2013 marks the 10th Anniversary for the annual Saginaw On Stage music festival, which originally was conceived by brothers Nick & Dave Oppermann as a charitable fundraising vehicle for the Saginaw Rotary Club with a dual objective of showcasing the varied and high-caliber musical artistry of the Great Lakes Bay Area, while simultaneously raising much needed funding for worthwhile community organizations.
Once again this year's event will be held at Apple Mountain Resort on Saturday, March 30th from 4 - 11 PM and showcase over thirty musical acts performing on five separate stages, allowing continuous performances and audiences an opportunity to sample a broad smorgasbord of entertainment and tastes ranging from Blues, Country, Pop, and Rock, to Jazz, Celtic, Folk, and Gospel music. Tickets are $20.00 advance and $25.00 at the door, with student pricing at $5.00 advance and $10.00 at the door. An unlimited buffet dinner is also available for only $12.00.
In recent years Rotarian Bill Koepke has served as the most central figure in making Saginaw On Stage happen, but this year a small group of Rotarians are splitting up the organizational duties, and one of the pivotal forces to step forward is Eric De Vos(aka Red Hawkins) whom devoted his attentions towards a number of essential areas necessary to pull an event of this magnitude off.
“I got involved with Saginaw On Stage several years ago when my band (The Red Hawkins Band) performed there, “he explains. “As is the case with many musicians, I have a day job that pays the bills. For me that day job is as Professor of Psychology at Saginaw Valley State University. But that professional affiliation is not what made me useful in helping organize a music festival. My activities as a musician, my friendships with other musicians, and my love of building bare bones but functional websites are what have made me useful.”
“As you well know, Saginaw is a hothouse and breeding-ground for musicians of all genres. For a person who wants to get involved in music there are endless opportunities, whether it is the Saginaw Choral Society, a church hand-bell choir, a big brass band, a 4-piece bar band, or an open mic solo performance. Many local musicians are involved in multiple ensembles at the same time, and this is a richly interconnected musical community. The fact is, if you are a musician, there is too much to do around this town. You can't keep up and still live a family life.”
The planning for Saginaw On Stage begins with a committee that meets to select the musical artists to invite, followed by the process of getting artists to commit and provide promotional information for the event. “That's been an area where I've taken on a lot of responsibility this year,” explains De Vos. “Others are maintaining our facebook presence and doings other event-related logistics, but what is perhaps most crucial to the success of the event yet might go un-noticed by the folks who attend, is the fact we have many community sponsors. It takes work to bring them on board every year.”
Sponsors this year include many that have stepped up for many years: Covenant Hospital, Stevens Worldwide Vanlines, Bierlein Companies, and TV-5. Many other local businesses and individual community members have contributed time, services, and cash to make the event possible.
Hawkins' interest in musical involvement began over a decade ago when he became involved with a community organization called The Old Town Saginaw Music Association (OTSMA), which he says first got him “out of the kitchen and in front of a microphone.”
“I'd been playing folk songs on my guitar since I was a teenager, and as a kid singing old Stephen Foster tunes with my family around the piano before that, and while pre-pubescent, sang soprano in the San Francisco Boy's Choir. But I really had no clue what music was about, and OTSMA welcomed me, regardless of my level of talent. After a few years of jamming with OTSMA, and while recovering from surgery, I discovered that I liked to write songs. I'd been a consumer, not a producer. But once I opened the floodgates, the songs kept pouring out of me, to where I've written well over 150, and I stopped counting a few years ago.”
“I first recorded a CD with Ziggie Zeitler at Mojatona Studios, back before he and Siusan founded The White Crow Conservatory. Since then I've recorded two more CD's in my own studio and began rehearsing and performing my original songs with other musicians. I am presently working with band-mates (Vern Pococke and Jim Lint) to develop arrangements for dozens of tunes that are in various stages of "pre-recording".
“I was glad to have the opportunity to perform at Saginaw on Stage, but when I checked their promotional web site I noticed that most of the performers (myself included) were not listed at the web site, there was very little information there, and they really did not have a useful promotional web site. So, although I was not at that time a Rotarian, I volunteered to build a website for the 2011 festival ( www.saginawrotary.org ). After that I was invited to join the club, and I've been involved ever since.”
“One of my goals for this year's web site has been to provide greater recognition to those sponsors at the web site. One to also mention here specifically is The White Crow Conservatory of Music, who continue to book and produce the White Crow Chapel stage for our 5-stage venue.
Of course, apart from music, one of the key functions of Saginaw On Stage is to benefit local charitable organizations, which in the 10-year history of the festival has raised over $130,000. In addition to their annual Dictionary Project and Support for the Rotary Youth Leadership Camp, next year the Saginaw Rotary celebrates in 100th anniversary. “To celebrate we are raising money to fund a gift to the community, which unfortunately I cannot say more about the details at this time. Except that I believe the community will really like it!” notes Hawkins.
