Are you ready for the biggest music festival the U.P. has seen in modern times? A festival whose artist budget tops most other festivals ENTIRE budget? Well, it’s THIS WEEKEND, and it’s in the middle of Iron Street in Negaunee.
Thunder on the Iron Range FINALLY returns for it’s second year, and if you were at the first one in ’19, well, this is going to be many times the size. Kicking off Friday night, there will be 3 solid nights of killer roots and rock music from some of the hottest names in the music world today and some legends you probably barely need a reminder about.
Quickly running through the 3 nights before I break down the bands, we start on Friday night with local upstarts, headed, by a guy who is going to one day be called a local legend (actually there’s a good chance some of the band will be too), Adam Carpenter and the Upper Hand. Followed by the biggest talk of Thunder on the Iron Range 2019, old school country music outlaw Cecil Allen Moore and his kinda family band, and the night will end with the best Southern Rock band in existence, that somehow you may have never heard of, Blackberry Smoke.
Day 2 is for the pure rock lover, starting off with local stalwarts SPUN bringing you high energy heavy rock you know and love, and killing it even at 1 in the afternoon ;-). Following SPUN is the day’s first touring act the Nashville based eclectic heavy rockers Stone Senate. Now I have to say I was surprised to see the next band on Saturday as historically one would expect him either on a heavy country or Americana night. However, Chad Borgen & the Collective have to be one of the most diverse acts I’ve seen in the Yoop in years, and you never really know what they’ll put together. I’ve seen country, rockabilly, and some lighter rock out of ‘em, so I have no reason to believe they aren’t going to be bringing it heavy on the 30th. After Chad Borgen are three bands that should need little introduction, in fact other than saying it’s Firehouse, Lita Ford and Winger, I’ll leave further words for the band breakdowns.
The final day is another for the Americana/Country rocker, starting at 1 with another returning local from TOTIR 2019, Tom Katalin & Highway 41 bringing a solid mix of the country classics you know with a variety of originals, Adam Carpenter makes his second TOTIR 22 appearance following Katalin with the legendary local bluegrass jammers Chasin’ Steel at 3. After that another charttopper, seriously, hits the stage with the ultra-diverse Americana tones of The Band of Heathens. The night closes out with a band I’ve wanted to see for a solid decade. Heck, in the band I used to play in that never existed, we covered the title track of rugged outlaw country/rockers Hellbound Glory debut (Scumbag Country).
The fest kicks off Friday July 29 with the gates opening at 4 pm, it continues through the weekend with gates opening at Noon both Friday and Saturday. Tickets are still available here. Bands on this level have rarely been up here in the last 20 years and that can change. This is going to be a huge step forward.
Now that we got that little tease out of the way, lets go in and breakdown these bands a bit. Some of the bands will have accompanying “MMS – TOTIR 22 – Who is (Band Name)?” playlists linked to them, others, well, don’t have the digitized music out there, but we’ll get you some samples.
Starting off, we’re going with one of those bands with only limited digital music available, but a big part of the reason for that is they are still on the final mixes of the debut album, that this writer thinks could take Adam Carpenter and the Upper Hand to the next level.
They play real country music, the kind that they don’t play on the radio anymore, but when folks hear it they think it must be old. I’ve heard a few tracks from ACUH’s upcoming album (Adam says UP Life is going to be a bonus track), and I can say that I’m just really disappointed they didn’t get finished before this festival. Some of the best tracks there’s not even a Youtube video for, so until it comes out you’ll just have to catch Adam & the Boys live.
Next up we have our first fully returning act from TOTIR 2019 in Cecil Allen Moore. Now Cecil has a hell of a resume having run the circuit for the last 25 years, including stints as Roger Alan Wade & David Allen Coe’s guitarist. Cecil was easily the most talked about act from 2019, even moreso than Coe. Moore is one of those musicians whose career emphasizes independent so you aren’t going to really find him on the streaming services (though you can stream his 3 full lengths on his website).
