Wheatland Music Festival – A Love Letter

The past few years here in America have been pretty rough. But my recent attendance at the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan, has done mighty things for my soul.

The event had to be put on hold the past two years due to COVID, but it’s back. May it never leave again.

Wheatland Music Festival
LOVE – Michigan’s Wheatland Music Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. It is a celebration of “traditional music and art” and the people who make it. The variety of musical talent is wide and includes folk, bluegrass, Cajun, blues, rockabilly, Celtic and gospel. The event takes place every September on the 160-acre  Wernette farm located a few miles south of Remus.
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Dear Wheatland,

I love you. I have known of your awesomeness since the 1990s, but it was only this year I fully gave you my heart. Never let me go.

This year, we camped with you for the whole weekend. We were totally unprepared (as usual). No tent stakes, no food, no small cooler for cold ones, and no flashlight

But you were fine with that. You didn’t care. No one was looking at us saying, “omg, these two are clueless, what a hoot!” 

Your people showed us nothing but smiling faces and “Happy Wheatland” words of love. Zero judgment.

My husband is just as in love with you as I am. We are already planning for next year. We need a camper.

I just want to thank you for being there for us and so many others for many years.

Yours with deepest respect and love,

Carla Bumstead


Wheatland Music Festival
Photo by Carla Bumstead

“Happy Wheatland”

Crossing the Croswell Swinging Brid...

Thousands of lovers of traditional music and arts gather on a 160-acre farm in Michigan every year. The Wheatland Music Festival takes place the weekend after Labor Day, from Friday through Sunday.

The phrase “Happy Wheatland” is the universal greeting and festival mantra. It means exactly what you see on these people’s faces. Some loose translations include “peace,” “love,” and “is this the coolest place ever or what?”

Anyone who has ever attended will tell you Wheatland is unique. Why? No one really knows. It could be the focus on no one age group or interest. Everyone is as important to the festival’s mission as everyone else. 

Wheatland Music Festival
Article author Carla Bumstead is shown with “Father Wheatland,” whose real name is Gus. He has graced the festival for over 40 years. Photo by MichelleFish

The People of Wheatland Music Festival

The Wheatland Music Festival is unique because of the people. Over the weekend,  I met some of the nicest people ever. The youngest was eight, and the oldest was well into his 80s. I met a retired postal worker, a substitute teacher, and an artist from Mio.

The New Generation

While everyone was awesome, I got a big kick out of two young gentlemen – Atlas and Wyatt.

They say “children are the future.” Yeah, we all know that. But do we ever stop and talk to any of them? Wheatland gave me an opportunity to do just that.

Atlas

I took a photo of Atlas’ brother (black and white image above), which got us talking. Atlas, who is 8 years old, told me he was planning on dressing up as the Headless Horseman for Halloween. He is greatly looking forward to it. We talked about how crafting a cool look for a public event can garner a lot of admiration.

I talk a lot. Usually, I can’t carry on much of a conversation with young people. They are too freaked out by an old lady asking them questions and being generally interested in them. 

Atlas was not like that. He was totally chill. He paid as much attention to what I was saying as I paid to what he was saying. Awesome, right? At Wheatland, that attitude is the norm, not the exception.


Wheatland Music Festival

The Future

Wyatt William Leach of Big Rapids is active in his local community and does various volunteer work. He also plays 12 different instruments and might decide to become a musician someday. Or maybe a music teacher. His musical knowledge truly blew my mind. (photo by Carla Bumstead)

Wyatt

Wyatt is 12. His full name is Wyatt William Leach – which I thought was an extremely badass name. I told him so. He agreed. “Wyatt” comes from Wyatt Earp, who was a real lawman and gambler in the American west. The Wheatland Wyatt told me that. He told me a lot of stuff, about his life, his dad and how many times he had been in the local paper. Wyatt is very active in his community of Big Rapids.

I also met Wyatt’s dad. He works as a substitute teacher in Big Rapids, mainly for elementary grades. We discussed the difference between those ages and “middle school” kids. I prefer hanging out with middle schoolers. He prefers the younger ones. It was a great chat.


Wheatland Music Festival
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Attitude

Every person I met at this year’s Wheatland Music Festival, or even passed by when walking to and from our campsite, greeted me with a smile. Many had a quick word to exchange, like “nice hat” or “pace yourself.” If you turned your camera in someone’s direction, they smiled. One guy hugged me. 

