This year’s three-day edition of Cowpie on a Kent County farm wrapped up Saturday with more jam-heavy, genre-bending magic courtesy of moo-ving regional stars. See a photo-laden recap of the weekend.
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This year’s Cowpie Music Festival transformed southern Kent County’s Shagbark Farm into “a hookah lounge” with uplifting, jam band-heavy hoopla … or, at least, that’s the way owner and festival honcho “Farmer” John Crissman saw it.
Festival-goer Ronald Vance of Grand Rapids called it “a friendly, loving environment.”
It was all that and more with performances by 20 regional acts — including multiple sets by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, Hyryder and Grasshoppah — in what may have been the best and most inspiring Cowpie fest in its 15-year run.
Here are some “seen and heard” highlights from this robust musical soiree:
• Grand Rapids’ White Rabbit kicked off the festival to a hill of spectators who brought blankets and chairs from their cars after passing through the check-in point at the entrance of Shagbark Farm. Inconspicuous from the road — save for the massive, inflatable pumpkin and rubber duck greeting festival-goers — the show within the gates saw White Rabbit bringing the event to life and finishing its set off with an over-driven and energetic cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” “I’m used to these guys White Rabbit raising the temperature in the Tip Top Deluxe by about 15 degrees,” remarked Crissman, “and I think they did a pretty good job of global warming out here!”
• During UV Hippo’s first set, a young boy climbed up behind the band to dance like a furious conductor as he tried to keep up with the fast tempos and rapidly changing time signatures throughout funk-jazz-fusion jams. As the energy in the hill amplified, more and more spectators rose up to join the boy, dancing with him in front of the stage.
MORE DAY 1 COVERAGE BY LOCAL SPINS: Cowpie Music Festival launches with UV Hippo’s jam-band glory, upbeat vibe
• Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish brought the festival back to its roots with their aggressive blues-rock anthems. As Jesse pounded out fast and crunchy riffs from his ’65 Epiphone Granada guitar, Dingo the drummer pounded away on his drums washing the hill over with his ride cymbal. On their final song, Jesse was still bursting with enthusiasm, climbing onto Dingo’s bass drum (as per usual) and jumping off in true rock star fashion while drawing hollers from the crowd they attracted to the side stage.
• During a set by Olivia Mainville & the Aquatic Troupe, bassist Brandon Scheiber took over the spotlight to perform the song “Off the Tracks,” from his band Jack and The Bear. A melancholy song about grief, the number featured Schreiber wallowing and flailing around the stage with a theatrical and emotional prowess, even teetering off balance on the edge of the stage to draw suspense for the song’s big finish. Afterward, Olivia led the band through her gypsy-folk songs, seducing the hill of fans with her soft falsetto melodies.
• Aquatic Troupe trombonist Bleu Quick from Petoskey described his first experience with Cowpie: “Cowpie has a similar feel to Farm Block in the U.P. If you’re looking for the Michigan music festival experience, you will definitely find it here.”
• Josh Wilson, keyboardist for The Turnips, described his evening as “perfect.” The Turnips served up tasty root-based funk as the sun set Friday evening. The crowd grew larger and more energetic as the Big Rapids band moved from one melodic riff to the next (with Joe Hettinga of Strange Arrangement sitting in on a few tunes). For a musician, watching The Turnips is a master class in ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ “The feeling of this place is electric and it’s only getting better,” remarked drummer Joe Phillion, who in addition to The Turnips, performed Thursday and Saturday sets with UV Hippo.
• “Cowpie is going to be turned into a hookah lounge for the first time tonight,” declared Crissman as he introduced Columbus, Ohio’s Ekoostik Hookah, which closed out Friday’s main stage festivities with long, rock-fueled jams and a fog and light show in full effect.
• Earlier in the evening, Hannah Rose & The GravesTones uncorked what can only be described as an eclectic, stirring and masterful set with an exuberant assist from harmonica whiz Craig “Griff” Griffith.
• “It’s a place where you can let loose and feel comfortable with who you are,” said festivalgoer Ronald Vance of Grand Rapids, who attended with both friends and family. “This is a friendly, loving environment.” That loving vibe was aptly confirmed by the celebratory “Cowpie!” screeches frequently exchanged between fans.
• For late-night merrymakers, Hyryder carried the party from Friday night into Saturday morning with a jam-heavy tribute to the Grateful Dead on Cowpie’s second stage.
• Under stunning blue skies, Saturday’s entertainers wasted little time warming up fans who straggled into the natural amphitheater early to hear sets by students from the Academy of Music, bluesman Jimmie Stagger (who’s played every Cowpie the past 15 years), hip hop’s Chey Halliwill and Trax-a-Trillion (aka, the nephew of Crissman, who shed a tear during an emotional intro to the act’s set), and roots rock jam band Bigfoot Buffalo. And Kalamazoo blues band Out of Favor Boys and Grand Rapids jam band Desmond Jones who followed got many folks at the bottom of the hill up and dancing.
• “There’s a sense of thrill and adventure here,” said first-time Cowpie attendee Xavier Manning, of Grand Rapids. “It’s a chance to get away.”
• Hyryder revved up Saturday evening with more music to evoke “the spirit of the Dead” with Grateful Dead classics, including a 15-minute long “Shakedown Street.” In the band’s third set of the weekend, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus closed out the main stage, weaving together intricate jams with total ease. The band performed a set full of musical peaks and valleys, and perhaps the highest peak was reached during a lap steel solo by guitarist Andy Kirby.
• For many, the celebration continued deep into the night with The Bootstrap Boys for the final set of the weekend on Cowpie’s late-night stage at one end of the campground. The crowd went wild for flawless solos by Tom Stolaski, a pedal steel virtuoso who the band invited onstage only moments after meeting. Singer Big Jake Bootstrap, aka Jake Stilson, called the whole affair “a great party.” Playing country and blues classics to a truly engaged and rowdy crowd in a wide open pasture, The Bootstrap Boys seemed to embody the very essence of Cowpie.
Devin Anderson, Schyler Perkins and John Sinkevics contributed to this Cowpie recap.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cowpie Music Festival 2017
Photos by Anna Sink, Devin Anderson, Schyler Perkins and John Sinkevics
VIDEO: UV Hippo with Faree Haque at Cowpie
VIDEO: Out of Favor Boys at Cowpie
VIDEO: Desmond Jones at Cowpie
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC