Friday night at the Machine Shop in the Nitty Gritty city of Flint, Michigan is always a good time. But this particular night Fair to Midland is headlining and we knew we were in for a rough and rockin’ ride. So we tightened our musical chinstraps, fastened the Rock-n-Roll seat belt and held on for the wild, white-knuckle ride we knew we was coming.
We arrived at the Machine Shop on S. Dort Hwy around 7:15pm to find an already half full hall. With a couple of local bands and a national recording artist playing tonight, it didn’t seem like it would take much to get the “standing up only” venue filled to “standing room only”. I called Cliff Campbell, the lead axe-man for Fair to Midland, only to hear his cell phone ringing next to me. Cliff was working behind the counter at the “Merch Table” hocking his wares. Cliff greeted us with a smile and a friendly introduction. What was curious about him was that he was wearing two shirts and his hair was toned and relaxed. If you have ever seen F2M, video or live, you’ll know that Cliff is always seen on stage shirtless, with his Side-Show-Bob style mange flopping and shaking like it had a mind of its own. Cliff took us back stage to meet the rest of F2M along with members of the supporting band Resident Hero. Cliff left us in the dank Machine Shop dressing room and headed back to his post in the back of the bar to make some cash on CD and T-shirt sales. I asked Cliff why he was manning the merchandise station and he said “I like to get out and meet our fans, plus I like to see and hear the opening bands that support us from a fans point of view”.
We started our interview with the rest of Fair to Midland, less Darroh Sudderth the lead singer, inside the smoke filled dressing room. Matt Langley (keyboards) talked with us about how the band got started and where they are heading. Jon Dicken, the F2M bass player with a passion for Ducati motorcycles and the skills to hold down a walking base line, sat in the back of the room next to a couple of guys from Resident Hero - Drummer Jay Warren and Singer/Guitarist Ryan White. Sitting on the table to our right was the drummer for F2M Brett Stowers, who is also responsible in part for the great F2M website. The room was surprisingly ultra-relaxed. If these guys were anymore laid back they’d be asleep. We all chit-chatted about F2M and discussed the bands Story Book style video, website and CD cover. They all seemed pleased at where the band was at and where they might be in the near future. This is a group of educated musicians, not anything like the stereotypical rock band. They were well versed on any topics we brought that related to music. However, they did mention that they don’t really get to see many Detroit area bands and weren’t familiar with the scene that is happening in Detroit. I quoted Bob Segar and said “Detroit audiences are the greatest rock-n-roll audiences in the world”. They all agreed that old Bob was onto something. They did have a special affection for the Flint fans and mentioned that they love playing in Southeast Michigan. They hoped to do more dates in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and especially Flint. After snapping a few pics and taking some notes we headed back out to the back of the bar to find a perch to set upon and enjoy what was to come.
Tony Lebrie from Banana 101.5 FM was the MC for the evening. After some brief introductions, the currently unsigned Sour Jane took the stage at 8:15pm and ripped through their straight ahead, hard rock set with the passion and skills of a veteran rock ensemble. Flint’s own Sour Jane got the crowd into the mood for some real rock.
Next up was another local Flint Town band, the Tool-esque “Crop Circle”. Led by singer Russ Mettler, these guys really shook the walls. Imagine Tool meets Black Sabbath with a modern edge. After ripping through fan favorites like “Idle Mind”, “Karma” and “Color White” they went into some cover tunes. A five-minute drum solo by Scott Fisher followed. The solo was soul shaking and was skillfully played to the point that John Bonham sat up in his grave and took note. The set ended with Zep’s Gallows Poll.
After a 15-minute break between bands Resident Hero took the stage with fiery and force. This trio from California definitely has the L.A. alt sound (although I believe they are originally from Texas). Ryan White seems to pour out his guts in the words and sounds of the songs he writes. If you haven’t heard of, or heard any music by Resident Hero, you will soon. These guys are definitely worth seeing if they make it back around Motown. They may be supporting F2M on this tour, but they could and should be a headliner if they can get the right label to back them.
11:20pm and Fair to Midland takes the stage. I have only heard their CD and seen a few videos on-line up until this point. Like many great bands they don’t even come close to capturing the energy and drive they show live on their studio albums. My musical chin strap popped its rivets, my volume insulating helmet flew off my head and the rock-n-roll seat belt was torn in two. I was blown away the instant Darroh Sudderth uttered his first note. F2M just plain rocks live. Although they played a short 45-minute set, they hit all the popular songs off their Fables from a Mayfly album. Climaxing with the smash hit Dance of the Manatees, Darroh pulled off some of his rafter acrobatics putting the crowd into a frenzy during the song. Apparently Darroh has a knack for climbing the speakers and monitors and swinging from the overhead roof supports during his songs. It is and was quite a show. The Flintoid crowd sang along during the chorus as Brett pounded the skins, Cliff whaled his axe, Jon held down the lows, Matt tickled the keys and Darroh did what he does best, sing with the smooth stylings of an opera star with growling transitions into something Gwar would be proud of. The Machine Shop crowd was shakin’ to its collective knees.
