Attendees filled with warmth amidst chilly temps as they celebrate the 45th year of one of Michigan’s finest festival traditions.
Hunkered down from a stiff autumn wind on a wooden bench, 65-year-old Lynn Winslow’s eyes are gleaming with child-like excitement as he gazes towards Wheatland’s enchanting Main Stage.
“We’ve been coming for 23 years in a row,” he says with a pleasant look of nostalgia. “We come and we do this one time a year, my baby brother and I…and a bunch of guys that I played little league baseball with from the town I grew up. We just have a blast.”
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When a final chord is ushered from stage, Winslow leans all the way back in his seat, head tilted to the evening sky, then returns with a peaceful glance and peers over his glasses.
“This is where I want my ashes spread, man” he says, with a glowing smile.
Winslow’s words exemplify the kind of deep, spiritual connection that many have for the 45-year-old music festival. It seems to become a part of them. Over the weekend Wheatland continued its longstanding tradition of “peace and love,” as so many “Wheatlanders” describe it.
A CHILLY YET HEARTWARMING WEEKEND
Despite chilly temps that dipped into the 40s, Friday evening offered heartwarming sets by Michigan’s own Nicholas James and the Bandwagon, Elephant Rescue and Jen Sygit. California bluegrass group, Front Country performed an entertaining set of originals and covers on Main Stage for a vast opening-night audience while The Schrock Brothers held down the Centennial Stage.
Emerging from the warm rows of tents and campers that lined the frost-kissed pastures, festival-goers returned Saturday morning bundled for the cold and eager for the music.
While Wheatlanders finished late breakfasts and second servings of coffee, Kittel & Co. christened Main Stage with engaging tunes led by violinist Jeremy Kittel.
Later Saturday afternoon, guests were treated to a strikingly soulful performance by Detroit blues artist, Thornetta Davis. Backed by a grooving veteran band, Davis unleashed a moving set of originals and blues standards with her powerhouse voice.
“I love this place. I love anything that includes love,” Davis said after her set. “And this place has been spreading peace and love for 45 years. It’s amazing.”
Following Davis on stage, songwriter Darrell Scott played an enchanting solo set of delicate songs. With only his acoustic guitar, Scott displayed his intricate songwriting and fretboard wizardry for a hushed afternoon crowd.
THE MUSIC IS THE POWER
As the sun began to set and temperatures once again plummeted, performers and attendees radiated a contagious warmth. Seated under a sapling with an acoustic guitar and djembe, 10-year-old Conor and 9-year-old Sophia busked for a buzzing dinner crowd. During a break in performing, Conor noted this was his sixth Wheatland and expressed his enthusiasm for the fest.
“You get to play music and listen to music. I stay out here all day and just play. And you get to camp. It’s like living outdoors…there’s no power,” he said, before Sophia gently interrupted.
“The music is the power,” she responded, her arms outstretched and motioning around her.
Following a dinner break, North Carolina bluegrass band, Town Mountain, took to the Main Stage. The quartet delivered a flawless set, displaying their individual virtuosity as well as seamless group dynamics. Nearing the end of the set, the band invited Grand Rapids’ own Mark Lavengood onstage. Huddled around a jolly Lavengood and his dobro guitar, the musicians whisked the night away in stringed excellence.
Meanwhile at Centennial Stage, energy reached a fever pitch with a rollicking set by Nora Jane Struthers and her rip-roaring band. Shadows danced on the canvas tent ceiling as a sea of late-night revelers rejoiced. A memorable moment came when the group’s guitarist, Joshua Vana, experienced technical difficulties during a song. Frantically plugging cables into his pedal board, the guitarist worked to no avail while the band carried on.
Making a last attempt, Vana strung a cable over his guitar and plugged it in, and the guitar roared with a triumphant strum – just in time for a soaring slide solo as the Nashville band broke into a runaway instrumental.
STEPPIN’ IN AND PERHAPS OUT OF IT
Closing down the festival Saturday night, the all-star cast of Steppin’ In It took to the Centennial Stage just past midnight.
Comprised of Joshua Davis (vocals, guitar), Dominic Davis (bass), Joe Wilson (steel guitar), Andy Wilson (harmonica), Mike Lynch (keyboards) and Geoff Ian Lewis (drums), the iconic Michigan group rattled the tent with a wildly charismatic performance.
As the Lansing band drifted from folk to Americana, to zydeco to funk and unapologetic rock ’n’ roll, a rowdy crowd followed suit, showing appreciation for what proved to be one of the weekend’s most entertaining sets.
The band, which has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer with a slew of shows around Michigan, played a total of three sets over the weekend, including a festival-closing set on Sunday.
Making it extra special for those in attendance, the sextet had announced via their Facebook page on Thursday that the Wheatland appearances “might be (their) last hurrah.”
THE PEOPLE, THE PEACE AND THE LOVE
Once again, the festival captivated yet another sold-out crowd in an endearing way. Anyone in attendance will testify to the festival’s magical environment. Perhaps it’s the longstanding tradition. Or the caliber of the performances. Maybe it’s the first chill of autumn air.
Father Wheatland put it simply as he strolled casually through the Saturday crowds, dressed in his usual eccentric attire. When asked what continues to make Wheatland special, he used only a few simple words:
“The people, the peace and the love.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Wheatland 2018
Photos by Anna Sink
<em>Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC</em>