Mittenfest wrap-up


Last week, before I was sidetracked by the big ceremonial rib-breaking, I asked some of the folks involved with Mittenfest this year to take a moment and write down their thoughts about how this year’s festival went, what they’re most likely to remember, and what, if any, thoughts they’ve had since about how to do things differently next year. What follow are their responses:

Amy Sumerton – 826michigan:
Mittenfest has always been a great event, in my eyes, but this year it was extra special. There was truly an OUTPOURING of love–I don’t think there’s a better word for it–for 826 that was much more prevalent than in years past. In past years, it’s been more of a “Oh yeah, and the money goes to 826, I think they tutor or something?” This year there was much more of a “Hooray 826! What you do is AWESOME” feeling in the room every night. I talked to so many people who were excited about us and what we are doing. It was overwhelming and amazing.

This year took all the elements of years past–bringing together the musical community, showing the talent in our state, celebrating Michigan and the holidays, etc–and added a new component of real support for our organization.

It makes the fact that, 4 days later, I am still exhausted, hoarse, and hearing a ringing in my ears all worth it.

And the $12,000 will make a huge impact for 826michigan and our students. Mittenfest raised about 6% of 826michigan’s entire budget for the year. That translates to:

• Two months of afterschool tutoring at 2 locations, serving nearly 50 students daily, or
• Six creative writing field trips, resulting in 156 second-graders taking part in a two-hour writing workshop and each publishing their very own illustrated storybook, or
• Rent, insurance and utilities for three months, or
• One year-long residency in an Ypsilanti elementary school in which 826michigan volunteers visit weekly to help support teachers’ writing lessons

Jake Zettelmaier – Black Jake and the Carnies:
It’s great playing with our home crowd, on our home turf, for a good cause. Kudos to the Elbow Room for opening that giant room in the back for all the bands to toss their gear. Cheers to the organizers, all the performers, the Elbow Room staff, the great crowd, and Beezy’s for the bestest bacon ever.

Bee Mayhew – Beezy’s:
I just mailed a $250 check to 826 Michigan, which is awesome! [Beezy’s donated 8.26% of their Sunday sales to 826.] I had a great time and there was so much energy at Beezy’s through the weekend- music and food, two tastes that taste great together for sure!!

It made so much sense last year to let my neighbors know I was here [and had good food to cure hangovers/fillabelly before the show] and in some way get in on the action, however small. Andy (Garris) and I had talked about Beezy’s using the kitchen at the Elbow, but that didn’t come to fruition this year- however, dreaming up next year and the possibility of Mittenfest V being in a slightly larger venue I look forward to having a kitchen to staff in the evening!

Jim Roll, who performed and is also my boyfriend, is at Beezy’s every day- he said the only thing that even came close to what Beezy’s was like [seeing so many people from the previous/upcoming night and the general vibe of the joint] being in Austin for SXSW. Maybe he’s biased, but it made me glow and feel a little like the Bob Dylan of the food world [not in any way associated with SXSW].

Basically, I got hooked last year- and from business perspective it made perfect sense- from a FUN perspective, it makes even more.

Brandon Zwagerman – Mittenfest:
This year was pretty amazing, in all aspects. I’m still recovering, in fact! I was there from around 3 PM to 2 AM four days in a row, and my body still feels like it. We reached capacity every night, at one point with lines far down the block in frigid temperatures. The venue was run by the Elbow Room crew like a well-oiled machine, from the door to the bar to the stage. It sounded even better than last year, thanks to soundguys Chris Bathgate and Damon Palyka. Moreover, it even LOOKED amazing, thanks to the handmade decorations spearheaded by Chris.

In my opinion, the caliber of music was higher than ever this year. There were 40 bands altogether, so I can’t recap everything, but there were a few highlights from my perspective, in addition to veteran Mittenfest “core” acts like Chris Bathgate (“Auld Lange Syne”!), Fred Thomas, Matt Jones, Misty Lyn, and Frontier Ruckus, who were all as good as we all have come to expect annually. Drunken Barn Dance, the
surprise hit last year, stepped it up even further this year, and possibly the best live band in the area (for real). The Juliets were incredible; Jeremy Freer is a hell of a songwriter and the band was super-tight. Silverghost, Friendly Foes, and Secret Twins were other Mittenfest debut favorites, I think. Child Bite was certainly the loudest band we’ve ever hosted, and Ghost Heart from Grand Rapids were a welcome surprise; fans of Panda Bear/Animal Collective might be into them, I think. I love Gregory McIntosh to death, but didn’t come into this with any particular expectations for his set; I think everyone was blown-away by his great new songs and killer supergroup. Similarly, Timothy Monger of Great Lakes Myth Society’s new backing band was so good and started New Year’s Day off right, and GLMS’ set was a shout/sing-along drunkfest as usual. This is Deer Country from Houghton performed last year, but they have really come into their own as a band, leaps and bounds over what they were doing a year ago. A band I really fell in love with was Photographers from Traverse City, a quiet acoustic duo that plays multiple instruments, has really clever songs, and exudes charm and warmth. And, as always, Champions of Breakfast brought the house down in a way no other act can– arrive early next year to get in for them!

If there is one moment that really made me feel Mittenfest IV was successful, it was during Friendly Foes’ set on Saturday, when Matt Jones came out and brought all the band members a shot. To see that sort of affection and cameraderie between performers who are from different local scenes and who make completely different styles of music is the best thing in the world to me.

To top all of it off, these 4 days of great times and great music resulted in about $12,000 raised for 826michigan’s free student programming. The fact that something I think all involved love doing anyway, putting on a great show and bringing people and art together in one room, can, when channeled correctly, make a significant impact in the community seems pretty incredible.

As for next year, we have already been brainstorming. In fact, I am flying back next weekend so we can all meet and figure out where this is going. Next year may or may not be bigger, but it will be the best music festival in the state and raise even more funding for 826michigan, while still remaining true to its backyard-bred beginnings.

Andy Garris – The Elbow Room:
Mittenfest this year was epic! To see how everyone involved devotes so much time and energy is so great. This was the third year that the Elbow Room has had the chance to be part of this event. Mittenfest II was split between 3 venues (The Blind Pig, The Corner Brewery, and The Elbow Room) over the course of about 29 hours. I don’t have the exact #’s from money raised, but I would throw a $2,500 estimate out there for MF II. With the ER closing out the event that year, I knew this was something that I wanted to host in it’s entirety. And with MF III we had our chance to do that, bringing in $4,500! That event would have been easy to look at and say that it had to be at a bigger venue for MF IV. However the community involved with putting this together all talked and decided the ER was the place to hold Mittenfest IV. Given the chance to go at it again this year raised $12,000, a figure that is still hard to comprehend.

Keep in mind that obviously the business for us is great during this event, but not at all the reason that want to hold this event every year. So many of my favorite bands that play throughout the year at the ER, are all sandwiched into the 3-4 days of Mittenfest! The faces I see throughout the year, become faces I see for 10 hours a day, four days in a row! This isn’t like other music fests that I have been to, nor do I see it becoming like them either. We had the chance to take on sponsors this year! Sponsors aren’t something that we had been focused on, probably because nobody wanted to take away from how this event has been grown. But sponsors aren’t a bad thing either…

Moving forward with this event, I could see it getting too big for the Elbow Room… That doesn’t mean that we have to lose this event of awesome.

Mittenfest IV wrapped 12 days ago, and this weekend we are all meeting to begin the blueprints for the fifth installment of this event…

If you weren’t able to get out to any of the four nights this time, the folks from 826 have just put a highlight reel up on YouTube, and you can find plenty of photos on Flickr.

Good work, everyone.

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  1. Elf
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I just heard yesterday that the Club Heidelberg, or whatever it’s called now, in Ann Arbor, is not going to be having live shows anymore. Rumor is the space is going to become a poker hall. So, that means that Ann Arbor really just has the Blind Pig for live non-folk stuff. It’s a great opportunity for Ypsi, and the Elbow. Actually, we need another venue for live music in Ypsi.

  2. townie
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Yay, Mittenfest! I just want to add a mention of the Mittenfest DJs, who kept the party going for 10 and 12 hour sets each night of the fest. They deserve thanks for what was kind of a thankless job. Thanks for the sweet jams, guys!

  3. Brackinald Achery
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Wasn’t that girl on the far left in a reality show?

  4. Vesper
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for your hard work. With the rampant cuts in public school funding we need organizations like 826 more than ever.

  5. Ted
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I like all the folkie hipster stuff, but an experimental noise night might be nice. Maybe we could have it in a closeby vacant building.

  6. Posted January 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ted,

    We did have Jib Kidder, but yeah, that’s about it. Also, most of those folkies are hardly hipsters (I live in Brooklyn now, believe me).

    To be completely frank, something we’ve been struggling with is how to retain the core Mittenfest audience while broadening it… by nature of its inception it began as sort of an “indie folk” thing, though we’ve gotten some more indie pop, ‘lectro, and rock incorporated over time.

    The noise folks, punks, older folkies, metal dudes, jam bands, etc etc all want to play this thing, which is awesome, not to mention far more indie/folk/pop/rock stuff than we can ever fit on the bill. I don’t know. Maybe this festival is just one thing, and others can be other things (see Totally Awesome Fest). Any group who isn’t well-represented kind of scoffs at us being either lame wussies or pretentious (depending what side they are coming from; the noise perspective and jam-band perspective are totally different)… whatever we have seems to work for enough people to fill the joint, so we’re afraid to mess it up too much. I’ll be the first to admit it is a far from representative sampling of the music being made locally or statewide, though. Getting multiple venues involved sounds like sort of a hassle, though certainly is attractive on some level… like a “noise stage” at the Dreamland, “songwriters” at Beezy’s, Charlie Slick at the Vu, whatever; or completely mixing very different genres hard on, side-by-side. There’s something to be said for having everyone in one room and only dealing with one venue, however. I don’t know… it’s probably more than any of us are willing to take on at the moment.

    Moral of the story: everyone just start your own event and mold it to your own vision; it is good for everyone, and not really that hard, just time-consuming.

  7. Posted January 15, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Moral of the story: everyone just start your own event and mold it to your own vision; it is good for everyone, and not really that hard, just time-consuming.

    Hahahahaha! I love it. I’m going to use a version of that the next time somebody tries to tell me what I should do with my own band.

  8. Maple St. Styrrup
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Hey Brandon,

    Great event and I can appreciate the challenge of organizing it but I think you might be missing an opportunity with Ted and others like him. I think Ted was talking about adding another venue, not cramming more bands into the Elbow. As opposed to recommending folks start additional stuff on their own, why not see if there are folks like Ted willing to work along side you to expand this thing. It’s obviously busting at the seems.

    I’m thinking of the Hamtram blowout that benefits god knows what. If Ted and others where willing to put the time-consuming effort into helping you grow this thing, it could be pretty cool. Imagine multiplying the impact to multiple venues. Not trying to make more work for you. But it’d be pretty cool if every venue in Ypsi was devoted to raising money for 826 for the weekend. Not my call to make but I think it might be time to look at bringing other folks on board and making this a major benefit.

  9. Posted January 16, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to write, Brandon, and engage in this conversation. For what it’s worth, I think you’re exactly right about staying true to the core of what Mittenfest is. I think when you try to be all things to all people you end up with a mediocre event. I’d rather have something that people fell passionately about, even if it’s not exactly my thing. So, I wouldn’t give it to the temptation to add punk and metal. I would, however, consider reaching out to Dreamland, at the very least, and seeing if some kind of deal might be struck. (And I love the idea of Charlie at the Vu. I wonder if he could do ten hours a day for four days.) I thin it would be great to have a wristband, and be able to move between three venues. As for the idea of having something in a vacant building, I love the idea, but the old man in me would be concerned about liability and the like. It might be possible, however, to move into one of the already fixed up retail spaces on Michigan Avenue for a few days. The space that VG Kids and Simply Devine are in right now, will likely be sitting vacant next December.

  10. Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    You’ve done increasingly great work, Brandon. Everybody’s got what it takes to criticize, but few have what it takes to produce something awesome.

  11. Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    That wasn’t aimed at you, Mark. Your blog is also an awesome product.

  12. Posted January 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    But not the shadow art fair?

  13. Posted January 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Could use a few metal bands.

  14. Posted January 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    If I had a nickel for everyone who said, “more metal, less banjo,” I’d be a rich man.

  15. Posted January 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Phew. Well, we will see what shakes out. Adding additional venue(s) is something that is always been floated around… Hamtramck Blowout was always a model in my head of a way to do a very big event working with small venues (I believe it mainly benefits MetroTimes and the bars). The core group of us planning for next year have a lot to discuss about what makes the most sense and will make the best general event that also raises the most $ for 826, and the best way/rate to grow incrementally. In any case I know we all appreciate the support of you folks, and definitely appreciate the the suggestions (and critiques)!

  16. mutton fist
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Mittenfest is coming up. I hope you’re all going.

One Trackback

  1. By Mittenfest V on January 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    […] which, I’m told, if things go well tonight, may end up raising even more money than they did last year for 826michigan… If you haven’t been to Mittenfest yet, there’s still time. […]

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