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Local Spins of Grand Rapids

Farmfest set to offer 70-plus sets, ‘gorgeous’ northern Michigan experience and setting by John Sinkevics August 7, 2019

Michigan music festivals exude a communal vibe and a setting unlike musical gatherings anywhere else.

This weekend’s Farmfest in a remote northern Michigan location near Johannesburg (east of Gaylord) is a classic example of that.

“These festivals are always unique experiences,” said Traverse City fusion guitarist and singer Chris Michels, who’ll play the Main Stage at Farmfest on Sunday, followed by a Monday morning set on the small “Feedbag Café” stage with Dede & the Dreamers. 

Michels has played Farmfest previously with Dede & The Dreamers and Turbo Pup. 


On Stage: The Chris Michels Band (Courtesy Photo)

“The grounds are vast and fun to explore. The stage is gorgeous. I love jamming late at night at the bar there, too. Also, a lot of the people there you see all summer long at other fests.”

With the gates opening at noon Thursday, Farmfest will unfurl once again with more than 70 performances by a host of well-known Michigan stars as well as a number of up-and-coming acts.

The lineup includes The Appleseed Collective, The Crane Wives, The Go Rounds, Luke Winslow-King, Dede & The Dreamers, Seth Bernard, The Smokin’ Dobroleles, The Bandura Gypsies, Beaver Xing, Biomassive, Blue Water Ramblers, The Change, Distant Stars, Jake Allen, Jill Jack, The Marsupials, Chris Michels Band, Matt Gabriel, Michelle Held, Monte Pride, Oh Brother Big Sister, Peter Madcat Ruth, The Real Ingredients, Sean Miller, Slim Gypsy Baggage, Steel & Wood, Syd Burnham and many others.

Admission for the weekend is $95 in advance or $100 at the gate. The festival site is located at 1865 Roby Road in Johannesburg. Get the full lineup, directions and more details online at farm-fest.com

Making the rounds of Michigan music festivals is just part of what’s been a lifelong musical obsession for Michels.

A ROTATING CAST AND A JAM-BAND APPROACH

“I got my start in music when my elementary school music teacher told my parents I was loud and disruptive in class, and he thought they should buy me a guitar,” said the funky and jazzy Traverse City singer and musician.

“I soon was jamming with friends, and from then on, have been involved in as much music as I can squeeze into my life.”

That happens to be a lot of music, with the Chris Michels Band and its rotating cast of players playing a host of northern Michigan venues and festivals throughout August and September. (The Chris Michels Band will also play SpeakEZ Lounge as part of the Local Spins Wednesdaysseries on Oct. 9.)

With a jam-band approach to his mesmerizing music, Michels has released several varied recordings over the years, including 2015’s “Giants,” 2017’s jazz-funk EP, “Pretty/Funky,” 2018’s singer-songwriter release, “Pretty Blue,” and a 2019 live album. He’s currently wrapping up work on a new studio album with a release date set to be announced in the near future. 


From Folk to Jazz to Funk and More: Chris Michels (Courtesy Photo)

As for his live performances, Michels has leaned on a host of different musicians for various shows, including Traverse City players such as Alex Riesenbeck, Stu Ford, Chris Burgess, Jimmy Olson and others.

“I am really the only true member of the band. It is a Trent Reznor situation where I record albums alone or mostly alone, and I hire my friends to play in my band on a show-by-show basis,” he said. 

“Chris Michels Band is a jam band. We stretch out if possible. Keys or genre could change during a song, but hopefully it’s done musically and with jazz knowhow, lyrical hooks and professionalism. We are taking the music seriously even when we are risk-taking or adding humor. I enjoy the art of it all.”

He also lives and breathes that art.

“Chris Michels Band is more than a band to me. It’s what I do when I wake up. It’s my art and my butter and bread. It will last as long as I do,” said Michels, who also performs in the “digital folk” band BoomaTwang. 

“I want it all musically. I want the heart of a May Erlewine song in the body of a Vulfpeck song with Mitch Mitchell on drums.”