The first Funky Rivertown Fest at the Riverside Art Center in Ypsilanti is a labor of love that celebrates the power of local music.
Funky Rivertown Fest
The Funky Rivertown Fest is a 5-day musical festival at the Riverside Art Center (76 N Huron St) in Ypsilanti. The art center is in a beautiful old building in the heart of Ypsilanti. In 1995, the former Masonic Temple was transformed into a theater, art exhibit space, and studios for art, dance, and music.
We can thank Dave Roof of Rooftop Recording for bringing the 5-day Funky Rivertown Fest to life. Dave enlisted friends Kandy Fredrick and Lynne Frederickson to help lead a wonderful cast of volunteers in making each night run smoothly. Handling the amazing sound was Kris Truzzi, with Dave Roof helping out when he wasn’t on stage.
Songwriters in the Round
The first night of Funky Rivertown Fest featured a double set of Songwriters in the Round. The idea for songwriters in the round is that each artist performs a song that inspires a theme upon which the other writers can either build upon or augment. The audience gets the added bonus of experiencing the diversity of the artists and the unique aspects of each performance.
The first set of songwriters included Paul Lippens, Jo Serrapere, Kandy Fredrick, and Chris McGorey. Dave Roof introduced each singer/songwriter and challenged them to showcase a song that goes against tradition. Each artist took their shot at the theme as we all looked on in wonder and admiration. As the songs moved from Paul to Jo, to Kandy, and then Chris, each artist took inspiration from the prior. During their set, we heard the tales of summer love from Paul. Jo shared a touching and delicate tune that will be on her upcoming 22-song album; Kandy’s song about her Grandmother and her guitar touched hearts. Chris brought us a rousing rebel yell mixed with humor.
Songwriters Mike Ward, Dan Hall, Stuart Benbow, and Mark Jewett joined us for round two. Building on the first round, the songwriters showcased songs they felt broke the rules. Dan had everyone laughing and singing along to his ode to the passing of himself in some very distant future with “Where were you when Dan Hall died.” Stuart shared a wonderful song of hope and inspiration he wrote for his son. Mike played his touching “Let Them Be Loved,” which led to another emotional outpouring of singing from the crowd. In a loving tribute to the inspiration provided by both his father and Warren Zevon, Mark captivated the audience.
It was time to rock at the second night of Funky Rivertown Fest. As you may have noticed, each day of the festival has a different theme. Tonight’s show would focus on two bands employing the power of rock and roll to stir our souls.
Dirk Kroll Band
The show started with the Dirk Kroll Band out of Pontiac. This band is brilliant. Led by Dirk (vocals/guitar), the band includes his wife Marci on backing vocals, David Roof (guitar), Paul Price (drums), Sam Adragna (sax), George Canterbury (keyboards), and Dante Orlando (bass).
The Dirk Kroll band plays extremely catchy and groove-laden rock music. I thought of Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Dave Mason, and Tom Petty. Strong and well-written songs create an electric atmosphere that is charged and uplifting. I’m sure there would have been people moving if there had been a dance floor. Dirk has a great resonating voice enhanced by the vibrant backing vocals. The rhythm section was on point and tight, allowing the sax and guitar solos to shine. I highly recommend checking out the Dirk Kroll band when they play near you.
Billy Brandt and the Sugarees
Next up was Billy Brandt and the Sugarees. Billy handles vocals, harmonica, mandolin, and guitar. Joining him are John Holkeboer (bass), Chris Degnore (guitar), and John Porter (drums). Together they create a stellar alt-country brand of music that has no fear of extended jams. I heard elements of Towne Van Zandt, The Band, The Allman Brothers, and The Flying Burrito Brothers as I listened. Once again, a rock-solid core is created by the bass and drums. This allows the guitars to explore extended solos and melodic interplay. The vocals are charismatic and evocative, with brilliant harmonies. I could have listened to these guys play for hours.
Sadly, I only had time to check out the first two nights of Funky Rivertown Fest. I grabbed a few photos, which you can check out in the galleries for day one and day two. Take a peek, and feel free to leave a comment. Feel free to share your thoughts if you made it to the rest of the festival.
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