“The original intent for the Festival was not only as a fundraiser, but also as a showcase for the local musical talent. The idea was to showcase a selection of top talent, and to provide enhanced exposure to some artists who deserved spotlight exposure,” adds Hawkins. “Over the course of several formats for the event, we have arrived at the Apple Mountain 5-stage venue as the optimal way to give exposure to the largest possible number of acts during a single evening event.”
When asked about the process of assembling the musical roster, I'm curious as to whether any acts surface that wish to perform, but which the festival is unable to feature. What does Red feel is the most challenging component involved with pulling together such a varied musical roster?
“We like to mix it up a bit each year, although we have several groups that have been with us almost every year,” notes DeVos. “ I think Equinox and Laurie Middlebrook have been at every festival. There are a handful of other artists who have been at many of the festivals. I tabulated the list of all the distinct acts that have performed in the previous years' events, and the total is more than 120. Of course, some of those acts are combinations and re-combinations involving the same musicians in different ensembles, but some are acts that have come and gone, or have moved on. We also attempt to bring forward new artists every year, and this year is no exception. Some of those artists have been working the local music scene for decades but never at our festival. Others are recently formed acts involving veteran musicians.”
“Our Selection Committee invites some of the artists, and some of the artists request to be involved. We are always happy when folks contact us to express interest in performing. When they do, we attempt to get familiar with them and get a sense as to how they would best fit into the program. I am assembling a list of people who have contacted us or who have been recommended, already looking towards next year's festival. We try to cover as many musical genres as possible. The attempt to develop a diverse program and present a selection of music that should be of interest for everyone plays a big part in our selection process.”
When asked about the roster populating this 10th Anniversary celebration of Saginaw On Stage and to provide a breakdown on some of the featured artists people should pay special attention to that they may (or may not) be familiar with, Red had this to say:
“I don't know how I can be fair to everyone and mention only a few artists of special interest this year. Even repeat performers are often developing new material and expanding their horizons. So, for example, I have watched the evolution of Equinox since it was first founded, and every time I see them it seems they have transcended to a new level. Equinox may be an established name but the music is saucier than ever. Then, for added fun, one of their vocalists is performing for the first time this year as a separate act called "Jean-Marie and The Lads". Mike Brush and Brush Street have performed at many of our festivals, but this year they will bring it on in a big way as the 11-piece "Brush Street with Brass and Strings".
“The Robert Lee Review is always a hit and they will close out the night in one of the ballrooms. Cornpone is back again. They will open the White Crow Chapel this year. But later in the evening their bass player, Jeff Schrems will be performing as Jeff Schrems and The Spearfish, showcasing tunes from his recently released CD.”
“County Sheriff Bill Federspiel will be performing with his band, "The Wolfpack". Veteran rockers "The Road Dawgs" will be performing for us for the first time, though they are widely known around town. For "Variety Rock" we have "We're Not Jimmy", who are also new for us this year, as is "Sonido de Saginaw" who will do a set of Latin Jazz.
“Also for the first time this year, we will have the unique and charismatic Hamilton Street and White's Bar regular, "Pablo Mundo - the Live Human Juke Box". The "Covenant Which Doctors" are back, "Sprout" is back. Saginaw's everlasting Eastside Mike is back again with the amazing Fred Reif.”
“The Baytones and The Saginaw Elite Big Band are back, so if you like that big band sound, we've got it,” continues Red. “And for Classic Jazz, we have the ever-popular New Reformation Band with the Oppermann Brothers. The White Crow Chapel is serving up an evening of acoustic music, including Bob Buchanan - an amazing cornucopia of Americana, as well as a tasty set of Irish with Siusan and Ziggie, and Zydeco with Ziggie and Oz.”
“Also new this year will be theatrical stage performances, including skits, poetry and mime, selected and directed by Reverend Dr. Todd Farley (AKA Pastor Todd) of First Congregational Church in Saginaw, and performed by members of our community.”
Saginaw On Stage Festival Spotlight
Jeff Schrems & the Spearship
Jeff Schrems has played around Mid-Michigan for nearly 20 years in everything from Punk & Jam bands, to Hillbilly and Folk outfits, along with contributing to the innovative and austere musical renderings of Cornpone. Jeff started the pioneering improvisational crew known as Sprout & the Orange in his mom's basement in 1998 and picked up an old upright bass in 2005, two years after moving home from Nashville.
With his new Folk/Bluegrass/Country project Jeff Schrems & The Spearship, which also includes guitarist/vocalist Kevin Spear and mandolin/vocalist Kyle Spear, Schrems has released a fresh new collection of tracks and attempts to blend all of his influences into one monstrous concoction, replete with 3-part harmonies.
