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Archive for September 13th, 2004

Wheatland 2004, Chapter 3

Monday, September 13th, 2004

Saturday night at Wheatland, during the dinner break for the main stage, our friends have traditionally had a potluck. Now, preparing food on the 2nd day of a warm weekend is a challenge, so we are getting a bit simpler but the food is great quality no matter.

We often have 25 people in a crowded space under the trees, and it’s great fun. We eat and sing and laugh. This year one of the kids (who is at least as much of a ham as I, but more bold in asking for an audience) asked us to listen to her play recorder. Mind you, she doesn’t know any songs so she just tooted into it in a decent rhythm… but she did not want to stop at all. Finally she took a deep breath and someone started clapping very loudly so she would know her time was up. This kid is going to go somewhere, I can tell it already! She is a smart and interesting child, and it was good to have her with us.

I have no photos for the next, big highlight of the weekend (I left my camera in the tent and was unwilling to leave the scene to get it). Our friends, Andy and Joe Wilson, are in a really hot young band called Steppin’ in It. They had one show this weekend… at 7pm on the 2nd stage. The concert was in part to celebrate their new CD, Hidden in the Lowlands (which I happen to be listening to right now as I type this).

Andy and Joe used to work at Elderly Instruments with Brian, and I got to know them then. We used to go to the same parties in the summer at Mike Cutler’s place (but Mike moved back to Colorado and the party scene has not been the same since). These days I see them in the newspaper more often than I see them in person.

Steppin' In It's Hidden in the LowlandsI tell you, this band is SOOOOOO fab! They are so hot, and so together, and so musical and so whatever you could possibly want in a band, I just love it when I can hear them play. They play at the Green Door on East Michigan Ave. in Lansing every Monday night, but I seem to get so dratted busy (you certainly believe me if you read this blog) that I just haven’t made it over there yet. I’m not much for bars (I don’t drink and I avoid crowds when I can), but the Green Door has come a long way in becoming a welcoming sort of neighborhood spot with great dance bands in the last 20 years. They have a decent kitchen now, I’m told, and the few times I’ve been there I’ve felt comfortable and really loved the music.

Well, Steppin’ in It took over the world there for an hour at the 2nd stage. It was magic and it was electric, and all the other things a dance/party band could want to be. Andy plays an amazing set of harmonicas, in addition to pennywhistle, accordion and trumpet. The crowd went crazy for some of his solos. Dominic, the bass player, doesn’t sing but he’s just captivating to watch, smiling and going at that bass as if there were no better thing to do on this earth (I’ve felt that at times, but it seems to glow permanently from Dominic).

Josh, who wrote a good number of their songs and sings lead most of the time, is quite fine to look at (as a lead singer often should be) and his voice is just the right combination of mellow and earthy. And Joe… well, what a talent. He sings the tightest, most excellent harmonies that just blow me away… while he’s simultaneously playing steel guitar or dobro. He used to play trombone with the band sometimes, but did not play it on the CD (or this concert) at all, so maybe Andy is a one-man brass section these days.

These guys just played their hearts out! And the audience got up on their feet, until there was no more dancing space available. When they were done, the crowd went wild. The announcer (whose job it is to make sure they stay on schedule for the following bands) allowed an encore. They played that, and the crowd STILL went nuts. I’ve never seen this done, but they allowed a second encore. And after that second one, they got off stage *fast* so they wouldn’t mess up the schedule… but that crowd did not want to hear no for an answer. It was wonderful. I was so happy for the band, and for the audience. And next time, I think Wheatland Music Organization will have to answer some serious questions if they don’t put this band on the main stage. It must be because they are a) young, and/or b) from Michigan, that they didn’t look like main stage matierial. I can’t think of any other reasons… and of course, neither is valid. Main stage in 2005, I say!

(Michigan residents, make sure to check out Steppin’ in It’s Greasy Spoon Atlas for the scoop on breakfast joints all over the state. They have covered the state well, with a few entries from the Upper Peninsula as well as lower.)

Saturday evening after the concert, we played more tunes, as we had expected. We found the same spot as the night before on Workshop Lane. Our friend Bob McCarthy joined us again, and our friend Willie T (who used to be in Abbott Brothers before I knew Brian) joined us with his keyboard. Oh, my, was that a good time! We had a good crowd around us much of the time.

