MICHIGAN CITY — For Kate Wakefield, lead singer and cellist for the band Lung, the cello, more commonly associated with classical music, can add a lot to rock.
The Cincinnati-based singer said the instrument’s tones can hit registers in the low bass and high guitar ranges, and allow more versatility than the bass or guitar.
“And so you can get different feels that way,” she said. “Another cool thing about cello is there are different ways to play it. It’s designed to be plucked and it’s designed to be bowed, and going back between the two creates a lot of dynamics, which I really dig. And you can do one note or you can do a chord with two notes or, if you really dig in with your bow, you can do a chord with four notes at once.”
Lung will be among 27 groups – including a jazz quartet headed by a classically trained opera singer, a Michigan City-based thrash metal band, hip hop performers, indie artists and other – at the second annual Swale Music Fest on Saturday.
Taking place at Charles R. Westcott Park from 1 to 10 p.m., the event, hosted by the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, will feature music, an art installation by local youth, art fair with regional artists, nonprofit booths, and local beer and food options.
Co-organizer Tim Bauer said Swale offers an opportunity for local acts and touring musicians to play in Michigan City, and for local and regional folks to experience a unique music experience.
“There’s 27 acts over 9 hours,” he said, “so this is an opportunity to see folk, hip hop, punk, soul, metal, and indie rock within a few hours.”
Among those bands, Lung combines drums with electric cello to create a non-traditional hard rock sound. Drummer Daisy described the music as heavy rock.
“When you have to put a lot of descriptors in front of what your music is, it’s usually less fun than letting people react to however they’re going to react to it,” he said.
In addition to the nontraditional cello, Wakefield adds her operatic vocals (having studied opera in grad school) to the hard rock mix.
“It’s like having access to a pedal in a way,” she said, “because there’s ‘regular singing’ and then I can use – I don’t usually do traditional opera sounds – an almost weird sort of sound like a sheep or goat singing really high. It’s not operatic per say, but I definitely use my training from school to like get those high notes in healthy ways, so that’s cool.”
Another artist using an operatic background to augment his band is lead singer Andrew Fisher of The Andrew Fisher Quartet. The group, based out of Benton Harbor, Michigan, describes themselves as “neo soul,” combining R&B, soul, rock and funk with the improvisation of jazz.
“We like to use the language of jazz, with its improvisation and expression through music and emotion, with how we write and how we play,” he explained.
Also featuring drummer, saxophonist and flutist Glen McFarland; guitarist and bassist Dustin Lowe; and pianist and saxophonist Bruce Anderson, the Quartet got its start in 2015 performing a monthly jazz revue at the Livery in Benton Harbor, but later expanded to festivals and local shows, including an annual tribute concert honoring Stevie Wonder, who Fisher said is their top influence.
More recently they’ve focused on original music, even releasing a self titled album earlier this year.
“I sang opera years ago and I was actually trained as a classical singer,” Fisher said, “but jazz and soul and R&B, that’s been with my roots since I was a kid. It’s always been something I enjoy. One thing I love about jazz is the freedom that we have being able to express ourselves as musicians, being able to, while we’re playing a song, to switch it up, go from how it originally sounded to maybe being a Latin tune.”
Even when they cover popular songs, they do it with a jazz-inspired twist, like a Latin-themed version of Britney Spear’s “Toxic,” or a disco/jazz version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
But Fisher brings more to the table. He said the techniques he learned from singing opera has aided him in the jazz arena.
“We’re considered crossover artists,” he said. “Being trained in (the operatic) way really does help. The one thing about jazz that’s really great … is that it’s always about the personal artist’s expression. And the one thing about singing classically, and using the proper techniques, is it’s easily translatable to other things… “
Taking the festival in a bit darker direction is Michigan City-based thrash metal band Millions of Dead Angels.
Formed in 2017, MODA is drummer Taylor Patz, guitarist Matt “Howdy” Houghton, vocalist Bobby Lee and bassist James “Big Nasty” Affeld. The band was founded with late bassist Steve Rogers.
According to Patz, their music draws from death metal, grunge rock, doom and thrash. Asked what the music is about, he said it mainly focuses on mortality, but noted that, unlike pop music, lyrics aren’t the most important part in metal.
“With metal, the vocals are more like another instrument and the lyrics are kind of like secondary,” he said. “Only people that really (like) our music go back and find the liner notes and read the lyrics. So we usually just kind of let the music and our imagery, our album art, our music videos, kind of put things together and it’s mostly about finding the interesting aspects of death and the creepy scary parts with the mystery and excitement.”
He said they draw lyrical inspiration from such macabre writers as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, but also head to the library in search of older works, such as Dante’s “Inferno.”
“Sometimes we’ll look up interviews with serial killers,” he said, “try to find some of the more bizarre phrases they’ve ever said, and draw from all that and piece together our own little stories about our own stuff.”
Despite this focus on the dark side, MODA has a family side too and puts on a free yearly beach show at the Guy Foreman Amphitheater.
“We like our kids to be able to come up onstage and headbang with us,” he said.
Also leaning a bit in the darker direction is the artist mrey (Madii Rey of Beverly Shores), who describes her music as “singer songwriter meets angst.”
“I would say that it’s not gimmicky or purposely rhyming,” she said. “I feel that a lot of songwriters can follow a particular pattern or scheme, and I don’t feel that it’s so obvious with them, it’s just natural and flowing, kind of like a conversation.”
She said she aims at rawness, preferring the roughness of an electric guitar as an accompaniment to her voice, and sometimes vicious life experiences as the subjects of songs. For instance, “Wasp & Bee” drew inspiration from a difficult relationship, and an encounter with stinging insects.
“I got stung in the eye by a wasp twice,” she said, “and it was bizarre and I thought it was actually a metaphor for some of the things I was going through in a relationship at the time.”
More recently she has explored the dynamism of her voice, inspired by the work of other female musicians, who could bring their vocals to a screaming pitch, then down “in a way to match how rough emotions can be.”
For more information about the event, visit theuptownartsdistrict.com/project/swale-music-festival/.
Second annual Swale Music Fest
What: Swale is an all-ages event, but after 6 p.m. parental discretion is advised as artists may have explicit lyrics.
When: Saturday, June 8, 1-10 p.m.
Where: Charles Westcott Park, 400 E. Michigan Blvd., Michigan City
Tickets: $15 in advance at The Nest, 803 Franklin St., or via eventbrite; or $20 at the gates. Fee for children 12 and under when accompanied by adult.
Who: Bands include (with websites for interviewed bands)
n Glitter Moneyyy
n Pinc Louds
n Sweet Cobra
n Sirius Blvck
n DXTR Spits
n Lung (lungtheband.com)
n The Jasons
n mrey (Facebook.com/mreymusic/)
n Millions of Dead Angels (Facebook.com/pg/MillionsOfDeadAngels)
n Pinola Plowboys
n Pince Woodie
n In This Style
n Andrew Fisher Quartet (andrewfisherquartet.com)
n The Mushmen
n Scary Women
n Adrian Gonzalez
n Matt Milcarek
n Blaine and his Keyboard
n Tigershark Don’t Quit