The 44th annual celebration of folk and roots music outside Remus last weekend was another camaraderie-filled, upbeat festival for the ages. Soak up the Local Spins recap and photo gallery.
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Denim overalls hang over his broad shoulders and a wispy beard makes way for his brimming smile as he recalls the band’s first Wheatland performance Friday night on the Centennial Stage.
“People are asking me ‘how does it compare’ and I just don’t have anything to compare it to. I’ve never played anything like it. I just know it was the biggest, baddest crowd I ever played for,” Stilson says, his eyes gleaming. “I would love to pick out a singular moment, and maybe later I’ll be able to, but honestly that hour was just this electric feeling. I couldn’t even process it. … I still don’t know if I’ve processed it.”
Two days after their Wheatland set, Stilson (aka, Big Jake Bootstrap) and his bandmates (Nicky Bootstrap, Clyde Bootstrap and Jeff Bootstrap) are still beaming with the kind of uncontrollable joy that comes only from life’s most magical moments.
“I think we played for the best crowd we’ve ever played for. The crowd was reciprocal with giving back the energy. I’ve never heard people yelling whoop at us like that before,” he says with a chuckle. “We were just having such a good time.”
At this year’s 44th annual Wheatland Music Festival, cool autumn temperatures were met with warm-hearted and spirited performances by Luke Winslow King, Session Americana, Ruthie Foster, Don Julin, Olivia Mainville, Diff & Dudley, The Bootstrap Boys and countless others. Once again, the sprawling festival outside Remus included an abundance of activities, vendors and food for its diverse crowd of thousands.
“It caters to everyone,” says attendee Maryanne VonIns. “There’s people that are sober, there’s people that are partying, there’s families, there’s elderly — anybody can come and all are welcome. They always strive to accommodate everybody.”
First time attendee Beth Edmonds adds: “There’s such a peace in the people. So many smiles, people look you in the eye. There’s a lot of love.”
On Saturday afternoon, Luke Winslow King’s Michigan-bred-and-New Orleans-honed tonality collided with Boston’s harmoniously captivating Session Americana in an endearing performance at Centennial Stage.
Although feedback difficulties plagued sound-check and resulted in a late start time, the musical entourage rolled through a set of classic covers and improvisational interludes. A soulful rendition of “We Shall Not be Moved” with wailing harmonica and Winslow King’s smooth slide guitar melodies proved a memorable moment.
COMING BACK HOME TO AN ‘INCREDIBLE’ RECEPTION AT WHEATLAND
Not long after at Centennial Stage, the Michigan Songwriters showcase transformed the mood of the tented stage, giving it the equivalent ambience of an intimate listening room. Four featured songwriters (Olivia Mainville, Billy King, Michelle Held and Ed Dupas) took turns sharing their carefully-crafted songs and the stories behind them. Mainville specifically shared a number of brand new songs, including the soon-to-be released “Danger Death Ray” and another unnamed, but hauntingly beautiful song.
As the sun fell below the tips of autumn-bound trees, a sense of wonder and elation permeated the air.
On Main Stage, Ruthie Foster, a revered singer-songwriter from Texas, unleashed a passionate performance. Her powerful, dynamic voice rang through the air as she played a married set ranging from the styles of Americana, blues and folk.
The Boston collective, Session Americana then took to the stage for a fusion of traditional roots and modern folk music, singing nostalgia-inspiring songs and sharing treasured stories.
Moments before one of the weekend’s most-anticipated sets, festival-goers crowded into the cavernous white tent at Centennial Stage. When Luke Winslow King and his band appeared, dressed uniformly in all black, the sea of fans (overflowing well past the perimeter of the tent) erupted in applause.
“To come back and play and have a rocking set just felt great,” Winslow King says later. He recently moved from New Orleans back to his native Cadillac. “I’ve been able to travel all over the United States and in Europe, playing festivals and stages like this. It’s cool to come back home and feel that similar feeling, to have an audience that’s engaged, that’s excited.
“For years I was traveling around and having much bigger audiences elsewhere. To be able to come home and be received here like I am abroad is incredible. It feels like it’s come around full circle.”
With all the necessary components for an unadulterated rock show (rambunctious crowd, flamboyant performers, remarkable musicianship) Luke Winslow King’s Saturday night set was nothing short of a spectacle. With thrashing drums, grooving bass, screaming guitar, and wild keyboards, the unparalleled troupe of musicians carried on with Southern rock fury long into the night.
FOCUSED ON ARTS AND CULTURE, DRAWING DIVERSE FANS ‘FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE’
“I think Wheatland is more focused on the arts and culture than other festivals,” he says.
“I think other festivals are maybe more focused on the scene or partying, which is cool, but Wheatland is really focused on traditional roots and culture which I think is really important … and it’s impressive to see how that focus draws people from all walks of life around Michigan. It’s so diverse.”
As evening blurred into morning and scheduled performances drifted into spontaneous (and endless) drum circles, Wheatlanders cozied into their tents, hammocks and 1980s Rockwood RVs.
Back at The Bootstrap Boys’ camp on Sunday morning, Stilson disappears into the dusty camper for a moment and returns a with steaming percolator of coffee. He gently pours a cup and then looks around the expansive tree-lined field, filled with rows of other campsites and strolling festival-goers.
“We wanna be back here again. I didn’t meet anybody in a bad mood. Everyone is cool and says ‘Happy Wheatland’ when you pass by, everybody seemed like they were having a good time — and the porta-jons sure are kept clean,” Stilson pointed out, prompting an eruption of laughter and agreement from everyone around the campsite.
As is Wheatland’s final-day tradition, Sunday morning at Main Stage featured Gospel Hour, a heartfelt set of hymns and spirituals – a favorite of many regular attendees (and a longstanding tradition for musicians like those in the Schrock family). With nearly every audience member standing – some with hands raised, others with heads bowed, and many simply stopping in their tracks to listen – there seemed to be an undeniable sense of unity.
“I think a lot of people go through different stages of life and things happen and this is just one of those healing places you can come and experience just being a person,” says Maryanne VonIns. “There are no requirements other than just being who you are. Once you experience something like this you’ll never forget it … ever.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Wheatland Music Festival 2017
Photos by Anna Sink
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC