The early American origins of the War on Christmas

waronchristmas2

This holiday season Sarah Palin became the most recent in a long line of shameless conservative pundits to cash in on the so-called War on Christmas. Her book, “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas,” was released at the end of November to the delight of poorly informed Fox News-viewers everywhere. The book, and its companion audio book, sold like hotcakes to terrified American conservatives who, over the past several years, have been conditioned to believe that, because their local grocer says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” Christian death camps must be just around the corner. I’ve yet to read the book, but I have heard some of the audio from the recorded version, and it’s pretty incredible. I particularly enjoyed the part where Palin says, “The war on Christmas is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past.”

I want to put all of this in the context of American history, but, before we move on, there are a few quick things I need to say… First, it’s absolutely laughable to suggest that Christians are in danger of losing their majority in America. According to the most recent data I’ve been able to find, up to 80% of Americans self-identify as Christian, and there’s absolutely no evidence that their majority is in any danger… Second, if there were a war on Christianity, people wouldn’t be saying “Happy Holidays.” They’d be saying, “The god of your Christian bible does not exist,” or, better yet, “Fuck Christmas”… Third, even if you could make the case that saying “Happy Holidays” somehow undermined the dominance of Christianity, it seems impossible to me that you could infer, as Palin has, that this would somehow be bad for “religious freedom” in a general sense. By not using the vocabulary of the majority religion, if anyting, it would make it easier for true freedom of religion to blosum. But, of course, by “religious freedom,” folks on the right never mean the freedom to practice religions other than Christianity… And, fourth, no one at Fox News – the for-profit entertainment network masquerading as a news organization that first introduced America to the War on Christmas – really believes this nonsense. Not even Palin. It’s just good for business. They know that the middle aged and elderly white viewers of their faux news network love feeling as though they’re part of a persecuted minority, and they know that their ratings spike every time Bill O’Reilly “reports” from the front lines of the War on Christmas. It’s that simple. All you have to do is follow the money.

Now let’s talk history. According to research by Yale PhD student Michael D. Hattem, there really was, at the very beginning of our country’s history, a legitimate war on Christmas, and it was fought not by god-hating secularists, but by conservative American Christians. Following is a clip from Hattem’s article, which ran a few days ago on the early American history group blog The Junto.

…(T)he real war on Christmas was not waged by 21st-century godless, liberal secular humanists and the ACLU but by 17th-century New England Puritans, particularly the clergy.

Every Christmas season, articles appear in rather mainstream news outlets either about the Puritans’ attitudes toward Christmas or about the actual patchwork pagan origins of the holiday. Saturnalia was a pagan Roman festival held annually from December 17-25. Its customary celebrations were both chaotic and violent and, hence, were popular amongst lower-class Romans. In the fourth century, as the Catholic Church sought to bring the pagan masses into the Christian fold, the Church adopted the final day of the festival as Jesus’s birthday, which the New Testament does not indicate and on which, until this time, there had been no widespread consensus. The Church effectively killed two birds with one stone. Throughout the centuries, the most violent aspects of the celebration (including human sacrifices) fell away, but the customs of near-lawless revelry persisted, and indeed defined the celebrations in the early modern period.

Yet, at the start of the early modern period, the holiday was not yet the priority it has become, as Easter dominated the Catholic calendar. But the Reformation had a significant impact on the perception of Christmas, both positively and negatively. The holiday celebration customs were continued by the Church of England. The often uninhibited revelry of the holiday (which Puritans derisively referred to as “Foolstide”) appealed to the English lower classes while the gentry celebrated with “eating and drinking, [and] banqueting and feasting.”

In addition there was a distinct class aspect to one of the customs, in which the poorest man in the town was named “The Lord of Misrule” and treated like a gentleman. Another custom, known as “wassailling” involved lower-class persons going to the homes of wealthy individuals and “asking” for food and drink, which they would then use to toast that individual. Due to the penchant for disorder, immodesty, gluttony, and the (temporary) breakdown of the social order, it should come as no surprise that in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, English dissenters began to take a very dim view of the holiday. Indeed, the hotter the Protestant, the stronger the aversion to Christmas. But their opposition to Christmas was not just due to the overtly social nature of its celebration. Puritan faith derived wholly from scripture, and, in 1645 and again in 1647, the Long Parliament declared the abolition of all holy days except the Sabbath, which was the only day described as such in the Bible.

And so the first English dissenters who settled New England in the early seventeenth century were, like their brethren back home, decidedly anti-Christmas. Puritans were keenly aware of the holiday’s pagan origins, as Increase Mather wrote in A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England:

“In the pure Apostolical times there was no Christ-mass day observed in the Church of God. We ought to keep the primitive Pattern. That Book of Scripture which is called The Acts of Apostles saith nothing of their keeping Christ’s Nativity as an Holy-day… Why should Protestants own any thing which has the name of Mass in it? How unsuitable is it to join Christ and Mass together? …It can never be proved that Christ’s nativity was on 25 of December… (They) who first of all observed the Feast of Christ’s Nativity in the latter end of December, did it not as thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones…”

On May 11, 1659, according to Hattem, the Massachusetts General Court even passed legislation forbidding the observance of Christmas. Here’s the text.

For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.

And, for what it’s worth, even though these laws may have may have been rescinded, these feelings about Christmas continued for some time. As Hattem also notes, the United States Congress, for several years after the Revolutionary War, was still in session on December 25th. In fact, Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

So, when you read headlines on the Fox News site like this one – “Once again this holiday season, the right to celebrate Christmas is under attack” – I’d encourage you to keep in mind that things could be worse. No one, after all, is seeking to fine people for celebrating Christmas. No, that hasn’t been attempted since the days of our founding fathers.

Posted in History, Religious Extremism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Untold History of Zines…. Steve Hughes on Stupor

Over the years I’ve mentioned my friend Steve Hughes and his zine Stupor several times on this site. I’ve shared videos of him reading at the Shadow Art Fair, and interviewed him about his various projects in Hamtramck, where he makes his home and runs an art space called Public Pool. To my knowledge, though, I’ve never asked him how he got his start. I’ve never asked him why it was, as a young man, that he first waded out into the murky waters of self-publishing, or, for that matter, what he’s learned from the experience. Well, in hopes of answering these questions and more, I’ve spent the past few days exchanging calls and emails with Steve, resulting in the following. My hope is that it’s the first of many such interviews with those individuals who, like Steve, helped create the American zine movement… Enjoy.

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MARK: I can’t remember how we first crossed paths. In spite of the fact that I used to play in bands in Ann Arbor at the same time as your brother, in the early 90s, I don’t think you and I became aware of one another until years later, when you were living in New Orleans and I was living in Atlanta. And, even then, I don’t think Greg had anything to do with our meeting. I think either you or I probably just read a review in Factsheet Five, sent a letter, and initiated a trade… Is that how you remember it?

STEVE: Shoot, I don’t remember how it started. Factsheet 5 probably played a role. It was an amazing resource for connecting other with zine writers.

MARK: How would you describe Stupor, for folks in the audience who may not have ever seen an issue?

STEVE: Stupor is a collection of true stories that I build by talking to people at bars. We drink, and they talk about their lives, and I listen. Later, I write it all down, doing my best to get it right. I then work with an artist who accomplishes the layout for each issue. In recent Stupors, I’ve been using themes to better connect with my collaborating artist. For example, when I was working with Matthew Barney (the Cremaster), I gathered stories about cars and blood and mud.

MARK: How’d you come to know Matthew Barney, and ask him to collaborate?

STEVE: I worked on a film he was making in Detroit. I did landscaping for him. It was cool. I bought a machete and used that to hack up a lot of weeds and scrub. We were clearing land out near Zug Island. We cut trees too and did some digging as well, which was weird. The land out there is made of rust and poison.

Mattew Barney Coverx2MARK: Was it at all awkward, asking him to collaborate? [note: Barney cover to right.]

STEVE: Before I asked him to lay out a Stupor, I asked him if he’d consider writing a blurb for my book. He was real cool about agreeing to do that. Then, after it printed, I sent him a couple copies and asked what he thought about it. He said that he “psyched” to be involved. For sure, I was psyched that he was psyched. After that I got it in my head that he might also be interested in doing layout of his own for a new issue. So I asked and he said sure. It was never awkward. He’s a very personable guy.

MARK: Was Stupor your first publication, or had there been others before it?

STEVE: Stupor was the first.

MARK: Do you recall how the idea for Stupor first came to you?

