Words by Janie Franz :: Images by Tobin Voggesser & Christopher Monson

10,000 Lakes Festival :: 07.19 - 07.22 :: Detroit lakes, MN

10KLF by Voggesser
Every festival has a distinctive flavor, and this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, definitely had a certain palate. With Minnesota being Phil Lesh's last stop on his five-week Summer Tour with Trey Anastasio and the Benevento-Russo Duo (G.R.A.B.), the spice within this crowd was definitely jam, but that also included ambient space exploration as well as the more grounded acoustic and bluegrass music. Crowds seemed to steer away from the strict rock & roll acts that are characteristic of 10KLF. In the festival's early years, bands like Widespread Panic, Allman Brothers, and Gov't Mule drew crowds, especially Boomer rockers and jammers, like bees to sweet nectar.

Gordon with G.R.A.B. at 10KLF by Monson
This year, though, the crowd was definitely young but well-versed in the music. It was a thinking crowd with only periodic spurts of ecstatic dancing, not the intense dance marathons that marked previous years. Even during Trey Anastasio's appearance with Mike Gordon, Marco Benevento, and Joe Russo in their mega-band G.R.A.B. on the last night of the festival, the crowds were sitting down watching and listening. It might have been the heat during the four-day event or a lot of late nights that were catching up with festival-goers, but they were subdued, with very little conversation going on. However, they did show lots of life as they cheered loudly after each song. It was definitely remarkable and quite unlike last year's wild crowd during Trey's two sets.

Phil Lesh at 10KLF by Monson
It may have been that Trey and G.R.A.B., though headlining the entire festival and Saturday's events, were anti-climatic when compared to the appearance of Phil Lesh & Friends the night before. One of the few remaining original Grateful Dead members, a man who started this whole jam scene, had swept in and made everyone remember what it was like to hear those Dead classics done by one of the few Grateful Dead members left. That night's crowd loved everything that Phil did and danced till their bodies hurt. They also got all of the musical jokes and listened intently when Phil reminded folks to vote and to become organ donors.

This year's 10,000 Lakes Festival started off in midweek, beginning on a Wednesday night. But instead of a simple pre-party of one or two bands like they had done in previous years, they offered a full night's worth of entertainment beginning at 6 p.m. and going until 1:30 in the morning. Three stages were open: The Field Stage on the west side of the concert bowl, the Barn Stage at the top of the hill on the north side, and the Saloon Stage, an intimate bar venue near the Barn Stage. The Main Stage was not used that evening.

Steve Kimock at 10KLF by Voggesser
The Saloon Stage also hosted late night events from 1-3 in the wee hours on subsequent nights of the festival, well after the other stages had gone dark. Generally, the Saloon Stage hosted independent or small label bands, including those that had been selected as part of the Cosmic Break contest. This festival is noted for its encouragement of independent musicians and brings in artists from all over the country and Canada to show off their chops. Earlier this spring, a series of events was held prior to the festival to showcase bands from the heartland of the country and became part of the 10,000 Lakes Pre-Play Tour. Many of these bands were brand new, while others had been touring within a small radius for many years. Since these were mostly regional bands, one would have expected a certain similarity in musical style or choice of material, but that was not the case. The variety ranged from reggae bands to jazz groups to jam to bluegrass. This was usually the place to find a shiny musical diamond.

Shooter Jennings
10KLF by Voggesser
On Wednesday, three regional bands - Enchanted Ape, Cosmic Railroad, and New Primitives - opened the festival; setting the tone for the entire long weekend. Cosmic Railroad, a grassroots band featuring extended jams, drew a packed house. Enchanted Ape had the audience open-mouthed with the expertise of their electric cello player, who played his instrument like a skilled jazz violinist. And New Primitives combined Afro-Cuban rhythms with dance music and got everybody up and shaking. Early on, a brief shower had the potential to squelch the festival-goers' spirits, but it never phased them. They embraced it as true people of the earth, welcoming the rain as a cosmic splash park in which to cool off.

All three stages were packed on opening night. It was clear even then that the 10,000 Lakes Festival was facing record numbers. By Thursday afternoon, the box office had reported that 15,000 people had bought tickets, with more coming for the end of the week shows of Phil Lesh and Trey.

Keller Williams with SCI at 10KLF by Voggesser
Trampled by Turtles, a speed bluegrass band from Duluth, drew a gigantic crowd at the Barn Stage on Wednesday. Nearly every band that played that stage had big crowds, and it became the location of many more standing-room only events throughout the festival. Trampled by Turtles even increased their audience numbers the next day at the same stage. But it was The Wood Brothers on Saturday afternoon, followed by Keller Williams, who filled every available place to stand, much less dance or sit, at the Barn Stage. Keller's audience even spilled over into the patios around the stage and crept into those around the Saloon Stage. It was so densely packed The Wood Brothers decided not to try to sell CDs or sign autographs.

Tea Leaf Green at 10KLF by Monson
On Thursday and Friday, VIP ticket holders were treated to music in the VIP Hospitality Tent by Unity, a roots reggae band from Wisconsin (by way of the Fiji Islands), and Turbine, a four-piece band from New York that writes in just about every style imaginable. It was a much more intimate setting for these bands, allowing the festival-goers and festival workers the opportunity to really listen and to see the chord changes and facial expressions of each band member. The Lake Sallie Campground and the Blue Ox/Viking Campground also had entertainment tents, where many of the Saloon Stage bands played acoustic music for campers. This was a new camping amenity added this year. Again, it presented a much more intimate setting for festival attendees to see and hear new bands.

O.A.R. at 10KLF by Monson
One of the surprises at this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival was the appearance of O.A.R. A radio-friendly pop/rock band, it was a bit of a surprise seeing them on the bill for a very jam-heavy festival. Some festival-goers assumed it was the festival's booking agent's attempt to bring a wide variety of musical styles to the festival. This idea had backfired in the second year when the festival booked 311, Maroon 5, and John Mayer (in his pre-Herbie Hancock days) into a jam line-up with String Cheese, Galactic, and Jazz Mandolin Project. Though the rest of the bands were stellar (like New Monsoon, Stockholm Syndrome, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among many others), festival-goers stayed away from the bigger, more mainstream acts.

M. Kang - SCI at 10KLF by Monson
This time, crowds flocked to the Main Stage to see O.A.R. What the band produced were decent instrumental jams, and the audience loved it. Though their albums are clocked down to the radio minute and are tight musically, their appearance at 10,000 Lakes was an opportunity to explore their musical chops and to gain some respect from an audience that appreciates the technically trained side of music. Though none of O.A.R.'s band members have degrees in music or have even studied music seriously, they played with the accuracy and fearlessness of any of the audience's jam favorites. O.A.R. warmed up the crowd for The String Cheese Incident's always intricate musical experiences that came just minutes later.

Trey Anastasio 10KLF by Voggesser
Two other experiences stood out. One was an unusual acoustic duo by Trey and Mike Gordon in Trey's second set. Both of them sat down with guitars and did four folk-type numbers. The first was an acoustic version of the Beatles' "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," with a resonator guitar sounding almost like a banjo, jammed up against an old fiddle tune. They did an English ballad with silky vocal harmonies and ended with an original country tune with some of the best flat-picking around. It would have made flat-picking champion Tim Sparks, who played earlier in the festival, envious.

Then G.R.A.B. left the stage in the middle of the fireworks, came back, and played for a bit as the fireworks finished. While the audience was enraptured with the lights in the sky, they set a loop on stage. When the fireworks ended, the stage was dark and G.R.A.B. had left the building. It was clear that these guys don't have gigantic egos. There wasn't even a whisper of doing an encore since the audience felt that G.R.A.B. had indeed come back to the stage and left again.

10KLF by Voggesser
Finally, the last memorable experience of this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival was a personal one. As I lay in my tent in the VIP campground amid the musicians and other media in the wee hours of a very noisy night, I heard a lone saxophone player jamming his heart out on one side of the campground. It was jazz at its most basic. As I was grooving on that, I heard the answer of a trumpet player on the other side of the campground. And for a time, these two fine musicians did a call and response in true jazz fashion, but by long distance. That lovely bit of music tucked us all in that night, and the campground settled into a quiet hum.

That generosity and musical skill of two unknown musicians says 10,000 Lakes like nothing else.

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