The 10,000 Lakes Festival last month continued to prove that jam festivals arenít just for Deadheads and the granola crowd. For four years, this festival, held at the Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes, MN, has pulled out the stops to bring not only topnotch jambands but rock, world, jazz, and urban mix bands to the heartland. This year was no exception. Though the headliners for each of the four days were jam legends (The Breakfast, String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh, and Trey Anastasio), the crowd was into the out-there realms of bands like Bockman, Benevento-Russo Duo, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey trio, and the new Freshwater Collins.
There was indeed a rich mixture of jambands and bluegrass groups that wowed the crowd. Three bands in particular stretched the acoustic medium and stood common instrument playing on its head. Launching the festival on Wednesday evening, Chicago regional band Enchanted Ape blew away festival goers with the skills of their electric cello player and the crooning voice of their female backup singer. Duluthís Trampled by Turtles drew record crowds at both their shows, when they showed off their signature speed bluegrass and original lyrics. On Thursday and Friday, Railroad Earth, the eclectic bluegrass band from New Jersey, packed the Barn Stage, delighting listeners and dancers to their calculated acoustic maneuverings. Anyone who has seen this band knows how creative these six players can be, turning bluegrass instruments into sitars and all manner of jazz musicmakers.
This kind of avant garde approach to music set the tone for what followed throughout the festival. A small bevy of rock bands played to enthusiastic but smaller crowds. Road warriors Big Head Todd & The Monsters and The Samples, who are celebrating 20 years on the trail, offered up solid rock. Vince Hermanís fantasy band, Great American Taxi, kept people smiling with their Southern jam rock. The White Iron Band, that bad-boy bar band from Minneapolis, tried to call out Shooter Jennings into a rockoff, but Shooter hadnít arrived when the gauntlet was flung from the microphones in the small Saloon Stage. Tea Leaf Green pushed their polished soft rock with strong lyrics, and Madahoochi from Missouri continued their roadhouse rock with hand drums, extended jams, and a hot female organ and keys player!
In the middle of this rock mix, God Johnson, former Wu guitarist Jason Fladagerís latest group, brought out innovation with the bandís new saxophone/flute player who was a killer singer. Another surprise was O.A.R. (...Of A Revolution), the big boys of pop, who totally surprised audiences with their extended rock riffs.
Although it was clear that all music was appreciated, the more experimental groups drew some of the biggest crowds, with the exception of the nightly jam headliners. Bands with a mix of rap, hip hop, metal, techno, and trance dance threw their musical experiments on this crowd, and all were wildly received. You would expect Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey to delve into these realms, but even this year as a trio, they made up for their small size by flat-out risk taking. Umphrey's McGee, whose former concerts and albums were a mix of genres, treaded into techno jazz waters. Freshwater Collins, having undergone a total makeover, brought their newest rock, punk, metal, and spoken word offerings. Bockman, usually solidly into instrumental techno/trance, came out with vocal tone experiments. RAQ laid down rock originals with definite metal and techno twists. Even standard jazz rooted Medeski Martin & Wood decided to give into its more space jams. The Benevento/Russo Duo with former Phish-bassist Mike Gordon dipped their instruments into that space ocean and continued when they played with Trey in GRAB (Gordon, Russo, Anastasio, Benevento). But it was Moses Mayes, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, that combined big band/jazz horns with rock guitar, drums, and bass, and one killer of a turntablist who layered rap samples over the melodies. And, Iowaís Public Property, a classic roots reggae band with contemporary social-consciousness lyrics also mixed in rap with about half of their tunes, echoing the current dancehall trend in island music, but without the homophobia and miscegenation.
It should be noted that Keller Williams and his electronic loops, recorded in real time and played back as accompaniment to his musical adventures with his rack of guitars drew a phenomenal crowd in the blistering heat on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the festival.
In addition, two of the pure pleasures of this festival had nothing to do with avant garde music. The first was the Barn Stage performance of the Wood Brothers (Chris Wood from Medeski Martin and Wood and his brother Oliver from King Johnson). The raw roots originals, mainly from Oliver, were poignant, timely, and delivered with honesty. The backup vocals that Chris provided added the depth and texture for these tunes. Chris, himself, even sung lead on one of his own original songs (with lyrics!).
There was also much more. The Mutaytor, Jamís own Cirque du Soliel, dazzled the Thursday evening crowd with their drumming and fire dancing. The Everyone Orchestra experimented once again; this time with a blending of acoustic musicians from Hot Buttered Rum, Railroad Earth, and Vince Herman, and the electric sounds of Tea Leaf Green and Steve Kimmock. And, of course, there was the great New Orleans swamp sound of Papa Mali, carving a new niche for himself as a twenty-first century Dr. John!
Not only was all this stellar music presented, but the camping amenities at the 10,000 Lakes Festival would be the envy of many larger jam festivals. Located on 600 acres of prime Minnesota lake country, the site boasts a state-of-the-art sound system and 7,000 pristine campsites. It has been the host of the blockbuster WEfest country music festival for over twenty years. The campground facilities with showers, general stores, and acoustic entertainment tents would be the envy of any off-road resort. Next year, the 10,000 Lakes Festival promised to be even bigger. It sure canít get any better than this!
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