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Local Band "Stimulates" Rothbury Festival

Of the Oakland Press

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ROTHBURY, Mich. -- The Hard Lessons were worried when they began their set on Sunday at the second Rothbury Festival.

One of five Michigan bands on the festival lineup, and the only one from Detroit, the trio looked out on a small early afternoon crowd in front of the Sherwood Court stage at the Double JJ ranch. Most of the Rothbury crowd, estimated in the mid-30,000s, seemed to be choosing sleep after a late Saturday night of partying.

But as the Hard Lessons started playing, "out of the woods they came," said singer-keyboardist Korin "KoKo" Louise Visocchi. "Maybe they heard Ryan V Vandeberghe) thumping his drum like a drum circle at 4 a.m., and they answered the call..."

The bottom line; the Hard Lessons wound up with a good-sized crowd -- including many who were clearly familiar with the group -- and got Rothbury's final day off to a rocking start, concentrating on the more sophisticated material from their latest album, "Arms Forest," and throwing in a ferocious cover of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)."

It was something of a local love fest, too. "We're proud to be your sponsors from the great state of Michigan," guitarist Augie Visocchi, KoKo's husband, told the crowd. "We're smitten with the mitten, right?" He certainly was, sporting a T-shirt with an image of the state of Michigan on it and a Stooges guitar pick around his neck, and finishing the show by surfing atop the crowd while waving a Michigan state flag.

Augie, whose parents both work for General Motors and have been impacted by the company's financial woes, also announced a "Hard Lessons" stimulus plan, handing out free copies of "Arms Forest" to those gathered at the front of the stage.

KoKo pronounced it "a beautiful day," and it wound up being a beautiful stay at Rothbury for the hard-working troupe. They arrived on Saturday -- a day later than planned because their van broke down in Brooklyn Heights after a pair of New York area shows. The group wound up staying with a fan who lives just a few minutes away from the festival site and spent Independence Day exploring the facility, especially the opulently decorated Sherwood Forest area, and checking out sets by other bands -- and even getting a chance to meet Son Volt, a personal favorite.

"We got here and I looked at where were playing," Augie said, gesturing to Sherwood Court, "and said, 'That's a huge stage.' Then I walked around the corner and saw where Bob Dylan's playing. If our stage is huge, I don't know what that one is.' "

The group also happily picked up copies of poster being distributed by festival co-sponsor Toyota that listed the Hard Lessons along with the other acts. "Man," Augie said, "I'm just happy being here seeing my name on a poster with Bob Dylan's. We've already won."

The group clearly won fans with its 45-minute set, for which it was paid $500 but given the same amenities and guest list privileges as, well, Dylan and the other festival headliners. Friends and family, even the group's former booking agent from Ann Arbor, made the trek to enjoy the group's big moment. There were only smiles backstage after the set, even as the group lugged its equipment on stage. KoKo carefully signed a CD and took a photo with a fan who approached her, interviews loomed in the media area.

And a happy Orlando Visocchi, Augie's father, beamed as he stood by the Hard Lessons' van. "I missed Woodstock," he said, "so I'm making up for it now."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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