The summer-ending festival outside Lake City last weekend drew more than 2,500 people for innovative sets (from The Crane Wives to John Sinclair), upbeat fellowship and more.
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It sounds like a strange dream – watching Michigan’s finest folk stars perform among the likes of blues legends, jam bands and hip hop artists in a barn under a sparkling disco ball – but it happened: The 17th Earthwork Harvest Gathering brought hundreds of musicians and thousands of fans together as one big family for one last summer outing.
For Irene Collins of Big Rapids, attending the festival is a family tradition.
“I’ve been coming here longer than I’ve ever lived in one place, so every year it feels like coming home,” Collins said.
“Home” was the word used again and again about the festival. Many artists shared that sentiment throughout the weekend, including Graham Parsons of The Go Rounds, who said Friday he felt “fortunate” to be attending his 13th consecutive Harvest Gathering.
The festival began as a small party of musicians and their friends – organized by Seth Bernard on his family’s farm outside of Lake City – and has grown to become one of Northern Michigan’s most popular festivals. With 125 artists spread across four stages, panel discussions, open mics, workshops, dozens of vendors and a huge selection of locally grown food, the working 181-acre farm transformed into a thriving, family-friendly community.
Of course, Bernard’s Earthwork Collective came out in full force, rounding out the massive lineup artists including Joshua Davis, May Erlewine, The Appleseed Collective and many more.
COLLABORATION CENTRAL AMID NOVEL WEEKEND SETS
The tight-knit crew bounced from stage to stage collaborating all weekend. Performances without featured guests or players sitting in were few and far between. Bernard himself seemed to be on stage all weekend with one artist or another, even during “Waltz Hour” among upwards of 20 musicians and dozens of dancing couples.
“It’s just the vibe of the festival,” said Big Dudee Roo singer/bassist Max Lockwood, who performed nine times over the weekend.
And that vibe wasn’t just musical. The emphasis placed on environmentalism, acceptance and community by Bernard and the large group of volunteers working the festival cultivated a festival atmosphere unlike any other.
Here are some highlights seen and heard at Earthwork Farm:
• The Go Rounds kept a large, enthusiastic crowd roaring at the Cedar Stage Friday night. The band showed off plenty of new material – including songs much darker and more synth-driven than fans have become accustomed to. If the reaction by Harvest-goers is any indication, The Go Rounds’ recent experimentation will be appreciated.
• Beautiful soundscapes filled the Barn Stage Saturday, courtesy of Kalamazoo’s Gifts or Creatures. Backed by Dan Rickabus and Max Lockwood, the exquisitely harmonized indie-folk of husband/wife duo Brandon and Bethany Foote made for a relaxing, mid-afternoon daydream.
• The Market Stage got jam-heavy Saturday evening with the part-UV Hippo, part-Turnips outfit, Trippo. With Digital Tape Machine’s Joe Hettinga on keys, the band rocked from Saturday into Sunday with danceable, meandering prog-rock.
• The Crane Wives played to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend at the Cedar Stage Saturday night. The energetic performance was accompanied by a sign language interpreter, a choice by the Grand Rapids band to make their work “as accessible as possible.”
• In a who’s who of Michigan music history, Detroit guitar legend Billy Davis and Grammy-winning blues-harp player Peter “Madcat” Ruth joined poet John Sinclair in performing a mostly-improvised “talking blues” history lesson. Sinclair, whose activism inspired a song by John Lennon, had an unrelenting charisma, delighting the audience and band alike.
• Spontaneous jam sessions and singalongs popped up at fire pits and campsites all weekend long. Walking about Earthwork Farm, one wouldn’t think twice about hearing a banjo or cigar-box guitar somewhere off in the woods.
BONUS COVERAGE: Check out a separate recap, photos and video from Day 1: Earthwork Harvest Gathering off to ‘amazing’ sun-splashed start outside Lake City
PHOTO GALLERY: Earthwork Harvest Gathering 2017
Photos by Anna Sink
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC