Music festivals have become essential to the summer experience. Eating breakfast to a fiddle jam at 10 a.m., passing out by lunchtime to the sweet twang of an Americana songwriter and waking up a few hours later just in time to strap on your Tevas, down some Gatorade and get your groove (or jig) on is what summertime is all about.

Jessica Boullion
Jam bands, bluegrass, folk and blues convene for summer music goodness. (Courtesy of the Glen Arbor Sun)
Jessica Boullion
(ANNA ASH/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
(ANNA ASH/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
(ANNA ASH/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
(Courtesy of Grassroots Productions)

Luckily for those who couldn’t muster up the pluck to make the drive out to Tennessee, Rhode Island or Illinois for some of the more well-known festivals (Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival and Pitchfork Festival), this lovely state of ours has more than a few noteworthy options to satiate your appetite for SPF-45 and parking lot drum circles.

Unfortunately, your opportunity for frolicking in the northern woods of Blissfest or Hoxeyville music festivals has already passed you by. But fear not my fellow music lovers, there’s no need to get your hemp biodegradable panties in a bunch, the Dunegrass music festival is here to rescue you and your summer from their dismal, pasty, air-conditioned state.

Perched in between the refreshing splendors of Lake Michigan and the warm sand and wooded shade of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Sleeping Bear Dunegrass and Blues festival showcases some of the brightest local and national talent at one of the most beautiful locations in Michigan. In its fifteen years of existence Dunegrass has evolved from a quaint alternative to its celebrated older siblings (Blissfest and Wheatland music festivals) to a full-scale and nationally-recognized music festival.

Since 2004 when the festival’s production shifted to Grassroots Productions, attendance has more than quadrupled. “Dunegrass isn’t just a folk festival,” said Stephan Volas, founder of Grassroots Productions. No, and it isn’t just a blues festival, or a bluegrass festival or a jam band festival either.

This year’s line-up articulates the musical diversity of the festival better than any genre-meshing description ever could. Headlining on Friday night will be a foursome of the jam band scene regulars: the Grateful Dead “recreation” band Dark Star Orchestra, the maestro of loop pedals and mouth trumpeting Keller Williams, the progressive bluegrass of Yonder Mountain String Band and the electronic jams of Particle.

But intermingled between big names like David Grisman and Todd Snider are a slew of regional artists that have powered the success of Michigan music festivals with their integral roles in the resurgence of roots music. Earthwork musicians Daisy May, Seth Bernard and Breathe Owl Breathe will all be bringing their own breeds of folk music to the various stages of Dunegrass. Lansing’s Steppin’ In It will treat the crowd to a bit of foot stomping and hootenanny, and then with the addition of singer/songwriter Rachel Davis, will transform into Shout Sister Shout and keep the toes tapping with their swinging old-time jazz and blues.

With this year’s line-up it is expected that Dunegrass will be recognized as the most popular music festival in Michigan. Fortunately though, it is unlikely that masses of twenty-somethings will be driving from all corners of the Midwest to congregate in Northern Michigan – Dunegrass is still far from becoming an inordinately commercialized and stigmatized music party. The balance between national and regional music, the quality of the music in general and the organization within the festival has retained its integrity while also allowing it to expand to a marketable size.

With the presence of a few large-scale artists, this year’s festival will give some, well-deserved exposure to the lesser-known regional artists, which makes this upcoming weekend even more than a joyous, four-day musical happening for festival-goers. A four-hour drive is quite insubstantial when all the music, dancing and jiving vibes are taken into account, and your vitamin D level and inner harmony will appreciate the alfresco vacation with a banjo/upright bass soundtrack.


Sleeping Bear Dunegrass and Blues Festival

August 2-5
$40 – $115
Empire, Mich.

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