June 7, 2016

FTV: Sundellstock

    In the wake of the first Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, anybody with a field, a long extension cord, and a flatbed truck trailer wanted to host an outdoor festival.  How do I know this with such certainty?  Because I played on a flatbed truck trailer in a field at a little location south of Marquette called Sundell, hence the name, Sundellstock.  When you are in the process of forming a band, any place you are asked to play gives you more exposure and confidence.  We were definitely in need of both at this point in time in our musical adventures.

    We eventually called our band The Twig, but early in the summer of 1970, we didn’t have a name or enough songs to play a typical two hour high school dance, let alone a four set bar gig.  Our working name was ‘The Bight’ (our little play on words for the ever popular retort of the time;  ‘bite me’).  We got tired of a) spelling it for people and b) explaining the joke.  None-the-less, Mike the bass player called one day and said “I was asked if we wanted to play at an outdoor festival in Sundell on Saturday afternoon and I said ‘yes’.  They said they have a P.A., amps, and drums so all we have to do is bring our guitars.”   I do not remember if Gene and I were hesitant about playing in front of other bands, but Mike was insistent that we were going to do this.  He also insisted I bring my drums ‘just in case’.   I am not sure they printed posters or fliers for this one off  kind of event, but if one exists, I truly would love to find it just to see the name ‘The Bight’ written down with other band names.

    Over the course of that summer, we played in a couple of church basements, in a tent at the State Fair in Escanaba, and on the front steps of NMU’s Forest Robert’s Theater for a band camp dance.  Yes, I played at band camp and it was less of a dance than a ‘stand around and watch the band play’.  We had told the person who booked us that “we only have about 15 songs ready” and she said “that is okay, just play them twice.”   Maybe they had a curfew or something, but we finished our first set and announced, “We don’t have any more songs” and the unanimous cry was “Play them again!”  so that is exactly what we did (even in the same running order)..

    So, let’s get back to Sundellstock.  I did a little web surfing and came up with the following information about the rolling farm country that hosted the first local outdoor festival that I ever attended (I have played outdoors numerous times, but this is the only ‘festival’ type setting I have been involved in as a musician):

Sundell is an unincorporated community at 46°20?50?N 87°04?47?W.   In 1908, Dorsey was a station on the Munising, Marquette and Southeastern Railway. The first postmaster, Selma Harsila, submitted her maiden name, Sundell (Swedish), as the name of the new post office.   The office operated from August 31, 1922 until August 25, 1967.   Dorsey is approximately a half mile to the west at 46°20?23?N 87°05?04?W.  

     Just in case you may think I am making this up, you can check the coordinates yourself!  Incidentally, this would place Sundell just a little northwest of the location called Slapneck – a name made semi-famous by the Marquette band The French Church in their song Slapneck (backed with Without Crying)  recorded and released as a 45 RPM (Slapneck  46°20?34?N 86°53?11?W).

    When we arrived, there was a two track trail leading from a farm house across a shallow valley.  The hill on the other side of the valley had a flatbed trailer parked near the top and there was indeed a long extension cord running to the farmhouse nearby..  I would be lying if I said I remembered who else was on the bill that day because there were musicians who formed and reformed bands in the Marquette area all the time.  I do know when we rolled up, Al Robertson met us at the top of the hill and said, “Good, you are here, you are on first.”  We knew Al because he played in a band called Fatty Arbuckle with our school mate Warren MacDonald.  Warren’s family owned MacDonald’s Music Store and had previously played drums in The French Church with his brother Gordon (bass), John Spratto (guitar) and Mike Cleary (vocals).  Gordon had joined another band when he was attending NMU (The Stan and Jeff Band) and Warren had hooked up with guitarist/vocalist Robertson, and Army vet who was a bit older than we were.

    We took the stage and as soon as we were introduced, Mike turned around and said “We have got to get a better name.”  We launched into the first of our four allotted tunes.  Half way through the first song, the wind that was blowing in our faces caught the cymbals on Warren’s set and they went crashing to the stage, leaving me with only the high-hat (which wouldn’t blow away with my foot planted firmly on the pedal).  I was kind of glad my drums were still locked in my trunk as I am pretty sure my slightly cheap cymbals would have ended up bent at right angles had they crashed in the wind.  Warren tried standing them up as we played on and in desperation, ended up laying on top of the stands with his body wrapped around the front of the set like a large letter ‘C ‘.  He remained at his post for the rest of our set and every time I looked down at him, he had a big grin on his face so I figured we were doing fine.  

    We finished and came off stage to some back slaps and the sound of hammering (Warren was pounding nails into the stage and bending them around the legs of the cymbal stands to keep them from sailing away in the wind again).  We survived playing in front of a couple of hundred people that included a bunch of musicians and had held our own.  I don’t know how long Sundellstock lasted because soon after we finished playing,  I had to depart for our high school band’s end of the year picnic that had been scheduled for the same afternoon.  When I was asked why I was late, I casually mentioned that we had just done a set at ‘Sundellstock’,  which of course no one else had heard of.  

    The next band rehearsal began with Mike declaring “we aren’t going to play out again until we have a better name than The Bight.”  Gene came up with The Twig right off the bat and we agreed to sleep on it until the next time we practiced.  I kind of liked it and  we spent a little time discussing the merits of spelling it with one or two ‘g’s.  I reminded the guys how much we hated having to spell ‘Bight’ for people.  We decided to go with one ‘g’ and we went back to work.  We were going to need more than 15 songs when we started playing high school dances in September.

    I won’t make any comparisons to Woodstock because it would be like comparing a grain of sand to a sand dune.  I will, however, say that we gained a lot of confidence by participating in Sundellstock.  We also got invited to one of the informal jam sessions Al Robertson would host in his basement which was another ego boost:  “Al invited us to come over and jam!”  Until I started the research for this edition of FTV, I didn’t remember that Sundell is located in Alger County.  That means our set at Sundellstock also qualifies as our first official ‘road trip’.  Too bad we didn’t have time to find Slapneck while we were in the neighborhood.


Top Piece Video – Okay – I won’t lie to you and tell you this is footage from Sundellstock . . . and I won’t tell you that I was at Woodstock – but I was 16 during the Summer of Love – does that count?