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Wednesday, 28 December 2016 10:06

No Hibernation: Winter Wheat keeps the festival scene alive year-round

Written by  Dwayne Hoover
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Grand Rapids bluegrass quartet Fauxgrass performs at the Winter Wheat 2017 festival, which is presented by Wheatland Music Organization. Grand Rapids bluegrass quartet Fauxgrass performs at the Winter Wheat 2017 festival, which is presented by Wheatland Music Organization.

A few years back, musicians Bruce Ling of Hawks and Owls and Mark Stoltz of Benzie Playboys were lamenting the sort of lull that winter typically brings to the music scene. While venues may keep their stages warm with the shows they can, festivals seem to disappear altogether. So Ling and Stoltz reached out to longtime member of the Wheatland Music Organization, Marilyn Hummel, to see what could be done about bringing a little slice of Wheatland to the winter months.

The first year was an event dubbed Hair of the Dog, due to it being held the day after New Year’s Eve. It featured a variety of West Michigan-based bands at Founders Brewing Co. What they quickly found, however, is that they had drastically underestimated the demand for this type of show.

“It was freezing cold, sub-zero temps with the windchill, and people stood in line for an hour or two to get in,” Hummel said. “Founders’ capacity was around 300 or 400, and it was full since we opened the doors. They couldn’t let new people in until somebody left.”

The very next year, the organizers moved the party to The Intersection, a facility whose multiple stages and larger size better fit their vision of a mini-festival. The additional space also allowed them to add another element to the event, one that is a large part of what makes Wheatland popular to many: Dance.

Winter Wheat 2017
The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 14, 12:30 p.m.
All ages, $25, $20 adv.
sectionlive.com, (616) 451-8232 

“It started really as a music thing, but we’re all such supporters of the dance community and that’s a big part of Wheatland as well,” Hummel said. “We get a portable dance floor from Central Michigan University every year, so it’s got a good dance floor. … It’s a composite material, so it’s got a little bit of give to it versus dancing on cement.”

And much like Wheatland’s summer events, attendees can learn a new style of dance from many of the performers.

“Fauxgrass is kind of an upbeat bluegrass and people will clog to that, because they’re going to learn with The Costabella Cloggers that are playing with the Palooka Brothers,” Hummel said. “And Cabildo is a salsa group, and we’re trying to bring in a salsa instructor. … The front stage is a smaller area, and people dance there too.

“There’s just tunes that get to you and people dance wherever they are.”

Hummel said Winter Wheat is also an opportunity for some to get a taste for Wheatland without committing to a big festival. Even the layout of the venue itself, with two distinct areas, lends itself nicely to the festival feeling, albeit on a much smaller scale.

“(The Stache) is a real good place for people,” said Hummel. “As they’re wandering through, they’ll see somebody and then they’ll hang out and talk. That’s most familiar to being at Wheatland — the wandering around between venues gives you a chance to see everybody that’s there, renew friendships and hang out.”

 

This year's lineup includes: K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys, Madcat’s Blues Journey, Mark Lavengood’s Bluegrass Bonanza, Cabildo, Fauxgrass, and The Costabella Cloggers with The Palooka Brothers. For full schedule, visit wheatlandmusic.org.

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