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10,000 Lakes Festival, Soo Pass Ranch, Detroit Lakes, MN – 7/22-25

Step right up, to the beautiful tree-lined rolling hills surrounding the Soo Pass Ranch- site of the 7th annual 10,000 Lakes Festival (10KLF). 2009’s diverse lineup promised to be sensational and indeed the campgrounds filled up quickly. Heavy hitters Widespread Panic, Wilco (the band!), and an expanded and inspired Dave Matthews Band propelled the festival to near record attendance. Surrounding the core of jam-oriented rock, one might experience hip-hop, electronica, funk, soul, bluegrass, metal (or at least Umphrey’s brand of it!) and just about any cross-genre combination imaginable. Good vibes abound here as fans and artists take pleasure in the rustic natural setting, temperate weather (read: usually not 95 degrees), good-natured staff and terrific music. Smiles are the norm, and upon critical inspection of the musicians playing 10KLF, the veterans are always enjoying themselves and the up and comers are energetic and eager to please. Something in the water of Northern Minnesota does this to the artists, festivarians and staff members of 10KLF every year.

Patchy spots of ominous, dark clouds and cool winds punctuated with intermittent sunshine the first afternoon foreshadowed the roller coaster ride that would be the next four days. The main stage was alive on the first night of the festival for the first time in 10KLF’s history with Gomez warming up the crowd for Widespread Panic. Although the crowd didn’t need much priming, Gomez still delivered with bone numbing bass lines and infectious poppy grooves, clearly showing their influences by performing the Led Zeppelin classic, ‘Bron Y Aur Stomp.’ A 90’s progressive rock feel came through with sounds reminiscent of Live, Smashing Pumpkins and a melodic quality similar to that of Dave Matthews.

Widespread Panic must have been feeling the vibes, too, starting out funky segueing ‘Old Neighborhood’ into ‘Weight of the World,’ sounding at times like Bowie’s ‘Fame.’ A spirited ‘Bear’s Gone Fishing’ wandered its way through ‘North’ and into standard but tight ‘Can’t Get High’ to keep the funk going. After letting the fans breathe, the pace was picked up again strongly closing the first set with an epic ‘Junior,’ featuring soaring solos from Jimmy Herring as well as a blistering guitar duel between Herring and guitarist, John Bell, that churned the crowd into a frenzied state of ecstasy. Embarking on a mellow course with ‘Contentment Blues,’ the second set ratcheted up the intensity as the band comfortably increased the tempo, finding its stride midway through the syrupy smooth ‘Driving Song’ and voyaging into ‘Hatfield.’ Dark and electrifying, Jerry Joseph’s ‘Chainsaw City’ rounded out a night defined by Herring’s shredding, JB’s raw and penetrating vocals and Dave School’s bass lines shaking the soul, Widespread delivered the goods and brought down the house.

Intensity, heat and energy continued well into the starry and crisp Minnesota night starting out at The Barn stage with a very motivated performance by Kinetix. Making their fourth 10KLF appearance it’s at once apparent why they’ve been asked back and why the crowds keep grooving. Driven fiendishly by drummer Jack Gargan, Kinetix brought the audience through peaks and valleys with a fun blend of ska and pop punk featuring vocals by guitarist Adam Lufkin and keyboardist Eric Blumenfeld. The closeness of the musicians was obvious as their live show was genuine, tight and intuitive, and their communications hilarious. Mixed in with creative originals, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was eaten up by the audience. With a new album out soon expect to see them play some bigger slots at festivals as they gain speed and continue on their path.
If the DJ scene is more your style, Pretty Lights rocked The Field Stage with samples to satisfy all musical tastes- possibly sans ‘new’ country! Consisting of DJ/Producer Derek Vincent Smith, and drummer Corey Eberhardt, Pretty Lights created deeply stratified layers of electronica, hip-hop, Motown, rock and more, yet came off sounding very organic. Highlighting the set was a crowd pleasing Rage’s ‘Bullet In The Head’ into Cypress Hill’s ‘Hits From the Bong.’ The cross genre blending sometimes brought giggles, but when the clowns came home, it jumped like a mid-nineties rave party.
Minneapolis natives, the Gypsy Lumberjacks, opened day two on the Saloon Stage. After a wild first night it was surprising to have a strong crowd that early, noon, but a packed Saloon was treated to their unique brand of gypsy jazz combining sounds of Flamenco and Persian music with a tinge of bluegrass all mixed over rocks with a pint of Jameson. They effortlessly blended covers into originals starting out with Bela Fleck’s ‘Big Country’ into Lumberjacks original- ‘Gypsy Life,’ before bringing it back into the melodic and spiritual ‘Big Country.’
The campground stages in Blue Ox and Lake Sallie really came to life on day two. Lake Sallie is traditionally the most festive of the campgrounds so when amplified music was allowed in the campgrounds this year, stage organizer Bobby Patrick loaded them up with a talented roster of regionally known bands, many local to Minnesota, and the stages were rocking. Campers eager for live music but unready to leave the comfort of the campgrounds were flocking to hear some of the region’s best acts, stripped down and raw. Many great memories were made as these stages provided some of the most intimate shows of the festival. Some of the more notable shows played included: Bigtree Bonsai, Hyentyte, 2 1/2 Brains, Absolute Gruv, and many more. Of particular note was Friday’s performance by Minneapolis’ A Night In The Box, compared by some to The White Stripes they have a pared down indie-rock feeling. However, it’s not single faceted, they add to that blues, bluegrass and Americana, delivered in an incredibly intense package that has created a devout fanbase.
Thursday was undeniably full of homegrown talent on the Mainstage. Rooted deep in the Minneapolis music scene, rock veterans, The Honeydogs brought to 10KLF a polished, light-hearted live show. Singer Adam Levy’s heartfelt lyrics were framed by a bright, crisp horn section and the classic rhythms of alt-country and indie-rock. Riding on the release of their latest album, Sunshine Committee, look for them to perform with more frequency in the near future.

Another Minnesotan, Mason Jennings, played a pleasantly surprising up-tempo set pairing his tried and true singer-songwriter roots with a more crunchy, electrified rock sound. Heralded by some as the next Bob Dylan, Mason’s albums tend to have a predominantly acoustic feel with well-written lyrics, but over the past few years in concert he has diversified the sound with the addition of electric guitars and distortion. An upcoming album promises to be a successful continuation of his previously released works as the songs fully develop through live performances.

‘Wilco, Wilco, Wilco will love you baby,’ sang frontman Jeff Tweedy and the rest is 10KLF history. Alt-rockers Wilco headlined the Mainstage Thursday thrilling the packed concert bowl with classics as well as field testing tracks from Wilco (the album). Charging right out of the gates with the title track, they had the field in the palm of their hand. Nels Kline once again proved himself a master of electric guitar and how to manipulate its frequencies. At one point Tweedy joked with the crowd, asking them for all of their glowsticks. After a healthy amount were thrown he responded, ‘I guess I fully underestimated how many you have,’ and proceeded to lay down ground rules. No throwing at the head or Nels as ‘He needs to concentrate!’ Welcome to 10KLF, Jeff! Another new song that yielded a great live performance was ‘Bull Black Nova,’ which in addition to the songs ‘A Shot In The Arm,’ and a monumental ‘Spiders, Kidsmoke,’ had the more jam-minded crowd enthralled.
Capping the night for many was a performance by Atmosphere, a Twin-Cities based hip-hop group. They are well loved in the area and more broadly in the scene. Shortly after playing ‘God Loves Ugly,’ the lightning show that had been a beautiful backdrop moved in and finished the action for the day with two heavy rainstorms. Campers either stuck it out and were soaked or like us, scurried to our tents and dreamt of day three.

Day three from the 2009 10KLF brought one of the most fun acts to be seen at any festival. For the fifth time at 10K, Matt Butler conducted the Everyone Orchestra. Anchored by EO vet, Steve Kimock, the performance was full of Butler’s usual quirks and crazy antics, but it also provided a playground for the artists to improvise and create music in its rawest form. Joining Kimock was his son on drums, which provided an intense chemistry that is a joy to observe. Rounding out the rhythm section was Reed Mathis of Tea Leaf Green on bass.

Listening to Steve Kimock is always a treat, but being able to see him perform twice in a day is just flat out lucky. In Steve Kimock’s Crazy Engine as in any setting, he sneaks up, starting out very subtle and smooth, and before you know it he’s soaring, but always with his light touch and amazing tone. The addition of Melvin Seals on keys lended playfulness and the show dripped with Latin and Reggae influences. But it was signature Kimock that quietly dominated the set. Again the father-son chemistry was clearly exhibited, as Steve looked proud to be playing with son John Morgan.

After Duluth favorites Trampled By Turtles got done rocking the mainstage crowd in a triumphant return to 10KLF, Widespread was again ready to take 10K by storm.
Widespread rocked the classics starting out with ‘Heroes’ into ‘One Armed Steve’ and finishing with ‘Pleas.’ Friday’s sets showcased the drummers, having numerous small percussion jams ultimately ending in a monster jam in the midst of a long, segueing second set ‘B of D’ > ‘Chilly Water’ > ‘Smokestack Lightning’ run. Before being rejoined by the band for ‘Bust It Big,’ Ortiz surprised on the didgeridoo and when Widespread reprised ‘Chilly Water’ the amphitheater went absolutely bananas. After a smoking second set, a soothing encore of ‘Airplane’ into ‘Pilgrims’ brought heads back to earth and provided a sense of full closure to their 10KLF adventure.