I was telling one lady, as I waited to use the porta-potty, that we were “wheaties” – which means it was our first time as weekend attendees. I was bemoaning our lack of a flashlight. She smiled and said “You’ll be fine! You have the moon to help you out.”  Another guy offered to lend us his flashlight when he heard of our plight.

At Wheatland, you do not need to worry about yourself or your stuff. The minute you enter the venue and flash your armband as you exchange the “Happy Wheatland” password, you know you are someplace very special.

I have never given a second thought to leaving my backpack, just sitting on my lawn chair as I took off to grab a bite to eat or buy a cool painting at one of the many artists’ booths. (I got two really nice ones this year.)


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The Performers

The performers were no different. Some were “bigger names” than others, but there was no way to tell that. They interacted with the crowd and with the attendees as though they were no different than Wyatt or Atlas. Because they weren’t.

Everyone at the Wheatland Music Festival was just a person who likes music and being outdoors on a beautiful fall weekend. Both Friday and Saturday nights were graced with a gorgeous Harvest Moon. It was equally honored by everyone.

Wheatland Music Festival
Eileen Ivers (above) performs on Sunday, Sept. 11 at the 2022 Wheatland Music Festival. One of the members of Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers is shown below. Photos by Carla Bumstead

Music Everywhere – Wheatland Music Festival

Wheatland’s musical offerings are wide. There is something for everyone. But if the band at one stage isn’t your groove, you can just go to another spot. There are multiple stages and tents for workshops etc.

However, the majority of the performances appear nowhere on the program. A “walkabout” around the sprawling grounds, especially at night, reveal some of the best stuff. People just start … jamming. It made me want to buy a Uekele so I can join in next year.

Wheatland Music Festival
Music crops up everywhere at Wheatland. Photo by Carla Bumstead.

Dance!

Regardless if you can play, everyone can dance. And they do. Spontaneous dancing is rampant. I got more exercise in three days than I have in months. There is the famous Cajun dance on Saturday night. So many people, so much fun.

Wheatland Music Festival
The Cajun dance is a popular gathering and drew a huge crowd this year. Photo by Carla Bumstead.

Wheatland Music Festival – Doing What They Love

What makes Wheatland unique? I figured it out while watching Joe Louis Walker on Friday night. I saw the same thing in every other performance I watched.

Walker is a blues musician. He’s been playing for over 50 years. I didn’t know anything about his personal life or his history. But I know when he got up on stage and hit the first note on his guitar, he was doing it because he deeply loved it.

Wheatland Music Festival
Joe Louis Walker has been cranking out the blues for over 50 years. When he hits the stage, and his guitar strings, his reason for being there is clear. He deeply loves what he does. Photo by Carla Bumstead.

The artists and performers that come to the Wheatland Music Festival don’t do it for the money. At least, that is my guess. I have no idea how much they are paid. But by the looks on their faces while they are on stage, and off, you sure get the impression they are there because they love what they do, and they love doing it at Wheatland.

On Sunday morning, as we were heading in to set up our lawn chairs in front of the main stage, I saw members of the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers standing under a tree. They are one of the few remaining groups that still perform in the old-school Acappella fashion and have been together for 28 years.

They were one of the festival’s Main Stage performers. I had heard them before, on a Sunday, doing some gorgeous gospel. But this time, I had seen them on Saturday night too.

Wheatland Music Festival
The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers perform Sunday morning at the 2022 Wheatland Music Festival. Photo by Carla Bumstead.

Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers

On Sunday morning, just before it was their turn to head to the stage, I walked right up to them and said “Happy Wheatland.”

“Guys, last night was awesome!”

We exchanged some fist bumps.

“Motown?? I thought you only did gospel and then out you come with “My Girl” and I was blown away. Thank you so much.” 

They all smiled.

“Oh yeahhh, that is what we do, it’s our soul,” said one of them.

You could see it on their faces – how happy they were to be there under that tree fist-bumping with some old Motown fan.

I am sure all musicians love what they do. But being able to do it on a beautiful fall day in a farmer’s field in Michigan, with thousands of people hollering “Happy Wheatland” everywhere you go must be seriously wonderful.


The Volunteers

The Wheatland Music Festival would not, and could not, exist without its volunteers. They all wore red shirts this year, which reminded me of Star Trek. In the original series (TOS), red shirts were the first ones to go. They were the “expendables.”

That is NOT the case with Wheatland’s volunteers. They make the festival run. Thank you, my dear red shirts. 

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This above article was written by Carla Bumstead. Carla lives in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and works as a freelance writer and publisher. Her website is Dungeon Cooperative.

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