After an encore the band left the overly foggey stage and headed for the dressing room. We packed up our equipment and headed for the door around midnight. I noticed out the corner of my eye something out of place. Back behind the merchandise counter was the shirtless Cliff Campbell. This guy is dedicated to making the band a success. If F2M gets any bigger, Universal and Serjical Strike will need to add a little extra bonus pay to Cliff’s royaty checks.
MTing - Reporter for MOTORCITYBLOG - Flint
Amanda from MOTORCITYBLOG interviews Fair to Midland – Flint MI
Friday night December 14th at the Machine Shop in Flint, we got to sit down and talk with three of the band members of Fair to Midland.
Motorcityblog- We read that Serj Tankian from System of a Down signed you guys to his label Serjical Strike. We were wondering how you first met him?
Fair to Midland (Matt Langley)- We met him through a mutual friend on our first trip to the west coast, our first independently funded tour of the U.S. in fact. He saw us on our second show in Los Angeles and liked what he heard through a recent self cut CD and passed it on. And a few trips later to the coast, we see Tankian coming out himself.
Motorcityblog- Did he get up on stage with you guys?
FTM (Matt Langley)- Yes, it was pretty cool. He did a song with us, no rehearsal at all. It was fun.
Motorcityblog- We were on your website and we wanted to know who did the website?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- I did all the artwork for it, I handled the graphical stuff, somebody else programmed it all though.
Motorcityblog- How did you come up with James Riches who did the artwork for your album and the “Dance of the Manatee” video?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- Our singer found him. We were just googling a bunch of stuff trying to find somebody that we liked. We wanted a creepy kind of children’s book kind of vibe.
Motorcityblog- Does the “Dance of the Manatee” video get a lot of play on MTV?
FTM (Jon Dicken)- We didn’t do that for MTV.
FTM (Matt Langley)- It’s strictly for internet.
FTM (Brett Stowers)- Yeah it’s just an online release.
Motorcityblog- On your website we cracked the binary code you had and unlocked the acoustic version of “Upgrade Brigade.” Is an all acoustic set something you’re interested in doing?
FTM (Matt Langley)- It’s something we do from time to time.
FTM (Brett Langley)- I don’t think we’ve ever done it outside of Dallas.
FTM (Jon Dicken)- A lot of work goes into those, you change up pretty much every song entirely.
Motorcityblog- We wanted to ask you too, about the Detroit sound, things that you guys are hearing about the bands that are coming out of here, and the fans. Do you get any feeling out of that?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- I’m not really that familiar with it.
FTM (Jon Dicken)- We’re completely out of the loop as far as modern music goes.
FTM (Matt Langley)- Yeah, we’re pretty isolated.
Motorcityblog- Have you performed for any of the audiences in Detroit?
FTM (Jon Dicken)- We’ve been there a few times. The tours that we went on before were not really good tours for us. We were supporting goth bands.
FTM (Brett Stowers)- So yeah it was kind of strange.
Motorcityblog- Well you’ve played at the Machine Shop before in Flint?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- Yeah this is one of my favorite places in the world to play. I love it here, the Machine Shop is freaking awesome.
Motorcityblog- So do you like the smaller venues or do you like the bigger wide open places?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- They both have their ups and downs. I can’t say I like one more than the other. They have their own kind of unique things about them, it’s obviously very different. The bigger shows, if it’s like an amphitheater or a huge arena or something, were it’s like tens of thousands of people there, every body always thinks you get more nervous or something but it’s not. You don’t see anybody’s faces it’s just a giant blur of people. When you’re playing somewhere like here there’s people six feet away from you and you can tell if they like it or they don’t.
FTM (Matt Langley)- When you see people within reasonable distance are smiling then that’s enough.
Motorcityblog- So we heard that you guys just got done touring in Europe, how was that?
FTM (Matt Langley)- That’s always fun. On the last four days they beat us to death. They get you in bed by three get you up by seven and drive you six hours to the next city to start over.
Motorcityblog- Do you have a tour manager that’s cracking the whip the whole time?
FTM (Brett Stowers)- Yeah
FTM (Jon Dicken)- It’s very expensive to tour in Europe. So you have to be working almost everyday.
FTM (Matt Langley)- Yeah it’s pretty high efficiency.
FTM (Brett Stowers)- It’s fun though. The people over there are great.
Motorcityblog- Did they know you guys when you got over there, or was it pretty much just getting your name out?
FTM (Matt Langley)- The crowds are still kind of thin in the U.K.
FTM (Brett Stowers)- But like Germany’s great. Holland’s really cool.
FTM (Jon Dicken)- This is actually our third time to go to Europe. The first time we went, luckily we have a really good booking agent and we got hooked up with some really really good shows for us.
-Amanda from MOTORCITYBLOG