Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Inagural MI Fest
Michigan International Speedway
featuring The Raconteurs, Sheryl Crow, Ronnie Dunn and more

The Raconteurs 10:00
Sheryl Crow 8:15 - 9:30
Ronnie Dunn 6:45 - 7:45
The Romantics 5:30 - 6:15
Mark Farner 4:10 - 5:10
Jeff Daniels 3:05 - 3:50
Wendy Starland (Special Performance) 2:30 - 2:45
Mitch Ryder 1:25 - 2:10
The Ben Daniels Band 12:30 - 1:00

The Rockets 7:00 - 8:00
Ty Stone 5:30 - 6:30
JEFF the Brotherhood 4:25 - 5:10
Black Belles 3:30 - 4:00
PUJOL 2:40 - 3:10
Black Milk1:50 - 2:20
Thornbills 1:00 - 1:30
Shock Wave 12:00 - 12:30

A weekend festival to celebrate Michigan. Sounds like a plan. I've had some good times in Michigan during my life. Seeing the Lions defeat the Cowboys on a last second field goal at Pontiac back in the late '70's. Springsteen at Joe Louis Arena in 1981. Dylan at Cobo Hall, in Ypsilanti and at the Crysler Arena, The State, The Fox. I was there the night Jack White and Dylan played Ball and Biscuit. 6 shows with the Stripes. Visits with friends. The best cherry chicken dish ever in St Joseph's.

A bit of an inauspicious start for this ambitious endeavour. Tickets prices were suddenly lowered by $20 the week before the show...a portent of things to come. Two days before the show 11 acts were unceremoniously dumped. None of the main acts but it decimated the local talent. Fans of Hotclub of Detroit, Jill Jack, The Juliets, Thornbill, The Ragbirds and the Howlin' Diablos were disappointed to see these bands dropped. Perhaps they reached too high, too soon...

It's not easy coming up with a theme for a road trip to Brooklyn MI...but I found one.

While taking in the best of live Michigan music, I took the opportunity to visit some not so live artists.

Our first stop is Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne, MI, where the soulful Jackie Wilson, is buried. Sad story at the end of a troubled life. Drops while performing his signature tune, 9 years comatose, no way to treat a man with such a vibrant life force.

Getting to the speedway was no problem at all. A 30 minute ride from our hotel, straight into the Wheelchair Parking spot and onto the tram that brings you to the grounds. We have the "VIP Grandee" tickets which cost $20 more than the regular general admission and promised free drinks, food, close stage access and mingling with the artists. I didn't mingle much but the 3 free drinks were worth $21 so the rest was a bonus.

On the side stage Shock Wave were greeting the early bird audience with a cover of Alice Cooper's I'm Eighteen. They were shockingly loud for 12:10 pm.

I didn't mind, 'cause I knew Jack White was performing today.

We're already commited to the main stage and we find ourselves a nice spot about 30 feet from the stage.

Alive and kickin' at 1:25 pm are Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels!
He's flogging a new album, had some blonde cutie in the audience selling copies. Got the crowd on their feet for Jenny Take A Ride and Devil With the Blue Dress. Voice was terrific, still belting them out.

I stick around to watch a minute or two of Wendy Starland. She was added to the roster, even as all those local bands were being dropped. Apparently she's a "special" guest. I heard some mumbling about her winning some songwriting award. As I'm meandering towards the drink line I'm wondering where that was...not country wide, surely, unlikely it's even a state wide award. My guess is it was the Hamtramack Songwriting Award. I believe her greater claim to fame was 'discovering' Lady GaGa.

I didn't mind 'cause I knew Jack White was performing today.

After drinks it's food and a chance to take in the grounds. The organizers have done a terrific job; the drink lines are short, the food lines are short and there's a large variety of choices. Plenty of vendors as well. Wanted to grab a lovely Hwy 61/49 Crossroads necklace but at $100 I figured I'd just go visit it again. The longest line in the place was outside the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store Truck Thingie.

Jeff Daniel's comes onstage to play us some of his contemporary bluegrass stylings. I'd say he was the pleasant surprise of the day. He was happy that the Tigers had clinched their division and started his set with The Tiger Fans Blues . Even though he didn't mention Tramell once I believe my buddy Doug is going to enjoy this song. (This is the only song I was able to salvage from 6 hours of taping and even it's marred by the wind off the stage mics. More on that later.)

During Jeff's set, which included a few Michigan-centric tunes and a cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Jack White was side-stage with his kids.

Between sets I wander over to catch Third Man Record Artists, Black Belles for a few seconds. They look like extras from Wicked. As I'm moving away from the stage the singer notes that it's hard to keep her hat on in the wind. I comment to the lady walking next to me, "Ya, that's what's hard about rock n roll." Without missing a beat she replies, "The wind."

Mark Farner, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad, was the second pleasant surprise of the day. I cut him a little slack for his Made In America rant because he did note it was his wish to get his country back. Opens with We're An American Band. Locomotion was a real treat and Closer to Home was dedicated to the troops.

Time for some more drinks and I come across Little Jack Lawrence watching the end of Jeff the Brotherhood's set on the side stage.

