Would the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival’s 13th edition prove to be a convergence of bad luck? For people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia, it would seem that PMMF # 13 would have been the one to avoid. For those of us who harbor no such fears, we would have found that the unnatural fear of anything ‘13’ would have resulted in our missing yet another delightful music fest in the shadow of the Porcupine Mountain Ski Hill. As per the usual post festival wrap up, this FTV will focus on the happenings at the Singing Hills stage as that is where yours truly has spent each Friday and Saturday for a number of years.
Having received the WOAS-FM promotional package from festival director Cheryl some weeks before, it sat unmolested on my pile of summer station mail waiting for closer inspection. The staff training day the Monday before the festival came and went so the schedule, wrist band gate pass and volunteer neck tag migrated out to my car so they wouldn’t be sitting at the station on opening day. Arriving at the hill slightly before the official gate opening time of 1 pm, I gathered my backpack of survival gear and trudged up through the chalet and climbed the path to the Singing Hills stage. When I greeted Armadillo Sound tech Marty, he was going about his usual business of setting up the PA and stage monitors. “A little early, aren’t you?” was Marty’s greeting and it took me back a bit as I thought I was right on time. Guessing there had been a missed communication, I offered to help with anything Marty needed help with and then dug out the schedule. There it was: “Singing Hills Stage – 2:45 PM – Paul “Mayo” Mayasich”. I was more than “a little early.”
Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch Marty at work even though there had been a slight mix up this year. Marty’s new truck has one of those ‘underbed’ storage areas and not opening it resulted in the big mixing board remaining back in the Twin Cities. A few years back, this would have been a bigger problem but with the advent of I-Pad based tools, he was able to use an alternate setup that worked just fine without his big board. Marty was a bit unhappy with himself, but as a true professional, he dug into his vast well of musical tech skills and made it happen. The added bonus time gave me a chance to chat with Marty more than if I had rolled in at 2 PM. We needed a drill to help set up Marty’s collapsible awning so I trotted off to the chalet in search of the equipment cart. A couple of people who had proclaimed that they would not be volunteering this year were at their usual stations, so the added time meant I could also good naturedly harass them about not making good on their retirement pronouncements from last year.
When Paul “Mayo” Mayasich showed up for his sound check, he mentioned that he was from the Minnesota Iron Range and it was good to be playing in the other part of the country that understood the concept of pasties. Of course, this little tidbit had to be worked into his introduction so as he took the stage, he was introduced as “A man who knows his way around the guitar and a pasty” which took him mildly by surprise. Playing solo, he served up some raucous acoustic and slide guitar tunes using a ¾ inch wrench socket for his slide. When asked about this after his well received set, his explanation was Finlander logical: “Every town I play in might not have a music store, but they pretty much all have a hardware store if I need to get a new one.” It was my first unconventional slide encounter for this festival (there would be more), but it seemed to work fine for Paul.
Hailing from Soldier’s Grove, WI, Joe and Nikki were next on the bill. Calling themselves The Yellow Bellied Sap Suckers, they described their musical style was “a new take on old country” so naturally, that was how they were introduced. They were a charming couple and they had a little fun with Marty getting their mic and direct inputs set up. They promised Marty that they would subtly let him know when they would be using a mandolin on a couple of tunes and they had great fun during their set by not so subtly reminding Marty they were ready. I happened to be backstage talking drums with Jacob from the Sentimentals (the next SH stage act) and he looked a bit bewildered why they were nagging Marty with mandolin hints. I explained that they were having a little fun with the sound guy and that was pretty much the tone of their ‘new take on old country’: some true country wailing from the hollers of southern Wisconsin, a little kazoo, a little violin, and some humorous lyrics made me look forward to hearing them open the SH Stage on Saturday.
North Dakota native Ana Egge had been at the festival a couple of years ago with a trio. Since then, she had hooked up with an indie Danish band called the Sentimentals and they were touring behind their recently recorded album. The Danish Sentimentals all spoke excellent English but little phrases required some explanation. Guitarist MC needed a screwdriver to open a speaker cab he had borrowed to check the impedance. I assured him that what he was looking for on the speaker would indeed be the “impedance” – unfortunately, there were no markings in the cabinet or on the speaker at all. He opted to not take a chance on blowing up someone else’s speaker. The music they made was well crafted and interesting. Perhaps the ‘indie’ label had me expecting something edgier, but the material Ana performed with them sounded more like “electrified Ana Egge songs” based on her last appearance. I chuckled when I read an article about the festival in another local paper. The reporter apparently missed the part about Ana being the American performing with a Danish band when they talked with her about the small size of “her country” compared to American.
Last up on the Friday bill was a Chicago band called The Lucky Dutch. As soon as the guitar player plugged in and started playing the distinctive guitar chords of The James Gang’s classic Funk #49, I knew I was going to like this band. The drummer had a large enough kit to set up that I spent most of my time passing his stuff to him over the back rail of the stage and then packing up the house kit that Jacob had used with Ana Egge. I did manage to ask the backstory on the band name and was told, “Well, that is a long story, but suffice to say it has to do with someone’s high school nickname.” Fair enough. They drew a large, lively crowd and put on an energized show. Their melding of Prince’s When Doves Cry segued seamlessly into a very Hendrixian All Along the Watchtower got a big audience reaction. Noting that guitar player / vocalist Nathan Graham was sporting eight rings, I couldn’t quite make out the one he had on his left ring finger. When I asked him about it later, he showed me that it was a custom made slide consisting of a small metal bar attached to a ring with a little tab that let him rotate it to the palm side of his hand to play slide and back to the top of his finger when he was chording. I got a fist bump from him and a handshake from the drummer with a hearty ‘thanks for the help’ which is always nice to hear from a band that has just finished cutting up your stage. I am already looking forward to The Lucky Dutch returning in the future. When asked if they have had trouble with botched introductions, they did confirm that they have been introduced as “The Lucky Ducks” from time to time – (but not here!).
As previously mentioned, The Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers returned to open the Singing Hills Stage on Saturday. They put on another fun set and Nikki was stoked because she had heard someone in the campground Friday night commenting about “the girl who played violin and kazoo”. Watching the Saturday set, if finally dawned on me that Joe’s appearance and comedic chops reminded me a lot of the late Joe E. Brown. I mentioned it to them and they were not familiar with his work, but they assured me they would look him up as soon as they could find an internet connection.
Another festival returnee provided us with the biggest challenge of Saturday. Laney Jones and the Spirits made a big enough impact last year to be asked back for two sets this year (the second being the festival closing slot on Sunday afternoon). Laney is a coiled spring of enthusiasm and pretty much had me exhausted by the time the sound check was done. Her band mates were tight and the camaraderie among them was obvious during setup and the show. The Spirits guitar player laughed when I told him they sounded great in the PortaJohn down the hill, responding, “That is the one demographic we don’t want to disappoint!” A few rain drops had begun to fall during the Spirit’s’ set but the showers came and went without disrupting the show.
Jalan (jah-LAWN is how he pronounced it) Crossland turned out to be our last act as the rain decided to pick up the pace. Now hailing from the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, he confessed that his San Francisco upbringing by free spirited parents probably accounts for his sirname. His combination of superb guitar and banjo work, stage patter and tunes made his a most enjoyable set. When he asked the crowd if he should, “play it safe or go out on a limb” with his next song, they opted for “out on a limb”. He pointed out that they should probably be careful showing that kind of enthusiasm when he is picking up his banjo. His story about making a rookie song writing mistake by actually using a girl’s name in a song (meaning he couldn’t use the same song for later girl friends) was priceless. His conditions for having a short intense love affair with any interested ladies carried the hint of a promise that it could lead to another of his tortured love songs. I have heard some terrific solo guitar / banjo / song writers over the twelve years I have volunteered at PMMF, and I have to put Jalan Crossland in the top three. He left with a couple of new gigs booked upon returning to the Big Horns.
With the clouds running south to north and the drizzle getting heavier, it was decided that the rest of the Saturday acts would be held down at the mainstage and/or in the chalet and busking barn. Marty and Mary cut me loose because they didn’t have an official word on what they would have to move so I set off down the hill. I touched base with Kenny Lee and let him know I didn’t have anybody to emcee for the rest of Saturday so I wished him well and headed home a little earlier than I had planned.
The festival used to run with an eye toward the sky and the normal fear of “what happens if it rains?” The first year it did indeed rain, the revamped schedule in the chalet worked just fine. Even though the late Saturday and Sunday acts got chased inside, nobody panicked and the attendees had a memorable festival just the same. I just want to tip my hat to the Friends of the Porkies, the festival organizing committee, festival director and all the volunteers who make this event happen every year. If you haven’t taken the time to check out this gem of a festival, circle the last weekend of August 2018 on your calendar right now. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
Top Piece Video: Speaking of the Lucky Dutch . . .