Mike Milligan & Steam Shovel
I confess, I only became a ‘Deadhead’ wanna-be if you will, in the past decade or so. It’s one thing to be a really good tribute band. But it’s quite another to be a Grateful Dead tribute band. It requires a unique perspective and a specific skill set, far above the norm. And these cats do that very well. While you can appreciate the musical talents of Graciously Departed standing on their own, you gain a much clearer understanding if you’re a seasoned follower of the original band. I spoke to several at the festival who said that they could not ever remember a single Graciously Departed show that disappointed. They’re always that good.
Graciously Departed in attendance: Jamie Werner (lead guitar and vocals), Chris Lee (guitar), Chris Haugen (bass), Aaron Walker and Brad Pendleton (drums), Kidd Deckard, Erica Hegland (keyboard), Dave Hegland (guitar) with guest spot by Jason Wells.
They played a generously long set as the midnight hour brought our first day to a close. A few campers had already found their way to their tent by that time. Several of them told us the next morning how they enjoyed listening to the Departed, as they lie there looking at the stars, enjoying their respective nightly imbibements - ;)
If you’ve not seen the band Sheeza play, you’ve robbed yourself of many musical rewards. What would turn out to be one of long time drummer Justin Robbins’ last shows (pursuing an education) it was top shelf stuff. Sheeza brought a unique jazzed up rock sound with an almost flawless harmony between vocalists Claire and Courtney Tchoula, succinctly driven by a physically palpable bass line from Susan Wilson, and took us on into the afternoon sun.
As we emerge from our recent unexpected break, we thought it fitting that we pick up, where for us, the summer began to end. It’s been two months now, since bands from the Lafayette area and points beyond, gathered at a campsite in Darlington, IN for the first annual Music Matters Festival, the brainchild of Jason Wells. We fondly recall what the gathering meant for us, and how it taught us a bit more about ourselves.
An early August sun provided a challenging yet rewarding environment in which bands and fans alike, experienced the camaraderie of new friends during two days of music. We were fortunate as well, to spend time with artists on a personal level.
Normally, I would have spent my time during the event taking notes in preparation for an article post-fest. But as it began to unfold, I found myself putting down the notepad, yearning to experience every moment more fully. I decided to be in the present, and narrate at a later time.
But a narrative didn’t emerge for some time. Life happened, as it does, and I shelved the weekend as a fond memory...hoping perhaps to revisit it later as life would allow.
And yet...it was memory that ultimately provided the best notes I could have possibly taken. When you experience events at a high emotional level (much in the manner that we do) these moments imprint upon you in an emotional way, and stick with you forever. The first weekend in August contained many such moments. They replay for us much like vintage Woodstock film.
Although no one bathed naked in the pond - ;)
Sponsored venues are normally where bands gather for generally the same purpose - self-promotion. And rightly so. To present themselves and their brand, play new material, feed off crowd energy, market their merch, and perhaps make a few new connections, ensures the freedom to continue doing what they do. Yet the overall attitude was not one of self-serving. It was a giving, sharing one. Each band displayed continued selflessness by all accounts, the results of which were an outpouring of great music.
Attendance was lower than expected (being its first run) and often there was only a smattering of an audience for a band to play to. Festivals start small, all the good ones anyway, seasoned rockers know that. Fewer numbers might have discouraged most musicians, a culture of people who rely heavily on crowd noise and energy as validation of their efforts. But the unknown expected numbers proved not to be a deterrent for bands who chose to sign on. These bands gave their all, holding themselves to the higher standards by which a true appreciation of music deems. The eager crowd embraced it. Off-stage activity flourished as well. The interplay of the sounds of laughter of playing children (and adults) fit perfectly amid the sound of music.
