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Porcupine Mountain Music Festival returns | News, Sports, Jobs & More News

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Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
The crowd gives a standing ovation to Heather Maloney at the Porcupine Mountains Music Festival Saturday. The two-day festival returned after two years away. 

PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS STATE PARK — Even when the Porcupine Mountains Music Festival went on hiatus, the fans didn’t.

“They kept their reservations,” said director Cheryl Sundberg. “They came here and they put their chairs on the hill. And they sat there and sang, and they made videos and we’d see them on Facebook. That really lifted our spirits.” 

After two years without a festival, crowds were back on the hill soaking in the music of folk, rock, blues, bluegrass and more. The Porcupine Mountains Music Festival returned with a slimmed-down two-day schedule Thursday and Friday. 

Getting the festival back up and running was a Herculean effort, said director Cheryl Sundberg. During the pandemic, the organizers and volunteers met to decide what their future would be. 

“When we had our meeting, it was so clear that everyone was so committed,” she said. “Everyone was in, and when the time was right, we would just charge forward.”

Two years later, it’s back, though not without some changes. The festival had been stretched about as far as it could go before, Sundberg said. They decided to trim it to two days. 

“Sunday was always a slower day,” she said. “A lot of people went home, and it just made sense to focus on a two-day strong event and keep the quality onstage. And that we would be roaring back, and that’s what we’ve done.”

And judging by the crowd response, they’ve been itching to get back. 

“Last night was like a Saturday, which is usually our biggest day,” Sundberg said. “And today’s bigger.”

The festival chooses its lineup by combing through the hundreds of submissions that come through its website. They also find acts by listening to public radio or going to concerts.

The acts often say it’s like a vacation for them, Sundberg said. 

“Sometimes their cell phones don’t work,” she said. “They can de-stress, and they linger and they don’t want to leave. They go out on the touring circuit and tell their friends they need to go to the Porkies.”

One of this year’s new acts was Heather Maloney, a singer-songwriter originally from New Jersey, who performed with backing vocals from the High Tea Duo. She was amazed by the experience, saying, “The vibe is really good here.”

“You can’t beat the view and what you get back from the mountain,” she said minutes after finishing her set to a standing ovation. “It’s a beautiful feedback loop. I’ve never had that, so it definitely stands out.”

Harkening back to a Joni Mitchell live album where she instructed the crowd to sing “out of key,” Maloney conscripted the audience as background singers. 

Her directive was even more precise in its looseness: “Sing this chorus with us as if you’re three or four in.” (They nailed it.)

After fans loudly cheered the a cappella finish to another song, Maloney returned the favor.

“I think it’s a really beautiful thing when a festival like this comes together and gathers around original music, music that maybe you’ve never heard before, and that you’re connecting with the lyrics and the sentiments and the stories,” she said. “It’s a really really special and beautiful thing and I’m just so glad that we stumbled into this.”

Festivalgoers were happy to be back. 

Kelly Roehm of Ontonagon likes being able to get away and broadening her horizons with a mix of musical styles. She was most excited to see the psych-rock band the Slambovians, frequent performers at the festival.

This year, she also brought her sister and her husband, who live in Las Vegas.

“They’ve never been here before, and they’re hooked,” she said. “They’re going to be here next year.”8 29 porkies 3 gn

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