Today, bluegrass music is rarely heard. Yet, a band in southwest Michigan is doing something to change that. In fact, the Schlitz Creek Band considers themselves “Kalamazoo’s Ambassadors of Bluegrass Music.”
Mandolin player, John Speeter; acoustic guitarist, Derek Dekema; stand-up bassist Nick Griffith; and banjo player Nick Deaton convert classic rock and pop songs into bluegrass renditions. Their repertoire includes covers of artists such as The Beatles, Cheap Trick, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Seger.
The Schlitz Creek band started when Deaton was learning to play banjo, and needed someone to play with. He found Griffith, who was playing rhythm guitar at the time, and the two started jamming together just for fun.
Speeter got into the mix a year later. The trio, interested in playing traditional bluegrass, started jamming at Deaton’s father’s house in Cooper, Michigan.
“[Deaton’s Dad] said why don’t you come out every week?” said Griffith. “So we did. Before you know it we were attracting a crowd. Folks started coming out. The neighbors started coming out. Even the mechanic from across the street would come out after his shift.”
Then, Dekema, hearing about the jams from his parents, went to a show one evening.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ozzy Osbourne and metal was what I played,” said Dekema. “I had never heard this kind of music ever. I was amazed when I first heard it. Totally wasn’t what I was used to, but way more fun.”
But he was entranced by what the trio was doing with bluegrass and decided to join in. With the final member found, the Schlitz Creek bluegrass band was born.
The weekly Schlitz Creek practices are not typical rehearsals, but are more of a casual party. Relatives, friends and locals come by to hear them play, while socializing and having drinks.
The family dog mingles through the crowd as children ride scooters and bikes. The band enjoys the family atmosphere because it reminds them of what bluegrass music is all about.
Early bluegrass artists like the Dillards, Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe have been their major influences.
Besides their unique instrumentation, Schlitz Creek also sing vocals on a single microphone or “Ole Opry” style. The band says the style gives the crowd a more unique and intimate experience, something that music lovers do not experience every day.
Schlitz Creek has a connection to Vicksburg. Speeter is president of the Long Lake Association and a Governmental Lake Board representative. He also has used his musical talents for the annual Vicksburg Rotary Showboat and is a cartoonist for the South County News.
“I’ve been doing cartoon work for 30 years. I’ve published a couple books of illustrations,” he said.
Schlitz Creek will be attending summer bluegrass festivals in the Michigan, but will also be playing local weddings, which the band says has been a new venture over the years.
“[The weddings] are awesome,” said Griffith.
The band has no plans on making an album anytime soon, but instead they enjoy the experience of playing live music.
“I always love the fact you can play [Bluegrass music] anywhere,” Griffith said. “You don’t need a microphone, or amplifiers, or anything and the people will come and listen.”