The return of the beloved Wheatland Music Festival for the first time in three years electrified fans and bands alike. Revisit the action in words, photos and video.
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When the founders of Wheatland Music Organization decided to “test the waters” by staging a one-day music festival in Mecosta County way back in 1974, few could have imagined what rootsy, musical majesty would lie ahead.
From its modest beginnings (for which attendees paid $5 at the gate), Wheatland Music Festival has grown into an internationally renowned celebration of traditional music covering a wide range of styles and drawing thousands of devotees – many of them attending every year since the mid-1970s.
So, not surprisingly, the return of the cherished festival last weekend for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic was welcomed with open arms, abundant enthusiasm and passionate expressions by performers and festivalgoers alike.As Local Spins photographer Anna Sink put it amid the weekend revelry: “The veteran attendees are like the craziest people I’ve ever seen at Wheatland so far. They’ve waited three years and they’re partying hard, which warms my heart so much to see that.
“I missed Wheatland because of the antics of all ages at all hours. It is the epitome of community at a music festival.”
Until rain rolled in on Sunday, the weather was ideal and surprisingly summery for Wheatland, sparking plenty of late-night campfire jams with fans roaming the grounds to reconnect with friends and catch impromptu performances.
Highlights from weekend sets on several stages included a variety of crowd-pleasing memories, from Cajun twirlers hoofing it up at the Marty Wernette Dance Stage to avid listeners reveling in musical tales from Michigan singer-songwriters on the Schafer Song Stage.
“It was quite electric and the audience was certainly exuberant and appreciative to be back experiencing live music in the space designed for the shared tribal (moments),” Grand Rapids musician Ralston Bowles said of the songwriters’ showcases.
As usual, drum circles kept the late-night beats going and happy young musicians were scattered throughout the festival site busking for donations.
Other highlights from the weekend outside Remus:
• North Carolina’s Joe Troop Quartet impressively pumping up the bluegrass strains on the Main Stage in refreshing fashion on Friday night, sounding like much older, veteran players of the genre;
• San Francisco’s Joe Louis Walker, aka JLW, delivering three amazing sets of electric blues with his band over the weekend, not only on the Main Stage, but the Centennial Stage as well, punctuated by stellar guitar solos;
• Grammy-nominated Tennessee bluegrass powerhouse Blue Highway blowing the doors off things instrumentally on the Main Stage, with one observer describing it “like putting Greensky Bluegrass inside a time machine 30 years in the future”;
• Plenty of fan sing-alongs, from one inspired by a Sweet Water Warblers super-group workshop to Sunday’s apropos “Turkeys in the Rain” refrain led by singer-songwriter Seth Bernard.
Clearly, the festival’s return satiated performers, fans, organizers and even volunteers, including a 10-year veteran who called it especially satisfying to see the celebration unfold again “on the sacred grounds of Wheatland.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Wheatland Music Festival 2022
Photos by Anna Sink
Copyright 2022, Spins on Music LLC