By STEVE SEYMOUR
The western Upper Peninsula's Porcupine Mountains were doubly spectacular this past weekend. That's because the area's breathtaking scenery, like Lake of the Clouds, was enhanced with a first-class music festival, as thousands of fans from around the Midwest transcended on Ontonagon County.
My wife Sue and I made plans months ago to attend the third annual Porcupine Mountains Music Festival which takes place in Michigan's largest state park, featuring dozens of top touring acts on three stages. Our eagerness was reflected in our tickets, numbered 0003 and 0004, for opening day, Friday, Aug. 24.
We were particularly interested in seeing the festival's headlining act, Blues Caravan 2007, which includes three dynamic guitarists and singers in Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman and Roxanne Potvin. But there were other draws, too. Despite living in the U. P. all my life, I'd never seen Marquette's Conga Se Menne perform; and Copper Country native Lindsay Tomasic, enjoying much success in the Los Angeles music scene, was to appear on stage, as well.
You may not have heard of Tomasic, but you almost certainly know her music. Her songs and themes are widely heard on television and in the movies. Her work has appeared in the motion picture Wild Hogs, and on TV in Desperate Housewives and Malcolm in the Middle as well as Get This Party Started on UPN. During two sets, Tomasic played tracks from her three solo CD's, "Well Kept Secret," "Paradise Road" and the soon to be released "What in the World." The singer-songwriter then invited the audience to attend her performance the following evening at Lake Linden's Little Gem Theater, which would include legendary keyboardist Bill Payne, a founding member of Little Feat and now a U. P. resident.
Conga Se Menne
Also bolstering the U. P. was Conga Se Menne, founders of their own category of music, "Finnish Reggae." Frontman Derrell Syria led his band through many of their best-loved songs including "Living Inna Northern Paradise," "Born in the U. P. Ay," "Sauna Song," "U. P. Boy," "West U. P. Town," "Gainses' Rock" and others.
"The band has a new CD coming out," Syria said, teasing the audience from a stage under a ski lift, "in about a year and a half." Commenting on his tendency to procrastinate, he added: "We have five songs completed and only need four or five more." Some of the tracks will be about Les Ross, the band's co-founder, percussionist and long-time Marquette area musician, who died in 2003.
While local residents were well aware of the beauty of the Porkies, the festival location also impressed Blues Caravan star Sue Foley.
"Man, what a place to hold a festival. I didn't even know this town existed. I'm sorry. I'm from Canada, too. You'd think I'd know things like that. This is a damn long way to come, but I'm glad you're here. After the show, the ladies and I will be over there, sitting in the dark, signing CD's, hopefully. Maybe somebody could bring a flashlight and shine it on us."
But, with her trademark paisley Telecaster in hand, Foley and her band shone brightly without any help. They launched into their set with a blistering version of the instrumental "Time Bomb," from their Ruf Records CD released earlier this year.
The three guitar goddesses then took turns leading the band, which included bass, drums and keyboards, through an impressive list of mostly original material.
Potvin, born in Quebec just 23 years ago, played, sang and danced through "Hitting on Nothing," "Caught Up" and the John Hiatt-penned "A Love That's Simple."
The hard rockin' Coleman, meanwhile, played numbers such as "Talking Loud," stressing her jamming abilities. The 50-year-old Virginia native kicked it into high gear for "Bad Boy" and a no-holes-barred version of Buddy Miles' "Them Changes."
The red-headed Foley, who has a dozen albums to her credit, then returned to the stage for "So Far," a tune she wrote for the new disc..
After telling the audience she was writing a book called "Guitar Women," Foley, 39, played "Down the Big Road Blues," by Mattie Delaney, an obscure blueswoman from the 30s. The song appears on a double CD Foley assembled to demonstrate the skills of the greatest contemporary and traditional blueswomen, including Debbie Davies, Joanna Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block and Memphis Minnie.
Bringing her set to a close, the Ottawa native demonstrated her considerable guitar prowess on "Doggie Treats," "Long Distance Lover" and "New Used Car."
The trio concluded with "In The Basement," each vocalist singing one verse of the song before leaving the stage. But, the crowd demanded an encore. The band returned with a saucy rendition of the Irma Thomas classic "You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don't Mess With My Man)" before ending with a protest number, "No War, No More" as the crowd cheered.
Following their set, a bearded man mentioned to Foley that he thought "three hot chicks with Telecaster guitars" matched a fantasy some guys had. "That's what I've been told," Foley said, matter-of-factly.
To cap off the day, my wife Sue took a snapshot of me and Sue, the blueswoman. We headed back to our motel room while Foley got ready to travel to Red Lake, MN for the Last Ride Blues Festival the following day.