Formed more than a decade ago, northern Michigan’s Galactic Sherpas have made Blissfest a summertime tradition.
The funk, fusion and jam-band ensemble — which has juggled its lineup over the years — has played the festival north of Harbor Springs several times and will return to Blissfest, aka “Bliss,” this weekend.
“Bliss has always been a highlight if you’re from northern Michigan. Many of us have been going since we were kids so it’s a pretty special thing to be up there on stage,” said keyboard player, guitarist and singer Josh Hall.
“This year will be the eighth Bliss for us and is the highlight of every summer. The energy at the Bliss Sherpa show is unmatched and we really have no words for it except, ‘Thank you,’ and that we feel the love.”
Thousands of music lovers have been “feeling the love” of Blissfest for decades.
The 39th annual edition of the folk and roots music celebration takes place July 12-14 on the festival site at 3695 Division Road near Cross Village.
Headlined this year by Amy Helm, Canned Heat, Sam Bush, Steve Poltz and Martin Sexton, the festival showcases numerous musical styles, including bluegrass, blues, Zydeco, folk, jazz, Celtic, Latin and world music as well as dance on several stages.
Northern Michigan artists are well represented every year and Blissfest 2019 is no exception. Besides Galactic Sherpas, acts include May Erlewine, Biomassive, Chris Michels Band, Robin Lee Berry, Charlie Millard Band, The Marsupials, The Real Ingredients, Seth Bernard, Brothers Crunch, Eliza Thorp and New Third Coast.
Other well-known Michigan acts on the bill include Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, Last Gasp Collective, Jen Sygit, An Dro, Max Lockwood, Political Lizard and the Insiders Tom Petty Tribute.
The festival also features drum circles, songwriter sessions, a Woodstock tribute and much more.
For Galactic Sherpas, the trek to Bliss is just another stop on a musical journey that began in Boyne City in 2009.
The band began as a foursome featuring Hall, Erik VanHorn, Greg Mastin and Dan Brooks — “and we’ve been stealing new members from the chefs and the wait staff throughout northern Michigan restaurants for the past decade,” Hall joked.
Indeed, more than 20 other members — including seven different drummers and a half-dozen different saxophonists — have performed with the Sherpas, not counting special guests.
Besides Hall, the current lineup features Mastin on guitar; Brooks on bass and vocals; Tim Hawthorn on percussion; Jamison Cronk on trombone; Chris Burgess on drums; Casimir Toton on trumpet; Traven Michaels on saxophone and MC/DJ Tito Caballero.
As for the music, Galactic Sherpas have been “interested in many musical genres since we hammered out that first chord on stage,” Hall said, including jam band music, space rock, jazz, Afrobeat, funk, ska, old reggae and new reggae.
“We’ve covered classic rock songs, grunge songs and current pop songs,” he said. “We try to keep changing and learning new music, because after 11 years, the set list has a tendency to get stagnant.”
The band also has released five full-length recordings over the years, releasing its most recent album, “P.Y.L.O.T.,” in 2018. The group is heading back to the Runyan Media studio in Bellaire this summer and hopes to release four new songs sometime over the next 18 months.
Galactic Sherpas follow up their appearance at Bliss with shows July 20 at Biers Inwood Brewery south of Charlevoix, Aug. 2 at Bigwood in Cross Village and Aug. 10 at the Cowpie Music Festival in Caledonia south of Grand Rapids — a festival that impressed the band during its appearance there last year.
“The place blew our minds,” Hall said. “Amazing people, amazing grounds and amazing sound.”
Get the full Blissfest schedule and wristband details online at blissfestfestival.org. Wristbands cost $185 for the weekend for adults; $60 for teens and children.
“Bliss has always been a highlight if you’re from northern Michigan. Many of us have been going since we were kids so it’s a pretty special thing to be up there on stage.” Keyboard player, guitarist and singer Josh Hall