Feature, Recap

The Gasoline Gypsies: Beaver Island Music Festival

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Gypsy Camp rose early and rallied quickly. Thirty minutes behind is really 43 minutes ahead of schedule on Gypsy time. Jack readied the vessel, armed with a fresh set of wheels, while Nancy brewed the coffee and prepared delicious, tackling fuel to fill our bellies, ripe with a sense of adventure. Joe and Megan packed the truck; I helped where I could while embracing my gratitude for being exactly where I was supposed to be. Off, off, and away north by northwest to our first Beaver Island Music Festival.

It is critical that we feel a sense of belonging independent of ego. We arrived to Charlevoix a few hours ahead of when we caught our ferry to Beaver Island. This is without question the most grand entrance I have made to a festival. The sun is shining, the sky blue, clouds – nowhere to be found. A forty minute cruise over my favorite lake will bring us to our home for the next few days. This trip comes at a special time in my life, where great transition is happening before my very eyes, yet only a slight difference of how I will be spending my time. I am diving into a special life in music that I’ve long been building. With time on my side, the wind in my hair, I am ready for all directions which I’m blown, so long as I stay true to the song in my heart.

“I don’t think that you can get a clear understanding of Beaver Island or the music festival from reading online. A person needs to experience it to understand the depth of Beaver Island’s remoteness and beauty,” says Dan Burton, of Beaver Island Music Festival.

When I hear the word “Gypsy” I think of a wandering soul, traversing space and time to discover his or herself in the people, places, and natural wonders which make life worth living. I’m reminded of The Allman Brothers, “Melissa”.

Freight train, each car looks the same, all the same

And no one knows the gypsy’s name

And no one hears his lonely sighs

There are no blankets where he lies

Lord, in his deepest dreams the gypsy flies

With sweet Melissa

Mm, hmm

As much as we long to grow and evolve, there is an essential basic core within us all — if which could be analyzed — would reveal the course a life would eventually take. We recognize our own and gain strength in numbers. I might not know your name, or the burden of your journey, but I acknowledge it because I see it in your eyes, feel it in your longing, and in that – we are the same.

A band is a family and within every family are a number of dynamics that make it unique. I got to know the Gypsies while working with them on a few shows at a venue I managed, but it wasn’t until they welcomed me into Connie’s home for a winter Thanksgiving that I began to feel like I was part of the family.

Jack and Nancy

I’ve watched great movies about music and learned the casual and causal circumstance which led to people like myself being invited to embark on an epic and wild ride, and I’m into it. I recently read about intuition coming as a result of previously experiencing something in dreams; (a book given to me by Nancy Phares who is one of two Gypsy guardian goddesses, who I met on this very adventure to Beaver Island). It reminded me of our winter feast, sitting around with Vagabundos before I knew what it meant to be one. Sitting on the couch, Joe sprawled onto the floor petting his food baby, we were watching the nature channel when I distinctly remember having deja vu, which I’ve always perceived as the Universe’s way of telling us that we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be, living in line with our purpose and passion.

Our experiences bend time as our memories of them are brought to the passing present. I studied philosophy as a second major in undergrad, and wrote my senior thesis centered around that very concept, with the direction of psychologist George Herbert Mead. Little did I know, all these years later he would find his way into my recollection of a beautiful relationship with a band I now call family.

I left that evening with Jack who drove me home from Port Huron to Ferndale all because he wanted me to feel what he felt, and has built a life around. For a very brief time I was helping the Gypsies with social media, but as a result of my schedule and existing obligations, let go to the wayside. Some months later fate granted me the gift of time, just in time to walk a mile in a Gypsy’s shoes.

I arrived to Jack and Nancy’s home in Sylvan Lake on a Tuesday night after softball. In all the years of knowing the Hungers, I had never been to their home. It felt like I walked into a cabin in the middle of the woods, up north. Ceilings so high they must have known I was coming. I learned that Jack and his father built the home together, as they built many things. Who better than a builder, coach, father, and electrician to build a foundation and family around a rock and roll band?

“Jack Hunger is an unstoppable force,” Caleb Malooley says while laughing. “He seriously has more energy than any of us in our twenties. He is one of the purest souls I have ever met, and single handedly responsible for a huge chunk of our success.”

I recall a conversation where Jack shared with me that he’s never been so busy in his life, until retirement. On top of mowing close to 10 lawns for family, friends, and the elderly, managing a band, playing in a bocce ball league, Jack finds time to enjoy the occasional free throw at Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana, where Hoosiers was filmed.

“How do I describe Jack?” asks Steve Briere. “Jack became a part of this craziness almost two years ago now. We asked him if he had any interest in managing us and he’s been on board 120% since. Jack is sincere, kind, hard working, and most of all, he’s family. It’s a passion. Without Jack and Nancy, this band would not have had the success we’ve had in the last 24 months.”

Words find us the way people do; lately I everywhere I look I discover the word empath, and the folks who embrace the gift. It feels like an increasing number of individuals are being unplugged from the matrix which insists our loneliness, isolation, fear, and doubt if we don’t subscribe to the prescribed master plan.