Early in that jam session, the young man (Cameron, age 14) from the night before came up to me with a box the size of a Ukulele. Turns out he had determined to learn this instrument after watching Brian for 2 hours the night before. He was so determined to get it, that he sold his ocarina (that he had bought for himself at one time earlier) and his walking stick, to earn the cash for the uke. He came asking Brian to show him some things.

Brian tuned the instrument and showed Cameron a few chords and invited him to play along with us. Cameron sat next to me and I did my best to encourage him. I told him what I tell my young knitters… that when you learn a bicycle you are not good at it right away, that you need to practice before you know if you are good at it or not. I encouraged him not to quit too soon, before he had tried enough to play it. Brian told him “Don’t watch TV, play uke.” Strong words, but said without a thread of doubt, and excellent advice for a kid that age.

I gave Cameron a copy of our CD and our business card so he can contact us if he wants. He did OK for a first night, so I am hoping he’ll keep up the enthusiasm long enough to play well. It was fun to sit next to him during the jam. I kept telling him what chord I was playing and he did his best to chase the chords around! I understand what it’s like to not know, and he did pretty well.

We played there until about 1:30 and then we went to see our friends from Kalamazoo and Bay City. It’s mostly women at that camp, a big change of pace from our other musical circles. The women sing wonderful songs, in wonderful harmonies. Lots of the songs are sentimental or sad, and so one of their male friends who hangs out sometimes, tells them to stop playing all that “whiney shit.” So we call them the whiney grrrlz sometimes. I love these women, and I don’t see them much, usually twice a year. We stayed until we got cold and our voices were giving out, about 2:30am.

Sunday morning I opened my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I sent Brian off to find music to play without me, because I knew if I took my bass and went with him, I’d force my voice and that is a bad idea. I want to be strong to sing at our upcoming fall Ukulele Festivals, so I held back one day at Wheatland and I’m glad I did. I went over to the whiney grrlz’ camp and listened to them play music while I knitted. When we all had to sort of break it up (some of the folks at that camp had to drive long distances home… one woman 8 hours) we did our hugfest and I was back on my way to our camp.

I could not find Brian at all. It turns out he had gone back to Middleground and I had not thought to go there looking for him. So I checked out all the artists’ booths and talked to one jeweler for a while. I got some iced tea, chatted with a few friends I came across and took some photographs of the crowd. Finally I went back thinking I’d start carrying things to the car in anticipation of going home. I found Brian when I got back to camp.

It was a grand time, even if I did complain a lot about being outdoors. I don’t like dirt on my feet and face, I don’t like port-a-potties, I don’t like sleeping in tents. But I do love the music and the comaraderie. I love the food my friends bring. I love the colorful clothing, the youthful energy I find, the fabulous tunes we play with folks we don’t see elsewhere, and the artfulness and joy I find at this festival. We’ll go again next year, for sure.

Photos: A toast at potluck, recorder concert at potluck, cover of Steppin’ in It’s new CD, art fair section of the festival (complete with tie-dye customers), two pictures of tunes at whiney grrlz camp (with two token men for balance).

Wheatland 2004, Chapter 2/Middleground

Monday, September 13th, 2004

Day two of Wheatland was Saturday. I slept in until the tent was too warm from sunlight, to stay asleep. I think that was 11am or something decadent like that! I got up slowly, woke up even more slowly. Brian, the sweetie that he is, made sure I got a cup of good strong tea as soon as possible. The tea helped considerably. I am quiet and grumpy in the morning (that is, before noon). I was happy that the people we stayed with knew that my normal self is not like that! Sometimes I feel like a toddler who was taken from her nap too soon!

Fortunately, the sun shone and the day was beautiful. We got what food we could find, and talked with folks we knew (Hanno was there, the host of the party on Labor Day weekend where I took the pic of the kids with squash). We listened to a little bit of music here and there, and then Art and Marlene told us that we needed to go over to Middleground and check out the scene.

Middleground is a relatively new thing at Wheatland, but it’s a wonderful thing. It came out of the fact that there were teenagers feeling out of place at Wheatland, with nothing they really liked to do, and they would get in trouble because of boredom. Well, that is all different now. Now the folks like us with gray hair want to be at Middleground where the teens and college kids hang out!

There are all sorts of free craft activities, from making felt (and then making the felt into purses if you wanted), free henna tattoos (long line for that one), free make your own tie-dye shirt (also over an hour wait), hair wraps, hemp bracelets/necklaces, hacky sack, juggling African dancing and much more. How cool is that? The thing that got us out there, was that they have an open microphone going the whole festival. Anyone who wants can get a 15-minute slot, you don’t have to be under 30 years old to do it.