Cecil and his sometimes family band, wife Nikki on bass and sometimes their eldest son (who knows how to properly say “sauna”) on rhythm axe, play a pretty diverse mix of old school stylings. Sometimes straight up country, other times embodying a bit more of a punk edged rockabilly vibe, and other times you’d just have to say they have a rock song. The only “complaint” I heard about Cecil from 2019 was “He sounded like Merle Haggard,” to which I responded, and the problem is?
Cecil & crew take the stage Friday night at 7 pm.
Headlining Friday night is one of the most exciting acts to hit a U.P. stage in recent years. Easily considered one of the top Southern Rock bands in existence today, the first independent band to top Country Billboard (2015), been in the top 10 on Billboard Country/top 20 Billboard Rock/Top 40 Billboard 200 with their last 5 albums, and have accomplished all this with little to no radio play.
Blackberry Smoke is the kind of band I immediately bring up when I hear “There’s no good rock these days,” which is just unfortunate because we’re so conditioned as a society to have the “best” music just handed to us, and for many genre fans this hasn’t been the case for decades. They collaborated with Jamey Johnson and even George Jones; they’ve rocked all the Late Shows; and I’ve mixed their music in with everything from country to heavy metal. This is a band who should appeal to almost EVERYONE who will attend Thunder on the Iron Range. If you’re not a fan yet, I would wager you will be.
Rockers, I hope you are ready for some bangover! Now, Blackberry Smoke can get heavy, but they won’t really come close to touching the norm of the Saturday bands.
The day kicks off at 1 pm with veteran local heavy rock troupe, SPUN. Most of the SPUN gents have been playing in various bands in the region, and around the country, since around the time drummer Crawl was born (early 90’s). They’ve played all kinds of styles, and still do actually, but their hearts have always been in heavy rock, and right now in the Upper Peninsula there isn’t a more sought after name in that game (with Stranded on hiatus).
Lots of people complain when they see cover bands on festivals like this, but the majority of the cover bands in this region are comprised of cats who have put in their dues and they are just giving the locals what they want AND will pay for. They are experienced entertainers, consummate showmen. Sure you’re probably not going to hear any original music from the stage when they’re on it, but Prisk, Shishka Bob, Doug and Crawl will rock you with the songs you want to hear and maybe even a couple you didn’t know you want to hear.
At 2:30 is Nashville’s Stone Senate, another of those eclectic modern Southern Rock bands that you can fit in all over the place. They’ve got tracks that range from sort of blues/soul to straight countrified & southern rock then some tracks that could easily get mixed in with heavy underground stoner rock/metal. I mean, they can be mixed in with the heavy stuff, yet they’ve also covered George Strait’s “The Fireman.”
Their triple guitar attack has been melting faces since 2012. According to their bio, Stone Senate has been called “a heavier version of Skynyrd, Crossed with the Allman Bros,” though flattering I wouldn’t exactly call that fair as they’re quite a bit more diverse than the aforementioned legends. They’ve toured the nation with the likes of the Bulletboys and Uli Jon Roth, and have shared the stage with all kinds of acts from Coe to Styx to Alien Antfarm, Kentucky Head Hunters, Big & Rich, Rival Sons, Cadillac Three, Collective Soul and even Snoop Dogg.
They’ve got one full length out, 2016’s “Star City”, and a couple EP’s including 2021’s stoner tinged “Dusk, we’re currently awaiting their second full length, “Between Light and Dark,” helmed by legendary producer Toby Wright, which is slated for release before the end o f the year. You can find both singles “Shine” and “Good to Go” from the new album, as well as 45 solid minutes of Stone Senate rockin’, on the MMS – Thunder 22 – Who is Stone Senate? Playlist embedded below.
The U.P. is in for a treat with a visit from this rockin’ quintet, and they may be destined for far greater things.
After Stone Senate is another name that should need little introduction, in fact they’re the second straight-up repeat from Thunder on the Iron Range 2019, Chad Borgen and the Collective. I have a feeler out to Chad, and he said he’ll get back to me shortly, so I’m not going to focus much on Chad because I as well as many other folks are a bit surprised to see him on the “heavy rock” day of the festival when, albeit, the Collective is known to be diverse, we generally see them more on the country/Americana side of things with forays into rock being fairly niche driven (rockabilly).
