Saturday at the Singing Hills Stage kicked off with an artist I was not familiar with. Reading Seth Walker’s biography was like a geography lesson: born in North Carolina, he has also spent time in Jacksonville, Florida, Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee, and his current home port, New Orleans, Louisiana. His music is likewise from all over the map. He is a jazz influenced Americana singer-songwriter who sounds like he has been percolating in both Music City and NOLA for some time. I may not have been familiar with Walker’s music, but the size of the crowd that trudged up the hill for the afternoon opener was a good indication that many others were. It was a good set to start the second day at the Singing Hills Stage.
Scottie Miller and band rolled in next. I was really looking forward to hearing them again and mentioned to Scottie that I had been spinning his Rise Up! CD a lot since PMMF #11. He said, “Really? Well, we have some new music coming out for you pretty soon.” I had a great time talking drums with Mark O’Day last year. He too was surprised when I told him I was disappointed that he was playing the house set on our stage and not the funky set he had with him last year. “Oh yeah,” he replied, “I have them in the van and will use them tomorrow. They had the other set already here so I figured it would save time to use the house set up.” Scottie played the Singing Hills stage last year and then played in Ruthie Foster’s band on the main stage. This go around, they did our stage and then headlined the Peace Hill stage on the closing night. I can’t say enough about his new CD Reciprocation and assure you we will keep spinning that and Rise Up! until me puts another disk in the can! The musical variety played and his up tempo delivery makes me believe we may get to see the Scottie Miller band again at some future festival.
John Craigie was the first solo act on Saturday. When I found out he works out of Portland, Oregon, we had a little discussion about the area. I have limited knowledge of the town having spent two weeks there post college graduation and a couple of hours on a quick pass through by train and bus last summer. It turns out he hasn’t been there all that long but we were able to make some connections. Like many of the singer-songwriters that come through the PMMF, Craigie was an engaging storyteller. While telling the story in a song is a true art form, the stories artists tell to set the scene for the songs are always a blast to hear. I have never been to the Burning Man Festival, but thanks to Craigie, I now know one has to wear a watch and never ask another attendee, ‘What time is it?” (cliff hanger alert: to find out more about Burning Man Festival time, readers will have to wait for an upcoming FTV: It’s About Time) I made it a point to pick up Craigie’s Live in Portland CD and will be sharing that with our listeners as well.
Road warrior Randy McAllister blew in next. He had been at the festival many years ago and judging by the age of his current band, most of them were probably in elementary school at that time. His fiddle player has roots in Marquette as her folks used to work at Northern Michigan University before they headed out west. She had a lot of questions about all things U.P so we had a nice conversation about her roots. A Texas native, McAllister works out of the Dakotas these days and one could confuse him for an oil shale worker or a sod buster. He plays a drum set that looks to be held together with spit and bandaids. It can only be called a ‘set’ because it had a bass drum, snare and a cymbal. As rugged as it looked, it was the sound that he coaxed out of it to accompany his harmonica playing and vocals that made everyone sit up and take notice. Rocking, roadhog, country blues – whatever you would like to call it – McAllister put on a set that kept everyone who wasn’t rooted to the ground dancing frenetically at the stage front.
McCallister mentioned something about being down to two drumsticks and someone in the audience actually brought him a pair for his supply. He graciously took them and while packing up, he mentioned they were not the size he prefers. I took note that his two beat up sticks were size 7A which is what I normally use. About the same time, his young guitar player asked, “How far is it to the nearest music store?” He had broken a string one one of his two guitars and was clean out of replacements. After telling him that he was an hour away from a store and the odds of them being open on a Saturday night were slim to none, I asked him what size he was looking for. He said he didn’t really care what size they were (makes sense if he didn’t have any at all) so I volunteered that I had a spare set of Ernie Ball Super Slinkies at home. Not doing the Sunday shift, I was able to make arrangements with security guy Greg Nelson to stop by and pick them up to deliver to the band on Sunday. As long as he was going that way, I threw in an extra pair of 7A drumsticks and figured I had done my part supporting a band of true road warriors. I told Greg that they were on the house unless the band offered up a CD in exchange. None was offered, so I guess I will just have to keep spinning the McCallister promo CD provided by the PMMF music acquisition committee.
My original schedule showed festival stalwarts Seth Bernard and May Erlewine as our final act, but the weekend of the show, only May was listed. I never got the scoop why she was soloing this weekend, but it was good to see at least one of them. In the early days of the festival, I was never in the right place to see them. Back when they were still billed as Seth and Daisy May, I was supposed to run the soundboard for a workshop but I was told it was at 2 pm on a Saturday and when I got there at 1:45 pm, they were just wrapping up. “Schedule change,” was the only explanation I got so I never did get to talk to them until years later when they finally appeared on the Singing Hills stage. That year, they performed with a band borrowed from the Lansing area and I still think of it as the Turkeys in the Rain band because that is the one song that pops to mind when I think back to that performance. Some were a little disappointed in the ‘electric Seth and May’ but I enjoyed them in a band format. I had a little more time to talk to Seth that year because we both showed up to see Sharkey from Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovians play slide mandolin (yes, slide mandolin). A little awed by Sharkey’s performance, we discussed the finer points of something neither of us had ever seen attempted before.
Talking to May (and I am sorry if some are still stuck calling her Daisy May – that was an earlier version of her musical life) after her sound check was like talking to an old friend even though we had never had a one on one discussion before. Music, family, traveling, and (again) Portland, Oregon came into the conversation and before we noticed it was show time, Marty ‘suggested’ that we should end the conversation and get on with it. May is yet another example of a singer-songwriter who shares stories of songs and inspirations making her set part living room concert, part travel log. She ended her set with one of the most beautiful interpretations of People Get Ready that I have ever heard.
We packed up before taking my leave of Mary, Marty, and the rest of the Singing Hills crew. I had been asked repeatedly if I could come back and help Sunday but I assured them that one of my former WOAS DJs, Anna Fuller, would do just fine. PMMF #13 is still seven months away, but I am already getting excited to be part of this unique festival. New volunteers are always welcome – hope to see you there in August of 2017! The Sunday emcee slot at the Singing Hills Stage would be a fun way for another volunteer to get their feet wet. Be forewarned: That is how I started eleven years ago. The whole PMMF thing kind of gets into your blood.
Top Piece Video: Randy McCallister Band from a 2015 festival performance in Libby, Montana