A little rain and some delays didn’t faze fans or Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, The Turnips, Mark Lavengood and more who turned Shagbark Farm into a rootsy, fun festival destination. Photos.
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It was a beautiful juxtaposition: Steady raindrops rolled off the overhanging aluminum roof covering the stage, while below, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers jammed the night away.
After a late afternoon downpour, showers held off for most of the evening until a warm summer rain finally poured onto the pasture of Shagbark Farm at the Cowpie Music Festival right before the last set.
Attendees and performers alike were unfazed.
“I’m loving the fact that it’s raining. I know a lot of people don’t like that, but I got my Speedo on and I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” resonator guitarist Mark Lavengood quipped backstage. “I’m just embracing the elements. You can’t fight ’em.”
Despite the afternoon rain, Cowpie 2016 in southern Kent County began on schedule with veteran bluesmen Jimmie Stagger and Lazy Lester. The duo, backed by a full band, opened the festival with a bevy of originals and well-known covers that had the growing audience’s foot-tapping, head-nodding approval.
Bouncing over to the smaller adjacent stage, Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish unleashed an intensely energetic set of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. With wild eyes and jiving feet, Jesse Ray screamed into his retro microphone as drummer, Brando, pounded away on the drums as a small group of festival-goers gathered in front of the stage to twist along to the vintage sounds.
OVERCOMING SOME POWER GLITCHES TO DELIVER A ROUSING SET
The set was one of the highlights of opening day, a performance bursting with energy from beginning to end. Raunchy guitar riffs and pounding drum beats kept the crowd’s vitality high.
With their distinctive world music flair, Kalamazoo’s The Red Sea Pedestrians kept the Cowpie party going as more festivalgoers arrived on the slopes in front of the adjoining stages.
As the evening went on, power issues plagued the small stage, forcing sets to be swapped between The Turnips and the Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza, which serenaded the audience with a traditional-sounding bluegrass instrumental before launching into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” with guest musician, Aaron Stinson (of Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers) on saxophone.
“It’s going great. The campground is holding up beautifully, the roads are doing great. All in all, we’re making it work. It blows them (previous years) out of the water,” said organizer Farmer John Crissman, who could be seen running from one end of the festival to the other, fielding calls on his phone and walkie-talkie, and conversing with bands and festival attendees to ensure that sound issues were being addressed and all was running smoothly on opening day.
PHOTO GALLERY: COWPIE 2016 DAY 1
Photos by Anna Sink
In addition, Cowpie this year features a beer tent near the stage for the first time. That requires that the area in front of the stage be fenced off as a “bar,” which initially caused a little confusion among the 1,000-plus attendees though Cowpie-goers eventually settled in.
“There’s always this thing: I always look stressed, and I don’t eat as well as I should and I’m gonna crash like crazy tonight,” said Crissman, “but tomorrow I get to crack a Heineken out there with everybody else.”
Festivalgoer Tybearious Myers of Hastings put it this way: “The music is good, but I came back for the atmosphere. The location and the people are great.”
“I love it all,” said Lavengood. “The hills, the curves in the land, the farm; this place is magical. The lineup’s great too. A lot of cool people are here.”
The Turnips, who initially were slated to play two short sets, had their first set postponed due to power and technical glitches. The funky roots-rock jam band — with special guest Joe Hettinga of Strange Arrangement — ended up playing a longer set later in the evening on the second stage, much to the delight of fans in what turned out to be one of the highlights of opening day. (Indeed, after the rollicking set full of funky james and dance-worthy tunes, Crissman quickly arranged to have the Big Rapids band come back for Cowpie 2017.)
CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE AND REVELING IN THE RAIN
“It’s another Michigan music festival. They all have their own distinct vibe,” Hertler said backstage. “I think the community in general makes them special; it’s not only about the music – people want to connect with other people.”
In true irony, it was only moments before Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers took the stage, that the rains came. If anything, however, it may have enhanced the experience: Fans reveled in the rain, dancing carelessly in the puddles in front of the stage, all glistening with rain and sweat, smiles wide on their faces.
The soulful ensemble rocked exuberantly through a set that included the passionate track, “What it Feels Like to Drown,” the comedic and danceable “No Money” (which saw the audience singing along on every chorus), and the grooving “Captain America,” an infectious, funk-inspired jam that entailed a grand psychedelic breakdown where Hertler dropped to his knees and electric guitarist Ryan Hoger fledged a magnificent solo.
“Michigan is very blessed to have these community-oriented festivals,” Hertler said over the microphone. He lifted a guitar over his shoulder and the band delved into another number as Cowpie gave the weather a non-chalant shrug of its shoulders.
Saturday-only tickets are available at the gate for $65. Today’s music starts at 11:30 a.m. with Kathleen & The Bridge Street Band. Also performing today will be Lukewarm & The Not So Hots, Tony LaJoye, The Autumnatic, The Corn Fed Girls, Hannah Rose & The GravesTones, Fauxgrass, Strange Arrangement and more. A series of workshops, from song arranging to drumming to brewery basics, begin at noon.
For a full Saturday schedule you can save on your smartphone, check out this Local Spins Cowpie preview.
VIDEO No. 1: Cowpie Music Festival, Day 1
Video by John Sinkevics
VIDEO No. 2: Cowpie Music Festival, Day 1
Video by John Vukin
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC