Our usual modus operandi for August is to dust off the broadcast board and spend the week before the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival cranking out tunes by past, present, and even possible future artists who have (or might) grace the PMMF stages. As a result, I end up with a pretty good working knowledge of what to expect when I take my place working the Singing Hills stage on Friday and Saturday. I was really looking forward to the Friday opener with Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold. Alas, it wasn’t to be as regular Peace Hill stage emcee Kenny Lee had a work obligation that kept him from his post to start the festival and yours truly was asked to cover for him until he could shake free.
I managed to arrive early enough that I got to help Jerry Kippola unload Conga Se Mena’s equipment into the chalet for their Sunday appearance. Jerry’s brother Jim and I were undergrads in the NMU Geography Department way back when. Jerry had always been a well known guitar player/recording studio guy when I was part of the Marquette music scene. I was a bit embarrassed that I didn’t recognize him, but then again, 45 years ago, he bore a striking resemblance to Kerry Livgren of the band Kansas. Let me just say none of us look like we did 45 years ago so I felt a little better when he didn’t recognize me, either. Once we established our common ground, we had a nice little talk about ‘the good old days’.
My first festival volunteer experience was at PMMF #2 working the first four hour shift at the Peace Hill stage even though I was scheduled to work the Singing Hills stage that year. I asked to switch stages that day because I wanted to hear Lindsay Tomasic’s band Trees so the PH emcee and I switched that day. My only other experience on the main stage had been a post set talk off for Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovians that conflicted with a workshop interview Kenny Lee was conducting at the same time. He introduced them and I did the “Give it up for the Slambovians” thing at the end of the set. This sticks with me because I was told “no encores” (to keep the rest of the acts on time). The ever popular Slambovians had also requested that I remind fans that they would do a meet and greet at the merchandise area immediately following their performance. When I tried to make this announcement, I was drowned out by cries of “ more, more” and I responded by telling the crowd pressed up to the stage front, “NO – you can see them at the merch tent today and hear them again tomorrow!” Both the Slambovians and I beat a hasty retreat and I was more than happy to return to my more familiar post at the Singing Hills stage.
While missing Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold was a “minus”, the “plus” here was the festival’s opening act, Vox Vidora. They had made their first festival appearance in 2015 and rocked both stages so it was indeed a pleasure to get things rolling with Molly and the boys.
With the band knocking them dead, I made a pest of myself at the ski chalet office looking for materials to make a “DO NOT USE THIS EXIT” sign to hang inside the door. It seems many people do observe the “artist and handicap entry only” sign at the bottom of the stage side ramp, but within ten minutes, stage manager Chuck Peterson and I had to shoo several folks who came from the concession area and wanted to get out to the stage front the shortest way possible. I am pretty sure the ski hill manager wasn’t real happy to find me rummaging around his desk top for a marker, but he let me go without a frisking once I explained why I was in his office to begin with. A little artsy penmanship from Emily Waters and we were able to simply point at our new sign and not have to keep explaining why people had to take the long way around to get outside.
The second act for the Peace Hill Stage was Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies. It only took a few pointed emcee questions to find out that Lindsay Lou was originally from Iron Mountain and was currently working out of Nashville. The rest of her band was from all over the map so gathering info for an introduction ended up to be quite a geography lesson. They hit the stage with their shiny take on pickin’ and grinin’. About the time I was getting settled in to enjoy the set, Kenny Lee showed up. We exchanged notes on what was coming up next and I headed up the hill to my more familiar post.
By the time I got to the stage, Jack Klatt was in mid-set and Mary gave me a puzzled look. Naturally, I had assumed that someone had clued Mary and Marty from Armadillo Sound why I was going to show up late so imagine my surprise when Marty gave me the old “oh, so you decided to show up after all” bit. I know, never assume . . . but Marty has often said that he feels like a mushroom sometimes (as in “kept in the dark and covered with manure from time to time”). About the time I got settled into my backstage corner, Klatt’s drummer showed up. His GPS had somehow sent him to Mass City instead of Silver City, so we more or less threw him on stage with just a snare drum and a pair of brushes. It worked and they had a lot of fun razzing him about his exploits because he had actually been to the festival with another band in the past. Klatt gave a good performance and I enjoyed seeing him play with a band (he had been a solo artist in 2015).
Tracey Grammar was next up and she was a delight to talk to before she hit the stage. She had spent some years in Portland, Oregon after graduating from the University of California system with a degree in English. She pointed out that it was either teach or sing so we had a lot of fun comparing the two professions from our singer vs teacher side of things. Grammar is one of those artists who tells as many stories as needed to set up the songs that follow. In the end, all of the puzzle pieces from the stories fit nicely into place. She wove together tales of people who helped her along the way and paid tribute to folks from every step of the music business ladder that she has run across.
The Stray Birds were another fun bunch to chit chat with during setup. When there are fewer musicians and less equipment to set up, discussions can range from “where are you from” to “where are you going next” and many points in between. They were pretty excited about the album that they were in the process of putting together. Sonically, there are only so many places a trio can go but with good songwriting and harmonies, The Stray Birds played a great set.
Fauxgrass played pretty much what their name implied. While the Singing Hills stage seemed to be a little ‘bluegrass heavy’ on Friday, not one of the artists was a prototypical bluegrass band. Good players and singers, Fauxgrass put on a memorable set, The highlight of greeting the band upon arrival was our spirited discussion of how many ways people have found to mispronounce their name (hint: there is no ‘fox’ involved’). They didn’t hang too long afterwards as they wanted to get down the hill and catch some of Rev, Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
We wrapped cords and called it a night. I checked out the headliners from backstage and headed home. The end of day one is only halfway to the finish line for me and by the end of the day, my dogs were tired. Stay tuned for PMMF #12 – part 2 and keep your radio or computer on 88.5 FM or www,woas-fm.org to hear music by PMMF artists from across the years.
Top Piece Video – PMMF #12 artist Tracy Grammar performs Gun-Meltal Eyes