March 3, 2024

Rock Royalty to Play Benzie Barn

Jimi Hendrix’ mentor coming north for one night only
By Ross Boissoneau | June 30, 2018


It’s about 150 miles from Detroit to Cleveland, but Billy Davis’s road was so circuitous it took decades to get from one to the other. Now the celebrated musician and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is adding another 250 miles to the journey, ending up in Beulah on July 6 for Bayou in the Barn.

“I saw him at a festival last year. He’s been playing guitar longer than I’ve been on the planet,” said Josh Stoltz. The executive director of Grow Benzie was so enthralled he invited Davis to play at the annual fundraiser for the nonprofit located between Benzonia and Frankfort. “I contacted his manager, and the more I learned about him, the more connected he was with what Grow Benzie represents.”

What does Grow Benzie represent? Actually, a whole lot of things. It’s a hub of social activity and enterprise, home to gardens and greenhouses, food trucks, maker spaces, and a fiber barn, even a seed library. Its mission statement is “connecting people to healthful foods, job skills, life skills, and each other.” It offers nutrition, culinary and entrepreneurial classes, farming, gardening, and food preservation workshops, after-school programs and a weekly farm market.

Add to that Bayou in the Barn, an annual event combining food, fundraising and music held at St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah.

This year, Bayou in the Barn features Davis as the headliner. The guitarist and vocalist, who’s called the Motor City home since he was 13, was not only inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, he’s also a member of the Doo Wop Hall of Fame, and the R&B Hall of Fame in his hometown. The Detroit Blues Society awarded Davis a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

Davis turned 80 years old earlier this year, and he’s still going strong. “I’m trying to do the best I can,” he said from his Detroit-area home. He’s still playing shows and festivals and just last week played in Kalamazoo.

Davis was a longtime member of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. While on tour with the band, he befriended a young Jimi Hendrix and gave him some lessons. When Davis was drafted into the U.S. Army three years later, he enlisted Hendrix to take his place in the band. Davis returned to the band after his stint in the service, while Hendrix took some of the showmanship he’d gleaned from Davis and made it his own as he ascended into the rock stratosphere.

“Jimi and I became friends in 1959. It lasted until he passed away. I spent two weeks with him. He wanted to know how to do this, how to do that,” Davis said.

He said he didn’t have any inkling at that time that Hendrix would become a guitar god “The only thing I saw in him was his desire. He never got tired of playing. He wanted to learn.”

Nor does he harbor any resentment that Hendrix became a superstar. Davis is content with knowing where Hendrix got some of his tricks, such as playing behind his back and with his teeth. “The showmanship, different sounds, and feedback — I was doing that before there was a name for it,” Davis said matter-of-factly.

Don’t get the idea Davis and his music are some relics of the past. His stinging guitar leads and chunky rhythm fills are the basis for styles still popular today, incorporating blues, country and R&B in equal parts. And he still believes he can continue to grow as a player — even as an octogenarian.

“One thing about guitar — every day I pick it up, I learn something else. It keeps you going. If there was nothing else to learn you’d get bored.”

While Davis will be the headliner at Bayou in the Barn, he’s not alone. Kansas City blues band Katy Guillen and The Girls, Blake Elliot, and Beulah’s own K. Jones & the Benzie Playboys will also perform.

Stoltz said the party is the organization’s largest fundraiser. He said the nonprofit previously held both an auction/dinner and a festival gathering at different times of the year, but after seven years, interest and attendance at the former was dwindling. Last year, Grow Benzie combined the two and moved the event to July, when the greatest number of people are in the area. “We want to maintain our relationship with summer visitors and year-round residents,” he said.

The first such gatherings were dubbed Bayou on the Bay, as they took place in Frankfort, fronting Betsie Bay. Now it’s been moved to St. Ambrose, which offers an advantage in that the organization doesn’t have worry about a lot of the logistics, such as alcohol permits. “We don’t have to deal with that,” said Stoltz. And it’s a natural fit. “St. Ambrose and Sleeping Bear Farms are already partners with Grow Benzie.”

St. Ambrose and Sleeping Bear Farms are sister companies located on the same site. Both are owned by Kirk Jones, who also leads K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys. Stoltz’s father is also a member of the band.

Bayou in the Barn will also feature Grow Benzie’s food truck and other vendors serving Louisiana and southern cuisine such as jambalaya, barbecue and beignets, the sweet French doughnuts popularized by Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans’ French Quarter. There will be a live and silent auction including chef-hosted dinner parties and fishing expeditions, plus yard games throughout the property to enjoy.  Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs or blanket to relax on the grassy open space. Ticket admission includes entry to the event; merchandise, food, and drinks can be purchased separately.

Stoltz said the event helps the non-profit balance its books. “The focus the last three years is to make sure we’re not basing our entire income off grants,” he said. While Grow Benzie derives income from other sources, such as memberships, its food trucks, and renting out its event center, Bayou in the Barn remains its single largest source of income. “This is still the big one,” said Stoltz.

And it is getting bigger. Stoltz said the first couple years it drew around 700 to 800. Last year the crowd swelled to 1,100. “It’s great to see the support from the community and the greater community. I look forward to the time we have to go to Crystal Mountain because it’s grown so much,” he said.

Bayou in the Barn runs from 5pm to 11:30pm Friday, July 6. Tickets are $20 in advance ($10 students) and $25 at the door. They are available at, Grow Benzie’s Monday Farmers Market (2pm–6pm), and St. Ambrose Cellars. For information about Grow Benzie or the event, call 231-882-9510 or visit






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