Sunday, August 18, 2013

Raccoon County Music Festival 2013

Raccoon County Music Festival, Saturday, August 17, 2013

It’s tough to review a music festival, at least if you’re only one person.  There’s too much going on, too many activities, other distractions (meeting up with friends, food, necessary restroom visits), and more than one stage, whether official or impromptu.  And if you leave before it’s over, you miss some stuff.  This year’s Raccoon County Music Festival in Burton, Ohio was no different.  For this review I’ll have to stick to the main stage, from Noon to 6 pm, so I was able to see six scheduled acts.

The RCMF is a Geauga County institution of sorts, begun in 1977, running until 1989, then sporadically through 1999, then re-emerging in 2006.  I’m glad it’s back, because it showcases local musicians (some out-of-towners too) in the relaxed setting of the grounds of Century Village, the architectural manifestation of the Geauga County Historical Society.  So, along with the music you can visit the various buildings on the property, watch the blacksmith work, and enjoy the amazing vista to the east.  The weather was simply wonderful, with sunny skies, not too hot, with a pleasant breeze.  

The music kicked off at Noon, after announcements from perennial and tireless organizer Pete McDonald, and the entertaining M.C. Bill Kennedy, who among other things, is a DJ on WCSB.  First up was Hupalowsky & the Slackers, an area polka band.  Paul Hupalowsky is a Parma boy, and has played accordion with various bands for years.  I was somewhat disappointed this time out, partly because of the choice of time-worn tunes (do we really ever need to hear “Too Fat Polka” again?), but also because the band members seemed to get lost a couple of times, and that didn’t help things.  Combined with a seeming lack of energy, their performance was lackluster.  Things picked up at a rapid rate with Harmonia, the Eastern European music group from the Cleveland area.  With dazzling pyrotechnics from Alexander Fedoriouk on cimbalom, and hairpin-tight work from the other musicians, they ran through a set of Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and other dance tunes at breakneck speed.  They did a polka too, and it was better than anything the previous band played.  The only part missing was their lead singer, Beata Begeniova.

Harmonia (photo not from the festival)
Mike Eberle & Friends turned out to be Mike Eberle & Friend.  The fiddler was accompanied by a guitarist whose name I didn’t catch.  They sounded pretty good, playing a selection of old-time music.  It was at this point that food and friends interrupted my concentration, so I can’t say much more about them.  When my wife and I went to get ice cream, there was a pickup group playing similar music right next to the booth, and they were good enough to be on the stage.  Similar casual sessions were going on around the grounds, and I caught a few moments of some Cajun music next to another booth.  Sad to say, I missed the fiddle contest and the performances in the church.  There were also workshops on clogging, bluegrass banjo, and old-time banjo.  

Next up on the main stage was Rebekah Jean, a rising local performer who was described in the program as “bluegrass/original.”  I’m not sure that it captures her style, since her voice reminded me more of Dolly Parton’s mountain-style, and much of her music seemed pretty straight country, with a twist of alt.folk.  She did a fine job, and sang mostly originals with a few covers.  There will be more to say about her soon on this blog.

Wallace Coleman, one of the last old men of the Cleveland blues scene, came on to perform an enjoyable mix of songs with his band.  He’s an excellent singer and a great harmonica player.  Finally, Stand Bayou came to the stage with some very good Cajun music.  They had a clear, sweet sound that I enjoyed a lot.  I’m sorry that I missed the winner of the fiddle contest performing at 6, and the sacred harp singing in the church.  So many choices.

The Raccoon County Music Festival goes on every year about the same time.  I highly recommend it for the music, the friendly atmosphere (lots of kids), and the beautiful setting.  Oh, and they have beer.

Wallace Coleman (photo not from festival)
Jeff Wanser


  1. hey jeff,
    I was wondering if you knew of any Cajun button box players in the Cleveland, northeast ohio area, other than brad who's doing a lot of jazz these days. I've been learning the instrument over the past year and it would be great to find some other players to learn from and jam with. it's lonesome out here:) dennis dragomer. p.s. stand bayou was was great to see again.

  2. Whew! There are lots of button box players in the area, although all the ones I'm familiar with work in polka music rather than Cajun. I'll check around and see if anyone I know knows anyone.