Our friends encouraged us to sign up, so Brian went over and got us a 4pm time slot. We told as many people as we could, and we headed over there to play. It was very fun. It’s a small stage and it’s surrounded by all these great activities. The long line for henna tattoos was right next to us so those folks were happy for a distraction, and a handful of our friends (including Andy Wilson, member of the band Steppin in It) were there. It is so fun to play to friends!!! We had a fun time.

After we played onstage, there was a young man telling jokes, wearing fingerless gloves and a skirt (so smart, it’s a shame more men don’t dare do this, but you see young men wearing skirts at at festivals all the time… they are so much more cool in hot weather than shorts). There was a young lady who sang original material, singing guitar with a friend for harmony. Then our friend Art sang a few songs he wrote himself… always with a big grin. He’s so easy to be around, and the crowd liked his songs.

It is a long walk from Middleground to The Pines (Wheatland is on what was once a working farm). It seemed everyone on the path had to ask me about my odd-looking bass. Art was walking with us, and he was showing us off, so we did little one-song concerts on the way back. Pretty fun.

Photos, all at Middleground: Juggling crowd, lovely young lady listening to original music on stage, The Fabulous Heftones, Art singing his original song, juggling crowd, joke teller.

Wheatland 2004, Chapter 1

Monday, September 13th, 2004

Well, here is the scoop on Wheatland 2004. It was a wonderful time, really. Friday we got there before dinnertime and Brian got the tent up in record time. Marlene and Art got there the day before (when you volunteer you get one day of lead time) and they found a great spot between the Musicians’ campground and the main stage. That means that we got to hear the music all weekend by hanging out at our campsite, if we didn’t want to go sit in the crowd. That was particularly nice this year, since the sun shone a lot and even I got a little sunburn (and I’m really careful to stay out of the sun and cover up my shoulders with a sarong when I’m out running around).

I wandered over to the common area Art and Marlene had set up, and lo and behold they were eating homemade california rolls that Marlene had made and brought with her. Sushi at a campground? I was amazed, but that sort of tells you the company we keep at this festival! They had good wine going all weekend, too, but I’m not a wine drinker so I can’t report on that part. I had a california roll just to say I had sushi at Wheatland! It even included some cucumbers from their garden. How great that was.

Then I made Brian and I some rollups with baked italian-flavored tofu and spinach, and Marlene gave me a small tomato from their garden, just picked. Another gourmet treat the first few hours at camp! We really enjoyed that dinner immensely.

After that, we wandered down to the food vendor/stage area/art fair and took in the sights, saying hello to many friends on the way. Brian found some more food and I got a cup of tea. Then we went looking for tunes (a jam session).

We didn’t find anyone right away who we knew, so we found a spot on workshop lane (a place in the pines camping area where they set up benches in circles for workshops during the day), and we played together until we attracted a few friends and a few musicians we had not met yet.

We were at a sort of well-trafficked area not far from the main stage, so we had a lot of folks stop and listen before passing through. It was great to have an audience, and everyone was so responsive I really enjoyed it. Eventually our friend Bob McCarthy (from our Abbott Brothers band) came by, and a gentleman with a guitar who played a lot of 70s popular/folk music I knew a little bit, and a few others who came and went.

And a young man, age 14 (we learned later his name was Cameron), plunked himself on the ground sitting with his back against a light pole, and listened for hours. When we would stop he’d talk to us for a while. At one point he said he thought his fingers couldn’t fit on a ukulele keyboard. I told him that Tiny Tim, a famous ukulele player, was about 6 feet 4 inches tall, and a large man, and he played it just fine.

After that session sort of broke up, and the main stage was silent (after 11pm) we found our friend Dick (also Abbott Brothers band) and we found a few chairs in the audience area of the main stage where we sat and played tunes until about 1:30am or so. It was quite wonderful. We only ended because it was getting chilly out. Actually, I went to bed at that point but Brian got a few more layers on him and he went to the musicians’ campground and found a jam session that went on a few more hours. I would have enjoyed that, but my voice and my body needed to rest.

Photos: 1) Sushi at Wheatland… left to right is Chuck , Dorothea, Annie, Brian, Art, Marlene, Dietrich. 2&3) Two Garden Spaces created by RV/trailer occupants at another area of the festival. They went all out making it home, didn’t they? Can you see the wrought iron posts and the potted flowers? 4) the Footworks dance troupe, doing a Gumboots dance (from South Africa) which was not nearly long enough for me!