intend to keep the Michigan love alive. Strange’s set was a nice blend of older material and songs off of their new album Polygraph along with a few newer songs that were more on the dance-oriented side of their catalog. Ekoostik Hookah, one of the Midwest’s staple jambands. Hookah has underwent several lineup changes over the course of their 20 year career, but the current lineup (active since 2010) sounds as fresh as ever. Ella Riot (formerly known as My Dear Disco) brought their blend of electro-pop and dance music to the festival. They got the crowd moving with a set full of synth-oriented dance tunes like “It Could Be” and a cover of Alice DeeJay’s “It Could Be.” The main event of the night came when headliners Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk took the stage. Dumpstaphunk took the main stage by storm throwing down a heavy dose of funk. The band takes a unique approach to their music by utilizing two bass guitars played by Tony Hall and Nick Daniels. Partway through the set, keyboardist Ivan Neville invited some ladies from the crowd to come up on stage and have a dance party while Dumpstaphunk threw it down. Needless to say, the dance party was a success.
Saturday’s festivities kicked off with a set of world rhythm influenced music performed by the Ragbirds on the main stage. Multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Erin Zindle serenaded the early afternoon crowd with her soothing voice and rippin’ fiddle for the majority of the set. Everyone knows what time it is when they hear the familiar and powerful voice of Vince Herman belt out “festival!” Great American Taxi took the stage by storm opening with “Runaway Train” and running through a mixture of Taxi originals with a few covers thrown in the mix. The Colorado based road warriors have become a Hoxeyville mainstay, always making time to drive up to Northern Michigan for this family celebration. Taxi appropriately ended their mid-afternoon set with the John Hartford classic “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” The Macpodz followed Great American Taxi on the main stage. While they drew a decent crowd since they’ve been a Hoxeyville mainstay, the set was fairly standard and lackluster aside from the announcement of their new EP The Truth and the debut of their new 3-D music video of the same name. Greensky Bluegrass returned to the main stage for their actual festival set, they came out with a firing rendition of The Talking Heads tune Road to Nowhere which lead into Don’t Lie, a tune off their upcoming album Handguns. These guys always bring their A-game, but especially at Hoxeyville as they always play a major role at the festival. As the sun went down, the dance came out, starting with Chicago’s newest electronic/video game soundtrack Digital Tape Machine. The super group is made up of members of Strange Arrangement, Land of Atlantis, Liquid Soul, The Hue, and Kris Myers and Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s Mcgee. DTM’s blend of electronic, house, drum’n bass, dance house, and a plethora of other dance oriented genres had the crowd on their feet for the duration of the hour and a half set. After a half an hour break following DTM’s non-stop dance party it was time for the main event of the night, Umphrey’s Mcgee. This year has seen Umphrey’s Mcgee opening set with slow building Jazz Odysseys which segue into the first song of the set, this time it was the repeated UM Bowl II intro>The Floor. Up next was the increasingly rare but appropriate Smell the Mitten which the band decided to open up a bit. Continuing with the extended jammed songs, Umphrey’s dove into Red Tape which has unofficially bed dubbed the “jam vehicle of 2011.” They followed Red Tape with a ripping rendition of End of the Road which featured a heavy, yet playful “Jimmy Stewart.” “Puppet String”, a song the band debuted earlier in the year was up next. The set moved to the more dance-oriented side of Umphrey’s catalog with The Triple Wide>Girlfriend is Better segment. To end the set they dropped a Ringo->Hajimemashite->Ringo sandwich. With the crowd’s energy still high, the band came back for am In the Flesh>Another Brick In the Wall>1348 encore to end the night.
Ultraviolet Hippopotamus started Sunday afternoon with a huge bang. The Hippo appropriately opened the set with “North Coast” a tune about all things Michigan. From “North Coast” they segued into Yin Yang Jam which had the early afternoon crowd in a dancing frenzy. They kept the funk going with “Hey Tommy” followed by a “Background Music” a poppy little ditty from their first album of the same name. Segueing out of “Background Music” was Giants, another song on the lighter side of their catalog. To keep the dance party going the Hippo brought out Denny Richards to take over on bass while Brian Samuels switched to his mandolin so the band could play “Move Your Ass,” and that the crowd did. To end on a high note, the band played “Tugboat,” a furiously funky tune that left the crowd chanting for more. Van Ghost, a five-piece Americana/Rock/Pop band from Chicago took the stage to share their positive vibes and soulful tunes for the second year in a row. Two of the last acts of the weekend were also the most traveled and highly regarded bands at the festival, Jamaica’s The Itals and The Mickey Hart Band.
Up first was The Itals, a reggae group formed in the mid-1970s in Jamaica. They fit perfectly in the late-afternoon, early-evening slot as that seems to be one of the best times to listen to reggae. The Itals set mainly covered the earlier material of the bands career. The time finally came for Mickey Hart’s return to the woods of Northern Michigan. This was the band’s only Midwest appearance of their tour which mainly hit the East and West coasts. This was Mickey Hart’s first tour with his new band which Hart told Rolling Stone he did not intend to make a Grateful Dead centered project. The Mickey Hart Band explored world rhythms as well as ran through Grateful Dead classics like Scarlet Begonias, The Other One, Fire on the Mountain, Casey Jones, Bertha, Brokedown Palace, and Aiko Aiko. This was an exploratory sound, focusing heavily on the world rhythms Hart has spent his life studying. The set had a very spacey/psychedelic feel to it, taking the crowd to outer space and back. Be on the lookout for the new Mickey Hart Band, as I hope they continue to tour with their fresh sound.
Another Hoxeyville is in the books, and what a weekend it was. The lineup boasted quite the variety of music spanning several genres including: acoustic folk, bluegrass, electronic, funk, progressive, and of course the classic psychedelic sounds. Hoxeyville continues to step its game up adding new aspects and expanding its musical spectrum. If you haven’t yet experienced it, make a plan to explore the woods of Northern Michigan and enjoy this festival in 2012.