This last weekend, while I was enjoying myself in Milwaukee, folks here in Ypsi had themselves a big shindig under the moonlight on the banks of the Huron River. This now annual event, as you might recall, got off to a wobbly start a few years back, when it attempted to get off the ground as the Ypsitucky Jamboree, but, from what I’ve heard, things went well this time out at the newly rechristened Michigan Roots Jamboree. No one was crushed to death. No hippies overdosed in their tents. The parks are still intact. And the music, from what I hear, was sufficiently pleasant. But, as is always the case in Ypsi, there was some drama. And I’ve spent my last few evenings trying to figure out what exactly happened, piecing together menacing notes left here on the site, threads on Facebook, and the like.
As best I can figure, it started when someone with the Jamboree decided to pull the plug on a shadow puppet performance. This, as far as I can tell, isn’t disputed by either side. One of the folks with the Jamboree put it to me this way, “A scheduling error was made, which resulted in part of the puppet show being shut down by our security. We made a huge error, and then we handled it incorrectly.” Not having been there, I don’t know how “incorrectly” it was handled, but, however it was handled, it pissed some people off to the point that someone, or some group of people, decided to exact a bit of revenge.
It was apparently at this point that Jambo Man, the valuable mascot of the Jamboree, was abducted.
I, along with others, was forwarded this grainy image of Jambo, demanding that certain conditions be met. (The demands, we were told, would be forthcoming.) The implication was clear – unless these demands were met, the beloved Ypsilanti mascot would be ground up and smoked, or otherwise destroyed. The Diazotrophical Liberation Armada, the terrorist organization taking credit for the heinous act, didn’t, at least in their first messages, focus too much on the incidents surrounding the puppet show. For the most part, they just rambled on about roots, and how roots in and of themselves couldn’t sustain life – how an intricate web of organisms, including rhizomatic entities in the soil, are necessary for for life to flourish. The implication, of course, was that this so-called “roots” music event, had only captured one part of the Michigan scene.
Here, sounding very much like a statement made by the Symbionese Liberation Army after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, is one of the first notes that I received:
Greetings of profound love to all our comrades. Early on Sunday August 8, 2010 combat elements of the Diazotrophical Liberation Armada served an arrest warrant for Jambo Man. He is safe and being treated well and is enthusiastic about all the local music, art and ideas that he is being exposed to for the first time.
And here are the demands, which came soon after. This list reflects revisions made by Jambo’s captors in the wake of a number of letters by members of the Depot Town CDC explaining the structure and intent of the Michigan Roots Jamboree:
1. Increased transparency with regard to the mission and purpose of the Michigan Roots Jamboree.
We consider this polite suggestion met! The specific action items we would like to see for next year are a formal mission and/or vision statement for the festival and a link to depottowncdc.org on the festival website more clearly explaining how the festival helps improve the parks.
2. Organize a free high quality meal and theater show on Frog Island for each and every feline in Ypsilanti.
[NOTE that the very serious puppetry artists behind Wayang Kucing don't want any involvement with the Jamboree so alternate theater appropriate for cats will need to be arranged] To be honest, we would settle for a token donation to a local no-kill cat shelter or anything like that on this one.
3. $20 to reimburse the cost of one wasted ticket to the Saturday Michigan Roots Jamboree.
Since there seems to be a pattern of disrespect from certain members of the Jambo Committee for certain artistic idioms (i.e. the idiom of shadow puppetry theater for and about cats, the idiom of satirical pan-species liberation terrorist organization facebook pages), it may be difficult to believe, but one citizen of Ypsilanti literally spent $20 to get into Saturday Jamboree late Saturday night solely to see the puppet show that had been moved to midnight by the festival director only to be shut down gestapo-style by Jambo volunteers. We reimbursed this citizen with funds from our pacifist guerrilla contingency fund, and politely suggest that it would be appropriate in turn for the Jambo to reimburse us this expense.
4. Modify all relevant Michigan Roots Jamboree informational material to explicitly include credit for the role of nitrogen-fixing rhizomatic soil systems in the soil without which roots have no agency to carry nutrients into plants.
So obviously this is a metaphor, the point being that we are all interconnected and exclusively celebrating the “roots” misses the full picture. It would be nice if there was a little bit more representation of what makes Ypsilanti such a unique and magical place rather than a line-up that is highly difficult to differentiate from dozens of other festivals happening in Michigan every summer, especially when such a project entirely unique to Ypsilanti was invited to play, spent a large amount of time and energy making a special show specifically for the festival was treated with extreme disrespect by the festival organizers.
5. Seriously consider extending an invitation to Charlie Slick and Manhood to apply to be performers on the main stage for Jambo 2011 and hiring Stanley the Mad Hatter as emcee.
These local treasures have deep roots in assorted musical traditions in the case of Mr. Slick dating at least as far back as Bolshevik research by Leon Theremin into proximity sensors in turn inspiring the invention and evolution of synthesizers until this regular guy fell in love with them and was inspired to make music that everyone can enjoy. In the case of Manhood roots span deep and wide across many genres inspired by close readings of the catalogues of Ween, ELO, They Might Be Giants, The Roches, Steely Dan and many others, which combined with the intense passion of amateur ornithologists form a creatively original whole that is something completely different but ideally suited to the hippy festival environment. The Hatter is himself a root going directly through decades of such diverse local cultural traditions spanning everything from the White Panther Party to the original Detroit Techno scene. This polite suggestion is not meant to subvert the booking process or disrespect the line-up at this years festival but rather to very humbly suggest that making an effort to reach out beyond the defined borders of musical style and social category would positively impact the festival.
6. Add “James Osterberg Statue” to the potential project pool for parks improvements with an eye toward forming an Andy Ypsilanti Statue exploratory committee at some point in the future.
Speaking of roots music, there is one giant taproot of creative music worldwide of the past 50 years that goes straight down into the earth of Ypsilanti (as defined by the United States Postal Service) This cat soaked up the rich and diverse cultural tapestry of our immediate vicinity putting in time in blues bands, digging Sun Ra, breathing in the Ann Arbor circa 1960s air, etc. and then teamed up with three other dudes, named themselves the (Psychedelic) Stooges dropped some of the most game-changing next-level rock and roll music of all time. Iggy Pop statue would allow our little city to formally claim its rightful position as the fountain of punk rock.
And, yeah, it looks like they stole my idea for an Iggy Pop statue in the park. I don’t know about the rest of it, but that’s something that I can get behind, even if it puts me on the same side as the terrorists.
So, I’ve now done my part as “the most trusted source of Ypsilanti news and information” (which is what the terrorists keep referring to me as) – I’ve posted your demands. Now, can I be left out of this? I don’t like sitting between warring factions, especially when both the sides, as is the case here, are working hard to improve the City. I get that there are different visions as to how this is done, but, really, it seems like there’s enough room for us all to coexist…. Or, failing that, maybe we should get together over a map and carve the city up. If we do that, though, I’m going to fight for Riverside Park, and Puppet Mark is going for Frog Island. And we will win.