Hosted by Greensky Bluegrass, which played all three days with all-star sit-ins by Billy Strings, Mike Gordon and others, the inaugural northern Michigan festival hit all the right notes. Check out the photos and video.
After a 13-year-run, the Bell’s Brewery Beer Garden Opener is officially a thing of the past for Greensky Bluegrass.
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While Phillip Phillips, JJ Grey and Mofro and a slew of local acts took to the Kalamazoo brewery’s beer garden over its traditional opening weekend (browse Local Spins photo galleries here), Greensky — with Bell’s as an official beer sponsor — headed to the familiar north woods of Manistee National Forest, more than doubling the capacity crowd it had been able to fit in the garden.
As campers flooded in from all over the United States, the inaugural Camp Greensky Music Festival gave a new look to the site of the annual Hoxeyville Festival grounds in Wellston, providing the flavor of a big-time festival and a setup and pace perfect for those that didn’t want to miss a beat of music, all while maintaining that intimate atmosphere that the Bell’s Beer Garden has provided throughout the years.
The Hoxeyville main stage, aka the Timber Stage, served as a spot for campers to do morning yoga and enjoy late morning/early afternoon sets from Greensky’s Paul Hoffman and Dave Bruzza, as well as Cris Jacobs, May Erlewine, Joshua Davis and The Go Rounds, while a brand new main stage sat in a freshly cleared, tree-lined area, flanked by a variety of food trucks, artisans and a beer tent.
The massive, state-of-the art, mobile stage adorned in expansive light rigs gave Greensky’s lighting designer Andrew Lincoln the platform to put on an absolute spectacle for fans who were treated to three headlining, two-set shows over the weekend, full of collaborations, brand new covers and debuts of two new songs — Hoffman’s “Courage for the Road” and Bruzza’s “Like Reflections” — by the festival’s hosts.
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
It all felt like the first time, and it was.
After a festival-opening set by Michigan’s other hottest bluegrass act, Billy Strings, Greensky kicked off its first of seven total sets of music (this included a semi-secret, late-night, campfire set on Day 3) with a never-before-done take on Foreigner’s “Feels like the First Time,” a thematically fitting tune that was threaded in and out of jams throughout the weekend.
The band then launched into “Tied Down,” an ode to their home state that served as a reminder that while four-fifths of the band may no longer live here, “there ain’t no home like this one.” The song sent the crowd into an energetic frenzy that didn’t cease all night as they delved next into a 16-plus-minute “All Four” and later in the first set invited up Strings and two of his bandmates, Billy Failing and Jarrod Walker, for the first of many collaborations that took place over the weekend.
Other sit-ins during Greensky’s sets included closeing-night collaborations with Phish bassist Mike Gordon teaming up with the boys for takes on The Band’s “Endless Highway” and Greensky staple “Don’t Lie,” keyboardist Marco Benevento guesting on GSBG’s “I’d Probably Kill You” and “Worried about the Weather” and Cris Jacobs and his drummer Dusty Ray Simmons sitting in for renditions of Greensky’s “No Idea” and Jacobs’ “Bone Digger.”
Members of Fruition also made an appearance with Greensky on Day 2, as guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson lent his talents to GSBG’s “Burn Them” before being joined by bandmates Mimi Naja and Kellen Asebroek for a harmonious and dark version of Fruition’s “Death Comes Knockin.’”
In addition to the aforementioned artists’ own sets, festival-goers were treated to main-stage performances from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Minnesota bluegrass favorites Trampled By Turtles, The Wood Brothers, Rayland Baxter and Michigan’s own The War & Treaty, an Albion-based group which definitely left with quite a few more fans than they had before the festival.
Fans also had the chance to catch a late-night silent disco set on Friday directed by Greensky banjo shredder Michael Bont, who spun mostly ’90s hip hop and up-tempo pop under the moniker of DJ Bontzilla.
A TRUE FAMILY ATMOSPHERE
Family played a big part in the weekend.
In addition to the camper family’s growing fan base which serves as an ever-evolving second family to many — ala the spirit of The Grateful Dead or Phish — the band and festival organizers offered up a slew of activities geared for kids, who traveled in with parents from all over Michigan as well as the farther reaches of Arizona, California, Pennsylvania and beyond.
From creative classes focused on painting and jewelry-making to nature walks, puppets, kids yoga, bubbles and more, there was something for all ages, and Saturday’s activities even included a kids’ concert with May Erlewine.
Based on reactions from numerous attendees who are already planning their returns, along with many others who followed along on social media and are stating that they hope to make year two their first pilgrimage, Camp Greensky is likely to only grow and evolve in a way similar to the Bell’s Beer Garden Opener did, but on a much grander scale.
As one tradition goes by the wayside, another is just beginning.
PHOTO GALLERY: Camp Greensky 2018
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEO: Camp Greensky Highlights
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