STEVE: It wasn’t my idea. The spark came from my friend Bill Rohde. We had both read a book by Dennis Cooper called Try. There was a kid in it who was making a zine. Ziggy was his name. Bill got a wild hair and decided we should make a zine together. At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea, but I liked the prospect of making something and publishing, even if it was a small run. So we asked our friends, who were all writers, to submit their most twisted stories, stuff they didn’t feel comfortable bringing to workshop. (I was in an MFA program for writing.) We’d publish them anonymously. So they could write whatever they wanted. The early issues were weird and organic and we did the layout for them in like an hour or two.

MARK: What’s Bill up to these days?

STEVE: After we left New Orleans he moved to Gary, Indiana and started driving trucks, the big rigs. Later, I think he worked dispatch and then desk job, and now I’m pretty sure he’s corporate, probably all for the same company. Trucking.

StuporAssembly3MARK: Do you think he’s happy about the success you’ve had with Stupor?

STEVE: I don’t see why he wouldn’t be. It was his idea, but not his thing. I mean he didn’t want to continue and I did, and then it became something different anyway. I know this: he’s really smart and a great writer, and I owe him a huge thanks for coming up with the idea and the desire to do a zine. I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for him.

MARK: So Stupor started out as a compilation of personal, twisted stories from fellow aspiring writers… How’d you then make the jump to soliciting stories from regular folks at the bar?

STEVE: After I moved to Detroit, my days of free printing were over, and I was broke. Although I like what Stupor had become, it didn’t make sense to keep publishing my friend’s stuff. So I came up with the idea of collecting stories from people I didn’t know at bars but writing them myself. For one, I love bars and I like talking and it seems that everybody’s got a story. Turns out it was easy to get them to open up and talk. So I started doing theme based issues, and I’d tell whoever that I was talking to what I was working on and they’d start telling me the craziest stuff.

Stupor #1MARK: Help me out with the Stupor timeline. What year did the first issue come out, and what were you doing at the time?

STEVE: Issue #1 happened in New Orleans, maybe February or March of 1995. Probably right after Mardi Gras. We then did three more issues in quick succession. I think we wanted it to be monthly. This didn’t last long. So when issue #1 came out I was in grad school. I was just finishing my thesis work. After about three years of intensive writer’s workshops, I was pretty blown out. Stupor happened at a good time. Suddenly I had an outlet for whatever I wanted to write. Not only that but I had an audience, and celebrity too. Yeah, that happened. That was kind of cool. “Oh, you’re that guy that does Stupor? I’ve got all the issues sitting on the back of my toilet. I love it.” It was great hearing stuff like that. So Stupor started in a quick burst and after about five months and four issues, I left New Orleans and moved to Hamtramck, and my pace slowed.

MARK: You mention toilet tanks… Stupor, for those who have never seen a copy, is long and slender. The perfect size for a toilet tank… Was that by design? Did you know from the outset that Stupor would be something read while using the toilet, and design it like that on purpose?

STEVE: There wasn’t an intentional connection, but it didn’t take me long to realize how perfectly they fit on a toilet tank. Especially the older issues which were 17 inches long. Plus I’ve always appreciated a story that’s short enough to be read in one brief sitting or visit to the john.

MARK: How would you characterize your childhood?

STEVE: I had a good childhood. My family was intact, and I had a brother and sister to fight with. I played with Planet of the Apes action figures and listened to music on the AM radio. So, mostly I’d say it was normal. I didn’t do weird things like torture animals or anything. I liked to climb trees and play with pillbugs. I read Mad magazine and collected coins and learned to shoot a gun and fish too.

MARK: You had, if I recall correctly, gone to Hope College out of high school, which is a small Christian college, right? Were you already writing at that point? And, if so, what kind of stuff were you writing?

STEVE: It is a Christian college. That’s true. And that was definitely part of why I went there. I was into youth group, bible study and all that. It used to embarrass me to say so, even years later. I don’t know why. It was just who I was at the time, and part of why I am who I am now, too. But yeah, I was writing in high school and then at Hope College too. They had a couple good writers working there in the English Department. Back then, I had the idea that I was a good poet and that I was going to make it as either a writer or an artist or a musician, like some sort of fame was going to descend on me. Some talent scout would discover me. Put me on TV or something.

Stupor book coverMARK: While I wouldn’t describe the content of Stupor as being un-Christian, it can sometimes be a little on the dark side… certainly not something I would imagine being stocked in the Hope College library… and I was wondering when that side of you emerged. Was it always there, or did an appreciation for the underbelly of society kind of evolve over time?

STEVE: That’s hard to know. I mean, at some point I quit doing the church stuff, but I don’t think I turned bad. You’re right though, I sure appreciate the raw and real grit of the world.