Starting out the last day on the Barn Stage was Todd Snider. Snider’s fans are devout as his spellbinding storytelling is both funny and emotional. Not often does one performer have the presence to captivate a large audience, but Snider’s down-home lyrics and communication with the spectators make him one to watch over and over. Upon exiting to another show, one camper looked me in the eye and said in a stern but light-hearted tone of voice, ‘You can’t leave Todd Snider early!’ However, there was so much good music to see that I had to move on.

Ozomatli up next, and fans have come to expect a high-energy show full of dancing, drumming and amazing vocals. One fan drove from Ohio and Ozomatli were her number one priority saying that, ‘Yeah, I may see a few more bands, but Ozomatli is where it’s at for me.’ After some technical difficulties, Ozo immediately had the field jumping to ‘Dos Cosas Ciertas.’ The show was full of style changes letting every member take the lead at some point. Justin Poree fronted many of the early tracks full of hip-hop vocals and bouncing bass lines. But the harmonies of Raul Pacheco and Asdru Sierra finished out the set in a way that only they can. Ozo played with a deep sense of unity and a shared energy and brought it to the crowd exiting the stage in the usual fashion and coming right out into the mix for a drum and horns jam. They left the fans with a feeling of excitement for the upcoming festivities.
The main bowl was already mostly full by the time Umphrey’s McGee started the opening set on the Mainstage. They played their usual brand of exploratory rock, electronica, and at many times on the edge of some serious metal. Building up slowly, they set out through a very funky and moving ‘Wappy Sprayberry,’ featuring Drummer Kris Myers laying out the electronica through ‘Spires’ and into the very lucid and dreamy, ‘Blue Echo’ before pouring out the good reggae vibes with the classic tune, ‘FF.’ The middle of the set was packed with the harder and darker songs ‘Mulche’s Odyssey’ and ‘Pay The Snucka,’ which included one of the best guitar solos of the day by Jake Cinninger. Following that, keys player Joel Cummins led the band through ‘Ringo.’ The tail end featured many dueling riffs between Cinninger and guitarist Brendan Bayliss, especially on ‘1348’ from their latest album Mantis. Cinninger and Bayliss were tight, often playing face to face. The well-rounded Umphrey’s set impressed many of Saturday’s fans who came specifically for Dave Matthews.

Dave Matthews made his 10KLF debut with ‘Shake Me like a Monkey,’ which has developed quickly from a new album track into a live favorite. The album version doesn’t do justice as the end of the song live sees Dave’s singing increase to another level of intensity, and the addition of trumpeter, Rashawn Ross, gives a sparkle to this new gem. A playful ten-minute intro led into the crowd favorite ‘Seek Up.’ Dave was letting loose with his vocals when three quarters of the way through ‘Jimi Thing’ he erupted into a scat solo before ending the song. Punctuating the set was a cover of the Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House,’ which saw some of the most body moving of the night. Sing-along classics filled the end of the set with ‘Ants Marching, and ‘Pantala Naga Pampa>Rapunzel’ before DMB electrified the crowd with a ripping twenty minute ‘Two Step.’ Carter Beauford’s raw power was felt during a ten- minute drum solo, but solo sounds too tame, maybe. He is a machine. Rejoining Carter, DMB ascended to another peak and finished the set with power. Another new song, ‘You and Me,’ started the encore, but a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ intro led the band into perennial fave, ‘All Along The Watchtower,’ appropriate for the state we’re in and the author of the song. But, the kicker was when midway through the tune Dave busted out the lyrics to the Zeppelin masterpiece, ‘and as we wind on down the road,’ it was an insane segue that gave one final surge of power to the audience before letting Boyd Tinsley take it on home to finish ‘Watchtower. ‘
After a brief stop to see what the Umphrey’s crew was up to with the N. Indiana All-Stars, this tired photographer fell asleep in the beautiful wooded campgrounds to the soothing sounds of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

I hearken the masses, come to the north woods, festival sites do not get more picturesque and serene than at the Soo Pass Ranch. Bring your good vibes and your dancing shoes and let your cares and worries melt away. 10,000 Lakes Festival has a notoriously laid-back atmosphere, plenty of fun and partying to be had and a very strong sense of community. If you haven’t yet made the annual pilgrimage, save the dates next year and add to the vitality, spirit and energy of this wonderful festival.

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