Illustrated with photos by Local Spins photographer Anna Sink, the Dobro player who fronts the Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza offers impressions of last weekend’s music festival outside Lake City.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For 15 years, the Earthwork Harvest Gathering held on the Bernard Family farm outside Lake City has oozed a vibe unlike any other, partly because half of the 2,500-plus attendees are musicians who just want to play and rub elbows with other musicians. At Local Spins’ request, Mark “Huggy Bear” Lavengood – the resonator guitar player for bluegrass band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys who also fronts the Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza (which performed at Harvest Gathering) – kept a brief diary of his experiences at this year’s festival. Here is his account, illustrated with photos by Anna Sink
By Mark Lavengood
• At 3:46 p.m. Friday, I rolled into the farm in proper “Huggy Bear” fashion: 14 minutes before I had to emcee the Cedar Stage at 4 p.m.! So when I got to the line at the gate, I had to leave the car to jog to the stage. It was the perfect remedy for a two-hour drive. Father-son folk power duo Bob and Seth Bernard started the Cedar Stage off with a 30-minute waltz session.
The sky was big and bright, and then it was all under way.
• That evening, I’d have to say my top five moments were, in no particular order, 1) playing with my bluegrass brethren Fauxgrass; 2) playing with my favorite Canadian folk traveler troubadour, Scott Cook; 3) seeing Bob sing with his daughter, Jen Bernard, and her swing band, The Stolen Sweets; 4) getting to connect in the artist mingling/hospitality area (imagine all of us traveling, working class, musician folk all with our own inter-weaving routes of tours and weekend stints and one-offs coming together at the same festival nearly every year); and 5) sleeping in my tent.
• My Saturday at Harvest was quite splendid. It started by mashing a gnarly, locally sourced plate of food for breakfast. Two coffees later, I met Kalamazoo’s Michael Beauchamp (famous for his roles with Red Tail Ring and Michael Beauchamp & The Barn Roughs) in the kitchen to bang out a set of John Prine tunes that we would play later that day as part of the John Prine tribute band, Prine Time. Playing acoustically for the volunteers and kitchen staff has always been one of my favorite ways to pass the time at Harvest.
• At the Cedar Stage for the Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza set, I was feeling elated. We spent 40 minutes warming up and running tunes in the cattle stalls behind the Goat Barn (where bands reserve spots for proper rehearsals or run-throughs). The weather could not have been any better: bright blue skies and brilliant shades of green surrounded the stalls. The crowd showed up at the Cedar Stage and it was a true honor to play new, original material and some old Winter/Sessions tunes as well.
• In the evening up on the hill, Grand Rapids’ Big Dudee Roo expanded everyone’s collective minds with the band’s deep grooves and grunge tones. They are currently featuring some new, original material from guitar player Nate Wagner which is just stellar. In my opinion, I think this is really going to elevate the group to new heights. It received an explosive response from the crowd. He channeled some neo-Kurt Cobain spiritual energy and angst in his voice that was just captivating.
• Just before heading to bed at 2:30 in the morning, it was time for the Seth “Eggs” Bernard set in the barn. Two drum kits (manned by none other than Dan Rickabus and Mike Shimmin) with Tyler Duncan on keyboard and Max Lockwood on the electric bass. Seth’s late-night Saturday sets in the barn have become a tradition of mine and the festival and he never ceases to amaze. Scott Cook also put the barn in a trance with his storytelling and deep Greg Brown-esque vocal tones. He had the stage manager give him the 30-minute warning so that he could just talk and connect with the crowd for 10 minutes after his first song. Usually, that sort of stunt could invite boredom, but not with Scott. He then had me and a bassist come join him for a few numbers before closing his set down with his cousin, Dylan Cook.
• Sunday came, and Sunday went: like a bright, shooting star on its way out, only to give life to some other future conglomeration of particulate parts. Sunday always has a certain sort of nostalgia embedded into its fabric. I ate some form of magic from the earth delivered by the fine volunteers and staff from the kitchen while the Earthwork Women sang together on the Cedar Stage.
• I caught Dick Siegel’s set in the barn with David Roth on upright bass. These two made their voices, a dawghouse bass and Dick’s old Martin guitar, sound like a five-piece jump blues, swing band from the 1980s. Dick is one of my favorite Michigan songwriters. He weaves universal human experiences with style and an unabashed fervor that is one part hilarious, another deeply emotional.
• When it came time to pack up and head home, my heart was full and my soul was satiated. “Active Artisan Community Self-Reliance Food Water Shelter Art Education and Medicine,” is one of my all-time favorite Seth Bernard quotes (from “Active Artisan Community” off of his most recent album, “Reconciliation and the Mystical Beyonda”).
It perfectly sums up this other-than-average Earthwork Harvest Gathering.
The Earthwork Music collective believes in the intrinsic and historical power of music to raise both community and self-awareness and serves to facilitate and encourage original music in the state of Michigan and beyond.