Thunder on the Iron Ranges pushes forward with the Upper Michigan Music Fest
UPDATED: Obviously y’all know that no festivals went down in 2020. Tis life. Hopefully we’ll see this ‘fest return with the potential to be the coolest in the Midwest in 2022.
It’s obviously been a rough couple months for everyone, not just the music scene. Sure, we’re seeing loads of AMAZING remote performances from artists on every level, but we haven’t been able to get that in person fix for weeks. We also don’t know when we’re going to get that fix.
How ‘bout lookin’ ahead to the festival season? Well, the first to drop would have been the Way UP Fest, which was supposed to be mid April, who was really looking like they were going to take a HUGE step up this year. Next to fall was Marquette’s Harbor Fest. Now, lots of folks may not give that little show the credence it deserves, but let’s just say that the majority of those “tribute bands” that have been booked are full of musicians with serious musical credentials. If that hasn’t hit ya in the gut hard enough, after 42 consecutive years Hiawatha had to make the difficult decision of looking towards a grand return in 2021, and the Marquette Area Blues Society is still up in the air on their 17th Labor Day Weekend classic.
“Geez Bear, why ya bringin’ us down?!?”
That’s not my goal here, just gotta lay out facts before we talk about one of the ‘fests that hasn’t just NOT CANCELLED but is still MOVING FORWARD. A festival that, actually, even without all the chaos going down this year, was on track to become the premiere Upper Peninsula music festival. In its second year, downtown Negaunee is going to be ROCKING August 14 to 16. Tickets are ON SALE NOW ONLY $10 A DAY!!!!
Last year’s Thunder on the Iron Range promised big and produced. Thousands from across the region gathered in downtown Negaunee for a day of real Country & Americana music IN THE MIDDLE OF IRON STREET. Last year’s show brought two international touring acts to the stage underground outlaw journeyman Cecil Allen Moore and the legendary David Allan Coe. The rest of the day was filled up by regional greats Tom Katalin & Highway 41, Chad Borgen & the Collective, and regional Bluegrass stalwarts Chasin’ Steele. This year the ante has definitely been raised.
Expanded and split over three days, the Upper Michigan Music Festival kicks off bringing you ROCK! with local neck wreckers SPUN topped off by THE QUEEN of 80’s heavy rock Lita Ford on Friday night. Whether it was rockin’ with The Runaways; her platinum selling solo career; or even just the near chart topping “Close My Eyes Forever” with Ozzy Osbourne, Lita was a hard to miss force throughout the late 70’s & 80’s. Sure, Lita disappeared for a decade in the 90’s to raise her kids, but she’s been back rockin’ like it’s still the 80’s since 2008.
Rock Night will be followed by two days of the best Outlaw Music this region has seen in quite a while. I say Outlaw music because even though the headliners are “Country/Americana” there’s still plenty for rock fans.
Saturday will kick off with a handful of local and regional acts including the family band, formed around 19 year old guitar phenom (and Otsego, MI native), Myron Elkins and the Dying Breed and nasty North Carolina Southern/Stoner rockers The Dirty Soul Revival (fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd to Clutch take note). We hope to have a lot more on both of these killer acts in the coming months.
Another family band, the one backing, Cecil Allen Moore returns to Negaunee with their own Outlaw style somewhere between Waylon Jennings and Bill Monroe (with a bit of a rock aesthetic at times). This must have been an easy call for organizers as Cecil, and REAL country music still being alive, had more buzz after last year’s show than the legend that followed him. Of course, as I mentioned his band consists of his wife Nicki plucking and slapping her baby around, and their eldest playing rhythm. One of the coolest stories in Outlaw Country, a REAL family band. The next international act on the list is one that I should have been pushing to get up here years ago, Hellbound Glory.
Having toured with the likes of ZZ Top, Leon Russell, Kid Rock, and the Supersuckers, Hellbound Glory are no stranger to the spotlight. Which makes the fact that main man Leroy Virgil is one of the most down to earth cats you’ll ever meet (and a dude who just wants to jam around the campfire all night after they play) pretty damn special. Musically they should be able to please anyone from a country to a rock to a straight blues fan. If you haven’t checked these guys out yet, get on it, their diversity alone really sums up this festival.
Saturday’s headliner is one of those acts that is impossible to pigeonhole. A heavy rock fan would call ‘em Country, a diehard Country fan would call ‘em rock, I just call ‘em kick ass. Underground Americana Legends The Band of Heathens will top off the Upper Michigan Music Fest’s Saturday night. If you haven’t heard their rendition of the Leon Everette classic “Hurricane,” which they brought to #18 on Billboard’s “Hot Rock Songs” chart in 2018, well, the link is embedded right here. Get on it:
Sunday continues the Americana trend with the Keweenaw’s Tom Katalin & Highway 41 busting through a set of modern and classic real Country cuts to start off the day. Tom tells us there may be some of his originals thrown in as well.
