TRAVERSE CITY — You know a festival is special when a musician makes a point to return, year after year, for more than 30 years. Mark Schrock of Madcat Midnight Blues Journey this weekend makes his 34th return to Blissfest Music Festival.
“I love the spirit of Blissfest,” said Schrock, bassist for the Ann Arbor-based blues outfit. The band headlined the inaugural Blissfest in 1981. “They have great respect for roots traditions, but are open to folks who are expanding roots genres.”
This weekend’s 34th annual celebration of music, art, culture and community takes place once again at the picturesque Festival Farm just north of Harbor Springs. The rural northern Michigan festival grounds feature three stages and more than 50 performers.
Organizers aim to showcase a wide range of sounds for Blissers, according to Executive and Artistic Director Jim Gillespie.
“We encourage innovation and we really try to program for the diverse types of music that is going on these days,” said Gillespie, who founded the festival when he was 29. Initially, the festival was strictly focused on old-time music and bluegrass, but now includes everything from Cajun to electronica.
“It’s really an amalgamation of styles, and that’s also one of the unique features of American-based music. The United States is the home of blues and jazz and rock ’n’ roll and all of these other styles coming together, so we try to perpetuate that in our program. We’re based on bluegrass, old-time and Americana, but we’re not a slave to it.”
Just as the organizers work to incorporate more genres, they also draw in a mix of artists from West Michigan and out of state. Many are from New York, including Andrew & Noah Band, Brown Rice Family, Mulebone and Donna the Buffalo. Featured act Rusted Root, meanwhile, is from Pittsburgh, The Duhks are from Canada and Felix Y Los Gatos is from New Mexico.