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PHOTOS & REVIEW: Hoxeyville Music Festival by MCB's Andrew Bender

Last weekend, MCB’s Andrew Bender got out of Detroit for a few days to venture Up North for the 9th Annual Hoxeyville Music Festival – a 3 day celebration of some of Michigan’s best roots music also featuring regional and national headlining acts.

Read on for Drew’s review and photos of the event.

With attendance of roughly 3,000, Hoxeyville is just big enough to be one helluva party but small enough that it’s a friendly community where it seems like you’re always running into the same people. Being largely a labor of love rather than a profit-driven venture, the festival’s organizational problems were undeniable as construction of new fences around the property for crowd control and issues in communication between the festival and security continued throughout the weekend. But despite those issues due to its relatively small size, the production quality was generally excellent. Large, open stages featured top-notch lighting and sound that was both clear and just loud enough to be heard in the surrounding tent-filled fields and woods. Hoxeyville is also a very family-friendly event and unlike a lot of music festivals that after dark turn into drug-fueled raves going til dawn every night (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that) music at Hoxey ends before midnight and there’s a sound curfew for drum circles out of respect for the neighboring properties. But, if you just wander around in the darkened woods (flashlight or headlamp recommended), you’ll come upon campsite after campsite where musicians and fans mingle, sing, pass a bottle around, and party into the night. Or for those camping with kids, there’s a special family camping area.

Although no longer actually located in Hoxeyville, the festival is set in the Manistee National Forest, about 40 miles south of Traverse City. A truly beautiful spot to spend a weekend camping, the festival grounds also featured a custom disc golf course built especially for the occasion by Stephanai Myers of Disc Golf Michigan as well as numerous food and crafts vendors from around the mitten. Truly a homegrown event, Hoxeyville features a line up of Michigan artists in various independent and collaborative projects. Performers like the Macpodz, Greensky Bluegrass, Ella Riot, Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, Joshua Davis and Steppin In It, Rachel Davis, Breathe Owl Breathe, the Ragbirds, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, Rootstand, Funktion, and the Crane Wives showcased musical talent from all over the mitten. And to say that the weekend could have also been called ‘Michigan Pride Fest,’ wouldn’t be an exaggeration as Great Lakes tattoos could be seen adorning numerous shoulders and performers and announcers alike extolled the beauty and wonder of our fair state.

The Ragbirds

Lately, I’ve become particularly enamored with northern Michigan indie-folksters Breathe Owl Breathe whose quirky, almost childlike aura seems so inconsistent with their impressive compositions that combine cello, drums, keys, guitar, banjo, and percussion with vocal harmonies and captivating lyrics. Breathe Owl Breathe is children’s music for adults – it’s the kind of music I’d like to listen to while using my safety scissors to cut construction paper to glue onto some insane art project while drinking chardonnay out of a sippy cup. Their morning timeslot was a bit early for some, whereas for others seemed a great, open-air alternative to Saturday morning Scooby-Doo re-runs.

Breathe Owl Breathe – Parrots in the Tropical Trees from Hoxeyville

The festival also featured a VIP area for partying right in front of the stage – and the party everywhere was in particularly high gear for the more danceable acts. Ann Arbor’s Ella Riot combines the vocal intensity of Lady Gaga with the musical innovation of acts like Of Montreal and commanded a sizeable audience going just a little crazy. Likewise, Saturday’s evening performance by Digital Tape Machine out of Chicago infused instrumental based-electronica with hard rock edges that ebbed and flowed out of more acid house loops and beats while fists pumped in the air. Friday night’s headliner was New Orleans-based Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk whose super-funky throwdown had the crowd shakin what their mommas gave ‘em.

Ella Riot

Kalamazoo-based international recording artists Greensky Bluegrass are practically house band at Hoxeyville, having now performed at the festival for the past nine years. Far from a standard bluegrass band, Greensky fuses original newgrass compositions with jamband-inspired improvisation. Greensky Bluegrass has become equally known for their innovative covers of rock and pop songs, and their two performances over the weekend included Prince’s Little Red Corvette, Talking Heads’ Road To Nowhere, Pink Floyd’s Time, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, and the Beatles’ Help! Although their spins on old bluegrass favorites like Jimmy Martin’s Hit Parade of Love were fun, their enthusiasm was particularly apparent on some of their more recent compositions like Jaywalking, Handguns, and Don’t Lie that are featured on their new EP (downloadable for free on their website) that emphasize the bands impressive songwriting and musical chops.

Greensky Bluegrass

Additional highlights on the indie-folk-roots-rock side of things included Airborne or Aquatic – a Michigan roots supergroup led by Seth Bernard centered around instrumental and spoken word storytelling and some amazing musical performances. Strange Arrangement from Illinois brought some serious jamming to the stage while fellow Chicagoans and headliners Umphrey’s McGee played an intense two-hour set that sandwiched one song within another, weaving in and out of arrangements, and culminating with a masterful two-song Pink Floyd cover of In the Flesh and Another Brick In The Wall (Part I). Reggae legends the Itals and former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart each made Sunday memorable – the former for bringing powerful rasta vibes to the late afternoon and the latter for coming on over an hour late, but still killing it nonetheless.

Umphrey’s McGee

Overall, Hoxeyville is an incredible weekend of amazing music in a beautiful setting that proves time and again why so many are proud to call Michigan home. Putting on a successful festival is no small feat – and Hoxeyville is organized by Michiganders whose passion is to showcase some of the incredible talent coming out of the Great Lakes State while throwing a weekend-long party. In the words of Greensky Bluegrass, “I'm tied down to Michigan, there ain't no home like this one.”

Hoxeyville Photos: