The 38th annual Blissfest captivated capacity crowds in northern Michigan over the weekend. Local Spins was there to capture the action in words and photos. Relive highlights from the festival here.
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From comforting lullabies to mind-bending, frenzied musical madness, Blissfest continues to live up to its name.
The legendary northern Michigan festival has grown to showcase a dizzying array of music from local and national acts, while still celebrating traditional folk music the way it has since 1981.
On Friday’s opening night of this year’s sold-out festival, singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn took to the main stage for a headlining solo acoustic performance as the sun set. The Canadian folk legend finger-picked his way through the highlights of a 30-plus album career, stopping along the way to speak up on his passion for politics and the environment. With both confidence and vulnerability in his voice, Cockburn gave an endlessly pleasant performance as a sky of pinks and purples faded into darkness. It seemed to soothe the receptive audience as it first found a respite from the hot sun and a day of high-energy festivities.
Things ramped up fairly quick on Saturday. From fast-paced rap verses by Grand Rapids loop wizard Brotha James to the keyboard driven soul-rock of Asheville’s Siamese Sound Club, Saturday at Blissfest held plenty of hard-hitting performances.
But much like Cockburn the night before, Saturday’s headliner – five-time Grammy winner Mary Chapin Carpenter – provided a welcome change of pace to ring in the evening (or “magic time,” as she referred to it). Backed by a subtle and impressive band, Carpenter performed the country and folk music which earned her national acclaim in the mid-’90s, as well as tracks from her 2018 release, “Sometimes Just The Sky.” Playing to a crowd of several thousand strong, Carpenter’s smooth voice and charisma conveyed the intimacy of a small club show.
Festival-goer and Boyne City native Meredith Hague says she found Chapin Carpenter’s set “refreshing” as Saturday night wound down.
PURE EXCITEMENT, SING-ALONGS FOR NAHKO’S FESTIVAL-CLOSING SET
There’s a certain lulled contentment in the atmosphere on Sundays at many music festivals. Whatever fatigue folks may have felt on Sunday evening at Blissfest, it was turned into pure excitement during an epic set by Nahko & Medicine for the People.
A perfect embodiment of the musical diversity found at Blissfest, frontman Nahko Bear and his band of top-tier musicians genre-hopped between folk, reggae, hip hop, hark rock and even a “hoedown” as Sunday’s festivities came to a close. Michigan seems to have become a second home each summer for the Portland native. Blissfest being no exception, when the Portland, Ore., native slowed down the show for a short acoustic set, a mass of Nahko diehards could be heard singing along with every chorus.
Nahko & Medicine for the People, by the way, will return to Michigan on Monday (July 23) with Dispatch and Raye Zaragoza to play Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
Yes, this was my first Blissfest.
Of course, I had heard nothing but great things about the festival for years, but my expectations were still exceeded. In addition to the main stage headliners, the weekend was jam-packed with memorable performances and moments on the festival farm.
OTHER HIGH POINTS: FROM LUKE WINSLOW KING TO THE SILENT DISCO
Here are a few of my highlights:
• Luke Winslow King has performed at Blissfest so many times that he seemed to breeze through his Friday afternoon performance. In addition to King’s charming, New Orleans-inspired blues tunes, the Cadillac singer-songwriter opted to play a few slower, “sweet ones” to fit the mood of the festival. A large, receptive crowd paid no mind to a light drizzle throughout the set and several dozen couples seemed to rejoice in it, dancing along despite the rain.
• May Erlewine’s enchanting Saturday afternoon set was ripe with hummable melodies, empowering lyrics and tight harmony. Drummer Julian Allen and bassist Rachel Mazer brought unique life to a handful of Erlewine’s powerful folk tunes. A sizable second stage audience responded with warmth and loud cheers.
• I can’t ignore it any longer: Even at a festival with plenty of live music to keep fans occupied, the joys of a Silent Disco are undeniable. More than 20 DJs spun music throughout the weekend, ranging from electronic trap to pop hits. Fans wearing wireless headphones danced tirelessly for hours while flipping between channels to various DJs. Take your headphones off and all you might hear are footsteps, at least until the red channel DJ cues up “Billie Jean,” and joyful madness ensues. It’s a confusingly good time.
• Save for the high-spirited revelry at Bliss’s main stage, the most lively atmosphere at the festival can be found within Hardwood Haven Camp. This small city of ornately lit campsites serves not only as a place to sleep, but a place not to sleep, with jam sessions and shenanigans carrying on each night until the sun comes up. These forested acres are also home to a drum kiva, several stages and a small “Bliss Library.”
• Blue Moon Marquee (which made a stop at Grand Rapids’ Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill on its way to Blissfest) grooved hard for a huge audience during their prime time slot Saturday, ahead of Mary Chapin Carpenter. However, the Alberta-bred, gypsy blues duo was best observed during their intimate Friday debut on the third stage. Guitarist/vocalist A.W. Cardinal belted out catchy, dirty blues while Jasmine Colette provided a one-woman backing band. As if it weren’t enough for Colette to be playing upright bass, singing and drumming all at the same time, she playfully removed her hat during one song and tossed it up on her bass headstock, all without missing a beat. Noise bled in from nearby stages but no one seemed to care; Blue Moon Marquee’s sound and musical chemistry are magnetic.
PHOTO GALLERY: Blissfest 2018
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEO: A Little Tour of Blissfest 2018
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC