It was a real treat
to return to Wheatlands, where we all had many fond memories from our visits
there in the late '70s with the band that shall not be named. In
the intervening generations the old site has more or less grown up in woods,
like an abandoned field or a famous battle site that didn't turn into a
national shrine. In its place we found a wonderful main stage with
magically good acoustics, sited on a hill facing a wide field where fans
in the thousands could all have great seats and views and listens, and
featuring a sound team second to none at the very hard job of doing outside
festivals where the bands change every 45 minutes or so. The
event has become a cultural feature of rural central Michigan—a sparkling
renewal of optimism and happiness that even sports a talsmanic slogan re-uttered
until it almost becomes a little laugh-- “Happy Wheatlands!”
The weather was perfect—no
mud, freezing rain, and no excessive temperatures or blowing dust either.
The big audience was wonderfully civilized and rich in families.
There were bands from all the generations that make up our lives—Peter
Rowan bringing with him a link straight back to Bill Monroe not to mention
Jerry Garcia, our geezerly selves of course, and then a band made up of
young folks who, as one of the lead singers said, attended her first Wheatlands
when she was a month old and had attended every one since. There
was a bit of Jerry Garcia in their band too—since it must be remembered
that Jerry was among many things a banjo player well aware of the world
of acoustic music. There was great cajun music straight from Lafayette,
there was a Quebeqoui singer-songwriter, and some tasty latino band music.
The legendary Freight Hoppers were there, a mere step or two short of the
most amazing band I ever witnessed on a Wheatlands stage, The Henries (“Hey
hey we're the Henries, and we've got something to say”).
I couldn't be everywhere, it's possible that around some curve in the trail
one might have met, at 2 AM on Sunday morning, the Hot Muds, the High Woods,
or even Sue Dreheim, in head band and miniskirt. (I did see Rick Good backstage,
but I know he drove himself up and was not transported.) We'll never know
the Sleepy Hollowness factor of Wheatlands. As good geezers, all
of us were fast asleep at 2 AM in the cozy upstairs rooms of our festival
hosts, who lived down a straight dirt road ten or so miles from the grounds,
at the edge of the Wheatlands Magic Circle. That way we could manage
to play good sets, and even make our flight back to NC on Sunday night.