This year’s Hoxeyville festival featured two stages side-by-side similar to the arrangement at All Good, allowing for non-stop music with out the festival-goers’ dilemma of overlapping sets. Each day featured eight bands, and the first four were generally Michigan-based acts, with regional bands and national headliners filling in the later slots. A rather low key event, Hoxeyville didn’t feature any late-night sets and even requires drum circles to end by midnight. However, the sounds of picking strings and soft voices could be heard from many a campsite; one needn’t wander very far to find friendly faces passing a bottle around in the dark, punctuated by bursts of raucous laughter.
Funktion out of Ann Arbor kicked things off on Friday with their wallop-packing mix of horns, keys, percussion, guitar and vocals that mixed funk and hip-hop vibes. Steppin’ In It out of Lansing followed, led by singer/composer Joshua Davis whose mix of keys, guitar, pedal and lap steel guitars, and horns showed why they are garnering more and more attention of late. Strange Arrangement, a jam band from Chicago followed and provided a hot throwdown of rocking numbers filled with complex jams that had congas and djembe playing off of keys and guitar backed by an impressive rhythm section. Although Strange Arrangement has been around for a decade, their sound manages to be both fresh and accessible, but very tight – definitely an act to look for in the future.
One of several collaborative efforts followed called Airborne or Aquatic led by Michigan’s Seth Bernard but featuring an all-star lineup including Mike Shimmin and Greensky’s Dave Bruzza on drums (as the announcer said, “Yes folks, he also plays drums”). Behind the guitar and mic, Bernard’s storytelling, backed by the band, took the audience on an Airborne journey from Canada’s frozen north back to Michigan. Although their performances are few and far between, it’s a highly recommended experience.
Ohio’s veteran jam band Ekoostik Hookah followed, and as always proved that even after 20 years and lineup changes that they can still command an audience and have them moving. However, it was Ann Arbor’s Ella Riot – formerly known as My Dear Disco – that pushed the party into overdrive as the sun set over the Manistee National Forest. Something of a cross between Lady Gaga and Of Montreal, Ella Riot combines funk, rock, glam-pop, and techno beats and had the crowd grooving into the evening hours.
Friday’s final act was Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk whose New Orleans-infused funk had everyone getting down. Although they didn’t look particularly happy to be there (I mean, feel free to smile now and again like you enjoy your job), they sounded as good as I’ve heard them. After the end of their set, Seth Bernard and his incredibly talented bride May Erlewine Bernard gave a very quiet acoustic performance under the darkened Mitten Tent while a performer twirled fire poi nearby.
Music started early on Saturday as northern Michigan’s indie-folk darlings Breathe Owl Breathe brought their brand of unassuming, well conceived and ever so charming music to the morning stage. The trio enthralled the small crowd as they blended cello, guitar, keys, and drums with male and female vocals and quirky lyrics.
Two Michigan-based acts followed, including the husband-wife team of Seth and May Erlewine Bernard, and the Ragbirds. The Bernards brought their folk-rock sounds to the stage with fiddle and guitar playing seamlessly, followed by the Ragbirds ever-cheery sound courtesy of front woman Erin Zindle’s sweet vocals and impressive fiddle and mandolin playing.
Vince Herman’s Great American Taxi brought their blend of guitar, mandolin, rock, blues and fun to the crowd. The Macpodz out of Ann Arbor followed and it was immediately apparent that they to throw down a lot of craziness – as usual and the crowd responded enthusiastically. Todd Snider with Great American Taxi took the stage as the songwriter captivated the audience backed by Herman and Co. Greensky Bluegrass’s headlining set was another main attraction and their mix of older and newer originals, drawn out improvisational jams, and unexpected teases and transitions in and out of songs showed once again why they continue to garner so much praise and attention. A King of the Hill > Reuben’s Train > King of the Hill combo and drawn out performance of All Four proved that the jamming styles of Phish and the Dead can be masterfully applied to bluegrass instrumentation. At the end of their slot, they were brought back onto stage for one of the few encores of the weekend as Hoffman teased Jaywalking into a cover of Paul Simon’s Gumboots – all to the crowd’s delight.
Digital Tape Machine, featuring Joel Cummins and Kris Myers from Umphrey’s brought a reprise of the sunset dance party from the night before. Infusing hard rock guitar riffs with keyboard loops, Myers’ ever-steady beats and house-meets-jamtronica sounds, DTM was one of the hottest performances of the weekend.
Immediately following was a two-hour set by Umphrey’s McGee. Their first performance in over a month, the Hoxeyville set was a perfect end to a great Saturday of music that included some super-tasty Jimmy Stewart sandwiches including Smell the Mitten > Jimmy Stewart > Smell the Mitten, Red Tape > Jimmy Stewart > Red Tape and End of the Road > Jimmy Stewart > End of the Road. A smoking cover of Talking Heads’ Girlfriend is Better was eclipsed somewhat by spot on covers of Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh and Another Brick in the Wall that showed people can still dance their asses off while their jaws are on the floor.
After the Umphrey’s set, the festival held their 1st Annual ProAm Glow Disc Golf Tournament. Given the popularity of the sport among music festival fans, Hoxeyville enlisted Disc Golf Michigan’s resident champion and innovator Stephanai Myers to design one of her signature glow disc golf courses specially for the festival. Walking through the course at night, black lights in the trees illuminated fluorescent painted baskets and markers. The short but more technical 9-hole course located in the woods behind the main stages seemed to be heavily trafficked the entire festival. Hopefully this is one attraction that spreads to other festivals.
Sunday morning brought the sweet sounds of Michigan songstress Rachel Davis to the stage, followed by the Crane Wives, a folk-indie group out of Grand Rapids. Picking things up a bit, Rootstand and Ultraviolet Hippopotamus followed bringing homespun roots rock and jam flavors to the early afternoon.
As Chicago’s Van Ghost took the stage, I was hitting the links on the disc golf course (ended up +1) and was almost kicking myself for not being there. But the sound was sufficient that the vocals of Michael Harrison Berg and Jennifer Hartswick made for an incredible soundtrack to the game. Jamaican reggae legends the Itals brought a welcome change to a lot of the roots rock and showed that their Rasta Philosophy was still alive and kicking. Following a set by Michigan supergroup Starlight Six, came the final performance of the weekend.
Although nearly all the sets were perfectly timed, apparently Mickey Hart just has too much gear on stage for a timely sound check as he left the audience waiting for over an hour before starting. Among the songs Mickey’s band performed, a percussion-laden Scarlet Begonias was a notable highlight, and not a bad way to cap off a relaxing weekend of sunny skies, friendly faces and incredible music. As Hoxeyville celebrates its 10 year anniversary next summer, there is little doubt that this little gem of a festival will continue to garner praise as a showcase for some of the mitten state’s best talent and impressive performances by established artists.
Here’s a full gallery of Andrew’s shots from Hoxeyville 2011…