Now “generations old,” as its co-founder puts it, each year’s Blissfest just keeps getting better and better, with a more eclectic lineup and more Bliss devotees.
This summer’s Blissfest, July 11-13, is no exception.
Co-founder Jim Gillespie said he never expected Blissfest to grow beyond a simple fundraising event with fellow Grain Train Natural Foods Market colleagues.
“But there has been a steady year to year desire to gather with friends and like-minded folks who care about people, the planet and the universal language of music,” he said.
Gillespie was a part of the Remus, Mich. Wheatland Music Organization during its early days in the 1970s, an idea that traveled back with him to Petoskey to raise funds for a Bliss, Mich. alternative school.
Although originally held for one day under a big maple tree in a Bliss Township field, Blissfest now needs a full staff, a board of directors, and 600 volunteers to help each year. A lot of work, yes – but well worth it.
“I am rewarded by the fact that I have been able to stay with this ‘party with a purpose’ for all these years, and still love it,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie’s background in anthropology plus his own musicianship has helped him keep each year’s lineup fresh and well balanced between favorite performers and emerging artists.
“Today we embrace our roots music roots, but also include innovators of the folk and roots traditions,” he said. “And we balance local and regional talent with our other goal of bringing national and internationally recognized touring acts to Northern Michigan.”
This year, the Blissfest lineup is another solid one, with main headliners Rusted Root anchoring the fest with their blend of world music and roots jams.
Also topping the bill are Canadian folkfusion band The Duhks, who manage to put soul, gospel, folk, Cajun zydeco, Irish dance music, and old-time country string sounds all into the same blender.
L.A.’s Fishtank Ensemble embraces an Eastern European sound, with a fusion of Balkan, Romanian, Flamenco, Gypsy, and hot jazz. The Appleseed Collective dip their toes into Dixieland and ragtime along with their own hot jazz/Gypsy sound.
“A couple other acts to look for are Star and Micey from Nashville, and Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers for an indie folk sound,” Gillespie said. “Then there’s Donna the Buffalo, Peter Rowan, Heywood Banks … and don’t miss The Brown Rice Family for some reggae/hip-hop, and The Andrew and Noah Band for an Americana roots romp.”
Local favorites are always well represented at Blissfest, too. This year’s picks include The Peacemeal String Band, E Minor, Josh Davis, Billy Strings and Don Julin, Claudia Schmidt with Dean McGraw, The Accidentals, Earthworks singer-songwriter DarlenYa, and Galactic Sherpas.
In addition to music, Blissfest offers showcases, workshops, and crafts. Tai Chi, ukulele lessons, an African dance party, silk painting and leather works are all on the docket.
So how are Gillespie and the Blissfest crew going to top all of this next year, when the fest hits its 35th birthday?
“Gads! Another landmark year?” Gillespie said, laughing. “Well, we already have some bands that we are chasing, but it’s cheating to give away the surprise too early. No one is booked yet, but rest assured we already have a list that will blow your socks off.”
The 2014 Blissfest Roots and Music Festival will take place July 11-13 in Bliss, Mich. Rustic camping is available. For tickets, a full schedule, and more, visit blissfest.org.