With new stages, enhancements and a robust lineup, the three-day ‘granddaddy’ festival on a cattle farm in southern Kent County this weekend shapes up as the best yet. (Preview, schedule, playlist.)
SCROLL DOWN FOR FESTIVAL SCHEDULE, FORECAST & A COWPIE 2018 PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
With a gruff but jolly voice, Farmer John Crissman answers the phone from his farm in Caledonia. It’s the beginning of August, and the last month of summer is showing off its sweltering heat and stiflingly humidity – but with the 16th Cowpie Music Festival swiftly approaching (the annual festival curated by Crissman and his family), he’s bearing the heat to finish last-minute preparations.
“I’m actually on a tractor,” Crissman half yells over the low rumble of an engine. “We’re throwing rocks from the fence rows so we can finish mowing everything. The kids have taken over 90 percent of the planning so I sorta just get the place ready and hang out with the grandkids and take all the credit. It’s pretty good.”
This weekend, Cowpie Music Festival takes place once again at Shagbark Farm from Aug. 9-12. The fest — with two main stages this year (Pasture Stage and Frontier Stage) — features a robust lineup of regional and local artists, including Keller Williams, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, The Steel Wheels, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, May Erlewine, Jake Kershaw, Desmond Jones and many more.
Weekend tickets are available at the gate for $100 (full festival) or $80 (Friday and Saturday) and includes camping. Single day tickets range from $25-$45 and kids are free. View more ticket information and details online here.
“We’ve been at it for a while and I am so proud of the fact that we are considered one of the granddaddy festivals now. We’ve stuck it out, we’ve had our lean years, we’ve had our tragedies and we just kept following through on everything,” Crissman said.
“I could not put this thing on if it weren’t for the help and support that I get from the residents of Caledonia, and friends and family. It’s really a down-home type thing and the sense of community could not be any stronger. It is awful neat to see it do what it’s doing.”
Returning to the festival for its second year is popular Grand Rapids band, Desmond Jones. The indie-jam band plays three sets at Cowpie, including an acoustic set at this year’s new portable stage. Other last-minute additions to the stage include Eric Pennock, The Eric Engblade Duo, Deerfield Run and a Fauxgrass Jamboree set.
POSITIVE VIBES, WELL-CURATED LINEUP, PHENOMENAL TREATMENT
“Last year was our first time playing at Cowpie and when we left we all collectively agreed it was one of the most positive festival experiences we had ever had as a band,” said drummer John Nowak, who will also provide a first-person overview of Cowpie over the weekend for Local Spins.
“The community, the leadership from Farmer John and Travis Compton, the positive environment, and the well-curated lineup that supports local and regional bands is as good as it gets. The performers and attendees are both treated phenomenally. Everything about Cowpie is why we want to come back again.”
Nowak will also lead one of the festival’s many workshops, “Music as Therapy,” which will delve into the healing applications of music. Other workshops include “All the Fiddle Things” with Michael Cleveland, “Blues Rock 101” with Jake Kershaw and “Motown Music for Everyone” with members of Fauxgrass, and a number of others. Cowpie also offers a plethora of activities for kids, including a scavenger hunt, arts and crafts and puppet shows.
“Cowpie is unique because it’s a local festival with the organizatiand and a lineup worth national attention. They do it right and have been doing it right for over 10 years,” Nowak said. “They found their community, their system and stick to what they do well: creating a weekend of positive intention through music, art and family. Many festivals try to do that, but Cowpie has succeeded time and time again. Once you go to Cowpie, you HAVE to go again.”
THE COWPIE WEEKEND WEATHER FORECAST
Thursday: Partly cloudy, highs in the mid-80s, 15 percent chance of rain
Friday: Partly cloudy, high of 84, 8 percent chance of rain
Saturday: Partly cloudy, high of 84, 9 percent chance of rain
Source: Weather Underground
New to the festival this year, a pre-festival battle of the bands called “Pathway to the Pasture,” was created by organizer Travis Compton as a way to promote the festival and drum up some friendly competition. Twelve bands competed at venues across the state in a panel-judged, tournament-style competition. In April, Grand Rapids indie-rock band, The Zannies, won the completion in the final round at The Intersection. With their debut Cowpie performance drawing closer, guitarist Peter Slack reflected on the April competition.
“It was very surreal; before this competition, we had never competed in a battle of the bands. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous going into the show,” Slack said. “I remember when they announced that we’d won, I just sort of stood there with my jaw on the floor, eyes wet. It took Josh running up, giving me a hug and picking me up to snap me out
of it. We’ve been wanting to play Cowpie since the band’s inception, so we were very stoked to join the lineup.”
The Zannies will perform at 2 p.m. Saturday on The Pasture Stage, and their set will include a song from their album that has never been performed live as well as a surprise cover.
“We’re super excited about the chance to share our music with people who may not have. We’ve been busy locally, but are trying to branch out more, so getting to play with regional and national acts is a huge privilege as well,” Slack said.
Other new additions to this year include improvements to the Frontier Stage, full electricity instead of generators, and water refill stations. Another highly anticipated event is a raffle ticket drawing to benefit the Barn for Equine Learning (which suffered a tragic fire in May).
The winner of the drawing will be chosen at 3 p.m. Saturday, and given the honor of shaving off Farmer John’s signature beard…with the help of his granddaughters.
“It hasn’t been shaved in six years. It does become quite iconic after a while … but for a cause like this it’s really worth it,” Crissman said.
Tune in to Local Spins on WYCE (88.1 FM) at 11 a.m. Friday when Cowpie performer Bigfoot Buffalo will be the special in-studio guest.
THE COWPIE 2018 PLAYLIST: A DOZEN FOR THE PASTURE
CHECK OUT PHOTOS, VIDEO, COVERAGE OF COWPIE 2017: Cowpie Music Fest 2017 Revisited: ‘Thrills and adventure’ on the ‘hookah lounge’ farm
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC