Rootstand & Rootenanny
Interview by: Dane Deroshia
Michigan’s Celtic Jamgrass Champions deliver Rootenanny
The Rootstand Remedy: Rebel Rootsgrass and Reggae, Swashbucklin’ Folk and Blues, a highland/island sound, abound with the wild blood of American roots and grass, alive with the joy of the jam and the pain of the ballad, acoustic-electric battlefield blues and rootsrock, country-boy hip-hop and whiskey reggae – encapsulated as a natural supplement that jives the soul. For best results, take with a big glass of fresh Michigan H2o.
Why the name Rootstand?
Brant lived in Port Townsend, Washington (near Seattle) for a few years after attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2002, Brant recorded a solo album entitled ‘Rootstand’ while living out there on the West Coast and stacking produce at the local food Co-op… and later laying stone in the San Juan Islands, practicing blues, and growing dreadlocks. Rootstand was partly inspired by the idea of a roadside produce stand, and in part by the idea of a Get-up-Stand-up type of musical revolution. After it hit, Brant moved back to Michigan to team up with veteran drummer Matt Pernar to form the foundation of the current band.
Describe your musical style?
We try to channel a Led Zeppelin authentic type of Rock-n-Roll, while mixing multiple forms of modern and classic music roots. Forms such as Blues, Bluegrass, Celtic, Reggae, and Hip-hop are very apparent in our music. We have a unique ability to lend the modern aspects of groove, techno, and jam into classic jams that makes anyone dance.
How long have you guys been together?
Our drummer Matt and our guitarist Brant have been playing together for almost ten years and the rest of the crew isn’t far behind. Banjo player Tim Sheldon and Bass player Doug Albright are veterans in their own right, not just because they have played with Rootstand over five years, but as well because they laid their own foundations in some classic Michigan bands such as Mossy Mountain Bluegrass (Kalamazoo) and Electric Porcupine (Marquette). This year, 2012, is the tenth anniversary of Brant’s solo album, ‘Rootstand’ that started the trend, and it will be available online (iTunes, Spotify) with all our albums soon. Next year in 2013, we will be celebrating our official ten years as a band.
Do you write songs individually or together?
The word here is ‘rootstandardization’. When one of the guys approaches the band with a tune, traditional or original, we work through it a few times to “translate” it for a Rootstand audience.
Tell us about touring. Do you tour regionally and/or nationally?
Over these past ten years we have toured in over 20 states, including five trips to Colorado, two to California, and lots of other touring from the far West to the mid South. The backbone of our tours is our own Michigan circuit, which lays the foundation for not only our festival, The Rootenanny, but also our heavy summer festival circuit all over the Midwest.
What are your plans for the future?
It takes a few years to figure out the game plan that works for a band, and we feel we are pretty close. Especially because we are hip to old forms of music like blues, bluegrass, Celtic, reggae, and all the forms of traditionally inspired music we jam on, we know we are equipped for the long haul. Could we be the next Led Zeppelin? Maybe. Could we be lifelong roots music all-stars like Willie Nelson or BB King? Probably. Could we have successful careers touring all over our country and the world playing our specialized blend of jams to Rootstand fans? Absolutely. Count on us playing to your grandkids.
NM3 attended this years Rootenanny Festival at Rocky Top Farms in Ellsworth, MI. Alongside such bands as Ultra Violet Hippopotamus, North Shore, The Macpodz, October Babies, Medicinal Groove, Kung Fu Rodeo, Blue Dirt, Galactic Sherpas, Dragon Wagon, the Fundubmentals, and many others, Rootstand delivered an awesome Rootenanny Festival for 2012. We wanted to know what it took to make this possible. We asked Rootstand member and Rootenanny founder Brant Losinski:
What does it take to put on a festival?
Wow… it takes a lot of vision. It was almost 10 years ago that we started to think about throwing our own festival. It all started with us throwing an annual party to thank the bands that had played with us that year. We would get a keg, some grilling food, and invite a handful of bands and various friends from all over the state to come and get down with us, and it was never intended to be a profit-making venture. In fact, Rootstand still saves money from our performances each year to help ensure the success of the festival. Over the years, the unique character of Rootenanny steamrolled it into its current form, as one of the most celebrated and upcoming festivals on the scene. It’s that mixture of ethics and piracy that people love. That they can come to our festival to lose themselves a bit, have some drinks and food, and enjoy a type of tribal living for a few days that many of us have forgotten still exists. The ethical part is our code: this isn’t Electric Forest, and it isn’t a meat market, so don’t bring your drugs or shady behaviour because we and our huge family simply will not tolerate it. Now, we have around 50 bands on our Rootenanny alumni list, and most of them still ask to return, purely for the sheer joy of playing our festival. Routinely, bands seem to have their “best show ever”, and it seems that Rootenanny brings out some of the best music that all of us can offer.
Do you have to pull permits for Rootenanny?
Permits are definitely part of the game. We work closely with the health department to get our campgrounds, porta-potties, and food vendors all up to date and approved. This year our local health department representative told us that our organization and preparation was the best ever, and we appreciate their help. It won’t happen unless you follow the rules, kids…
What kind of legal requirements must you fulfill?
Our partners at Rocky Top have insurance that allows them to have several events per year. If you did not own your own property, or work with someone like Rocky Top who is already insured to have people on their property, you would have to get what’s called “event insurance”, and it’s pretty expensive in either form. We are very grateful for Rocky Top’s help with this. Rootstand has played at many events across the country in the past that were suspect regarding their insurance protection of their bands and customers, and we simply will not risk these types of things. Rootenanny is well protected and we always get our permits processed in time for the festival.
If anyone at the Rootenanny breaks the law in any way, we simply call the Sheriff’s department to come out and help us resolve it quickly and peacefully. Many attendees this year thanked us for the safe and family oriented vibe we worked hard to create. No one should feel uncomfortable because of someone else’s poor decisions. Our local resources, like the Health Department and the Sheriff’s department, are on our team and we are very grateful for their continued support of Rootenanny.
How many people did you staff? Were many of them volunteers?
We had about 25 official staff, and many of these folks are on the road with us in various forms throughout the year. They work tirelessly, and though they aren’t volunteers in the true sense, they still rarely get paid. We all believe in the bigger picture of reinvestment, and look forward to the larger national circuit that is starting to open up to us. In addition, we had around 60 volunteers from all over the state who were willing to help us in many ways, like parking, gate help, back stage, in the kitchen, and beyond. These folks just wanted to volunteer in exchange for a ticket or two, and we are very grateful for the diligent ways in which some of these folks went the extra mile this year. We barely had a chance to hangout with some of our very best friends because we were all so busy working toward the success of the festival.
Why did you choose Rocky Top Farms?
In a way, Rocky Top chose us. We had played on the farm a few times when our festival was still being hosted by friends in Kingsley, and as we outgrew that property, we started to think of new spots that might work. One day, Brant said, “You know what? We should just call Rocky Top and see what they say.” We did, they said yes, and we have literally been tight like family since that first year at Rocky Top in about 2008.
The geography of Rocky Top is not only beautiful, with its Lake Michigan views, hilltop orchards, and rolling grassy valleys, but the glacial drumlins form a perfect natural amphitheater. Drumlins are the high ridges that run North/South all throughout the property. In addition, it’s just a few miles to any number of awesome Lake Michigan beaches. Once you get through all that, Mother Nature still stunned everyone this year with the full moon, vibrant leaf color changes, and a showing of Northern Lights like most of us had never seen before. It’s hard to argue that Rocky Top isn’t a perfect place for a roots music festival, and we all hope that both our festival, and some cherries grow in abundance for years to come. Much thanks to the Cooper family for being such patient and loving hosts to all of us. Please go to their website www.rockytopfarms.com and buy boxfuls of their delicious preserves and other fruit and local wood products.
How did you feel this year’s festival went?
The festival is growing in all the right directions. This year was the first year that Rootenanny really turned from a band party into a festival. Yes, there were a few loose ends and some unforeseen expenses, but nothing we as a band and a community can’t handle, especially when nearly everyone, from grandkids to grandparents had a great time. Even before we left the property this year, many new faces approached us offering to help in the future, and those of us that are Rootenanny veterans learned a truckload of new ways in which we can improve the festival.
Do you want to say thank you to anyone (or everyone) who helped make Rootenanny 2012 possible?
First, we want to thank ourselves and our crew for not giving up. In the last ten years, we have seen many bands start to gain speed and inevitably fall off a few years later. The music industry is brutal, and it takes a particular type of survivor to stick with it for years, let alone a lifetime.
Second, our friends and family at Rocky Top are paramount to the success of the festival. To be able to work with a family that can also absorb some bruises and still see through to the possibility of next year is huge. We are all in the same boat now, especially when we are celebrating after the festival with some laughs, beers, and salmon fishing just off the Rocky Top coast.
Third, all of our extended families and all the folks from the surrounding hills and villages that donated their time, money, and energy. Some of this year’s all-stars were Atwood Hardware who donated much of the stage material and Central Market in Central Lake who donated a ton of food. In addition to these local business, many farms, bakeries, and individuals donated in excess of what they can really afford, because like us, they see something positive for future generations developing.
And last, it’s hard to call people fans when almost all of them are your friends. As one person said this year, “Everywhere I look, I know like ten people. I love this festival.” Still, all you guys who have been in the pubs with us for years, and caught that extra special show at Earthworks, Bliss, Dunegrass, or Hiawatha where everyone left with their mind blown, and then knew that they had to buy that ticket to Rootenanny: we thank you. The biggest donation a person can make is sometimes just buying that ticket, and coming out and having the time of your lives. We are very grateful to you all for making it happen.