One does not find themselves in a traffic jam in Ontonagon County very often, but there were two that occured on Day 2 of the 14th Annual Porcupine Mountain Music Festival. I got caught up in the first one trying to cross the Ontonagon River bridge on the way to the festival. The line up at the temporary stop light chewed up ten minutes leaving me with the distinct feeling that I was going to be late. Hearing what sounded like a full band playing as I climbed the back stairs of the A-Frame ski chalet made me think I was really late. It turned out to be Ontonagon’s own Ryan Peterson doing his scheduled workshop about ‘looping’. ‘Looping’ is the term used to describe a musician playing live along with pre-recorded segments that are ‘looped’ together to make a much fuller sound than simply accompanying themselves with one instrument. If you have seen Ed Sheeran recently and watch him stomping on various footswitches and stomp boxes on his effects board, then you have seen how the process works. Ryan later performed a regular set of his tunes, but my duties on the mainstage kept me from hearing Ryan or the other talented local musicians who performed in the A-Frame like Leo Siren and Eric Hopper.
While it was now apparent that I wasn’t late, I was a little perplexed that the opening act of the day wasn’t setting up on the mainstage. The Artist Liaison rep provided the answer: The Lucky Dutch were on the way, but their Google directions from Chicago had diverted them to beautiful downtown Mass City. We geared up to do a quick set and when the band rolled in twenty minutes before showtime, there was a flurry of activity to get them on stage and sound checked. The Lucky Dutch knocked everyone out on the Singing Hills stage last year so I was really happy to see them on the schedule again this year. Guitarist/vocalist Nathan Graham is an exceptional talent and the whole band is well schooled and tight. With no time to talk with their dummer before they went on, I made it a point to take a photo of him in action and made a mental note to talk drums during the load out. The band did not disappoint and one of the highlights of their set is their arrangement of a Prince / Hendrix mashup of When Doves Cry and All Along the Watchtower.
During the load out, I found out that the drummer was playing a 1972 vintage Ludwig set with a black and silver mosaic pattern. This Ludwig kit has been fondly called ‘The Ringo Set’ since Ringo Starr played a similar configuration during The Beatles first TV appearances in the states.
The early 1970’s models sported a newer Ludwig logo but the rest of the drum shells and hardware were not much different than the kit Ringo played. As we concluded our little drum workshop, I decided that my mission for the rest of Saturday was to get a photo of all the drummer’s kits.
During The Lucky Dutch set, word came up from the Artist Liaison that our second act was also running late. The band was on the way north from St. Louis and like many bands and tourists before them, they had not gotten the memo that Ontonagon County is on Eastern Standard Time.
The A.L. department estimated they would arrive ten minutes before show time. Fortunately, The Old Salt Union is a five piece bluegrass band with no drummer. Doug and Mary already had a hard copy of the DIs (Direct Inputs used to connect them to the sound system) they needed which allowed them to have the cords and mics preset before the band arrived. This is only the second time I have seen a band arrive with a stand up bass that needed to be assembled out of a travel case. The band managed to get on stage, set up, move their van and still start on time. I would have liked to hear more of them, but The Ragbirds arrived and the mountain of gear they had to unload and unpack kept us all hopping for the rest of The Old Salt Union set.
Ann Arbor’s The Ragbirds had been at the festival in 2015 and were another band that I had heard from afar while working at the Singing Hills stage, but I had never seen them perform. An eclectic five piece band, they played a variety of music featuring electric violin, guitar, bass, drums, and a second percussionist. The percussionist sat among a sea of instruments that included three
Conga drums, timbales, a couple of djembes, a cymbal, a wood block, guijera, and an assortment of shakers of various sizes and shapes. I didn’t get to talk to the drummer about the type of set he was playing, but I did notice he had extensive notes for each song on his iPad and various band members were also giving him cues on certain tempo changes. It turns out this was his first gig with the band but if one didn’t notice the few extra cues he was given, one would not have guessed that he was that new to the band. He laughed when I said he was a step ahead of Micky Dolenz of The Monkees who showed up for their first live performance and didn’t even know how to set up the drums. They played a great set and both the band and the crowd enjoyed them a lot.
PMMF veteran Charlie Parr was originally schedule to play the next slot but word had come down the previous week that he had broken some bones in a recreational accident and had to withdraw from this year’s festival. In an unscripted turn of events, PMMF was lucky enough to grab a rising guitar star named Jack Broadbent to replace Charlie on short notice. Jack had been finishing up some east coast dates and was scheduled to continue his tour back in Europe when the festival booked him. Hailing from England, Broadbent plays electrified blues and slide guitar and has been given endorsements by legendary bass player Bootsy Collins (“The real thang”) and Joe Bonamassa (“A musician to watch in 2018”). When Saturday’s emcee, Harold Tremblay mentioned Bonamassa’s quote, Broadbent turned around and asked nobody in particular, “Did Bonamassa really say that?” We assured him he did. Seated on a small amp turned on end, Broadbent carried the day with some rocking blues and an easy banter with the audience. He employs an old silver whisky hip flask for his slide work which is very fluid and full sounding. He mentioned he has just completed a new album and that he had recently premiered a couple of new songs on Theodora Richards’ (daughter of Keith Richards) show on the Sirius Radio network. You need not wonder how the crowd responded when he asked if they would like to hear one of his new songs.
Judging by how Broadbent closed his set, he has played his fair share of festivals. Before I even had to cue him that he had ten minutes left, he told the crowd, “I have time for a couple of more songs, so I will do one and then the last one can be the encore, then we will all be happy.” Sure enough, he finished the next song, took his bows and left the stage. We motioned the crowd to make some noise, and he trotted back on stage and performed a great version of Hit the Road, Jack which had the crowd singing along with each chorus. Jack Broadbent is indeed an artist to watch in the future and we were lucky enough to see him at the front end of his career.
Harold was setting up to do a workshop/interview with Donna the Buffalo so I got to do the walk off announcements at the end of Jack Broadbent’s set. There was some concern when Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear hadn’t shown up as the 6 pm interview approached, but about the time everyone was asking, “What if they don’t show?”, their bus pulled up and they appeared, asking for directions to the chalet. Prior to their arrival, the discussion had turned to whether or not it was ‘very professional’ for them to cut it so close. When I saw their crew unloading their equipment, I told the other stage volunteer, “Nope, they aren’t being ‘unprofessional’. This isn’t their first rodeo and they know the gig: They got here in time, their crew does the unloading, and when it is time to set the stage, the best thing for us to do is stay out of the way. They know their stuff.”
In the meantime, an Indie-rock band who originated in Austin, TX but now work out of Nashville were setting up. The Roosevelts were a personable bunch and the drummer was toting a jet black Rogers drum kit he said was from 1964. I mentioned that the Rogers, Ludwig, and Slingerland companies all sold drum kits with similar configurations back then because his set was just like my 1966 Ludwigs. He said, “Oh, I love that vintage Ludwig drums (his Roger’s set included a chrome Ludwig snare drum) and I want to pick one of those up.” My second and last emcee duty of the day was to introduce The Roosevelts. Their music was what Mary described as ‘dance pop’ and their new lead singer, Mitchell Kilpatrick, proved to be an able front man. He had an extensive pedal board that controlled both his guitar and vocal effects. I am not one who likes vocal effects much, but the way they used them, they fit the music well and this suited the youngsters in the audience just fine. When we had to load them off stage, we found ourselves weaving around a bevy of kids waiting in line to have The Roosevelts autograph their newly purchased band tee shirts.
As I predicted, Donna the Buffalo’s crew did just about all the heavy lifting to get their gear on stage. The drummer informed me that his gold sparkle Ludwig set was from 1962 but once we got all the pieces on stage, he was busy enough that I didn’t want to stand around blocking traffic as the rest of the crew got things set up. I noticed that other than one guy sporting a Buffalo themed shirt with ‘Krewe’ on the back, the rest of the road crew consisted of the drummer, bass player and keyboard player. They did all the set up, tuning and sound checking. The Hammond B3 organ they were travelling with had an industrial strength, collapsible steel frame that I had no desire to heft. Having spent two years carrying around a Hammond B2 in my gigging days, I already knew what a beast a Hammond can be to lug around. While the organ looked like it had gone to war one too many times, the sound the keyboard player coaxed from it were another reminder why we carted one around in Knockdown: nothing sounds like a Hammond!
Right on cue, Tara and Jeb appeared for the start of the show. I kicked myself for even listening to any discussion about their professionalism because Donna the Buffalo played one of the best live sets I have seen in the last twenty years. The rhythm section locked in and the whole band was tight. When the keyboard player soloed, even Tara and Jeb would gaze his way with a look that said, “Yeah, he can play.” I couldn’t hear the stage banter very well, so I am assuming that the young lady who came up and sang with Tara a couple of times was part of the family.
The crowd loved the whole 90 minute set and the band were just kicking into their closer, Conscious Evolution when security called the stage hands into the chalet for a little conference. There had been a motorcycle accident just down the road from the festival grounds and the police had requested that we try and keep the audience in place until the road reopened. As the band came off stage, we filled them about the situation. The crowd were calling for more so Tara and Jeb went back out and did a violin/guitar improvisation before bringing the rest of the band back for an uptempo finish. They played for another thirty minutes. As soon as we got word that the road was open again, I gave Tara a double thumbs up, they said their farewells to the crowd and headed to the merchandize area to sign stuff. Not only were Donna the Buffalo a great live band, they were one of the most professional groups I have had the pleasure to work with!
The night ended in the usual fashion: we helped the band clear the stage so they could pack their gear and Doug, Mary, and the other stage hands packed up the sound system for the night. Having nursed my sore right knee through two eleven hour days, I left the heavy carrying to younger legs and said my goodbyes to Doug and Mary. I went home happy that the new configuration of the festival had gone so well, rain and all. The only casualty of the weekend was my other knee. Apparently I took such good care of my right knee that when I woke up Sunday morning, my left knee had ballooned up as if to remind me that it took the brunt of the action!
Congratulations to Cheryl and the whole festival crew for putting on a superb PMMF #14. I am going to whip my knees into shape for next year and am already getting excited to start spinning PMMF artist music each Friday evening on WOAS-FM 88.5.
TOp Piece Video – Jack Broadbent performing On the Road Again at Montreux (Emcee Harold and I were kidding around back stage about seeing this video from ‘Montrux’ and his poor manager raised her eyebrows and said ‘You mean MonTROW?’ – had to assure her we were kidding! Harold, after all, has French Canadian roots!