National stars may get top billing, but plenty of local favorites — from Nicholas James Thomasma to Steppin’ In It — aim to make Wheatland 2018 a festival to remember this weekend. See the schedule.
With summer in the rear-view mirror and autumn rolling in on the cool evening wind, many Michigan music festivals and concerts are nearing their seasonal hibernation.
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Yet, there are still a few final festivals that seize the impending cooler weather, giving festival-goers a few last chances to revel in musical bliss before the winter sets in.
There’s perhaps no better end-of-summer celebration than the distinguished tradition that is Wheatland Music Festival (which dates back to 1974 and is considered the granddaddy of Michigan music festivals). With two premier stages (Main Stage and Centennial Stage), as well as the Dance Stage, a plethora of auxiliary stages and endless pop-up jam sessions, there’s an abundance of live music to go around on the 160-acre festival grounds outside Remus.
And beyond the festival’s national roots music stars — from John McCutcheon to Darrell Scott to Las Cafeteras — this year’s lineup includes Michigan faves Nicholas James & the Bandwagon, Steppin’ In It, Schrock Brothers, Josh Rose, Rollie Tussing, The Thornetta Davis Band, Jen Sygit and many others.
Gates open at 10 a.m. Friday. Weekend tickets are sold-out, but Sunday tickets will be available at the gate at 8 a.m. More schedule and ticket information can be found online at wheatlandmusic.org.
Packing his instruments into his trusty orange Volkswagen bus and making the trek north to Mecosta County for his debut Wheatland performance is Grand Rapids songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma.
“It’s been a major goal of mine ever since I first attended Wheatland about 15 years ago, long before I knew any of my current band members,” Thomasma said.
“I went with my very first band as attendees, not as performers. I remember walking around on Sunday and thinking, ‘This is what I’m going to do with my life.’ I’ve played at tons of music festivals since then. I really did dedicate my life to music and music festivals. This is a dream come true for me.”
Fronted by Thomasma and his guitar, The Bandwagon includes Pete Weatherhead (pedal steel, fiddle, backing vocals), Greg Baxter (guitar), Alex Austin (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Joe Hirschmugl (bass) and Steve Minor (drums).
‘NOT LIKE ANYWHERE ELSE ON EARTH’
“We took most of the summer off this year from live performance and have been honing the set list and reinventing some of the songs. Our set list is really tight. Having Alex (of Deerfield Run) playing guitar and singing has been a great addition and is really great for us. We have some great three-part harmonies now and played some of our best shows ever this spring,” Thomasma said.
“We’ve only gotten tighter since then. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in my band. I don’t want to give away any surprises but we’re going to rock that tent. We’re all really excited. I hope Wheatland is ready to throw down with us.”
Nicholas James and the Bandwagon perform at 6 p.m. on Friday at The Centennial Stage.
In addition to an extensive lineup, Wheatland curates activities like group dances, instrumental workshops and a host of kids activities.
Percussion has also found its way into the pulse of the festival. While folk and Americana have played an integral role in the foundation of Wheatland, one growing tradition is the inclusion of rhythm-based instruments. Lively drum circles ensue at all hours of the night. There’s also the option to join in a more organized effort, with an entire drum stage designated for group percussion led by a handful of professional musicians.
Another popular aspect is the countless food options, which range from classic, deep-fried fair food to hearty, home-cooked fare.
But for any who have experienced Wheatland firsthand, the main draw is the sense of community, inspired directly by the folks who attend the festival year after year.
“There really is nothing else quite like Wheatland. It’s the best place to find late-night jam sessions and song circles. They have more workshops than you could possibly attend. Music is everywhere, all the time,” Thomasma said.
“All year round I crave the potatoes from the Happy Farmer. The Cajun dance is ridiculously fun late at night, not to mention the drum circles at the rhythm stage and late-night cheers of ‘Happy Wheatland!’ echoing through the Lost World. It’s not like anywhere else on earth. I love Wheatland.”
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC