West Michigan’s bluegrass favorites Cabbage Crik playing the Calder Stage at the Grand Rapids festival of the Arts, probably ’78 or ’79.
Cabbage Crik reunites at Saugatuck Green Food Bluegrass Festival
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on July 12, 2009 at 3:26 AM, updated July 12, 2009 at 3:30 AM
SAUGATUCK – From the first time standup bassist Mark Schrock played with the guys in Cabbage Crik, he knew this rock-edged bluegrass band had something special.
“Just from the first few chords, I said, ‘Wow, this is a great blend,’ ” Schrock recalled. “We can all play, but our forte was singing. We all committed to playing full-time pretty quickly and I quit my day job pretty much right away.”
Between 1973 and 1980, Cabbage Crik was a West Michigan phenomenon, releasing two albums and drawing full houses for its unique drum-backed bluegrass music, even cultivating devoted audiences in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and Texas.
Now, 30 years after calling it quits, that Cabbage Crik magic is back.
The band will play two reunion shows next weekend: a sold-out gig at its former Sawmill Saloon stomping grounds in Big Rapids and the headlining slot at the first-ever Saugatuck Green Food Bluegrass Festival.
Because the Sawmill reunion is sold out, the band is encouraging fans to attend its 6 p.m. festival show. The event featuring six bands is expected to draw a crowd “in the thousands” at the Shore Acres Township Park adjacent to the Felt Mansion Estate north of Saugatuck.
And if the band’s first rehearsal a few months ago is any indication, the group’s old fans will be in for a real treat.
“We sort of checked it out to see how it would all work out. Well, we had a great time,” said Schrock, 54, who was just 19 when he joined Cabbage Crik. “This is a greatest hits show. We’re playing stuff off of our records and the tunes that everybody loves.”
After numerous inquiries from fans, Schrock and the rest of the band — John Vrieling (drums), Michael Smith (banjo, fiddle), Gary Kuitert (mandolin, dobro) and Don “Buck” Lemke (guitar) — decided it was time to rekindle old musical fires, especially after Green Food organizer Patty Meyer asked them to headline the July 19 festival.
Four of the members still live in Michigan; the fifth, Kuitert, resides in Arizona and will fly in for the shows.
“It was a very special band in the ’70s and that’s probably why I’m doing it: It’s getting back and playing for the folks in West Michigan. We always had a little magic back there,” said Kuitert, 61, a facilities manager who also performs with an Arizona western/bluegrass band called The Titan Valley Warheads.
“It was time to do this. The time was right, the stars aligned,” Schrock said. “It’s just been really fun to hear from fans and our families and everybody who was there at the beginning.”
Tickets: $25 per person or $80 for car pass in advance at feltmansion.org/festival, Saugatuck-Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau (cash only), Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (cash only); $35 per person or $105 car pass day of festival
Having seen the band back in its heyday at Grand Rapids’ Eastown Saloon (another regular hangout for the band along with Big Rapids’ Sawmill Saloon and Holland’s The Hatch), I can vouch that these guys knew how to throw one hoedown of a party.
“We were not traditional. Back then it was unheard of (in bluegrass) to plug instruments in and have a drummer,” he said. “We were kind of renegade. We were bluegrass instruments and we respected the genre, but we definitely made it more accessible to a rock-oriented crowd and a party crowd.”
Meyer, who remembers Cabbage Crik as a teenager, said word of the band’s reunion has given her first-year event a “lot of spin” and interest. The event will also spotlight more than a dozen vendors of locally grown food from the West Michigan Cooperative, along with sales of Michigan beer and wine.
Kuitert said band members haven’t ruled out future Cabbage Crik reunion performances down the road. “If we have a good time and live another year,” he joked, “who the heck knows?”
Schrock, a Fennville general contractor, property manager and owner of the soon-to-open Salt of the Earth restaurant, has continued to play bass, guitar and fiddle through the years, currently performing with several bands, including Jive at Five and Madcat & Kane.
But he’ll always treasure “the golden age” of Cabbage Crik. “I remember playing at Grand Rapids’ Festival and closing it out just before the Bethel Pentecostal Choir, and just looking out at thousands and thousands of people. Calder Plaza was just packed. That’s fun stuff, man.”
E-mail John Sinkevics: email@example.com
July 19, 2009 was a day we had been excitedly anticipating. We had been invited to play a new West Michigan music festival, the Saugatuck Green Food Bluegrass Festival. Not only were we glad to play the festival, but we were doubly excited that one of our favorite bands from the 1970’s would be reuniting to headline the show.
Cabbage Crik was truly our first ever exposure to live bluegrass and, as we like to say, “Life hasn’t been the same since.”