This was set to be a huge weekend for music festivals in West Michigan, but COVID-19 changed all that, forcing cancellations. So, Local Spins today looks back at highlights from two popular 2019 events.
For West Michigan fans of outdoor music festivals, this shaped up as a monster weekend in 2020.
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The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, forcing cancellation of Founders Fest in downtown Grand Rapids and Buttermilk Jamboree at Circle Pines Center in Delton, and pushing back the B-93 Birthday Bash at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park to Aug. 29.
(Other festivals such as Hoodilidoo Music Festival in Constantine, Sol of the Lost Tamarack in Wolverine, Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in East Lansing and Spirit of the Wood Folk Festival in Brethren also won’t take place this weekend. See updates in the Michigan Music Festivals 2020 Guide).
So today, Local Spins looks back at highlights from 2019’s Founders Fest and Buttermilk Jamboree to give devotees of these popular festivals a chance to get nostalgic — and look forward to the return of these events in 2021.
FOUNDERS FEST PARTIES W/ GOV’T MULE, MACY & MORE
A soulful and sunny Saturday (June 22, 2019) culminated with some “Soulshine” at the 12th annual Founders Fest in downtown Grand Rapids.
“Mother Nature shined down on us once again,” shouted a jubilant Dave Engbers from the stage, following the FBC All-Stars early-afternoon set.
“Our dream started 20-something years ago and here we are at the 12thFounders Fest. We do what we love, and we couldn’t do it without all of you,” said the co-founder of Grand Rapids’ most popular brewery.
“I want to thank our production crew for making some of the best f***ing beer in the world.”
Volunteers and staff were pouring immense amounts and a dizzying number of styles and varieties of that beer in the festival’s beer tents as thousands of revelers took to the closed-off streets, playing cornhole and other games at the back of the grounds, browsing the artisan booths, indulging their palates at the nice variety of food trucks and gravitating toward the main stage for the festival’s main attraction — which, of course, was the music.
Grand Rapids’ resident Isaac Powrie, attending his fifth Founders Fest, compared the vibe to years past, but commented that “the beer lines seemed shorter. Overall, Founders did a good job of providing a good day of live music and quality beer,” he said, adding that he is a fan of the one-stage setup that’s marked the festival the past two years.
Following opening sets from Grand Rapids’ own Lady Ace Boogie and the festival house band, The FBC All-Stars, the fast-arriving crowd began to make its way toward the stage for a high-energy set from The War and Treaty.
Setting the tone early with their original jam, “Healing Tide,” Albion’s Michael and Tanya Trotter put on a classic W&T show filled with covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” a scorching version of the funk traditional “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the Jammie-winning “Jeep Cherokee Laredo” and a set-closing “Down to the River” that showed off every musical element of jazz, gospel, R&B, funk and soul, that makes this quickly emerging, nationally acclaimed band what it is.
The back-and-forth between the soulful couple was playful and fun throughout their set, but the two did take time to get serious, slowing things down to talk about suicide prevention and mental health awareness before launching into an emotional and passionate “Reach Out,” encouraging crowd members to turn to one another to listen and talk if they are suffering.
Keeping things soulful, the day’s next artist, Macy Gray, delivered a set that highlighted original songs such as 2010’s “Beauty in the World,” her latest single, “Buddha,” and her classic smash hit “I Try.” But it also featured a number of covers that likely surprised festival-goers — many of whom said they had no idea what to expect from the 51-year-old R&B singer, whose U.S. performances have been few and far in between in recent years.
Gray offered takes on Radiohead’s “Creep,” The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket,” Andrew Gold’s “Thank You for Being a Friend” and even toyed with Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” during the middle of her performance of “I Try” — raising the excitement level for the day’s next performer even higher than it already was.
Kicking things off with the classic “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” one of Jamaica’s favorite sons, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was no doubt ready to rock steady as his legendary band Toots and the Maytals fired up the crowd with slow and smoky grooves, skanky rhythms and call-and-response-driven numbers such as “Funky Kingston.”
Beach balls were flying through the air and arms were waving in celebration during what was likely the most energy-inducing set of the day.
The 76-year-old Hibbert came across as years younger as he led the crowd through his trademark change of pace jam “Pressure Drop” and a sing-along version of “Country Roads” that prompted more dancing than any other tune of the day.
The rock elements that work their way into much of the Maytals’ material may have also prompted a different type of call-and-response from festival headliner Gov’t Mule.
Frontman Warren Haynes (formerly of The Allman Brothers Band) and keyboardist Danny Louis interspersed their own style of skanky riffs on the original sequence of “I’m a Ram>She Said>Tomorrow Never Knows” the band’s somewhat recent “Revolution Comes,” and most notably on a mostly instrumental cover of the Marley classic, “Lively Up Yourself.”
Offering up a much different style than the day’s earlier acts, Haynes and company came out rocking with a hard-driving “Hammer and Nails” and later on sent old-school Allmans’ fans into fits of delight with an abbreviated “Mountain Jam.”
Fittingly for a day filled with soul music and sunshine, the southern jam rockers closed things out with Haynes’ classic “Soulshine.” (See video of “Soulshine” below)
PHOTO GALLERY 1: Founders Fest 2019
Photos by Anthony Norkus
PHOTO GALLERY 2: Founders Fest 2019
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEOS: Founders Fest 2019
BUTTERMILK JAMBOREE 2019 ROCKS, ROLLS, FOLKS AND FUNKS
Early evening on Day One of the 2019 Buttermilk Jamboree (June 14, 2019) at the picturesque Circle Pines Center — with the sun breaking through the clouds — proved to be almost idyllic, both musically and in atmosphere.
While Ferndale Americana outfit Escaping Pavement was impressing fans with its harmonies and fetching melodies on the main Orchard Stage, Bowhunter (featuring members of Red Tail Ring) inspired animated Contra dancing in the Sugar Bush Pavilion and Channing & Quinn began mesmerizing ale lovers with their quirky and intoxicating indie-folk in the Beer Tent as children romped and rolled everywhere.
“Channing and Quinn are the shizzle,” remarked festivalgoer Kristina O’Brien. “I love being out here in the woods and listening to them.”
Award-winning Nashville songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman followed with a poignant, story-telling set on the main stage as the sun began to set.
Consummate professionals all, performing in an inviting, laid-back, family-friendly festival that ups the ante each year.
VIDEO: Buttermilk Jamboree 2019 – Opening Day Highlights
“My favorite part of it (Buttermilk Jamboree) is the community aspect of it,” said festivalgoer Rick Folkertsma. “You can let your kids run around here like you can’t in neighborhoods.”
Fan Marlene Salmon cited Buttermilk’s safe environment as a big plus. “I also love the awesome music, great beer and the super friendly people,” she added.
Things just kept getting better from there on Friday night, with Ann Arbor’s Chirp unleashing instrumentally demanding and puissant jams in the Beer Tent (including a glorious twist on The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”) followed by Nikki Hill’s furiously raucous and retro rock ‘n’ roll set with her incendiary band on the main Orchard Stage, attracting a sea of dancers in front of the stage.
Later, with Grand Rapids’ Jukejoint Handmedowns showcasing their entertaining Americana ditties for folks hanging out in the Beer Tent, Kalamazoo’s reunited Funktion unleashed a late-night, full-bore, funk-and-soul dance party in the jam-packed Sugar Bush Pavilion.
Lead singer Andrew Schrock and band urged happy fans to “shake everything you got” and most of them gleefully complied, putting a funky exclamation point on the night with help from Last Gasp Collective which followed with a 1 a.m. Sugar Bush set.
Indeed, it may have been the best opening salvo on the first day of any Michigan music festival in recent memory.
But after glorious weather and an equally glorious lineup of music Friday, a couple thousand attendees at Buttermilk Jamboree found themselves skirting and enduring misty rain for much of the rest of the weekend.
That didn’t seem to deflate the enthusiasm of performers or their fans, however, with Local Spins photographer Derek Ketchum and Anna Sink finding plenty of highlights from Saturday and Sunday’s sets:
• Seth Bernard and Jordan Hamilton — The duo had the crowd mesmerized on Saturday afternoon. What some might originally think of as a “stripped down” Eggtones collaboration was much more than that. The musicians shared the spotlight, alternating between Bernard’s “Eggtones” tunes and Jordan’s music, which included their rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird.” Hamilton’s mastery of the cello and looping pedals, combined with Bernard’s powerful, positive lyrics — and incredible guitar tones — spread the message of love and community as well as bringing people together for conservation. The perfect duo for Buttermilk finished out its set, most appropriately, with Hamilton’s song, “Better Days.”
• Samantha Cooper — The singer-songwriter’s set on Saturday afternoon was made even more special as Kalamazoo-bred drummer M. Sord sat in with Cooper, fresh off the road from performing on Jon Spencer’s tour.
• The Appleseed Collective — Things got a bit crazy at Buttermilk with the Appleseed Collective firing up the main Orchard Stage in mid-afternoon Saturday. The Ann Arbor folk/swing band performed a great mix of work from their recent albums along with some new music from a soon-to-be-released EP.
• Las Cafeteras — Las Cafeteras, who played to the crowd at Buttermilk with the sound and energy that they likely had the night before at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, were impressive considering the distance they traveled that day. They had the crowd energized and dancing up front from the get-go of their set despite the threat of inclement weather.
• Dacia Bridges Project and Earth Radio — Southwest Michigan singer Dacia Bridges took control of the Sugar Bush Stage late Saturday evening with her fierce guitar work, fiery vocals and all-female band. It was the perfect intro to the haunting bellows of Hannah Laine as part of Grand Rapids’ Earth Radio’s closing set on the same stage. During “You Don’t Know,” Laine invited the Buttermilk attendees to exhale their own shrieks of catharsis in unison, creating a communal, chaotic screaming session the segued into funky jazzy jams from bassist Justin Avdek and keyboardist Dutcher Snedeker. It was all about dancing and getting down.
• Luna Blu – The Chicago-based band Luna Blu filled up the beer tent on Sunday afternoon, with lead singer Nan Mosinksi grabbing everyone’s attention with her powerful vocals — showing hints of Natalie Merchant — with a great blues band behind her.
• May Erlewine – After a poignant introduction by Ryan Williams, Sunday headliner May Erlewine and band made the best of a drizzly situation in late afternoon, regaling an audience of umbrellas, ponchos and raincoats with her captivating (and sometimes activist) approach. She talked about her recent U.K. tour when a reporter asked what it was like living in the United States right now. “I feel like a passenger in a vehicle and the driver is insane,” she said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Buttermilk Jamboree Day 1
Photos by Derek Ketchum and John Sinkevics