Deliriously happy women, great ice cream and more cowbell – Michigan 2012, part two

Waiting at the night stage, chocolate in hand, with Pat and a friend. Photo by Courtney Gillenwaters McKenny.

I was excited about Friday night’s show. Not only did it look like the rain was letting up, but C.C. Carter was on first, sharing the stage with Sistas in the Pit. I’ve seen and loved poet C.C.’s work for a few years now, but the band was new to me. I’d gone to their website, listened to some tunes and loved their ovaries-to-the-wall rock. Seeing those two acts together, I might spontaneously combust.

C. C. Carter being her sexy self. Shelley Doty and Vicki Randle in back. Photo by M.J. Stephenson.

Girl howdy, did they rock it out. C.C. sashayed about in a sexy metallic jumpsuit while the Sistas blasted through power chords. C.C. did her thing in the middle of some songs and sometimes, she just added a few touches to theirs. The set ended with C.C. inviting up Nedra Johnson for a very sensuous rendition of one of her songs, and featuring one of C.C.’s best-known poems, all with the band backing them all up. They had me fanning myself before it was all over.

The only thing I didn’t love about the set was that C.C.’s beautiful words sometimes got lost in the band’s wall of sound. Likewise, there was a moment or two when I wanted to hear the band without C.C. Those are minor complaints though. They still rocked my world.

Dar Williams.

Stellar singer-songwriter Dar Williams was on next. She did two of my favorites, “The Babysitter’s Here” and “When I Was a Boy.” Some performers don’t like doing their older material, especially songs they probably get requests to do at every show, so I really appreciated that she did these. Her lyrics read like good prose – such an incredible writer. (Really nice too. I’ve run into her several times at other events including Durham, NC’s Festival for the Eno. During her set there she encouraged people to stay for my performance.)

Amy Ray with Kaia Wilson and Shelly Doty. Photo by M.J. Stephenson.

The evening finished with Amy Ray and her kick-ass band including The Butchies – Kaia Wilson, Alison Martlew and Melissa York – plus Vicki Randle, Shelly Doty and Julie Wolf. (Julie’s practically the festival band, playing with several acts. It’s no wonder – she’s amazing. I worked with her once on an album. She’s also performed with Ani DiFranco, Bruce Cockburn, Lisa Koch and the Indigo Girls.) It was a high energy set made all the more enjoyable by my seats up front.

Saturday morning I puttered around the campsite. After a leisurely breakfast, I took a shower and got some ice. It was nice to have a little down time.

My shift at Goldenrod started in late morning. Beats from the day stage provided the soundtrack as I helped women discover new music in the listening booth. I love my job.

I got off a little early to catch Dorothy Allison at the Acoustic Stage. I’ve long been a fan of hers, devouring everything from Bastard Out of Carolina to Cavedweller. Hot damn, the woman can write. I’d never seen her in person so I was curious about her presentation. Because her written work is so intense I expected a serious stage presence. The work she read was certainly that, but her between stories patter was funny and engaging, like having coffee with a charming friend.

She read one unpublished piece written from the perspective of a convenience store worker who was robbed. Every audience member was riveted — not even the babies were fussing. She also read some published work, making it even better with her expressive delivery. At the end, we leapt to our feet in wild applause. She stood there, rubbing her eyes and admonished us, “You’re going to make me cry.”

Holly Near was on next, but since I’d had the pleasure of hearing her at the National Festival about a month ago, I elected to dash off and catch the barter market. (If you want to read about my experience at National, check out this post.)

I love the barter market and try to go every year. Situated at the community center, it’s a place where women and girls can bring items and services to trade. No money is allowed. (It would be rude anyway since craftswomen already pay to be at the festival and that’s how they make a living.) I always bring CDs to trade – mine and others. I was disappointed at the turnout this year, but still managed to get some cool stuff including two head scarves and a beautiful green patchwork skirt.

A couple of years ago at the market I scored a mango margarita (battery-powered blenders are a wonderful thing) and other food. No such luck this year although I was offering all of my CDs for a burger. Got some laughs and that was worth something.

I lucked out again with seats up front for the Saturday concerts. It’s great to have friends who’ll stand in line for a good tarp spot. I owe them a lot of money, or at least, a burger — although, in this friend’s case, a grilled cheese sandwich.  It was always wonderful to share space with my friends at the concerts. There’s a whole group of them that I see every year. There’s usually someone up front and someone way in the back, so depending on the mood I’m in, and how much I want to see the performer, I can choose where to sit.

Mary Gauthier and fiddler. Photo by M.J. Stephenson.

For the first act, Mary Gauthier, I sat up front. She’s another incredible writer, with hard-luck stories peppered with crusty characters. I especially loved “I Drink,” one of her older tunes, and one that she opened with.

She appeared with a fiddle player who also sung some back-up and while I enjoyed her at first, I soon grew tired of the arrangements because she played the same thing for every song — albeit in a different key, but with the same licks.

Toward the end of her set she invited Cris Williamson and others to sing “Mercy” with her. Beautiful.

