Local Spins looks back at another invigorating Blissfest in this column by musician and veteran festival attendee Mark Lavengood, with images by photographer Anna Sink.
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Blissfest is one of Michigan’s longest standing music festivals.
For the last 36 years, the northern Michigan festival’s boasted one of the most eclectic lineups featuring an array of polycentric genres like folk, rock, rhythm & blues, roots, Celtic, traditional, Mitten-made and world music. And they’re all amazing. This year’s lineup was nothing short of extraordinary.
It was six years ago at Bliss — held on the festival farm near Cross Village — that I stumbled into Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys trying to find the hottest jam in the woods. We proceeded to the song tree after playing a few songs together for the first time and the rest has become reality.
Real. Envisioned and enacted. Seeds planted and harvests sowed.
This year, there were a few firsts for team Flatbellys at Blissfest. One, it was the first time PJ, our bassist, had played the festival. Another, it was my girlfriend and our lil’ baby boy’s first Blissfest. It took Carrie 35 years, but Louie only 3 ½ weeks! And it was Josh’s first appearance with his new Northfield Mandolin upgrade.
Playing double-duty with newborn child/parent responsibilities and performing at the festival is one of the finest additions to my resumé in years.
In doing so, it took me out of the sold-out festival more so than I am used to and I missed out on the deep hangs and musical abundance of Friday evening, which included electric Hot Tuna’s closing Main Stage set.
ALL-STAR MUSICIANS JOINING TOGETHER ON STAGE
However, tending to family matters and short stints of seclusion on the shoreline in one of the most pristine points of Lake Michigan in Cross Village is hard to beat. And field reports tell me that bluegrass hotshots The Hillbenders performed an awe-inspiring acoustic medley of tunes from The Who’s “Tommy,” cover renditions which they released last year.
Saturday started off with a crisp rinse in Mother Michigan.
Upon arriving to land that Blissfest inhabits — such sacred, fertile grounds — I grabbed a cup of coffee and it was off to the races catching up with friends, fans and the whole Bliss community.
I caught the last few songs of May Erlewine’s set at the Second Stage. She had Julian Lage, Tyler Duncan, Max Lockwood and Seth “Eggs” Bernard as her backing band and on one song, she brought Michigan songstresses Claudia Schmidt, Sally Rogers and Lindsay Lou up on stage. That was OK, if you like angelic chorus harmonies and that sort of thing. She closed the set with an encore of one of her new releases from “Lean Into the Wind.” Many a tear was shed.
Emotional catalysts were stimulated and amplified to a degree strong enough to feel, maybe even pour out, if you but tuned in. Ain’t that always the case? But at Bliss, it’s like one big living organism of a community plugged into their inner-spirit self and energizing the collective core for the rest of the year until we reconvene to charge up for the next season.
Saturday night also featured headlining sets by Peter Yarrow and Keller Williams.
I’ll leave you with an allegory that sums up Blissfest.
After recording an episode for a Basement Session podcast episode and before Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys’ final set closing down the Michigan Stage, I had some massage work done back stage at the artist area while Cedric Burnside sang the blues.
I have been meaning to prioritize some massage work into my life pre-Bliss, but time never allowed. Lying on that table and gazing through the leaves and branches and boom-clanks, it hit me: I was officially Blissed out!
Tears poured through the ducts and ideas flowed through my mind. Closing down the festival is always a hard thing to do. But if you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it right.
This year’s closer was exemplary: Michigan’s mighty songsmith-activator Seth Bernard — who just released his new socially conscious album, “Eggtones for Peace” — simply sent everybody back on our path to righteousness.
PHOTO GALLERY: Blissfest 2016
Photos by Anna Sink