Those nasty North Carolina rockers The Dirty Soul Revival will hit the stage for second set for the weekend. This band is one of those bands that I could see just about anywhere. They fit this bill perfectly. They could open for Country, Rock or Heavy Metal. Hell, I saw a similar band open for GWAR back in the day. Alright, I have to admit, these cats are a new discovery for me, and I’m wondering A) how they escaped my attention before, and B) why they aren’t already making regular stops through the Yoop. I highly recommend their 2017 full length “Brave New World” (not to be confused with works by Aldous Huxley or Iron Maiden). Their 2016 debut is solid too, and has some fun sax work that doesn’t get carried on into later works.
Jesse Daniel slipped onto my radar mid-2019. In fact, I was promised “new music by the end of the year,” and it didn’t happen. Instead, “Rollin’ On” dropped in March, and there was no disappointment. It’s easily one of the most well rounded pieces of country music I’ve heard in years and should appeal to most folks who “don’t like new Country” as this album calls on a lot of styles from the 70’s through 90’s all while putting a touch of that modern underground flair to it. This ‘fest should go a long ways to to change the mind of just about anyone that currently believes that “new Country” is only that twangy R&B or Southern Bro-Rock-lite, and hates it.
It feels kind of funny that I’m only getting to one of the local acts this late in the article, but it’s honestly absolutely deserved. Adam Carpenter is a staple name in this region, be it for Chasin’ Steel and his musical ventures; having the number 1 radio show in the region “Adam Carpenter’s Outdoor Show,”; or his various business ventures over the years. He’s put in his dues and Adam Carpenter & the Upper Hand is probably the best material he’s put out yet. I assume the recorded material, further than “U.P. Life”, will be circulating before this festival, but as of now I’ve only heard a few of the tracks. However, I did have the privilege of seeing ACUH in, near, it’s full glory with members of One Ton Trolley handling steel and some leads, mesmerize a crowd at a small U.P. bar literally in the middle of the woods with 3 sets of nearly all original tracks. Let’s just say this is nearly unheard of in the rural Midwest. They call it “Frostbitten Outlaw Country” I call it real country, with real feel, and influences from all over the spectrum. I can’t wait to see how far these cats can bring this material.
That brings us to the final announced headliner, and this writer could hardly be more excited. Originally from Flint, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s have been trucking around the Midwest for over 15 years. In fact, back in the days when they took their soundboard recordings from random gigs and put them up on the Internet Archives (there’s tons of sets available dating back to 2008). I pushed to get them up to a local venue, but was sadly ignored at first. Of course, when someone finally realized how much they’d kill up here and tried to get ‘em, well, let’s just say we never heard back. When Mike (Ridenour, promoter of TOTIR) told me they’d be headlining, I almost jumped out of my skin. I honestly have a hard time naming another modern Country artist who embodies everything that traditional Country music fans are looking for, yet also has that outlaw edge that will appeal to more open minded rock fans. Fans of Jones, Waylon and Garth should all agree that Whitey Morgan is the real deal and is what should be being spun on the radio instead of the monogenre-ic pop music Nashville pushes instead.
Yes, this is a big festival full of names you may not have heard. I implore you to check out the examples littered throughout this article. Play them for like minded friends; check out the artists on the streaming service you prefer, and GET YOUR TICKETS NOW! because they’re gonna go up and 3 days of AMAZING music for $30 right now (until May 15th) is seriously one of the most unbeatable festival deals in the ENTIRE COUNTRY.
“WHAT IF THE FEST GETS CANCELLED BECAUSE OF THIS DAMN VIRUS?!?!”
Unfortunately, these times force this question to be asked and answered. Thunder on the Iron Range fortunately has covered their bases with a full Covid-19 cancellation/postponement policy on the website (refund/tickets good for new dates). You can buy in advance with confidence that if Covid-19 shuts down the ‘fest you’ll get your money back. Of course, under otherwise normal circumstances this ‘fest is rain or shine so be ready for anything.
Finally, a little bit of full disclosure here. I was not involved in the planning of this festival, however, the parent organization to the festival is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization and I have been asked to be a part of said organization. Not that this fact would change ANYTHING I’ve said in this piece, I do feel it’s important for you all to know that I do personally have a little heart in this game. Also, I work closely with Adam Carpenter & the Upper Hand, but again, I’m long notorious for telling my friends their bands suck, do you think that has changed at all?
Get your tickets for this festival and give yourself something GREAT to look forward to in these uncertain times. I can’t wait to see this go down in August, and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow to potentially be not only the premiere annual U.P. music festival, but one of the premiere niche fests in the Midwest if not the nation.