Waking up to our dreams, and the reality where they’re realized, delivers us to magnetic souls who share our passion and desire to breakthrough the mold created to oppress and stress for the sake of a master’s will, who isn’t our own! It is a blessing to serve others and discover strengths within us that might not have been revealed unless we had; but I will choose who I serve and who I raise revolution against!

When we put ourselves and energy out there long enough we learn what the world thinks and feels about our quality. Still a young man at 33, I sense the days, weeks, months, and years slipping into one another the way a brushstroke composes a masterpiece. No matter the individual, everyone fights personal battles that endure the duration of their life, but when we are honest, passionate, and genuine to our gifts, other people act as calming agents who reassure and comfort us along the way.

Jack and Nancy Hunger are two such agents in my life who make me proud of the choices I’ve made, and the life I continue to get better at living. If you are fortunate enough to know the Hungers, you know what I’m talking about. Jack was my seventh and eighth grade basketball coach at Our Lady of Refuge, and while I didn’t know it at the time, he’s a rockstar you don’t regret bringing home to meet the parents.

Jack is the only man I know who spent his life as an athlete, electrician, coach, and music lover, then retired and decided it was the right time to manage a rock and roll band. It is because of my lifelong relationship with Jack that I have the pleasure of knowing, loving, and working with The Gasoline Gypsies. The rollicking, genre-transcending Detroit outfit recently completed their first tour with The Native Howl, and were voted best band in Detroit, while being acknowledged by the Detroit Music Awards as Outstanding Americana Group, with the Outstanding Americana Recording, “Killing Time”.

“Although we’re very proud of the album we’re about to release, I’d have to say that our greatest accomplishment would be the relationships we’ve built and are continuing to build with our fans. Through Pledge Music, we’ve realized the value in sharing experiences with the people who support us. We get to create friendships with people who like our music and share in adventures with them instead of just seeing them at shows,” Steve says.

“This concept has brought us to a new place as a currently independent band. Or fans are our label. They propel us and we are blessed to be able to share in some fun with them!”

Growing up, I was the guy who loved music but couldn’t name anyone in the band. For those of you who know me, you know that’s no longer the case, and my greatest struggle is making the time to write the stories that tie us all together. I love to write but it feels as if a cosmic energy force is pulling me towards the sun, moon, planets, and stars all at once. I believe it’s asking me to do something grandiose in fashion that has, and will affect the lives of many. Time will tell.

Working in music offers the most frequent signs and encouragement that I am in the right place, swimming in the right stream. People like Steve Briere, Neal Love, Joe Makowski, and Caleb Malooley seem to sense the mission I am on and express gratitude for the time we’re afforded with one another. Life is not linear despite our disposition to interpret it that way. I could have written a recap about my first adventure as a Vagabundo on my ride home from Beaver Island; but I let life happen. Instead, I find myself with my words sitting along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, toes buried in the sand, waves cascading over my feet, sun on my skin, warm wind in my long, beautiful, blond hair, pen and paper in hand, and most importantly – no particular place to be, writing.  

“A Vagabundo, first a foremost is a direct supporter and team member of the band. These are the people who continue to make this whole thing work,” Steve says. “They are the backbone of this band. Without them, we’re nothing.”

Maybe I was waiting for the release of their latest EP, Vagabundos. Maybe I was waiting to be blanketed by the love of my family I rarely see; or maybe, I just love living and need the proper beach and eventual isolation to catch up on the best summer of my life, in the heart of the best year of my life. Sometimes I feel like I’m an undercover agent of change embedding myself deeper and deeper into the fabric of society, until one day the impossible can be read about in the pages I eventually weave together.

If gasoline fuels a great journey, then dreams fuel the impossible and I really like the notion of what becomes possible when we do it together. It’s possible, I’ve lived in Michigan for 33 years and only just discovered a magical place called Beaver Island, because I was supposed to do it with The Gasoline Gypsies by my side.

The story of Beaver Island Music Festival began in 2003, with an unplanned, magical night in the woods. It was an effort to get the band Simplicity to the island, who arrived on the ferry, to a stage erected on a trailer, equipment plugged into a generator, bonfire built, and music flowing through the trees. Dan and Carol Burton were joined by 40 of their closest friends and family, along with 75 islanders and Central Michigan University students who camped out on the island and attended the first festival. The Burtons, Bayard Kurth, and Stephen Garcia couldn’t resist the opportunity to create a festival that would be inspiring, and beneficial to the community of Beaver Island.

“In 2003 we didn’t plan to have a festival. It was just a fun event. We were in the middle of nowhere and no one even knew where we lived. No electric, no street signs, and no neighbors. We had to make it up as we went with a generator and a hay trailer,” Dan Burton says.

“The Beaver Island Music Festival secured a summer venue and has filled a gap in the tourist season that has surpassed all other seasonal events. It has brought continued business to the island not only during this time but all year long because our festival-goes get to experience and love the island as we do. Some of the businesses and our sponsors like Island Airways, Beaver Island Boat Company, and McDonough’s Market have supported this event since the beginning seeing a great opportunity to work together and bring people to our community.”