If you’ve not seen the youthful yet accomplished playing of Gibson Wells, Jaylen Shelley, and Brady Ottinger, you best get your act together as they have. They rocked us with their originals and often wowed us with their covers! Speaking of...if you see them for no other reason, do so on the off chance you might be graced with the most impressive cover of Rush’s ‘Working Man’ I’ve ever heard. Incredibly rewarding, near flawless… - ;)
Michael’s guitar skills are widely known in Lafayette. He pops up at open mics often, and has become a local favorite. Fortunate for Music Matters, he was on hand to fill in for an unexpectedly absent band. His soft and comforting vocals sit well atop excellent fret work, making his spot the perfect interlude. We extend a special thanks to you sir!
The Jason Wells Band is no stranger to headlining. Those who stayed for their midnight closing set on the last night, were treated to extended jams, guest jams by Levi Hession and Kevin Peters, and an exuberant and impressive show of talent by the riff-laden performance of Jason Wells on guitar. Along with drummer Larry Pfohl, and Drew Luigs filling in on bass, every beat played resonated with the crowd, who showed the band love as they indicated their wishes that the weekend not end. The largest crowd so far of the weekend, they danced and sang along to the awesome performance with all they had. Jason was armed with the energy of the previous two days, and brought directly to the stage to do what he does best...play good old fashioned rock and roll. He was in rare form and we were glad of it. It was a great show.
Each night, several band members camped nearby, adding to the camaraderie. Our campsite was greeted each morning with some of the faces we normally would see at a dimly lit gig, or in the green room with their game faces on. But not at camp. Sharing a dwelling area, neighbors encamped together for a common cause, enjoying their morning smiles, as well as breakfast with creative people, provided a uniquely bonding experience. And most of all...these pleasantries took place without a stage.
And yet... it was still so much more...
We often discuss at length in camp RR, the benefits of live music. We talk of the positive vibrations it brings, and the endless energy it creates and leaves out there for all of us to enjoy. But most of all, we recognize how much more wonderful it is to SHARE IN that experience.
It’s common knowledge that attending live music with large groups of people creates an exponential benefit, one which can only be measured and verified by someone who was there. The larger the crowd, the more energy produced. The more energy produced, the more that’s fed back to the performer.
Live music in large crowds makes you a better person.
It lies in the benefits of sharing forms of expression - specifically language exchange in the form of music. Added to that, are the healing properties of music and how those who share in it heal and evolve more quickly than others around them. Foregoing digital trappings and returning to the roots of language expression, these exchanges give us hope...lift our spirit...teach us lessons from within.
Think about it. In what setting did the best sharing moments of your life take place? Were you by chance, gathered in a circle? Maybe at the dinner table? The front porch perhaps? How about a campfire?
The campfire jam…Music around the fire is in our DNA.
In primitive times, the early versions of ‘us’ gathered outside our small caves and discovered that fire could do much more for us than make our food tasty. It provided light in the dark, and deterred wild animals. We shortly discovered that warmth shared with others in a circle provided for us the perfect setting for the exchange of language. The first dwellers no doubt gathered around the fire telling tales of their hunts or conquests. Then someone picked up a stick and began to beat on a rock in a rhythmical way. Music proved to add to the experience in an immeasurable way.
On the last night of the festival, underneath a beautiful display of stars and the light of the flickering flames, something extra special happened. Not too long after the Jason Wells Band finished their set-ending free-for-all jam, another collaboration took place. Many of the musicians found themselves gathered together fireside. A guitar or two surfaced, and an exchange of expressions took place. And tempting though it was to join in, I elected to observe quietly. The performances I witnessed there from the shadows of my nearby campsite, rivaled in their own way, all that I had been privy to for the previous two days.
This happenstance gathering produced a higher energy. The musicians who played there did so without the usual fences of a venue. There was no hesitation, no self-promotion, no nervousness, no concern for skill level, or judgment. They just played.
They played without barriers. There were no hecklers, no drunks, no upset patrons, no house cover take to claim. It was one of the most rewarding collaboration of musicians I’ve seen yet.
Because it was honest.
If you are a musician reading this, please take a moment to consider where your collaborations flourish most. Has someone been asking you to play their gig with them? Have you harbored collaborative ideas that you should act on?
Perhaps it’s time for you to gather around your respective fires.
Slow down Lafayette... and listen to some music.
