ROTHBURY Music Festival

The first week in July marked the second annual ROTHBURY Music Festival. For five days (July 2nd-July 6th) a huge plot of farmland in rural Western Michigan played host to over 40,000 people and 100 bands, all of whom seemed to be quite happy dancing about in the Midwestern amber. Whereas many people came all the way from Oregon, Maine, South Carolina and Louisiana for the celebration, I was fortunate enough to live 35 minutes away. I could say that my close proximity to the festival allowed me to take a more business-like, objective approach in covering the event, but I will not tell a lie. Six of my best friends flew in from all across the country and we drank the experience like our 10am gimlets.

Photographer, web-designer, visual arts editor and friend Ryan Daly is the man behind all of the ROTHBURY photos enclosed. Head over to his Flickr page to see more photos from the weekend.

While some complained that 2009’s lineup of performers paled in comparison to last years (Dave Matthews’ Band, Steel Pulse, The Black Keys, 311, Of Montreal, Modest Mouse), Bob Dylan, The Dead, Damien Marley are nothing to sniff at. However, as is often the case, the more arcane performers provided most of the excitement.

Toubab Krewe – a dynamic group that blends contemporary American music with the percussive tones of West Africa – kicked off the festival Thursday night by deftly swimming through a flavorful 90 minute set. There’s a free download of the set on if you’d like to take a listen for yourself. The Krewe’s distinction comes, in part from a gentleman named Justin Perkins. Mr. Perkins has studied drums extensively in Mali, and plays them like a native. I was so entranced by his prowess on both the kora and the kamelengoni, that I felt compelled to sit him down for a brief interview.

Justin Perkins

After speaking to Justin I overheard a man talking openly about his recent cancer diagnosis. That man turned out to be Ralston Bowles, a well-known Midwestern songwriter in town for the weekend to open up for Willie Nelson. Because I am, perhaps unhealthily, pre-occupied with death I decided to see if I could get Ralston to sit down and share the story of his illness. He obliged.

Ralston Bowles

On Friday afternoon I stumbled upon Martin Sexton coaxing blue silk ribbons out of his throat like a magician. The soul and earnest with which the Syracuse native played lured me in and I stuck around to listen to the rest of his set. Later I sat down to speak with Martin, and even though most of his music and philosophy is a bit too Utopian for my taste, he is a class act.

Martin Sexton

As a long time fan of the Toronto indie scene, Broken Social Scene was probably the performance I most enjoyed over the course of the weekend. They played an early evening set in caramel sunlight, and the Magic Hat was hitting my grey matter just right as they ran through some of their classics.

It was also incredible watching Bob Marley’s progeny emote onstage alongside Nas.

A festival like ROTHBURY can be anything you want it to. Some folks come in search of liberation, some inebriation, some music, and some company. As for me, I opted for a melodic combination of all these elements and breathed it deep…like the sweet summer air amidst.