Having arrived a bit early at the Majestic Theater complex that housed the Magic Stick - the venue for the 2010 Wayfarer Roots & Bluegrass Festival I was able to park just behind the theater. Of course, it also helps that I've got 24 hour access to that lot as a Wayne State graduate student who already pays for parking - so why not enjoy the 'perks' of education? As soon as I parked I ran into Anders Beck and Mike Devol - dobro and bass players, respectively, for headlining act Greensky Bluegrass out of Kalamazoo. After catching up for a minute with them and Greensky mandolin player Paul Hoffman, I headed up to catch the opening act Catfish Mafia. Already people were starting to fill into the Stick, and with short sets of 20 or 40 minutes for each band, the night flew by from the very beginning. Up next were Misty Lyn and the Big Beautiful on the side stage and Black Jake and the Carnies on the main stage.
Misty Lyn brought folk roots music to downtown while Black Jake brought a rock-a-billy-meets-punk-meets roots music (yes - a hell of a combo) as the acoustic guitar player jumped around the stage and the washboard player helped keep the rhythm. I'd never seen The Northern Skies before, but enjoyed their brief, 20 minute set before turning around to see Jill Jack and her band - another well-known face on the Michigan roots circuit. I always appreciate that all of these bands play without boundaries. Like master painters who learn the rules only so they can understand how best to bend and break them, these musicians have taken their respective genres and combined them to yield a uniquely personal style. Rootstand was another band that proved this true as they combined folk, bluegrass, blues, and rock for the great benefit of the roughly 400 people in attendance. Ann Arbor's well-traveled troubadours
The Ragbirds are another band that has grown over the last few years, playing festivals and gigs all over the place, including dates last year in Japan. Combining mandolin, percussion, fiddle, drums, bass, The Ragbirds are definitely an act to watch. The next 40 minutes saw Billy Brandt and the Acoustic Mission on the side stage, followed by a non-Michigan band, Cornmeal out of Chicago. I first saw Cornmeal at the 2008 Dunegrass festival and they blew me away with their psychedelic bluegrass Americana - electric banjo and jammed out fiddle combined with guitar, drums, and bass in a whirlwind of danceable energy. Last up on the side stage was Michigan's Steppin' In It, who more than justified their placement on the lineup with an energetic performance, although I was already getting to the point of exhaustion (why did I go to the gym at 7am when I knew I'd be shooting 'til 2am later that night?). As the headliners took the stage, I did my best to summon up some final reserves as Greensky Bluegrass is a great band to put on your boogie shoes to and cut a rug. Having seen them numerous times, the 50 minute-long festival set almost just seemed like a tease (an intense, fun, sweaty one at that) but their performance was a great way to cap off a phenomenal evening of music. Promotor Joe Choma and his staff did a great job in selecting the bands to play, and making it all run smoothly for the entire evening - I CAN'T WAIT for the 2011 Wayfarer Festival!