Michigan music festivals are where it’s at. Because Michigan does it well – music, beer, farms, food, and light – all the lovely light. Earthwork Harvest Gathering is an unusual soft-spot for me. I’ve been going for years, and when Kora was very young, we’d join for a pre-season gathering of families – centered on music, food, and community. This festival is simply a scaling up of that. Community at it’s core, food to sustain, over 120 bands on four stages to entertain, all your friends to share it with, and a rustic, working farm as the host to it all. Hello, Michigan.
Kora and I headed south across the Mackinaw bridge on Thursday, ski box and back seat packed with instruments, photo gear, camping shit, and all the veggies Robyn packed for our 7 hour journey. My mission for the weekend was to visually document for the festival, and post in near real-time to social feeds. Her mission was to make music, help post to social, and run the youth performance – all with her partner in crime and bandmate, Ani, who was just an hour behind us. We arrived in darkness, got branded with wristbands by unusually awake volunteers, and made our way by parking light and headlamp through the fields to setup camp. We led Ani, her dad Matt and brother Ints through the same, and celebrated our Thursday night with whiskey and the beer I bought at the gas station after nearly running out of fuel on the way in.
On Friday morning I took a shower under a hose in the field and left my kid with a fiddle and a tent for the day as I shot a wedding down in Grand Rapids. I returned around midnight to kiss her goodnight and shoot as much as I could for the next couple hours. There was no shortage of this – the Market stage in particular was kicking with the Carolina Catfish, Madelyn Grant on Cedar, and Gregory Stovetop. Holy Friday. Saturday was a blur of the same. Stage after stage of music, sunshine, friends, food, and farm life. Ani and Kora performed two of their originals from their newly released EP on Hill Stage, brought the teens together to collaborate on a song for a Sunday performance, and later joined Brotha James and co. on stage. I settled regularly in a small house serving as operations headquarters, processing and uploading content, filling my water bottle alternately with water and whatever goodness Shorts Brewing had donated to the cause. Sunday was much the same – coffee made by camping partner Matt, food made by volunteers in a kitchen filled with farm-fare, and a field, barn, and more field filled with music to make you shout, dance, and cry simultaneously. Speaking of crying, I cried less than I usually do at Chris Dorman’s closing performance in the barn. I literally sobbed last year and wasn’t going to repeat that, mostly because it’s really hard to shoot when you can’t see through your own tears.
Monday morning, after I sent my teenage daughter home with our friends and prepared to head to Detroit for more work, I was dragging my feet – not wanting to leave this oasis of friends and the feelings that surround this place. As someone refilled my coffee, she asked what few experiences most defined my weekend. At first I didn’t know where to start, and then it was easy.
Watching my 14 year old daughter perform multiple times on stage with her girlfriend Ani – my daughter who came to this farm as a toddler, who has been mentored and inspired by this community – was an easy first pick.
Another highlight was the opportunity to photograph John Sinclair as he was interviewed by Andrew McFarlane on the farmhouse porch. “How did you feel having John Lennon write a song about you?” he asked. John took a long drag on his jay, laughed and replied, “You need some better questions. How the fuck do you think it felt?”
My most visual and emotional highlight was during May Belle‘s Sunday afternoon set. I had been watching the radar, thinking we’d get a burst of Michigan storm-front, and as May’s hat blew off her head into my hands, a shower of yellow leaves fell across the audience. Brooke Hall was on her feet, hands and face to the sky in an emotional, cathartic moment. The sky opened up and only complimented May’s set. I took shelter on the stage behind her and she finished on her back with Aretha Franklin. Yeah. That was a highlight for sure. Thank you to Seth, to Andrew, to every volunteer, artist, vendor, and musician who gave it all weekend. Wow.
And enough already. I’m not a writer. I’m a photographer. Here are the goddamn photos.