Joan as Police Woman was on next. I’d listened to her songs ahead of time too. Her danceable pop-rock didn’t really grab me then but there are some performers who are much better live. Her festival band was hot! Ganessa James played bass, Liz Kelly was on drums, Toshi Reagon played guitar and percussion, and there were others on vocals. (At one point, I saw Toshi in the back, on cowbell. I was so tempted to yell out, “More cowbell!” but my mama taught me better.) While I loved the groove, I didn’t connect with her songs. Ah well, it’s art and everyone’s got an opinion, right?

The last set was the much-anticipated Chix Lix set. Musical director and bass player Alyson Palmer puts this together every year with a different theme. Musicians who’ve appeared elsewhere at the festival come out and do a song, sometimes way outside their usual genre. Who can forget the year that Holly Near came out in a red bustier and wowed us all with “Living la Vida Loca?”

Tory Trujillo, Ferron, and Mary Gauthier. Photo by M.J. Stephenson.

This year’s theme was “Road Trip” so the songs featured traveling or different locales. My favorite was “Dancing in the Street.” It’s the ultimate party song and the Chix really slammed it. Mary Gauthier sang a heartfelt version of Ferron’s “Girl on a Road” with Ferron making a surprise visit to sing a verse. So wonderful.

Sunday morning I hung out with friend and author Bonnie Morris. She coordinated the Community Center this year so that’s where were met. The author of eight books, she’s always been a great support for my writing. Our time together was too short and soon I was dashing off to grab a cup of coffee before my Goldenrod shift.

It was incredibly busy in the booth, with women making their last-minute purchases before the end of the festival. I got a quick wave to Renee Janski of Big Bad Gina as she passed by. I had to work during their Friday afternoon performance so I only caught snippets, but they must’ve rocked the joint because we sold tons of their CDs. Really nice to see a talented young band do so well there. I hope they return.

As I stood at my place in the back of the booth I saw several women walking by, licking ice cream bars. I shouted out that the ice cream sure looked good. A half-hour later a woman I don’t even know showed up at the booth and handed me ice cream. I love fest.

My co-worker M.J. relieved me so I could go hear Jennie McNulty at the Comedy Stage. I miss this stage every year and I was determined to at least catch part of it this year. She was a scream, talking about her everyday life with her partner and their crazy cat. I appreciated that her set wasn’t littered with four-letter words. (Just call me the Donna Reed of lesbians.) I caught part of Kate Rigg after her but I was hungry so I ducked out to get some dinner.

I ate with a few women who I’d met at the Comfort Inn show the Sunday before fest. I asked them their favorite memories from the week. They grinned, looked at each other, and said, “Meeting each other.”

Aw! I can relate – I met my sweetie at fest too.

Sunday night I sat at the campsite, sadly watching women with fully loaded wagons walk out to the front gate. All around me women were readying their RVs for the trip ahead. Some, as evidenced by the flattened ferns of former campsites, had already left.

Later, Pat and I enjoyed a few drinks and some chocolate with our neighbors.

I hit the sack early. It would be a long day tomorrow and this middle-aged broad needed a full night of sleep.

I was glad we’d packed up a few things the night before because in the morning, the grey sky looked threatening. After a hasty breakfast we finished packing up. Just as we were loading the car, a gentle rain started to fall. We hooked up the trailer and motored out the front gate.

After dropping off the trailer with friends in Michigan, we made the eleven-hour drive home in one day, listening to CDs purchased at Goldenrod and reliving festival memories.

Until next year, dear women!

Photo by Courtney Gillenwaters McKenny.


Want to read part one? It’s here.

Many thanks to Courtney Gillenwaters McKenny and M.J. Stephenson for the use of their photos.

Want to know more about fest? Click here

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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7 Responses to Deliriously happy women, great ice cream and more cowbell – Michigan 2012, part two

  1. Susan Wiseheart says:

    Love your Festie stories, Jamie. I overlap on some of what you did and it fills me in on some things I missed due to my own need to get sleep or eat or something. Look forward to your book.

  2. Anne says:

    Jamie, I really enjoy reading your reviews – especially because you are honest enough NOT to be 100% positive about everything. You are always respectful even with your less-positive comments, and never snarky or scathing – it gives me confidence that if you do say a performance blew you away, you aren’t just saying that to be nice. It can be difficult for us to be critical of one another, but I believe it is disrespectful to artists if you always say everything is amazing no matter what. We can be supportive of artists’ efforts while still pointing out things that could be improved and we can be self-aware enough to know whether we disliked a performance because the guitar was desperately out of tune versus the musical genre being not our particular cup of tea. We can be critical without being dismissive or judgmental, and we can love women’s music & culture with all our hearts without saying every single bit of it is amazing at all times. You walk this fine line very nicely and I want you to know it is appreciated!

  3. Pam says:

    Thanks for the nod, Jamie..Not only did we meet at Fest..we met at YOUR show. I will never forget you either..

  4. mefoley says:

    Great post — thanks for telling us about the Festival — I hung on every line. I’ve wanted to go for decades, but seem to keep moving farther and farther away from it.

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