REMUS — For the past 39 years the Wheatland Music Organization has brought some of the world’s most outstanding musical artists to the small town of Remus and this year was no exception.
Friday through Sunday, the spacious grounds of the Wheatland Music Festival — the organization’s annual flagship event — played host to singers, artists, musicians and craftsmen from around the world.
According to Wheatland Publicity Chairwoman Kim Croy, planning for each year’s festival begins even before the current festival draws to a close.
“It’s a lot of work,” Croy said. “We’re always planning and getting ready for the festival. Then suddenly it’s here and you remember what all the work is for.”
Performances this year represented a broad cross-section of musical styles; every genre from bluegrass to blues to Cajun emanated from the festival’s three stages throughout the weekend. Rockabilly wunderkind Deke Dickerson and Gospel singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster rounded the bill out stylistically.
WHEATLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL PHOTO GALLERY
As was the case with many of the performers, music lovers also made their way to the festival from all over the world. Jordan McDonald traveled from his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, to enjoy the show.
“This is my third year,” McDonald said. “The first time was 1999 and if my schedule permitted, I’d make it an annual thing. My wife and I wait all year for this.”
Main Stage audience favorites included award-winning bluegrass group The Gibson Brothers. In addition to three rousing performances over the weekend, the group also presented guitar, banjo and mandolin workshops geared toward aspiring musicians.
From Tupelo, Miss., Paul Thorn was another musical highlight of the weekend. With his sinewy blend of roots, rock and blues, Thorn’s set on the Main and Centennial stages pumped a Springsteen-like dose of adrenalin into the appreciative festival crowd.
Closer to home, Michigan native Drew Nelson, who grew up in Kent City, provided a solid set of hard-hitting roots-rock chronicling the lives of the nation’s working poor. His music puts this American life under a microscope and reports back with an unflinching eye.
Hoots & Hellmouth pounded out several powerful sets over the weekend, providing a tight, captivating roots-pop sound that drew shouts of appreciation from audience members of all ages. The group’s Saturday evening Third Stage performance was one of the most rousing moments of the entire weekend.
“These guys are just amazing,” said Karyn Brin of Seattle, Wash. Brin, like so many other festivalgoers, traveled for days and planned her vacation around this year’s event. “It was so worth it,” she added.
In addition to the musical performances, the festival also featured dozens of different arts and crafts workshops, as well as the usual assortment of artisan booths offering everything from tie-dyed T-shirts to copper sculpture and jewelry.
Musical instrument makers, such as legendary Grand Rapids luthier Mark Swanson and resonator guitar innovator Tim Scheerhorn, also were on hand. Hand-crafted banjos from Paw Paw native Jan Bloom and mandolins from Mike Kemnitzer also gave musicians in attendance something to stay awake thinking about at night. Several other instrument makers, including Bryan Galloup and Jake Robinson, also were on hand to show off their creations.
“I usually sell at least one guitar,” Swanson said. “We had a lot of people coming through today (Saturday).”
According to Croy, the Wheatland board is already gearing up for next year’s big 40th anniversary festival, which promises to be something special, even by Wheatland standards.
“I look around me after all the work we’ve done and see all this,” Croy said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”