The northern Michigan dance band is back playing stages this year, shining in the spotlight for Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted new tracks by several other regional artists.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Winter Wheat festival scheduled for The Intersection in Grand Rapids on Jan. 13 has been postponed due to a winter storm. Efforts are being made to reschedule the festival that was set to feature K. Jones & The Benzie Playboys. Scroll down for radio show podcast.
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Suffice to say, K. Jones & The Benzie Playboys are true survivors.
After all, the northern Michigan band that’s energized audiences and dancers with its titillating-yet-authentic Great Lakes State twist on zydeco and Cajun music for 24 years has overcome obstacles that would have felled many a lesser outfit.
Not only did the COVID pandemic completely capsized the group’s ambitious 2020 plans for recording a much-anticipated new studio album in New Orleans, but co-founding band member Mark Stoltz then nearly died three times on a hospital respirator while battling congestive heart failure.
But nothing, apparently, can stop The Benzie Playboys from having their fun.
Until a winter storm forced the festival’s postponement, the popular dance-igniting band from Benzie County was set to fire up Wheatland Music Organization’s Winter Wheat at The Intersection in Grand Rapids on Jan. 13, joining 11 other Michigan bands for the annual fund-raising affair.
Stoltz was planning to be there right out front, vigorously playing his washboard – or scrubboard – while his heart kept pace thanks to an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device implanted in his chest that helps pump blood to his body.
“I’m running on a motor, actually,” Stoltz told Local Spins matter-of-factly. “I am run on batteries; really wild.”
He was also set to have a team of physicians and health care workers cheering him on in the audience at Winter Wheat, celebrating his recovery after six months in the hospital while folks crowd the dance floor to twirl and Cajun two-step to the band’s upbeat songs.
“In Louisiana, everybody’s dancing, man, so we feed off that,” said Stoltz, who grew up in Royal Oak, Mich., but moved to Louisiana when he was 14 and later attended college in New Orleans, immersed in the wonders of Cajun, Creole and zydeco music.
“It’s really cool to watch (the dancers) and we play better and we get into it and it’s just a good party.”
With Stoltz on scrubboard and triangle, Kirk Jones on vocals, accordion and fiddle, Jonah Powell on fiddle and guitar, Doug Albright on bass, Scott Scholten on drums and Sean Dye on rhythm guitar, the Benzie Playboys certainly know how to enliven a party, performing over the years from the northern reaches of Michigan to the East Coast to New Orleans.
Stoltz, 73, who spends winters in Louisiana, started as a Cajun/zydeco dancer before jumping in to add percussion when the Benzie Playboys got their start.
And after a long hiatus from performing that began with the onset of the COVID pandemic — and after the drummer had to have surgery after falling down some stairs — the Benzie Playboys are eager to get back in front of audiences, from playing The Intersection to hitting stages in New Orleans for Mardi Gras to performing at summer festivals in northern Michigan.
It remains uncertain whether they’ll ever record that once-hoped-for new studio album – the follow-up to 2015’s highly acclaimed “Morning Train” – but the band can’t wait to rev up their fans again at Winter Wheat.
“This year, we will have to bring our ‘A’ game and we hope to fill the dance floor and have a good time,” Stoltz insisted. “The goal for our band is like any other Cajun zydeco band: to play to the dancers.”
In addition to featuring music by K. Jones & The Benzie Playboys, the Jan. 5 episode of Local Spins on WYCE – which spotlights Michigan music at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – also featured tracks by Painted Friends, Overdrive Orchestra, Sammie Hershock, Randy Napoleon, Hannah Rose Graves, Short Panic, Space Bar, LVRS, Ben Traverse & Nick Veine and Steppin’ In It. Listen to the radio show here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (1/5/24)
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