Nor-East’r Post Script
The Nor-east’r Music & Art Festival of 2014 is now history, and speaking for myself, it exceeded all of my high expectations on every level. As reported previously, I had a great time at last year’s Nor-east’r, but I was there as an attendee, not a featured performer, and there’s a world of difference between the two perspectives. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED having the opportunity to hear really great music from the likes of The Ragbirds, Jill Jack, The Appleseed Collective, Annie & Rod Capps, The Potter’s Field, Dave Boutette, Floyd King and the Bushwackers and more. But having the opportunity to play both the Main Stage and The Parlor just propelled the experience into overdrive, and I’m still riding the natural high I got from all the creativity, wonderful friendships and positive vibrations that were abundant throughout the weekend. (Click images to enlarge. All photos by Andrew Rogers.)
I drove up to Mio early Friday afternoon expecting more of the same great weather that we’d been experiencing in southeastern Michigan, and Saturday and Sunday delivered beautifully, but when I stopped for gas in Mio on the way to the festival site, it was quite clear that the first day’s festivities would take place in “hoodie” weather. Sadly, I left my hoodie home. Nevertheless, it was good to be onsite at the Oscoda County Fairgrounds, and no one was going to let the chilly temps dampen the spirit of the event. When I arrived, I set up “camp,” “In My (Honda) Element,” strolled the grounds and hooked up with the friends that I ran into, then promptly took a nap. By that point, it was already clear that sleeping that evening would be a frigid experience.
My friends John Natiw and Rochelle Clark aka The Potter’s Field hosted the Friday Night Open Mic in The Parlor, so I made it a point to sign up for a fairly early 7 PM spot, to support their event and to get my own music out there to anyone who may or may not have heard it. Because of the cool weather, the Open Mic was well attended all evening, and my three songs were very well received. Afterwards, I braved the cold and ventured out to the Main Stage, where I stuck it out to the very end. I’m glad I did, because The Marvins delivered one of the finest performances that I witnessed all weekend. I met Peter LeClair and Carmen Paradise at last year’s Nor-East’r, and I loved what I heard from them as a duo, but they finished out Friday night this year with a full band, including Jason Demmon on a variety of instruments and Sam Rice on percussion. These four pumped out one tight, well-crafted song after another and played and sang them beautifully. I was grooving throughout their entire set, and yes, they had me dancing. I went to “bed” happy, although that was cut short by my lack of foresight in not bringing warmer bedding and clothing. In my defense, I had a big-ass, heavy duty blanket doubled up over me, which, when teamed with a thick sheet, I thought would repel any late spring-early summer cold spell, but such was not quite the case.
I woke up at about 7:30 on Saturday morn, after a poor night’s sleep, due to the frigid temps. I trudged out to find coffee at around 8, and ran into Dave Boutette, who MC’d both Saturday and Sunday’s Main Stage, not to mention demonstrating his abundant talents both there and in The Parlor. He said, “Meet me backstage in 15 minutes, and I’ll warm you up.” I had planned to warm up on my own, of course, but this worked out so much better. Dave pulled out his Martin, and I my old Guild, and we played through 6 or 7 songs, mostly traditional or covers, and I was focused and centered pretty much from song one. I have no doubt that I played as well as I did at my 10 AM Main Stage opener on Saturday morning because Dave took the time to do this with me, and I am so grateful to him for doing so.
That 10 AM Saturday set to open the day’s Main Stage performances was about as well as I’ve ever played in any setting, festival or otherwise. My concern that I might be a little tight because of nerves was totally assuaged by my earlier jamming with Mr. Boutette. I was comfortable, I paced every song the way they needed to be and I sang very well. I can always save a performance when I don’t feel I play guitar or harp as well as I’m capable of with my singing, because my voice has always been my best instrument. Happily, I was hitting on all cylinders during this set. I am especially gratified by the support shown by Peter LeClair, Carmen Paradise, Annie Capps, John Natiw, Jason Dennie and Rochelle Clark, who all ventured out to hear me.
By 1 AM, I could tell that I was fading, so I retired to the Element for a nap. Half an hour later, I was ready for me 3 O’clock set in The Parlor, so I had a double green tea brewed by them ol’ hippy boys with the caffeine truck and went to get ready. My buddy Brandon Worder-Smith, of The Appleseed Collective, had offered to sit in with me, if circumstances allowed, and since Appleseed played right before me, he was right at hand for two fun songs early on in the set. I was also joined for three songs by my old Bay City buddy, fiddler Andy Rogers. I was especially pleased to honor Nick Carrick’s request to reprise my song, “I’m a Hop Head,” celebrating great Michigan India Pale Ales and jamming with my “nephew” Chris Degnore’s band, The Black Drops, at One-Eyed Betty’s, in Ferndale. By this time in the festival’s timeline, there was a lot going on all over the place, and people were coming and going, but this set was so much fun to play, and the audience response was terrific.
After my 3 O’clock, I was free and easy to enjoy all the other music being played in the three main venues, so I stashed my instruments and went to hear other people play. My first stop was in “The Barn,” where Red Tail Ring, in their expanded format as Bowhunter (with Samantha Cooper on fiddle and Sam Herman on banjo), were playing a contra dance session. The dancers were mostly fledglings, but the players’ music hit me directly in my old time soul. I love old time country dance music; as Red Tail Ring’s Michael Beauchamp put it, “Old time music is bluegrass, only slower.” I wandered in and out throughout their 2-plus hours and heard nothing but great stuff from them.
I also heard five songs by Red Tail Ring on their 2 PM Main Stage set, before I had to move over to The Parlor at 3. They were brilliant, as always, and performed a version of John Hartford’s “A Long, Hot Summer Day” that I absolutely loved. While listening, I turned to John Natiw, and said to him, “I can adapt this to harmonica no sweat, and I think it will work.” He just smiled and nodded in agreement.
Red Tail Ring also played a 7 PM set in The Parlor, and they were SO on and in tune with each other, it was a joy to behold. I’ve experienced Laurel and Michael several times now over the past few years, and they never fail to deliver, but this was the best I’ve ever heard them play. I love old time Appalachian Mountain–styled music, and these two do it so very well. It was one of my two favorite moments of the festival, as a spectator.
The other favorite moment was Mike Mangione & the Union. OMG! Totally different than Red Tail Ring, more like a cross between Springsteen, Costello and Waits. The precision and dynamics of Mangione and company were totally compelling, and I hung throughout their entire 9:40 Main Stage set, despite the falling temps. The dynamics of these guys are amazing, and I was entranced throughout their performance. The following morning, I asked John Natiw, “Why doesn’t everybody know about them?!” He could only shrug, and answer, “I dunno.” They are THAT good.
After that, I faded into the woodwork. Michal and Laurel had invited me to jam with them, and there was other playing going on as well, but I was dead to the world. I was asleep before midnight, and never even heard Annie, Rod, Jason and The Marvins jamming a few tents away from me a little later on.
I woke up at 10 AM Sunday morning. I guess I needed the sleep, and fortunately, it wasn’t near as frigid as the night before, so I slept the night away peacefully. I indulged in an exotic extended breakfast of halved avocado with Niagara Peninsula Baco Noir vinegar that tasted more like blueberries (but worked quite nicely) at the Element, and a heaping plate of quinoa and veggies whilst listening to The Marvins tear it up in The Parlor, with a little help from Rod, Annie and Jason. It was a beautiful end to my Nor-East’r experience, because I had to head back to the ranch, to take care of all kinds of much more mundane, but no less important, business.
Many thanks to Craig Carrick, Nancy Miller, Buffy Carr and all the volunteers and board members at Nor-East’r Fest for going above and beyond to make this such a great event every year. Special thanks go out to Bill and Jeanne Cardinal, whose sponsorship made it possible for me to play at this great festival. Thanks also to all the many fine musicians, for their talent, inspiration and camaraderie, and finally, thanks to everyone who attended, because, without an audience, there would be no Nor-East’r. See you all next year!