Not surprisingly, performances by Michigan-bred bluegrass hero Billy Strings topped the roster of memorable moments at a northern Michigan festival that returned after a one-year hiatus. Photos, videos.
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Talk about pent-up musical energy.
After a silent summer brought on by the COVID pandemic, the 2021 edition of Hoxeyville Music Festival outside Wellston in the Manistee National Forest rolled out last weekend like a gleaming musical jewel, full of jams on stage and off — and with the sort of gleefulness reserved for about 3,000 music and festival lovers who’d been waiting a long time to reunite.
Of course, the Michigan-bred Billy Strings — a Grammy Award-winning guitarist whose next studio album, “Renewal,” gets released on Sept. 24 — was the much-anticipated headliner and hometown hero who not only fired up fans with his own band two nights in a row, but also guest-starred with other artists over the weekend.
From national touring artists such as Yonder Mountain String Band and Sam Bush Band to Michigan favorites such as Seth Bernard, Full Cord, Lindsay Lou and Biomassive, there were numerous standout sets to soak in.
Local Spins writer Enrique Olmos managed to winnow things down to his Top 5 Highlights, with an extensive photo gallery by Anna Sink. Revisit the hoopla in words, images and videos.
1. BILLY STRINGS – Billy Strings and his talented bluegrass band ranked among the most captivating events at Hoxeyville. The Ionia County native, aka William Apostol, gave a dazzling performance of originals, displaying his aptitude on the acoustic axe. Their exhilarating Saturday set included “Pyramid Country,” “Little Maggie” and “Lonesome Road.” Fans, blissed out on bluegrass, roared with enthusiasm at the conclusion of each number. And that was just the tip of the Billy Strings iceberg: He also picked up the electric guitar to join The Allman Betts Band for a riveting, sun-splashed rendition of “Midnight Rider” (scroll down for the video) and traded licks with Luke Winslow-King as part of the Airborne or Aquatic set for even more unforgettable jams. At least one fan called the weekend “the best Billy” ever, with some of his “most intense” solos on record.
2. MICHIGAN RATTLERS – Touring behind a new studio album, The Michigan Rattlers proved their north country roots with a boot-stomping set. The four-piece Petoskey band was rousing and energetic onstage. Instrumentation featured keys, an upright bass, and electric and acoustic guitars. Singer Graham Young was equal parts raspy and smooth, his voice booming over the festival grounds.
3. NIGHTTIME JAMS – Perhaps the most endearing festival moments came when strolling around the trails and campsites only to hear more music spilling out from tents and campers. Circles of festivalgoers gathered around acoustic guitars and banjos for sweet serenades late into the summer night.
4. THE SWEET WATER WARBLERS – Draped in vibrant floral dresses, The Sweet Water Warblers super-group performed under the midday sun for a hushed crowd. Lindsay Lou plucked an upright bass while May Erlewine strummed a lush acoustic guitar. Blended voices and angelic harmonies swirled in perfect unison from Lou, Erlewine and Rachael Davis.
5. THE GO ROUNDS – Kalamazoo’s The Go Rounds rounded out an epic festival lineup with a riveting live show. Swimming into the depths of psychedelia only to reign back into tight indie-rock, the band fronted by Graham Parsons had attendees swaying and flailing. A true rock ‘n’ roll moment arrived when guitarist Mike Savina held his guitar up to his face, singing into the strings to create vast soundscapes.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hoxeyville Music Festival 2021
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEO: The Allman Betts Band with Billy Strings, “Midnight Rider”
VIDEO: Billy Strings, “Clinch Mountain Back Step/Long Journey Home’’
VIDEO: The Sweet Water Warblers, “Sweetwater Sea”
VIDEO: Airborne or Aquatic, “Mooseman” (with Billy Strings and other special guests)
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