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Gardenia Roots Festival Review by BritChic in the D

Gardenia Roots and Boots Festival

Who knew the Royal Oak Farmers market on a lovely Friday evening could be transformed into a feeling of al fresco dining in Italy.  Paper lanterns and lights adorned the ceiling.  Black sheeting made for a cozy peripheral from the usual stalls of baked goods and vegetables.  It also took me back to my days growing up in England and attending barn dances with my family.

The crowd, an eclectic one, some standing around with beers and conversation, some being served by a real life cowboy selling band CDs and some on lawn chairs, their only intent to get close to the stage to witness the music of the bluegrass roots acts which followed.

The show opened with the Grand Rapids group The Crane Wives, still on a high from sharing a stage with “both dear friends and long time heroes” at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival earlier this year.

The band were formed after the two female members Emilee Petersmark and Kate Pillsbury began gigging together as a folk act at a Chinese restaurant in Grand Rapids.   Enter drummer Dan Rickabus,  Tom Gunnels a “superhuman” and guitarist turned banjo player and bassist Ben Zito and The Crane Wives were born.  Their eclectic sound fuses a number of different genres including blues, folk and heavy metal.  When I asked Dan Rickabus if it gives them an edgier sound than most blue grass acts he said,

I think my favorite thing about the sound we've been honing is that it is very hard to define, and the way we achieve that is by not defining it for ourselves. There are always very clear influences in songs, but we try to bend the rules of genre by forgetting that they exist”.

Their 45 minute set had a relentless energy that made a strong impression on the audience.  It is clear that the band members like each other and love what they are doing.  Their music is a strong collaboration between the 5 members and no one takes charge in the creative process.  The harmony vocals which Rickabus said “kind of evolve naturally” are beautiful and very complimentary to the songs that they have crafted.

After two self produced albums including The Fool in the Wedding Gown, Rickabus said that,

“We're extremely proud of our first two albums, but at the end of the process for "the Fool" we were pretty burnt out. As a result, we decided to take as much time as we needed to just jam, let the new music breathe and grow with as much space as it deserves. So we don't quite have a plan for a third album release just yet, but I will tell you that we have something crazy like 17 new songs, with more on the way, and I'm comfortable saying that this new stuff is, in my opinion, our best stuff”.

So with old and new songs The Crane Wives are looking forward to being on the road this summer on tour in Colorado.  Rickabus said,

“That's what we're most excited about, getting some real mileage on our van and having some epic western adventures!”

So after The Crane Wives energetic start to the Festival, the bands that followed were; Catfish Mafia, a four person ensemble who had a cozy clique at the front of the stage and at times were reminiscent of the banjo sounds around the camp fire in the old West, The Ragbirds and Keller and the Keels who completed the musical line up for the night.

I can safely say Gardenia Roots Festival was, for its audience a mix of fun people watching, lively authentic bluegrass music and some interesting dance moves!  A fun night out in Royal Oak for both young and old!

If you loved The Crane Wives and The Ragbirds you can see them again on Friday May 3rd at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, MI.  Show starts at 9 pm and is part of the Metro Times Blowout featuring the best in folk, Americana, and roots music and includes 100 bands in Detroit, Hamtramck and Ferndale.

Jan Thompson | BritChic in the D