The Romantics. What can I say. There is no greater hell-on-earth than to be an '80's hair band and have to be reliving that decade when you're in your 50's. Ask Flock of Seagulls. Or Duran, Duran. That's why I just took a picture of their drum set.
They opened with a song that had the same melody as their biggest hit, only was slightly slower. Played another one or two vaguely familiar tunes, then they did Talking in Your Sleep, before they closed with What I Like About You. They were well received and didn't suck terribly, although they were a little repetitive.
OK, here's what hell is like in the music industry.

On the main stage we're waiting for Ronnie Dunn and Sheryl Crow. Now looking around the venue, and knowing what I know about the star-making machinery behind the popular song, these two artists are a bigger draw than The Raconteurs. Now I'm not saying they're better than Jack...I'm just saying. And the audience really took to both artists. To me they made vanilla seem exotic. Dunn has a big...truck. With his name splashed across a 30' trailer. Real subtle. His persona exceeds his personality though. Songs were a little light. Too many allusions to being a country addict or freak or bleeding red-white-and-blue. Sheryl Crow was amazingly underwhelming. I was expecting a more powerful set. She pretty well mailed it in. Even her good songs were merely background music, carried more by the audiences enthusiasm for their memory of the songs than the performance itself.

But that's ok, 'cause Jack White is performing tonight.

It's getting a little cool now but we've had a wonderful weather day. Bright sunshine with enough cloud cover to keep you from keeling over unless you were one of the dozen walking-dead who had imbibed a little too much. We came prepared and are sitting with a warm blanket and an open view of the stage. We couldn't see through the packed crowd in the VIP section during the previous two innocuous sets but now we have the equivalent of unobstructed front row seats.

How can that be, you might ask. First off the organizers did a great job of keeping interlopers out of the sequestered area. Secondly Jack has learned a little from one of his three fathers, Bob Dylan. He's learned how to cover up lyric flubs with incoherent mumbling and, it's evident tonight, he's learned how to empty a room.

Now in fairness to Jack most of those who left were predisposed to leave and were making their way towards the exit after Sheryl's set wound down. Some had kids. Some were older than the performers by a couple decades and weren't planning on staying past sunset. It was getting cold so the casual festival goer may have had his fill. Not to mention that on the main stage it was the headliners who were fish out of water. The Raconteurs should have closed the showcase stage, following the Third Man Record bands.

Many of those who did stick around to see what all the fuss was about started to peel out after the 3rd or 4th song. That left about 2,000 people watching the headliners.

I just don't get it.

The Racs were a little loose. Slightly new arrangements for most of the songs. Highlight was Top Yourself. Brendan's songs were good. Jack's showcase songs lacked the emotional punch they used to have. He went crazy on his solo's but his voice was not as captivating as it could be on the epic Blue Veins or Carolina Drama.

Salute Your Solution
You Don't Understand Me
Top Yourself
Old Enough
Many Shades of Black
Intimate Secretary
Switch and the Spur
Blue Veins

Steady As She Goes
Carolina Drama

I'm having a little fun at the expense of some bands but it was a terrific day. The event was well organized and the festival help was gracious beyond anyone's expectations. I mean it was so good I was not even surprised they were offering a happy ending to the concert goers at the exit.

OK, the wife tells me that does not mean what I think it means.

Not leaving good enough alone we stay up drinking 'till 3:00 am and severely pay for it the next morning.

In Woodlawn Cemetery, located south of 8 Mile in Detroit, we find Jackie Wilson's cousin, Levi Stubbs.

Was hoping to get a picture of Ted Nugent's grave.
Imagine my disappointment when I found out he was still alive.

Postscript: Been having some trouble with my recordings this year. Partly due to the fact the shows have been few and far between due to health issues in the family and I got a new rig which I thought I was having trouble mastering. After doing a little research (which I could have done BEFORE I went to the Festival) I found out the H2ZOOM has a problem with it's peak control when in line mode. There's ways around it but the easiest way is...don't fucking use it. I'm going back to my Edirol and Tascam and should have my act together for Coachella 2012.


KaliDurga said...

"But that's ok, 'cause Jack White is performing tonight."

That was the theme of the day for many of us. But it's interesting that my perspective of the Racs set was so different than yours. A friend and I maneuvered our way up close to the front corner of the VIP viewing area between Ronnie Dunn's and Sheryl Crow's sets, and were able to continue maneuvering up to the barrier during Crow's set. Some older folks with lawn chairs next to us were apparently planning to leave after Crow was done, but got stuck when a huge swarm of Racs fans surged forward, folded up the lawn chairs, and tossed them aside. The old folks must've been at least slightly impressed by the Racs, though, because one of the guys kept pulling his phone out and filming Jack.

Other than that, you summed things up quite nicely. Not an incredible event, but definitely a decent one, all in all.

Krewe Chief said...

don't get me wrong, i love jack to death (search his name on this blog for more material). every show is different for everyone, as it should be. what i didn't mention was that just seeing Jack invigorates me. his talent is incomparable and i'd stand in line to see him in anything.

KaliDurga said...

It wasn't actually your assessment of Jack that I was commenting on, but the description of the crowd where you were. Seemed totally the opposite where I was. I loved your repeated "that's ok because Jack White is performing tonight" references, cracked me up yet also gave the impression that you're very into his music.

At some point I'll definitely wander through your blog for more of your posts about him. Busy working on one of my own right now.

Krewe Chief said...

let me know when you're done and i'll check it out. drop me an email at and I'll send you a link to more photos from the show.