So we’ll get back to Chad in a separate piece, before the show, a little later this week. I have a feeling that they have something special in-store.
After the Collective the rest of Saturday’s bands shouldn’t need too much of an introduction. Now, I say too much because other than Firehouse I have a feeling a lot of folks aren’t aware that Lita Ford and Winger are still putting out new music that will rip faces and wreck necks.
We start out with North Carolina Rockers FireHouse, who blew up with their debut self-titled full length in 1990, and fought against the grunge movement for relevance, still topping the charts with songs from their next two albums. Still rocking 3 original members (C.J. Snare/Vox-Keys, Bill Leverty/Guitar, Mike Foster/Drums), and a stable line-up since 2004, the band really hasn’t taken a major break since their founding in 1989, however, they haven’t recorded a full length with new material in nearly 20 years. This, of course, only means that they have had the time to hone their hits and craft a killer polished set.
We put together a MMS – Thunder 2022 – Who is FireHouse? Playlist, and we’ll admit that it’s pretty much what you’re going to hear Friday night, but what rocker doesn’t have hearing “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and “Love of a Lifetime” live on their bucketlist? Of course, if you somehow have never heard FireHouse, the playlist is a great introduction.
Next up, is a Queen of Rock Guitar; the only member of the Runaways to stay the duration along with Joan Jett; someone who’s had duets with Geoff Tate, Dee Snider, Joe Walsh, Lizzy Hale and Ozzy Osbourne; someone who took a hiatus for a decade to raise her children only to return as badass as ever: Lita Ford.
I mean, really, there isn’t much more to say than this woman embodies the soul of arena rock, and as I said she took nearly 15 years off and when she came back, “Wicked Wonderland” was as good as her early material. Sure, it didn’t get the fanfare, but remember “rock is dead.” Remember that when you hear Lita play “Rotten to the Core” from 2016 on Saturday.
We did an MMS – Thunder 2022 – Who is Lita Ford? Playlist, and I could honestly see myself spinning it after the ‘fest. She’s just plain fun rock ‘n roll, and definitely another artist that is going to be crossed off some folk’s bucket list.
This brings us to the topper for the night. A band, that is no stranger to Negaunee actually, as they played inside the Historic Vista Theater in June 2017, the poster I made for the show currently hangs behind my head as I write this at the office. Winger returns to the streets of Negaunee this time as a 5 piece.
Now, I’m not going to lie, back in 2017 when the opportunity to be a part of bringing in Winger began, if you would have told me that I was going to end up a pretty big Winger fan 10 days later (yes, that’s how long we had to put that show together… NEVER AGAIN). Now, do I like their “classic” material anymore than I did prior to seeing it live? Nope, heck, even Kip isn’t quiet about being sick of singing “Fifty-on…,” er I mean “Seventeen.” Yes, if he doesn’t crack the joke that she’s 51 (the song was released 34 years ago) I’ll be outright shocked. I left a fan, no, I entered the show a fan because I checked out the material Winger released after reuniting. Forgive the borderline “spicy” language here, but “there ain’t no cock in that rock anymore,” in 2006 the band released “IV” following up in ’09 and ’14 with “Karma” and “Better Days Comin’” respectively, and they are playing straight up, early 80’s, Dio-esque heavy metal.
If you’re looking for that ballad band from the 80’s and early 90’s that got killed by Beavis & Butthead, don’t worry you’re still going to get plenty of that live as well. It honestly shows the incredible chops of the band, however, if you want to question them, digest this: Drummer Rod Morgenstein is still associated with Berklee School of Music after physically teaching there for 20 years, and Kip Winger has been nominated for a classical guitar Grammy. Okay, if that isn’t enough to raise an eyebrow, I can’t help you. I’m just actually excited the band is coming back because they’re actually awesome human beings as well as killer musicians.
As with the rest of the bands on the ‘fest we’ve thrown together an MMS – Thunder 2022 – Who is Winger? playlist, though we admit we may have left a “classic” or two off so you can get a better idea of what the band may play Saturday night (okay, we put “Fifty-one” on the playlist).
