I hadn’t been at the campground near Nashville, Indiana, where the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender is held, for five minutes before a big bearded dude came rumbling down the path and asked if I wanted to play Wiffle ball with him and his friends. I asked if I could take photos instead. He grinned and said sure.
Friendliest guy I ever met. Turns out it was Brook Blanche of The Calamity Cubes, one of the bands playing at the small music festival. Blanche and his bandmates, along with just about everyone else at the festival, treated everyone they crossed like a family member.
The music was extraordinary, too. I missed Friday’s shows because I had to work, but I got to hear The Calamity Cubes, Dana Sipos, James Hunnicutt, Black Jake & The Carnies, S.S. Web, The Tillers, Rickett Pass, J.D. Wilkes, and L.C. Ulmer. Folk, bluegrass, rock, punk and blues … often all mixed together.
And L.C. Ulmer, an 87-year-old Mississippi bluesman, just might have delivered the best live set I’ve ever heard. Luckily, Mr. Ulmer will be back at the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender next year, along with Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Split Lip Rayfield, The Calamity Cubes, The Tillers, Joseph Huber, Woody Pines and a bunch of other cool acts.
Wiffle ball at the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender afforded bands the chance to share some laughs with their fans. Some folks were deceptively athletic. Some sucked. Everyone had fun.
Mississippi bluesman L.C. Ulmer, now 87, plays the kind of blues you might have heard in the ‘20s. But he adds some reverb to his guitar that makes it sound as if Pops Staple is picking somewhere off stage. Ulmer has a story for everything. Some are funny, some are touching. All are fascinating. See him if you get a chance; he’s one of the best blues musicians alive.
James Hunnicutt, a favorite with the Muddy Roots crowd, sings beautifully.
This Kansas-based band (Brook Blanche, guitar and lead vocals; Joey Henry, banjo; and Kody Oh, bass) plays bluegrass and country with a punk sensibility. Billy Cook’s mandolin licks swirl around Blanche’s booming voice as he sings about booze and broken hearts.
It’s hard to tell the fans from the performers at the spring weekender. When the performers step off the stage, they crowd the stage to cheer for the next act. And everyone seems to know one another; it’s a tight-knit group. The fans dance, eat, drink and hang out. I’ve never been to an event with a friendlier group of folks.
The guys in Black Jake & the Carnies bill themselves as the “Original Kings of Crabgrass,” an eclectic mix of bluegrass and punk. However you label the group, the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based group is worth a listen.
I think my ears are still ringing from the last time I heard J.D. Wilkes and his band, The Legendary Shack Shakers, play five or six years ago. Joined at the spring weekender by bassist Mark Robertson of the Shack Shakers, Wilkes didn’t hurt my eardrums. But he was just as entertaining, wailing on his harmonica and reminding audience members that the spirit of Hank Williams is still alive.
S.S. Web was a last-minute replacement for Hangdog Hearts. Great choice. Henry Berger and Cris Bissell’s hard-rockin’ bluegrass was one of the highlights of the day for me.
I’d never heard of Dana Sipos before I went to the spring weekender. I’m sure I’ll hear a lot more from the folk singer, though. She has a lovely voice.
Rickett Pass (Mason Tinsley, banjo, lead vocals; Joe Vega, mandolin; Dallas Cooper, guitar and washboard; and Matt Moore, bass) play bluegrass with the same fervor that The Pogues plays traditional Irish music. Fun group.
The Tillers are the closest thing this side of Ralph Stanley and Del McCoury that I’ve heard that takes me back to the bluegrass music I used to listen to with my grandmother in the north Georgia mountains back in the early ‘60s. I’ll see them whenever I get a chance.
Visit http://www.muddyrootsmusic.com for information about next year’s festival, which will be May 20-21 in Nashville, Indiana. I promise it’s going to be a great party.