Monday, September 08, 2008

The Wheatland Music Festival, My Own Little Piece Of Woodstock

This is a long one, I was inspired all weekend like I haven't been in years so if you're going to read this one I'd suggest maybe making a sandwich and getting a drink first, get comfortable........
I don’t know what took me so long, I’ve heard about The Wheatland Music Festival for years. I guess maybe I thought it was further away than it is, being too lazy to look it up on the map, or always being able to have the excuse that something else was going on, or that we were too busy, or didn’t have the money, maybe next year. Well, this was the year that I ran out of reasons not to go and with the Refugee’s performing there (Wendy Waldman, Cindy Bullens & Deborah Holland) I had the added incentive I needed to cop a “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” attitude. Still I waited until the last day to purchase tickets by mail to send my order in, with money being extremely tight these days the cost for a ticket and the gas to get there and back put further strain on already shell shocked budget, but I simply didn’t feel at my age and with the way the world is going that I could afford to wait another year.
The festival is a 3 day event so I put in for a vacation day for Friday with the thought in mind that I could get up there early in the day and have time to do a walk around of the festival grounds before the music started for the weekend at 6:00pm. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans….
Last week was a turn down week for a number of reasons, which is why I never got around to doing an entry for labor day weekend....and come Friday morning I was pretty blahed out and moving slowly. It was after 11am before I pointed the truck north and headed out of town towards a 160 acre field just southwest of Remus. As I rolled north I started to get in a better frame of mind. Generally traveling somewhere is good medicine for whatever ails me and as I got close to the grounds I started to get in the holiday spirit. As I came over the last hill to the festival grounds I uttered a quiet “Holy Moly”. As far as I could see there were tents and campers and people everywhere. It was 1:00 pm as I rolled down the hill towards the folks directing traffic. There were two lines, one from the east and one from the south, alternating and I was told to go to the end of the south line, the “shorter one”. So I took off over a hill and there’s more cars….1 mile out, still more cars….another hill at 1 1/2 miles out, still more cars. Finally at 2 miles out, I found the end of the line, wheeled the truck around and parked it. I had thoughts about heading for home at that point, but I squashed them and decided to ride it out. Every 10 minutes or so we’d go a 100 yards ahead and then stop. Inbetween forward movements I’d get out of the truck and shoot the breeze with other folks doing the same thing.
Turns out that the waiting in line for hours to get in was not a normal deal, but the result of 3 inches of rain Thursday night and some emergency road grading Friday morning. As we got closer to the entrance gate the waiting times between moves shortened and finally we came over the last hill to the entrance. I traded in my ticket for my wrist band and then headed off in the direction of where I thought I’d be well off camping. An area called “Walk Up Camping”…of which there were several on the grounds. I parked the truck at the bottom of the hill, grabbed my gear and hiked up the grassy hill to find a place to call home until Sunday. Within minutes I’d found a nice spot back by the tree line. By the time I had the tent up and everything ready to go it was just about 5:00 pm. Music would be starting at 6 so I grabbed the camera gear and headed over to the concession area to find something for supper. After a concession quality taco salad I made my way to the main stage, an impressive work of art in itself. As it is in most of these situations the professionals, or multi-year attendees, have their chair, blankets and whatever already covering the entire seating area so after a chat with one of the workers I planted myself by the split rail fence up front and spent the bulk of the evening there. I don’t want to give a review of each band here but I’ll mention ‘em and give a link when there’s one available. Most of these folks probably got a MySpace page too but I don't have much use for MySpace so I'll let you find those on yer own......
The first band was a Cajun outfit from Louisiana called “The Pine leaf Boys”. They played a rousing set and got everyone up and in the mood quickly. Each band did a 50 minute set, give or take and downtime in between bands was minimal as these folks running the stage and the sound had their act together. The second outfit, “Tim Graves and Cherokee” were also considerably above average. Tim Graves is the nephew of the famous Josh Graves and played some very nice slide Dobro guitar throughout his set. At the completion of his set I had to get up and stretch my legs out with a walk over to the ice cream trailer and missed most of “David “Honeyboy” Edwards” set. With 3 stages on the grounds it was impossible not to miss something if you were one place and all weekend I checked my schedule frequently to minimize the danger of missing something good.