“Our shared love of old time country & acoustic music really is the uniting factor in this new group,” reflects Jeff, “although we are all over the board when it comes to musical taste. The real strength of this group is in the singing. Kevin & Kyle are both stellar musicians, but I really enjoy the harmonies. It's funny because I could never sing & play bass, so as a songwriter I always had to rely on the singer in the band to bring my songs to life. After playing the upright for awhile something clicked and all of a sudden I was able to sing and play. I love just hearing how voices blend. Families always sing best together. There are so many bands where brother/sister or mother/daughter sing harmonies together and it sounds incredible. Kevin & Kyle have that gift. They are working with the same vocal cord DNA!”
For Kevin Spear, his earliest musical influences date back to 1970 when he was a military brat at Karamursel Air Force base in Turkey. “The service club had a house band. They were Turks and played mostly Beatles covers. They wore powder blue tuxes and called themselves 'The Blue Lights'. I thought they were the coolest thing ever. I was 9.”
Kevin played trumped for 8 years in the Birch Run school band and says that he bought an Ibanez acoustic guitar when stationed in Germany that say around for 22 years gathering dust. “I always intended to learn to play it and in early 2003 I had a combined midlife crisis/delayed 911 moment and decided to start getting around to some stuff. The guitar was one of those things.”
As for the Spearfish, Kevin says “Our strongest quality is that we genuinely like each other and enjoy the rehearsal process. This is also our biggest downfall, as sometimes we are having so much fun we lose focus on the songs. But my main goal is to keep playing until my last day. That's pretty much it.”
“Other than the high level of the songwriting, I think our strongest quality is our ability to have fun,” reflects Kyle Spear. “Everyone in the group has a good sense of humor and we work really well with out another. The fact that I get to share in this whole experience with my Dad has meant the world to me. My Dad and I both picked up our instruments sort of late in life and we have learned a lot together. It has brought us even closer and has been my privilege to share in the creative process.”
“With the string band, each show is better than the last. We get a little tighter and have more fun with each show. Everyone in our group has an open mind, so there is no saying where this will go, or what we will do next. I'm happy to be a part of it all.”
We're Not Jimmy
This rock, variety, pop & funk outfits consists of Frank Michaels on guitar, bass, vocals; Jude Michaels on keyboards & vocals, Tim Neumeyer on guitar, bass, vocals, and Mike Dense on drums & percussion. A collective of seasoned musicians they perform a variety of genres, primarily rock, but also include some pop and country.
“The criteria we use when selecting our material is that it's fun and danceable,” notes Frank. “We're four good friends who have played in various bands over the years and decided to come together and play feel good music that makes you want to dance. Our goal is to have everyone enjoying themselves and making new friends”
The Robert Lee Revue
Since he was a teenager busting out in the mid-sixties internationally as guitarist with Question Mark & the Mysterians, renowned musician Robert Lee Balderrama (aka Bobby Balderrama) has left a distinctive musical imprint upon the tri-city landscape for over four decades, growing his unmistakable sound well beyond the humble beginnings of the teen clubs and garages where it all started.
With the new release of their second full-length CD of original material entitled City of Smooth Jazz, Bobby and his crack band of musicians that form The Robert Lee Revue have created a musical tapestry that is their most original and imaginative work yet, brimming with nuance, texture, and passion.
Comprised of a formidable array of musical talent, The Robert Lee Revue consists of fellow Mysterian's cohort Frank Rodriguez on keyboards, Dr. Jack Nash on bass, Tom Barsheff on saxophone, Amy Lynn Balderrama on percussion, and drummer Rudy Levario, this latest recorded foray into the wondrous textures explored through the idiom of 'smooth jazz' follows hot on the heels of the group's 2010 release, For the Love of Smooth Jazz. In the case of the Robert Lee Revue, this is marked with a precise blending of fluid guitar riffs complimented by equally fluid elements of keyboard and saxophone.
Apart from strong artistry & musicianship (two signature traits of The Robert Lee Revue) one of the most apparent advances centers upon the refined tonal technique of Bobby Balderrama, which possesses a strong synthesis between the passionate attack of Carlos Santana and the melodic fluidity of George Benson.
But for Bobby, the most significant stride on this latest endeavor is the fact that it is truly a group effort. “This time around I wanted to build the album around the entire band, instead of featuring a few artists,” he explains. “I do have a few guest artists such as Darin Scott on a few tracks, but for me the best part is that the overall tracks that we recorded were put together and created from the core of the band.”
According to Bobby, Frank Rodriguez wrote a majority of the material, with Balderrama contributing three songs. “We infuse each track with our own feelings, especially with the respective lead work of each performer. Tom had a certain style he was going after with the saxophone sound, and I've had many fans tell me during live performances that my tone sounds like George Benson but my style of attack is like Santana, which is what I was striving for.”
“Everybody is influenced by somebody else; and Benson has said that he was influenced by Wes Montgomery, so that gave me the idea of putting two styles together that I admire out of respect,” continues Bobby. “When I hear people comment on my sound, it proves that I'm able to come across with what it is that I'm trying to do.”