Last weekend’s second-year festival hosted by Greensky Bluegrass in the Manistee National Forest gave 2,100-plus attendees from all over the country ‘real’ memories to treasure.
When host headliner Greensky Bluegrass took the stage at last year’s inaugural Camp Greensky Music Festival, the band kicked off its opening set with a rousing version of Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.”
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It was a theme song that threaded its way in and out of jams throughout the weekend at the Hoxeyville Festival grounds outside Wellston in northern lower Michigan.
It was only fitting that this time around, the Kalamazoo-bred act got things started Thursday night by launching into a never-before-played cover of Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two,” followed up by Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise” — the latter of which was revisited more than once over the course of the next few nights.
“Last year was the first time we did this, and it sort of felt like a dream, and this year … I think it’s real,” exclaimed dobro player Anders Beck early on in the first night.
“Camp Greensky is real! Thanks for coming to our party. We really appreciate it.”
Missing the party wasn’t even an option for many of the 2,100-plus festival-goers, who poured in from all over the country and state to attend.
Among those who shared that sentiment was Mario Tomaino of Portland, Ore., who made the return trip to the Hoxeyville grounds after visiting last year for Camp Greensky and in 2017 for the Hoxeyville Music Festival, which takes place annually in August.
CAMARADERIE AND COMMUNITY
Tomaino, who has traveled to see the band for 11-plus years, catching them approximately 120 times and in more than a dozen states along the way, said that it’s not just the music, but the camaraderie of the community that keeps him coming back and following the band.
His camp neighbors hailed from the far reaches of Texas, California, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Washington State and Nevada, as well as the band’s hometown.
“I think the whole thing is very unique because whether you have known each other for a year or five years or don’t even know each other, your degree of separation is one to two people, generally speaking, throughout the entire event and that includes with the band, which makes it really special,” he said.
“The band has done a great job of cultivating that and making that a priority over the years. There is no feeling of being an outcast or being new or anything like that because the vibe is just so family-oriented. … The energy this weekend was just incredible.”
While much of that energy had to do with the interactions between fellow festival-goers and the bands themselves, Tomaino pointed out, collaborations were a big part of what made the weekend special.
COLLABORATIONS AND HARMONY ABOUND
Similar to a year ago, the festival was highlighted by numerous sit-ins, including a monster night one appearance from Thursday’s opening act Billy Strings, who along with his banjo player Billy Failing, joined Greensky for a 37-minute jam of Greensky original “Don’t Lie” that segued into Strings’ “Meet Me at the Creek” and back into “Don’t Lie.”
On night two, the headliners welcomed Lil Smokies fiddle player Jake Simpson to the stage for a 13-minute version of “Run or Die” and then brought up Ghost Light’s Holly Bowling on keys for “Past My Prime,” “What You Need” and “King of the Hill” with “King of the Hill” featuring Ghost Light guitarist Tom Hamilton trading riffs with Beck as well.
Also joining Greensky on stage over the weekend was Strings’ mandolin player Jarrod Walker on a night one “Burn Them,” and on night three Michigan musical legend Seth Bernard on his original cut “Baby You’re Power.” Dave Bruzza’s side project sideman Lyle Brewer also appeared on electric guitar for Greensky’s “Wings for Wheels” and “Kerosene” and Lindsay Lou showed up on vocals for GSBG original “In Control” and an encore take on the Dirty Dancing smash hit “Time of My Life.”
The collaborations definitely didn’t start and stop with Greensky’s sets and no one was more places over the weekend than Lindsay Lou, who in addition to performing her own set and appearing at campsites in the wee hours, sat in with Bruzza during a pop-up happy hour honky-tonk set, performed with Greensky mandolinist Paul Hoffman during his memorable Saturday morning solo set, and also sang with her Sweet Water Warblers’ bandmate Rachael Davis and with Steppin’ In It front man Joshua Davis.
“I know all the music that these people do, and I love it so much,” she said after the festival. “It’s just so fun to get up there and kind of wing it and just sing the songs together … It’s like our purpose is to create this harmony that everybody can feel in their bones. I’m so grateful to get to do it and be a part of it.”
CULTIVATING SOMETHING SPECIAL WITH ‘A REALLY GOOD MIX’ OF ACTS
The Nashville-based songstress was also grateful to be able to see what her longtime friends have been able to cultivate over the past couple years.
“We’ve known these guys for a number of years now on this crazy journey that we are on, and it’s so sweet to see them sort of move on into this new era and this festival be a part of it.
“The way that they curated it, so you are hearing music from different cultures and you are seeing some of our elders, our mentors, the legends that are there, and some newer bands, I thought it was a really good mix.”
Among those legends Lindsay Lou was thrilled to see perform were Stephen Marley and Del & Dawg, the latter of whom welcomed all five members of their “closing act” Greensky Bluegrass for a cover of Doc Watson’s “New River Train” on day two.
One of the more heartwarming moments for Lindsay Lou on the weekend, as well as many other attendees, was when the Sweet Water Warblers’ vocalist sang a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time” with Hoffman for his infant daughter.
Similar to last year, Greensky closed out the festival with a “semi-secret” acoustic campfire set in the field of the old Hoxeyville stage.
This year’s late-night performance featured a new back-lit stage and was bookended with Greensky original “Take Cover” and packed with a number of Grateful Dead classics such as “Friend of the Devil,” “Mr. Charlie” and “China Cat Sunflower,” as well as a reprise of the weekend’s thematic “Two Tickets to Paradise.”
Just like year one, banjo player Michael Bont also showed off his alter-ego, DJ Bontzilla, for a late-announced night two silent disco throwdown that featured a number of old school ’80s hip-hop classics. (New this year was a glow in the dark disc golf course as well as an improved beer garden and kids’ area.)
With the band noting the event is now “officially an annual thing,” it will be interesting to see what they come up with for Round Three.
PHOTO GALLERY: Camp Greensky 2019
Photos by Anna Sink