I was back in front by the time the next group “Sole Impact” hit the stage. They consisted of a Fiddle, guitar and hand drummer and 6 high-steppin’ cloggers. They put on a very interesting show of intricate dancing and the music backing them up was no slouch either. The next group was a 4 piece called “The Freight Hoppers” who were great. Their Fiddle player kept me entertained with his footwork and style. To end the night a group all the way from from Ireland called “Slide” put on a rousing rocking set of Irish jigs and folk music. Their fiddle player was nothing short of amazing. Aside from his obvious skill on the fiddle, his footwork was fantastic. From my perspective when he got going it would look like he was floating (or sliding) across the stage and that, along with the rosin from his flailing bow floating in the air, made for quite a sight. After an encore they were done and the main stage got quiet for the night. By then it was 11:30 and I considered going to bed so I could get up early and do my tour of the grounds, but as I was walking past the 2nd stage, Centennial tent, I heard the sound of electric slide guitar call out to me and at that point I discovered Mr. Michael Tarbox and “The Tarbox Ramblers”. They were a 3 piece outfit…Michael on his guitars, a big dude on upright bass who thumped the everlovin' life out of that thing and a very good drummer laying down the beat. By the time they finished their set it was close to 1:30am. At that point I was beat from the long day so I headed for my little tent on the hill for a nap, still hoping to get up early for my stroll around the grounds.
Saturday morning. when I awoke the sun was already up above the trees, almost 8:00am. Damnit! Figured I’d be up by 6am easy. (Note to self….add alarm clock to list for next year). So I beat feet to the concession area for some breakfast, wiping the sleep out of my eyes as I went. I had quite a few choices to pick from, but settled for a couple chocolate donuts and a big Orange Juice. (one cancels out the other and no harm done). Once that task was completed I started my hike around the grounds. Unfortunately I had another camera disc screw up and so now I don’t have any pics now from Friday or early Saturday morning…..I need to get myself a real digital camera and pretty damn soon too, tired of the losing images with no warning crap. Anyhow, I started hiking around and the first interesting thing I came across was a burned out camper over in the Henri campground. Turns out that there was some sort of electric malfunction in it Thursday night and it burnt to the ground. Talk about a bad start to the weekend! From there I strolled around, taking pics of those things strange and / or out of the ordinary. I was shooting a unique trailer when these girls started hollering at me to take their pics. I ended up talking to them for about a half hour and got schooled in how things work at Wheatland. I never did take their pic, which I could kick myself for. Across the street from their camp was a big tent for late night jam sessions and I got invited back but never made it. Too much to do in too little time. Maybe next year.
After saying goodbye to the Jello shot ladies I continued on and not long after I ran across a couple old boy bikers who were kicked back and enjoying the sun. I ended up talking with them for almost an hour about biking, camping, wives, kids and Wheatland. Again I was too stupid to remember to take their pic, but they were cool dudes. One was 60, the other 65, which doesn’t seem that old now as it did 20 years ago. Always looking for hope for the future ya know….. After leaving them I kinda turned back towards the stage area and strolled thru the pines, taking pics and soaking up the ambiance as I went.
After seeing the “Tarbox Ramblers” last night I made a point of being up front when they hit the stage at 1:00pm and spent a very worthwhile 50 minutes listening to what they were putting down. This very unassuming man, with his red ball cap just smoked that guitar, smiling away like he was having the time of his life.
Next was one of the high points of the weekend although I didn’t realize how high until later in the weekend. Wendy, Cindy and Deborah, The Refugee’s, were up next on the schedule, sharing the Centennial Stage with a lady named Cheryl Wheeler. They took turns playing songs for about an hour or so and I was very impressed with Ms. Wheelers song writing and guitar playing skills. She did a song called Dubya, Dubya, to the tune of Louie Louie, which was the best anti-Bush song I’ve heard. She also had a softer side that was quite beautiful. After their set was over I made it over to the performer entrance to say hi to the girls and see I if I could get ‘em to stop long enough for a pic. We all said hi and then headed over to the performers sales area where they were going to autograph CD’s. They were great about posing for a pic and then the lady escort for them asked if I wanted a pic with them and I honestly hadn’t thought of that so I said yeah!, that would be great! so I showed her how to use my camera and then stood next to Wendy and tried to smile with my toothless mouth shut……after being a fan of hers for 35 years I was finally standing next to her and getting a picture taken. I’m sorry, I may be 55 physically, maybe older from what Realage.com says, but right at that moment I felt like a goofy, tongue-tied 16 year old. After the pics were taken I said thanks, have fun with the rest of the weekend and see ya later.
For awhile after that highlight I just wandered around the grounds taking pics and watching the human parade. Then, about 4 I decided to get supper before heading to a Michael Tarbox workshop at 5:30. I wandered over to hunger row and ended up getting a KFC dinner from one of the vendors. Boy did that taste good at that point. After eating half a chicken I got a giant ice cream cone and headed for the workshop. By the time I got there it was already going on so I stood off to the side and enjoyed the goings on. Next year I’ll have my chops up to the point that I’ll feel good about carrying my guitar around and participating. Least that’s my goal if I can stick to it.
