Few citizenries exhibit the level of local pride as do the residents of Michigan and nowhere is that pride more in evidence than at the intimate Hoxeyville Music Festival. And after a year’s hiatus, Hoxeyville returned with an increased emphasis on “mitten music”. While previous editions had seen national acts such as Umphrey’s McGee, Bruce Hornsby, and the Mickey Hart Band grace the Hoxey stage, Hoxeyville 2014 was a more sedate gathering relying on home-state road warriors, and the longtime, unofficial Hoxey house band, Greensky Bluegrass as the headliner.
Due to some construction related detours, Luke Winslow King was the first mainstage act of the weekend. The Michigan native long ago felt the draw of the delta bayou and relocated to Louisiana but always returns home to deliver a joyful set for the Hoxeyville faithful and this set was no exception and made for the perfect scene setter for the weekend. Next up were “Airborne or Aquatic” an ever changing mélange of local musicians headed by festival promoter Jake Robinson. The ensemble dropped one of their trademark sets of roots rock with a distinct psychedelic flair that decidedly increased the musical momentum.
Greensky maintained the momentum opening their set with some blazing bluegrass that saw each member ably demonstrate that their fingers were indeed warmed up. Eventually the jam morphed into an up tempo, grassy take on the Pink Floyd classic “Time” that had the crowd squealing in glee. The next highlight was when the band called Rachael Davis to the stage. Davis’s distaff harmonies melded perfectly with Hoffman’s sweet vocals for an absolutely beautiful version of the band’s “In Control.” After some more bluegrass, the band made a birthday dedication of Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, which included and extended “Cocaine” tease, and had more than a few in the audience following the lyrical advice. But the weekend’s most emotional moment happened when the band launched into their tune “Jaywalking” which, given the events that were occurring in Ferguson Missouri at the time, had the crowd’s undivided attention and without doubt the sound of Hoffman’s plaintive voice on the lyric “we’ve been through this before, but it still doesn’t make any sense” made for the most poignant moment of the weekend. For their encore, Davis returned to the stage for a joyous version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” that was an apt lullabye for the evening.
Day two began with more sweet harmonies as the Sweet Water Warblers (Rachael Davis, Lindsey Lou and May Erlewine) made for a delightful eye-opener. Ryan Montbleau was next and delivered a sweet set that had more than a few of the female attendees swooning. Next up were the husband and wife duo of Seth Bernard and May Erlewine. The pair supplied a diverse musical set ranging from the silly “Turkeys in the Rain” to the beautiful “Wendy’s Waltz” that featured Seth’s father on fiddle. Michigan folk rockers The Crane Wives were next to the stage and they dished out a high energy set that was greeted with great enthusiasm. The Go Rounds, a group that can reach as many as eight members but were numbered at four for this evening, took the stage next but their set, while not bad, seemed somewhat disjointed and never fully came together.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band delighted the Hoxey fans with a blend of traditional New Orleans brass accented with a taste of classic rocking soul (including a sing-along version of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”). The NOLA favorites have deservedly become a staple of the festival circuit and their Hoxey set was a perfect example of why that is the case. Night two ended with an absolutely stellar set from Greensky Bluegrass that was highlighted by a glorious “Old Barns,” a plaintively soulful take on Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”, a phenomenal “Lose My Way” that highlighted the band’s instrumental interactivity. The set also included a sit-in by Ryan Montbleau for a lively take on his sing-a-long “I Can’t Wait” that segued into a bouncy version of the Stevie Wonder classic “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and had the audience two-stepping in madly. The set concluded with a titanic “Don’t Lie”, which featured an extended dobro solo by Anders Beck that was positively incendiary, before the band returned with a too-brief encore of “Demons” to conclude a set that should make more than one top 10 list for the year.
Day three of Hoxeyville was distinctly lower key. Billing themselves as “Beards and Blues Eyes”, Hoffman, Bernard and Josh Davis (no relation to Rachael) took to the stage for a set that highlighted the songwriting prowess of themselves and their fellow Michiganders, such as Jen Cygit, Mae Erlewhine and Rachael Davis, and concluded with the weekend’s most cheeky moment, a spirited take on Poison’s power ballad “Every Rose Has its Thorn” that left the crowd smiling widely. Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers were next and the somewhat odd and eclectic collection of musicians were received warmly by the crowd but did not provide any truly memorable moments.The final set of the weekend, as the road called requiring the set by Steppin’ In It to be missed, was provided by The Ragbirds. Erin Zindle led her troupe through a very good, but somewhat expected, set that was highlighted by sweet versions of “Lemon Grove” and “The Bully.”