As I believe most of you know, word went out a few months ago that the group of individuals behind Ypsilanti’s annual Heritage Festival were looking, after several years, to hand the reins off to a new generation of leaders. There were a few open meetings, that interested individuals were encouraged to attend, and, ultimately, word went out that, in addition to needing volunteers, they were also looking for a part-time, paid director. Well, it would appear that they’ve made their selection and offered the position to Andrew Clock, who many of you probably know as the guy who’s been leading efforts to see a permanent path built through the City’s Water Street property, thereby tying together existing legs of the Border to Border Trail. Well, as luck would have it, I had an opportunity to ask Andrew a few questions this evening. Here’s our brief interview.
MARK: OK, I know that your perspective is likely to change as you get farther into things, but, as of right now, what’s the situation relative to the Heritage Fest? Do we have the money, and the people we need to make it happen this summer?
ANDREW: I haven’t been given any of the festival documents as of yet, as this just became official Tuesday night, so I have no way to talk dollar amounts at this time. What I have been told is that there is enough money to at least pay all of the basic expenses – park rental, police, permits, etc – and that’s a lot of money. So, I would guess that we can cover the biggest expenses, but again, that’s without seeing the numbers. And there’s a certain amount of income that we know will come from vendors as they make reservations. As for people, we can always use more! While the old group of directors stepped down, they haven’t walked away, and are still giving a lot of help, especially while we’re getting reorganized. There are already many new and returning people in place, and we will have our first steering committee meeting next week, so I will have a much better idea of what positions we need help in after that. I also haven’t even begun to tap into my network from the Jamboree or Water Street Trail. The short answer though, is that we will need more money and more volunteers.
MARK: Clearly, bringing you onboard is a big change. At least, my sense is that the same group of people have been running the event for years, and that you’re a relative outsider? Why is it that you think they chose to go with you? Were they looking for a complete break with the past?
ANDREW: I don’t think that it’s about making a break with the past, but it is about making a change. I have a lot of connections around town, and I represent a younger demographic, and if the festival is to endure, we have to start bringing in new faces. A lot of the people who are stepping down now were around our age when they started 10 years ago. Some have been around a lot longer than that. It’s our turn now. Of course the festival will change because of this transition, but I think that it will be a reflection of how Ypsi has changed.
Another factor is that I have a unique skill set. I’ve produced a large scale festival in Ypsilanti before, and, while I didn’t manage all the details, as I will here, I’ve been in the position to direct a couple hundred volunteers, take care of vendors, deal with equipment failures, work with the police, city and sponsors, handle fundraising, and everything else that comes along with producing a large scale event. That’s not to say I don’t have a steep learning curve, but I think those are experiences that not many people can claim.
MARK: So, what are your big ideas? What’s your vision for the future of the event? I know you’ve talked about bringing in more food, and moving it somewhat in the direction of Arts Beats and Eats in Royal Oak? Is that still on the table? Are there other ideas that you’d be willing share at this point?
ANDREW: Right now, all of this is coming off the cuff. I can’t say that, “this is the plan”, but I do have some ideas. There will not be any over-all major change… there’s not going to be a cover… we’re not going to have open beer sales. That’s just not realistic in this time frame, and its probably not a direction we need to go in.
My first priority is to examine how we can better focus what we do on what people in the community want. We know we want family activities of course, and we want to keep those new and fresh. I hope to be able to build partnerships with groups like Community Records, 826 and the Neutral Zone to include older kids as well. History is going to be making a comeback in a big way, too. I haven’t had a chance to meet with the Heritage committee yet, but they have been the most active of our committees so far. James Mann is heading it up, so I’m fairly sure that base is covered.
For the adults, I would like to move our main park stage into the beer tent, and run music as late as the beer tent can stay open. I also want to explore bringing in Michigan beer, and local bands like Black Jake and the Carnies, The Third Coast Kings, Laith Al Saadi, Lighting Love, The Muggs, George Bedard – people that have a real following in our community. I’d like to see if its realistic to say, keep the some of the carnie food in place, but offer some more substantial and local options for meals, maybe even tying in a “restaurant week” kind of thing, because we want our local businesses to prosper too.
I’m going to be working a lot in the next few weeks to see what is feasible and what is out of reach for this year. But it’s all going to come down to volunteers and money in the end. The more help, sponsors and donors, the better we can make it.
I do want to make it clear… anyone who’s been going to the Heritage Festival is not going to find themselves asking where their festival went. I hope to have them saying, “wow, that’s a great change/addition”, and the 10 people behind them saying “this is great, I can’t believe we never came here before.”
MARK: Is the Jamboree officially dead? If not, could it perhaps be rolled into Heritage Fest?
ANDREW: I can’t speak for the Jamboree in any capacity at this point. The Jamboree as it existed under the DTCDC is dead to my knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that some of the core group isn’t planning on going forward with another festival. While I do want to focus on local beer and music, I would want the music to skew to a broader demographic. I want to bring in younger acts, but I don’t want to cut out all of the acts that appeal to an older crowd, or try to appeal to a certain genre over another either. I’m hoping to be able to get a blend that will appeal to as many residents and visitors as possible. Oh, and one thing I left out concerning entertainment – the casino will be back, set up right next to the beer tent, where it belongs.
MARK: Have you talked with local business owners about how something like a Restaurant Week might work for them?
ANDREW: I have not yet explored the details of how to tie in local food, though I believe there are some volunteers already looking into it – assessing what’s feasible, either in the park or as an added attraction. It’s one of the first things I want to tackle, because those food vendors want to have their plans for the summer done in the next few months, if not weeks. I would also like to approach the DDA or CVB about coordinating with local businesses to have sales or specials for Heritage Festival, to take a little pressure off of our organization. A shopping guide or coupon book like the holiday guide you used to produce would go a long way when you already have the people in town.
MARK: Are there any other things you’d like to say? Is there a date and time that people can show up if they’re interested in volunteering?
ANDREW: Just that I really hope to be able to build on the traditions of the Heritage Festival, while making it more relevant and entertaining to an even broader group of residents and visitors. I’ll be looking for media partners and sponsors that want to be a part of growing the festival and spreading the word right away.
I don’t have anything specific for people who are not yet involved in the festival, but I will within the next week or two. In the meantime, anyone interested in getting involved can contact me at email@example.com, or they can get in touch with any of the dozens of volunteers already working, and give them some help. Chances are, everyone knows someone already involved.
[note: for those of you who are curious as to what Andrew looks like, an older video interview that I conducted with him can be found here.]