After the workshop ended I headed down to the main stage and caught the last half of Slide’s 2nd performance. Once they finished it was time for dinner break and having already had dinner I took that opportunity to hike around the back half of the joint. Checked out the drumming area and strolled thru some of the trails just checking out the camping setups and making notes for next year.
By the time I got back to main stage “Dale Watson” and his crew was finishing up and the next performer was Cheryl Wheeler again. I’d been impressed enough the first time that I grabbed a spot by the fence and sat there listening to her hilarious stories and beautiful songs. By the end of that second set I was pretty much a fan for life.
In between her set and the next Refugees set was the Bichini Bia Congo Dance Theatre Company. African dumming and dancing. It was impressive, but with no melody or harmony 20 minutes would’ve been enough for me.
And now it’s 9:40 Saturday night and The Refugees are front and center on the main stage. I’d have loved to be the one doing the introduction cuz the person doing it didn’t have a clue who he had up there, but once they started playing the audience was on their side. They got a much more worthwhile response to their efforts at Wheatland than they did with that pissy little group at the Ark back in June.
After the girls were done and even did an encore the last group on the main stage for the night was called “Crooked Still”. I don’t know much about them, they were a young group and quite good. After they were done I wandered over to the centennial tent for awhile to watch and listen to “The Ragbirds” who never got a chance at the main stage. I sat there listening them and fighting to stay awake so about 1:00am I finally gave it and headed for the tent.
Sunday. I woke up just a tick before 9:00am. (Definitely bringing an alarm clock next year). I headed over to the concession area for Orange juice and pancakes and by the time I was done with breakfast I was ready for another full day. The music started on the main stage at 10:30 with a gospel sing and then The Refugees were doing their last set. I got over in time to hear the last half of the Gospel sing, including a version of the tune “Hard Times (Come No More)” which Deborah did an excellent version of on the Soccer Mom album. The Gospel sing ended with the most amazing( I know I’m using a lot of superlatives but it was the most amazing) version of Amazing Grace I’ve ever heard. I didn’t catch what the young ladie's name was, but lord she could sing. A couple times I got a chill and there were folks out in the audience crying when she was done. The announcer called her by name and then said she’d been singing that song every year at Wheatland since she was 8. So, I have hopes I’ll catch it again next year.
When the girls came up to do their last set I was right by the fence and there was a large crowd to do them justice. They did another excellent set and added one of my favorite Deborah songs “On My Way” to the lineup. After they were finished I decided to act like an idiot again and hollered at Deborah, who stopped, smiled and shook my hand. Classy lady. I told her I’d gotten the Animal Logic CD’s and then told her not only how much I loved Soccer Mom, but how I felt about "On My Way". I told her “great set” and let her go on her way. While I was standing there Wendy came by and I said quietly, almost to myself, thanks Wendy and she smiled and returned the thanks for the support with a beautiful smile.
After The Refugees were done Dale Watson was up again and then Cheryl Wheeler. Now that I was a bonofide devotee I headed for my spot by the fence and thoroughly enjoyed the funny stories and amazing songs she sang.
I had to take a break from the input after her set and went strolling thru the pines area again until I came upon a gentleman playing an old Dobro with a standard guitar neck and using fingerpicks. What he was doing sounded fine so I stopped to listen and take a couple pics. We got to talking in between tunes and he was very interesting to talk with. He played a version of Bob Dylan’s tune Mississippi that was very cool and I now have the urge to dig up some Dylan. We no doubt would've talked longer, but he had to put on his red shirt, being a volunteer and go do his time. I said goodbye and hoped to bump into him again later in the day, but it never happened.
I wandered back by the main stage in time to catch the last bit of the cloggers “Sole Impact” last set. After them the 3 days of music ended with “The Cherryholmes Band”. A family band consisting of mom and day along with 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Just the family lineup was impressive, but when they started singing I was knocked out. Really intricate harmonies and strong singing all around. Their whole set was a joy to listen to and all too soon it was over. They finished off an encore with an acapella piece and then it got quiet. I really wasn’t ready to go home so I hung around a bit watching them tear down, but then came the time to call it a weekend and head for home. I thought it’d be a tough one to get out of there in under and hour, but during the day probably 2/3’s of the people had left at some point and I was able to jump in the truck, fire it up, drive right out the gate and head down the road for home.
I made it in the door a bit before 9:00pm. Unpacked, threw stuff in the washing machine, made myself a sandwich and started winding down.
I have a feeling I’ll be reviewing this weekend in my head for awhile to come. Heard more good music then I’ll able to afford for the next several months. Gotta start laying my hands on that guitar everyday too somehow….I’m sure it’d make me feel better anyway you look at it. I had a real good time the whole weekend and I’ll be ready for the next one by the time it comes back around again, Lord willin’.
Here’s a batch of pics from the weekend. Enjoy.





The direction of my tent, off in the trees.









Performers check-in building & hospitality







Good advice and not all that hard to do at Wheatland










Walk in camping in the pines area.






The Crowd Sunday afternoon










The view from my campsite looking North east








Early Sunday morning before gospel service.










Jammin during the dinner hour Saturday






The Dancing platform, well used all weekend.




TC

5 Comments:

Anonymous Mr. Oz said...

The girl singing Amazing Grace is Rachael Davis
Web site:www.rachaeldavis.com

Thu Sep 11, 08:54:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Tom Eckels said...

Mr Oz! thank you very much for that bit of info and the website link, heading there right now. She was quite amazing.

There's no place like Wheatland.....there's no place like wheatland..... :-)

TC

Thu Sep 11, 12:03:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Tim Joseph said...

Hi Mr. Tom, I'm the fellow with the Dobro sitting on the stone bench, and I'm honored to have a place in your Wheatland story. I actually built the bench,too. Some years ago I taught a stone building workshop at Dance Camp and a bunch of people had fun breaking stones, breaking sledge hammer handles, mixing mud, getting really dirty and other fun stuff. The bench is the product of that time. Every year I make a time to sit on that bench and play my guitar. I remember you and enjoyed our conversation. Come on up to our little festival up here at Brethren, Michigan. It's always the third Saturday in June. It's free, laid back, and I'll be playing there this year with my cousin Byron in our band, The Nephews. Thanks again, --Tim Joseph

Sat Jan 24, 07:50:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tim Joseph said...

Oops, I forgot to mention our festival here is the Spirit of the Woods Folk Festival. This year will be our 32nd annual. Check out www.spiritofthewoods.org.

Sat Jan 24, 07:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tom Eckels said...

Mr Tim!

Just in case you pass by here again...how on earth did you stumble upon my little blog?
Regardless, it was a pleasant surpirse to hear from you. Hope everything is fine with you.
I'll be looking into the Brethern Music festival, you just might see me up there next June if I'm still in Michigan by then....

Take care man and thanks again for dropping in and saying hi.

TC

Sat Jan 24, 11:12:00 PM 2009  

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