Today, Local Spins digs into the artists and music that most influenced “Farmer” John Crissman, founder of southern Kent County’s Cowpie Music Fest, which returns this weekend. Listen to his picks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This summer, Local Spins’ ‘Albums that Changed the World’ series has occasionally featured music festival organizers and others along with musicians who trace their inspiration to key recordings that shaped their careers. Today, “Farmer” John Crissman, founder of Cowpie Music Festival, basks in the spotlight by revealing the albums that rocked his world — just as Cowpie gets set to unleash its final soiree on Thursday.
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Cowpie Music Festival, the Caledonia area’s first and only music festival, rolls out for the final time Thursday through Saturday this weekend. Not to worry though – the festival is simply rebranding as it passes to a new generation.
“The kids want to call it the Shagbark Music and Arts Festival,” said fest founder “Farmer” John Crissman of his daughter, Rose, and son-in-law, Travis Compton, who officially take over the festival after this year. “I approved.”
Started initially as a fundraiser for the West Michigan Blues Society, the festival eventually morphed into a non-profit with the goal of helping provide music education for students while promoting roots music. It’s since broadened to include most genres.
“The world is a bunch of different people, and diversity is the key to anything. The message is we all need to get along,” said Crissman.
This year’s festival features headliners MonoNeon, Dopapod and Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers, along with some 40 other artists. (Get more details and ticket info here.)
Like the past fests, it will take place on Crissman’s Shagbark Farm outside Caledonia.
“The farm has been in the family since 1952,” said Crissman, adding he hopes that will be the case indefinitely. He said while he’s handing over the reins to the festival, he’ll continue to be involved. He’s just looking to be able to spend more time with his family, including his grandkids.
1. J. Geils Band, “’Live’ Full House” (1972) – Probably the first album that really got me. It was recorded live. They definitely put the party in party band. I think I saw the band at least a dozen times over the years. I never left disappointed. It was one of the first shows I ever saw, at the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids. My first was when my dad took me and my brother to see Buddy Rich at Aquinas College. I remember being in awe of famous musicians.
Listen: “Whammer Jammer”
2. John Prine, “John Prine” (1971) – As I got older and mellowed out a little bit, John Prine became my go-to. Talk about a storyteller. He’s extremely influential to me and my family to this day. He’s one of the first people I hope to meet in the afterlife. I met him backstage after several shows. My brother was his biggest fan. When he was in the hospital trying to die from aplastic anemia, John Prine called and talked to him for over an hour. That did wonders for my brother and the family. The first 20 minutes he thought his friends were pranking him. That album shows (Prine’s) awareness of humanity. You’ve got to do your part. It’s amazing someone’s got so much insight and makes it look so easy.
Listen: “Illegal Smile”
3. Frank Zappa, “Joe’s Garage” (1979) – Another influential one and somebody who really makes you think is Frank Zappa. “Joe’s Garage” (a three-act recording originally released on two LPs) was always a favorite. It seemed to be the most rebellious thing you could listen to. “Catholic Girls,” that song stuck in my mind. There was always something kind of cool about listening to stuff your parents didn’t want you to.
Listen: “Joe’s Garage”
Currently Loving: Billy Strings – More often than not (what I’m listening to) is Billy Strings. I first saw him at 14. I’ve seen him many times since. To watch that rocket ship take off and him get his life together – it’s just so neat. A local boy (who’s) done so good. “Dust in a Baggie,” that says a lot right there. The one CD I own is the one with Don Julin. Mostly I just tell Alexa to play him.
Listen: “Dust in a Baggie”
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Farmer John’s Playlist on Spotify
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