January 28, 2016

From the Vaults: The 11th Inning Stretch


    If the 11th Annual Porcupine Mountain Music Festival was scored like a baseball game, the box score would read:  A lot of runs, hundreds of walks, one error, and no weather delays.  Some weather was evident on the radar Friday evening, but the two storms passed north and south of the festival grounds.  The early morning shower Saturday made the grounds much less dusty and crunchy than they have been some years.  From my vantage point up the hill at the Singing Hills stage, it was a tad muggy on Friday but a persistent breeze made Saturday perfect for performers and audience alike.  As has become my custom, I will run down some of the highlights of the festival but because I do all four of my shifts at the Singing Hills stage, I only hear echoes of and some rumors about what transpires at the Peace Hill stage located down by the chalet.

    I was making an inspection tour of the newly relocated WOAS-FM West Coast Bureau in Eugene, Oregon the week before the festival.  I had let folks know that I was coming in at midday Wednesday on a red eye from Eugene so I would not be able to get to the Monday training session.  Somehow this became “he isn’t coming” and the first three people I encountered on my way to the Singing Hills stage gave me some version of “What are you doing here?  They said you weren’t coming this year!”  With that little rumor scuttled, I got reaquainted with the Armadillo Sound crew of Marty and Mary as we prepped the stage for Friday’s opener, Steve Jones and the Garden City Hot Club.  With some areas of the festival needing more attention than our little corner of the world, Jackie, Marty, Mary and I were the whole stage crew this year but we were able to make this arrangement work just fine owing to the professionalism and efficiency of the Armadillo Sound crew.

    Steve Jones and the Garden City Hot Club are not unknown in these parts as they have played several times at the Ontonagon Theater for the Performing Arts.  As luck would have it, I have been on the road somewhere for all of them so I was looking forward to hearing them.  I got to talk drums with Bob Hiltunen who is a drummer but also plays guitar with GCHC.  They played a variety of music in the spirit of Django Reinhardt and were not afraid to stretch their arrangements.  Jones has been known to play solo or with combos of various sizes.  For this date, the quartet was rounded out by Scott McIntosh on bass and John Peiffer on F horn, harmonica, and a type of flute I couldn’t see very well from my little corner backstage.  Peiffer’s ability to play the valveless F horn added much to their musical soundscape.  GCHC drew one of the best opening slot crowds we have seen on the Singing Hills stage so it was a great way to start the day.

    Vox Vidorra was up next and it was apparent from their two keyboard, drums, guitar and bass set up that they would produce a full sound.  The only question we had during set up was, “what part of this sound would be produced by Scott?”  as his right arm was trussed up in a cast and sling.  It turns out that each of the four members moved between instruments very fluidly and Scott managed to play not only keyboard bass, but drums as well with his one good wing.  This is a band with a lot of soul and lead singer Molly possesses a set of pipes to be envied.  I was really impressed with the nimble cymbal work Theo displayed behind the drum kit.  A lot of folks in the crowd made it a point to check out when they would be playing on the lower stage on Saturday because they impressed everyone with their Friday set on the Singing Hills stage.

    The Scottie Miller Band was up next giving us two larger band set ups out of three groups.  Scottie brought along drummer Mark O’Day who played on Miller’s Rise Up! CD (2012) that WOAS had previewed before PMMF #11.  The bass player and guitar player were new to me and judging by the three ring binder of chord charts the guitarist kept referencing, I figured that Miller must have a roster of musicians he uses when he isn’t touring with Saturday’s headliner Ruthie Foster.  The bio provided by the festival had Miller’s band leaning toward the blues end of the spectrum, but they played such a variety of music that I can’t say that the Scottie Miller Band is a blues band per se.  As a keyboard player, there were elements of old and contemporary blues in Miller’s repertoire.  He also proved to be a skillful mandolin player and those tunes leaned further toward the Americana/country side of the ledger.  They also threw in a little island flavor ala Jimmy Buffett.  I couldn’t help but notice that drummer O’Day had sufficient chops for all these styles and the crowd couldn’t help getting caught up in the infectious enthusiasm emanating from the stage.  SMB was fun to watch and great to hear.

    I got my third chance to talk drums, this time with O’Day as we cleared the stage.  I was about to ask him about the make of his drums when he said, “A buddy of mine in Minneapolis made these.”  No wonder I didn’t recognize the brand!   Like The Garden City Hot Club and Vox Vidorra before them, the members of the Scottie Miller Band made sure they thanked everyone on the crew for doing their thing.  We are there to make the band’s day go smoothly and knowing that they enjoyed their set is always nice to hear.  We had a little breathing room after the Miller set because our next act was a single.

    Brianna Lane has been around the country but currently works out of the Minneapolis area where she teaches guitar and ukulele when she isn’t playing solo or band gigs.  We got to talk about her career and she had some fun stories to tell about opening for artists like Colin Hay (who first came to fame with the Australian band Men at Work).  We were kidding her that with the 15 minute overlap in her set and the band on the main stage that we would seat the entire crowd on the stage with her until more people wandered in.  She started her set with only about 20 souls on hand but was pleasantly surprised how the audience continued to grow as her set progressed.  She played a mixture of her own songs and songs by other artists she likes while keeping up an easy conversation with her audience.  I really liked the little big of “country cry” she used in her vocals;  many artists overuse this device but for Brianna, it added just the right touch to many of her songs.  We also got on the subject of Peter Mulvey (Peter played at PMMF #9) and she mentioned opening for him on his yearly bicycle tour around southern Wisconsin.  It would be fun to see them both again at a future PMMF.  Brianna also talked about attending a song writer’s workshop with one of our Saturday artists, Ana Egge.  According to Lane, Egge was the one act she didn’t want to miss.  

    The last act of the day gets a 45 minute turn around instead of the normal 30.   The Wild Ponies  work out of Nashville but have roots in Virginia.  I asked about the backstory of their band name and was told that it comes from the wild ponies that roam the hills back home in Virginia.  Doug and Telisha Williams play guitar and upright bass and share vocal duties.  Their regular drummer was not available for PMMF so this was their first gig with a stand in (whose name I never did catch) who normally works as a music producer more than a touring musician.  Doug informed me that they had worked out most of the arrangements on the drive up.  Telisha played and sang well but the highlight of their set was watching her disassemble her traveling upright base.  If there is a version of the Rubik’s Cube that looks like an upright bass, I have now seen it in person.  Like Brianna Lane, Telisha Williams also praised Ana Egge which made us even more anxious to hear her closing set on our stage Saturday.

    With the Wild Ponies heading down the hill and the sounds of the Grand Slambovians echoing through the woods, we set about the nightly task of rolling cords and storing everything securely under the stage canopy in case of overnight rain.  As the top of the 11th inning closed, the bands had scored five home runs and Mary the stage manager had at least 8 walks between the Peace Hill stage and the Singing Hills stage.  I keep telling her she needs to hold out for her own golf cart, but so far she has resisted that suggestion.  If we continue our ‘if PMMF #11 was scored like a baseball game’ analogy, we escaped the top half of the inning without a rain delay (even though we could see lightning over the lake for a bit) and no errors.  

    In Part 2 of the 11th Inning Stretch, we will examine the Saturday doings on the Singing Hills Stage.

Tune in to WOAS-FM  88.5 on Friday evenings as we will be running down all of the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival CD compilations we have on hand.  Join us at 6 and 9 pm to revisit the music of PMMF #1 through #11.

Top Piece video – Scottie Miller Band performing ‘On My Way’ in 2013.  The album Rise Up! was funded via Kickstarter in 2012.