I can’t read music, play a chord on the guitar, but I can infiltrate a crowd and increase its collective heartbeat until joy and dance are screamed from the depths of lungs, in the middle of the pouring rain on a magical evening in the woods that I’ll never forget. We all have gifts and I’m grateful that some of mine help celebrate the dreams of others, while having a damn good time of course.

“My best memory of Beaver Island would have to be waking up stuck at Nancy’s cabin. Being stuck without a car for the first time in years sucked. But I was wide awake at two in the morning with nowhere to go and nothing to do but look at the awesome stars,” says Caleb.

 

No one ever said realizing dreams and the impossible would be easy, but they certainly should have said it would be fun! Fun sure is fun, and being a Vagabundo brings me great joy. For the Gypsies, “Vagabundo means much more than an album title. It celebrates their free spirited, open road ethic, and lays the foundation for their exciting new Gypsy fan tribe network, a creative, collaborative approach to engaging their followers in the fun of their journey, navigating life, and traversing the music business landscape of today,” says Nancy Phares.

Born in the Spring of 2018, the Vagabundos fan tribe network is quickly growing both roots and wings, inspiring fans through connection and personal experience “hangs” with the band. It was the basis for the band’s first ever Pledge Music crowdfunding campaign, which easily exceeded its goal, in June.

“A Vagabundo is someone who has been deeply moved by our music and the community we have built, and go to extra lengths to be part of it (taking a ferry to an island eight hours away for example),” Caleb says.

The success of the Gypsies signifies a cyclical return and love of classic rock. For two nights, I was fully submerged in a mass of dancing bodies on an island in Lake Michigan who fucking loved what they heard! Most of who didn’t know prior, but left the mysterious island that once orchestrated the assassination of the only King in U.S. history, as believers.

“My best memory of Beaver Island would definitely be performing,” Steve says. The crowd, the setting, the stage, everything was amazing… but also, the adventure to the island was pretty excellent as well. Traveling north of Charlevoix to board a fairy and then arriving on a wilderness covered island to attend a festival was pretty awesome. The whole weekend was an amazing and unique experience.”

The precipice of the weekend was reached during the Gypsies first performance on Thursday night. Closing out the first day of music, crowd raging, cheer escalating, the stage lost power and went dark. I just happened to be standing next to Beaver Island’s favorite son, Bill McDonough, who nudged me and said, tell the drummer to keep playing. I quickly got Joe’s attention, and said “Keep playing!”

Like the professionals they are, the Gypsies picked up the beat and started playing acoustic, blowing everyone out of the water by being themselves and showing just what type of dudes they are. The power was restored and the island rejoiced in exaltation.

When I think of The Gasoline Gypsies I think of grit, sweet harmonies, community, and Argyle! Who we all hope is living his truth somewhere. I choose to believe the face and soul of music is changing; if you’re an egotistical asshole – change lanes. I feel like kindness and decency are learning to evolve and dissolve the air vultures need to breathe.

“The Gasoline Gypsies were so supportive of the festival that they brought 30 people with them. They participated full heartedly and were amazing to work with. Their shows were nonstop, the best performances that they could give and it showed in the crowd response. They were even willing to play an extra night if needed, rearranging their schedule just to help out. We definitely want to have these great musicians back to our festival or to visit anytime,” Carol Burton says. `

Managing  a band is no different than managing a team Jack has since told me. After all, what does a good coach do? Train, nurture, discipline, set and manage expectations. Following a less than ideal departure from the Beaver Island as the result of torrential downpour, celebration, and learning curves, I remember looking at Jack and saying “Too bad you can’t make them run suicides when they fuck up.”

That is a distinct difference between managing a band and a team. Lessons must be learned on a deeper, more conscious level. When we respect one another’s efforts, we find a way to show it, through reciprocal energy and action over time.

The very next day after returning 268 miles (28 of which were spent on a two hour ferry ride) to where we started in Sylvan Lake, the Gypsies set off on their first their first tour. Most bands know the pain of the road, traveling as second class citizens, but not on Jack’s watch. He traded some electrical work for a friend to secure an RV for their two week support of The Native Howl; and their first glimpse of the way it feels to leave behind loved ones and realize dreams.

They asked me to join them on tour, for which I’m grateful, but needed to decline. It’s best to recognize the time to divide and conquer, from the time to dive in. I believe our collective effort brings us all closer to better days, and I’m enjoying the ride (and view). Sitting comfortably in an exit row on Delta flight 1265 from Savannah to Atlanta, and ultimately home.

By the time I arrive many of you will have already learned of our next adventure together in October. My tummy tingles and eyes shed joy as I think about how special Handmade Music Festival with the Vagabundos will be.

Let’s use our love and will an Indian Summer into October where we will celebrate our blessings with one another fireside, along the Shiawassee River in Chesaning, with some mitten made music and miracles.

Just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound.

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