The first time I heard these cats was at the Hunter's Pub Down Under. We were on a crawl that night so I didn’t get to hang around for more than just a few tunes. Moonlight Lane opened up for Music Matters festival with a much progressed set. I enjoyed the emotional tones built throughout. It was the perfect opening. Apologies to lead singer Isaac Huff for the low canopy, who played the entire set with his head partially obscured by the necessary shade needed on stage. Isaac and fellow band members David Davenport, Jordan Dragstrem, and Eric Elming played a smooth and enjoyable kickstart to the weekend.
Jason Wells Band (with guests Kevin Peters, Levi Hession, and Drew Luigs filling in on bass)
Michael James Hall
(filling in for Tree due to an unexpected illness in the band)
Down Low Kickers
Moonlight Lane - https://www.facebook.com/MoonlightLane/
Wyld Syde - https://www.facebook.com/OfficialWyldSyde/?fref=ts
The Edgars - https://www.facebook.com/theedgarsofficial/?fref=ts
Mike Milligan & Steam Shovel - https://www.facebook.com/mikemilliganandsteamshovel
Graciously Departed - https://www.facebook.com/GraciouslyDeparted/
The Summit - https://www.facebook.com/thesummit/?fref=ts
Flatted Fifth - https://www.facebook.com/Flatted5th/?fref=ts
Michael James Hall - https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001749424319&fref=ts
Sheeza - https://www.facebook.com/thebandsheeza/?fref=ts
Down Low Kickers - https://www.facebook.com/downlowkickers/?fref=ts
Jason Wells Band - https://www.facebook.com/jasonwellsmusic/?fref=ts
~Music Matters Festival Retrospective~
Oct. 9th, 2016
(Original event August 5th - 6th, 2016)
Best of all..hugs abounded. It was a wonderful time.
With a penchant for showmanship and equal energy to boot, this six-member band brought it loud and hard to the table! Lead vocalists Darell Loy and Jami Walker played off each other with seasoned harmony on many great rock covers. Guitarists Wes Wright and Gene Weitzel often rocked with choreographed movements along with Codey Walker, who at times worked the crowd with his fanatically played wireless bass. Jamie Houser brought the heavy beat to the performance. Personal favorite - Wyld Syde singing ‘Wild Side’ by Motley Crue.
Flatted, a ten year strong band with an impressive number of shows under their belt, is an area staple for good rock blues and jazzy sound. They play so well together, we thought at several points we were listening to a recorded album. With two albums comprising over a dozen originals, they show us what the hard work and dedication of serious musicians can accomplish.
Day one began with an even hotter sun, and some powerful music from a band known as The Summit. Joining us from Cincinnati, this band brought day two of our festival on in a loud and powerful way. Lead singer Chris Melfi (Vocals/Harmonica) had me hoping for a Whitesnake cover tune with his insanely capable vocal range. Their delivery was a solid one, with a few short solos and instrument highlights by Leo Clarke (guitar), Ryan Snyder - (guitar), Mike Hennel (drums) and David Heffron (bass). They’ve indicated they had a great time and want to join us next year. It’s clear to me they raise the bar wherever they play.
If you want blues rock originals, peppered with classic covers that feel as if you’re front row at a coliseum, go see the Down Low Kickers. The DLK brought it up a considerable notch, with lead vocalist Levi Hession (guitar), belting out an extra powerful set. Guitarist Mitch Barker held nothing back with a strong offering of bluesy riffs. And bassist Alex Visser, along with drummer Brad Pendleton (who played two days in a row) brought it to par with solid effort, preparing us all the way around for the headliner to come at the end of both the evening and the weekend.
It was our first time hearing Mike Milligan, Robert Cook, and Shaun Milligan, who brought the blues fix to the line-up. These cats are some of the harder working, and more professional on the circuit. We were thankful and appreciative that they found their way to Music Matters. They do blues right. Catch them wherever you can. It’s worth the visit. They spared no effort with some of the smoothest blues and blues rock heard throughout the weekend.
Music review and promotion in central Indiana and surrounding areas since 2013