Friday, 27 December 2013 11:39

Sink's Spins on Music: The Crane Wives and Appleseed Collective join Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Written by  John Sinkevics
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ON THE MUSICAL RADAR

So you don't need to be a rocket scientist – or a flatpicking banjo whiz – to see that the folk and bluegrass revival that's swept the nation in recent years has gained steam. This month, Michigan's The Crane Wives and Appleseed Collective (which has a new album on the way) will join internationally renowned stars Iron & Wine, Neko Case and Patty Griffin at the prestigious Ann Arbor Folk Festival Jan. 30-Feb. 1. Add to that all those festival-friendly jam bands and progressive bluegrass outfits – aka, jamgrass acts – such as String Cheese Incident, The Infamous Stringdusters and West Michigan's own Greensky Bluegrass.

As a result, traditional forms of the music are thriving, too: I was floored by the exuberant throngs of "Wheaties" numbering in excess of 10,000 who flooded the rural Wheatland Music Festival site outside Remus, Mich., for the 40th annual celebration of traditional American music and arts last September. Tots and 20-somethings joined retirees and baby-boomer hippies in wishing each other "Happy Wheatland," while embracing roots diversity: banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, the gospel of the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, the contemporary folk of Grand Rapids' Bennett, workshops for devotees of fiddles, dulcimers and dance.

That's made the annual Winter Wheat a fast-growing phenomenon, too. The fifth annual, day-long fundraiser for the Wheatland Music Organization (and its drum kiva/all-performance stage) invades The Intersection in Grand Rapids on Jan. 11, with acts spanning old-timey folk to blues on two stages, and jamming taking place this year under a third "Side Show" tent outdoors: Red Tail Ring, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, The Oat Bran Boys, An Dro, Fiddlefire, The Blue Water Ramblers, Kirk Jones & The Benzie Playboys, Badenya, Jukejoint Handmedowns, Black Jake & The Carnies and Blue Molly are on the bill.

Last year's event drew nearly 1,000 people, pleasing longtime folkie and Winter Wheat organizing committee member R.H. "Bear" Berends of Grand Rapids' Blue Water Ramblers.

"Our goal is try to get it packed out within a reasonable time frame," Berends says of Winter Wheat, which raised nearly $4,000 last year.

He attributed its growth, in part, to the next generation of pickers and folkies.

"They've taken it to the next level," he said. "There certainly is a more aggressive vibe that they use within their interpretation of the same music. ...We're just happy that the next generation has picked up the tradition and made it their own."

The addition this year of a heated outdoor tent – with food vendors and room for a drum circle and jamming – should give Winter Wheat a celebratory festival flavor not unlike Wheatland itself.


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Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at LocalSpins.com, spotlighting artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM. 

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