Moving into Day 3 of the show, and honestly I don’t know if I’m most looking forward to Friday or Sunday’s closer. However, before we get to that we have to talk a bit about another local country regular and 2019 Thunder returnee Tom Katalin & Highway 41 takes the stage at 1 pm.
I have to admit that I somehow manage to miss most of his festival sets due to other obligations, that shouldn’t be the case this year. I can say that everything I’ve heard from Tom is solid, and he’s definitely an experienced entertainer who will open the day off right. Tom is straight up old school country crossed with that 90’s country vibe. They cover the spectrum, and even make some pop country songs tolerable. Much like other openers Tom and Highway 41 will definitely play the songs the crowd wants to hear, probably a song or two they didn’t know they wanted to hear, and a few originals slipped in there. Though Tom’s been around for a few years, he’s still kind of the new guy on the scene, but in a few years I totally could see him being thought of locally like other stalwarts on this show. He’s already there as far as a performer.
Come 3 pm we have another legitimate local legend, and one of the local bands that occasionally appears on Sirius/XM radio, as Adam, Jason, Jonah and Jacob, aka Chasin’ Steel take the stage for a set of high energy bluegrass with a bit of an outlaw/rock ‘n roll edge. Though they haven’t put out any original music in quite a while, as Adam (Carpenter) is focusing on his other project, they’ll definitely come out and rock the crowd with a solid mix of original, covers and traditional blue grass songs. If you need a Chasin’ Steel primer their 2011 opus “Originals” is linked below. Just a fun personal note, that album is always fun for me as I remember clearly Adam handing me a copy while I was sitting on the side of the stage working security at the Upfront & Company when it was new. We were barely acquainted at this point, I hadn’t even yet figured out I bought a twelve gauge from his store a decade prior.
Following Chasin’ Steel we have the chart toppingist band of the night, sure it was a cover but Band of Heathens brought their version of Leon Everett’s “Hurricane” to the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot Rock songs chart.
As with most bands on this ‘fest one of Band of Heathen’s trademarks is their eclecticity, which is made very apparent if you just look at the range of covers they take up on their most recent release “Remote Transmissions, Vol 1.” There’s no real way to “sum-up” Heathen’s overall sound other than it’s going to appeal to a lot of both rock & country fans. If there’s a band on this festival that completely embodies the Americana vibe & spirit it’s Band of Heathens.
Do yourself a favor, if you aren’t already familiar, and listen to MMS – Thunder 2022 – Who is Band of Heathens? and introduce yourself. I truly don’t think you’ll be disappointed, I wasn’t in the discoveries I felt curating the playlist.
This brings us to the closer of the festival, and as I mentioned earlier I don’t know if I’m more excited for Blackberry Smoke or Sunday night’s Hellbound Glory.
I’ve been a huge fan of HBG for over a decade, but have never been able to line the stars up right to see ‘em. I discovered them after the outlaw country classic debut “Scumbag Country,” and have followed them through multiple straight forward country albums, a hiatus when Leroy Virgil tried to “go solo” (as if HBG isn’t basically just Leroy & Friends already), and a return with a lot more eclectic blues & rock influence worn on their sleeve. Honestly, I don’t think there is a band on the bill that is more overdue to be playing the Upper Peninsula.
Of course, without radio play it’s hard to get folks to pay attention anywhere in the country, let alone rural America, so it sometimes takes a moment for bands like this to catch on, and honestly, I think Sunday night will just be the true beginning of that for HBG. Honestly, I think a lot of people “in the know” would be a bit surprised to see Hellbound after Band of Heathens, but I’m just going to speculate that promoter Mike Ridenour just happens to know what kind of show both bands put on, and Hellbound Glory is just the right kind of energy to end the festival after the ride of relaxation to rockin’ Band of Heathens will provide HBG should blow the audience off the stage to end the festival.
Making MMS – Thunder 2022 – Who is Hellbound Glory? was definitely the most fun playlist curation for this festival, especially since I’ve performed one of these songs (Ballad of Scumbag Country) on stage opening for another of my favorite underground country artists.