Farm Block Fest returns
New bands, familiar favorites take the stage for the first time in three years
ALLOUEZ TOWNSHIP — The reunion aspect of the 14th annual Farm Block Fest & Reunion took on added meaning this year, as the festival returned to live music for the first time since 2019.
The three-day festival, held at John and Charmaine Parsons’ farm in Allouez Township, raises money for the family’s non-profit, the Dan Schmitt Gift of Music and Outdoor Education Fund.
“It’s a very nice, very mellow, respectful crowd,” said John Parsons. “I told them the other night, I think they’ve all grown up, they’ve all gotten older.”
After three years on hold, putting the festival together required shaking off some rust and remembering how to do things, Parsons said. But with the help of volunteers, it all came together, from setting up parking to putting the stage roof back up.
“I tell people, it’s a labor of love, with an emphasis on labor,” he said.
The Dan Schmitt Fund provides hands-on music lessons for children in the Keweenaw and in Kalamazoo, where John’s son, Graham, now lives and performs with the band the Go-Rounds. The fund is named for Dan Schmitt, a musician and friend of Graham’s who was killed in a car accident.
It also educates children about the outdoors. Kids come out to the farm, where John and his wife Charmaine teach them how to identify plants or make apple cider. Through satellite programs, the fund is also providing help to children in other places, including California and interior Alaska.
One of the Gift of Music students, Matthew Labovsky, played the festival Sunday morning.
Brian Dibbern of Marquette started coming about 10 years ago when he was in college. The small size of the festival creates an overlap between musicians and attendees that doesn’t happen many other places, he said. And it’s always a fun way to spend his birthday weekend.
“There’s not a lot of places better to be than the Keweenaw in August,” he said.
He liked being introduced to new bands. But his favorite was still Breathe Owl Breathe, who played Friday night.
“I saw them the first year I was here, and it brings back memories,” he said.
Each year’s line-up, picked by Graham, blends returning performers and newcomers. Making her Farm Block debut was Nashon Holloway, who Graham called “the only person that’s ever given me a vocal lesson.”
She’s known Graham since a decade ago, when the Go-Rounds brought her on to sing on one of their songs. He’s been trying to get her to Farm Block Fest ever since, but this is the first year she made it.
“It’s just nice to get some fresh air, and be around amazing people who want to be a part of a beautiful community,” she said. “So I’m just taking a lot of deep breaths.”
She brought a more stripped-down lineup than usual, with her guitar accompanied by bass and cajon, a wooden percussion instrument. The set, including plaintive originals and a simmering take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” had several people in the crowd yelling for an encore.
And there was the music that transported her. The hypnotic sounds of the Go-Rounds, who followed Holloway, drew people who’d been sitting on the grass to dancing in front the stage.
Aside from the Go-Rounds, Holloway was seeing the bands for the first time. Her favorite discovery — echoed by many attendees hearing them — was Lalo Cura. The Spanish rock band from Goshen, Indiana is a festival favorite, with propulsive rhythms and guitar-saxophone duels.
“That was intergalactic space travel,” Hollaway said. “I’m blown away.”
After Lalo Cura’s set, musicians from all three days came onstage for a freewheeling cover set starting with the doo wop of the Fleetwoods and ending with David Bowie’s “Heroes.” In between, the crowd sang along and danced to Mariah Carey, Beastie Boys, Fleetwood Mac, among many others.
The closing jam was a highlight for Isabela Galo-Ney and Tom Tarkelson, both of Marquette.
They both praised Lalo Cura, who Tarkelson said “blew my mind.” And he loved Holloway’s vice and stage presence.
Galo-Ney came because a friend of hers was working at the Superior Cultures kombucha tent.
“It was fantastic — amazing musicians,” she said. “I was dancing the whole time.”
Tarkelson also played Friday night as keyboardist in Blanco Suave. It’s his first year coming to the festival, but he plans to make it an annual habit. As a musician, he raved about the quality of the stage production.
“It’s one of the best shows I think we’ve played, and a lot of that has to do with the crew and the sound,” he said. “I love Graham, and it’s good vibes all around.”
To donate to the Dan Schmitt Fund, go to dsgiftofmusic.org/donate.