When all the votes were tallied at Saturday’s semifinal play-in competition, judges and fans at Arcadia Brewing settled on sending Kalamazoo’s Utopian Party on their collective way down the ‘Pathway to the Pasture.’
Kalamazoo’s newest band knows how to throw a party — and in their first official gig together, Utopian Party, a late add to Saturday’s Cowpie Music Festival “Pathway to the Pasture” play-in competition at Arcadia Brewing Company, made sure it wouldn’t be their last.
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The progressive psychedelic jam outfit founded by guitarist Brad Samul (The T-Lo Effect) and UV Hippo alumnus Travis Compton on guitar and vocals won over audience members and a trio of judges on the banks of The Kalamazoo River at the third of four semifinal contests being hosted by Cowpie this spring.
The band, also featuring Geoff Stockton on bass and guitar and Trifocal drummer Adam Hastings on the kit, joins Muskegon’s Flexadecibel and Grand Rapids’ Dalmatian Stone as acts that have punched their tickets to the play-in finale June 7 at The Park Theatre in Holland. Three more bands (Chirp, Ma Baker and Liquid Thickness) will vie for the final slot May 24 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti. One band will then find themselves on the bill for the annual festival.
Slated for Aug. 8-10 at Shagbark Farm in Caledonia, this year’s Cowpie is being headlined by Cracker and Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, will feature multiple sets from Desmond Jones and Mungion, appearances from dozens of other bands and Mark Lavengood as artist at large.
IT’S ALL BRAND NEW
The members of Utopian Party had no idea they would even be playing in Saturday’s competition — which also featured sets from Grand Rapids’ Drew Phoria and Bay City’s Barbarossa Brothers — until a broken arm by the keyboard player from Static Apparatus opened up a slot in the middle of last week.
Compton, who has been involved with Cowpie for years, has been writing music and practicing regularly together with Samul for some time now but the duo had not pieced together a full lineup until the festival found itself in search of a last-second fill-in for Saturday’s showcase.
Without so much as a practice featuring all four members — although each had jammed with one another in some form of another previously — they took the stage together for the first time Saturday, turning in improvisational, spacey jams with a bit of a 90s jam band feel.
The band is so new that Cowpie Festival founder and evening MC Farmer John Crissman had trouble even remembering their name, calling them “Utopian Therapy” repeatedly over the course of the night. Although, by the end of the night it appeared to be more in jest than anything.
“I wasn’t really expecting to have this opportunity, so it’s a nice kind of kick in the ass to keep working hard and hopefully get a lot better,” Samul said afterward, before laughingly stating, “It’ll be cool to maybe get a full-band rehearsal in before the next show.
“Personally, I’m really happy we did this. You can sit there forever practicing songs but it’s completely different when you get on stage and I had forgotten what that feels like to a certain extent. It’s good to get up there and make a few mistakes, but overall have fun, and people seemed to enjoy it, so it kind of lights a fire to keep working hard try to make something happen.”
Official judges for Saturday’s play-in contest were Abe Savas, owner at Green Light Music, musical veteran Ed McConnon (Diesel Therapy, McConnon Brothers Band) and Ryan Boldrey of Local Spins. The three judges awarded up to five points in each of three categories focused on stage presence, musicianship and originality. Fans were also allowed to vote for one band each, with each vote counting for one point.
According to Crissman, the final vote separated the first- and third-place bands by only 3.5 points.
Following the play-in contest, Kalamazoo experimental quintet Quantum Fleek kept the party going with a jammy late-night set filled with jazz, funk and rock stylings.
PHOTO GALLERY: Pathway To The Pasture 2019
Photos by Derek Ketchum