MARK: What had taken you to New Orleans?

STEVE: I got into a writer’s workshop at the University of New Orleans. It was a pretty good deal. Very cheap. Also I loved the city and thought it would be great to live there. It was.

MARK: So what brought you back to Michigan?

STEVE: My wife got into a masters program at Wayne State. They gave her a pretty good offer.

MARK: And, when was it that you were at Eastern Michigan University, working with Janet Kauffman? …How did your writing change during that period?

STEVE: I took those classes with Janet back in the early 90s. So it was between college and grad school. She was a great mentor, super smart and engaged. She appreciated the fray of energy in me that I couldn’t quite make sense of. I was trying though. She gave me some good direction. She remains my all time favorite.

MARK: Were you aware of so-called “zine culture” when you published that first issue of Stupor? Did you know that there was the network of weirdos trading self-published magazines through the mail?

STEVE: I had no idea what I was getting into when I first started. Soon after starting Stupor, I was sending issues to prisoners, and getting all sorts of great stuff in the mail. It was stunning. I mean that this world was out there. And then suddenly I was part of it too. I was one of those weirdos. I’ve met some great people through it. I still keep up with some of them. Notably you and Linette, my good friend Michael Jackman from Inspector 18, and Lisa Anne Auerbach who did Snowflake and American Homebody.

MARK: Where did you print your first issue?

hughesfutureSTEVE: Kinkos, of course. Bill paid for it. We printed 70 issues. Then a friend hooked us up with a printing for the next three issues. They only cost us beer and paper and ink. We ran a 1000 copies of those and put them on cigarette machines all over New Orleans.

MARK: One of the things that I’ve always found fascinating about Stupor is the blurriness of the line separating fact from fiction… You collect stories in bars, so there’s already, I’m sure, a bit of exaggeration and fogginess with regard to detail, but, on top of that, I think you’d agree that you kind of embellish here and there, in order to round out stories and give them a kind of narrative arc. And I think that’s kind of beautiful. You aren’t just collecting oral histories, but taking ideas from people and kind of collaborating with them in a way on these pieces of semi-fiction. Is that a fair assessment?

STEVE: That’s a pretty good description of the process. In the earlier issues (#5 — 9) there was less of that. The stories were more like quick sketches, like transcripts even. I recorded them on cassette or wrote them on napkins. Then I started working with them more. Fixing them, bringing the truth to the surface. I got real interested in that idea of what history is, what truth is, what is truthiness, and what is fiction, and creative non-fiction. Now, I usually get lumped in with creative non-fiction writers. I’d rather be known as the author of “true stories.” I like the phrase. It’s an oxymoron. I also like the idea that what I’m doing is taking a story that I heard and trying to distill a truth, to discover what’s happening in the telling and why it’s important and what it says about the teller. So in shaping the story, I’m forcing the truth to rise to surface.

MARK: Has anyone ever come back to you, after having read a story in Stupor based on something that they may have told you, upset about the way that you handled the material?

STEVE: That has happened a couple times. It was unpleasant. All the tellers in Stupor are anonymous, but apparently that’s not good enough. One time I wrote about it, detailing an incident, and later published it. It started when my friend told me that my zine sucked and that I had embarrassed him and I was full of shit. It was sort of a formative experience for me, grappling with the idea of what I was doing and why. Later I published my account of the incident, about getting called out by my friend. I kept expecting him to call me out again, but he never did. It appears in the issue “Hot Tasty Hell.” It ends like this, “I thought about it, but it didn’t seem like he owned that story. When he told it, when his breath made the words, he released it. He owned his memory of it. But my version of his truth, that was something different.”

MARK: So, in the process of fictionalizing stories, you think that you’re helping bring the truth to the surface… What do you mean by truth? In other words, it’s not necessarily the truth of the person who, over beers, helped you construct the crude foundation of the story… Are you suggesting that, though your process, you’re attempting to get at more universal truths that might not even be apparent to the person who first told you the story?

STEVE: I think it’s more absurd than that. In a way, what I’m doing is both claiming and denying authorship over the story. I’m putting myself in the teller’s shoes and writing it as if it was mine, then reconstructing the truth of it, and giving it back to the teller as if all the words had actually come from them. It’s weird sort of collaboration. I then publish under an anonymous heading, listing only the sex of the teller (Male or Female), and the city where the story takes place (Hamtramck). I’m not trying to prove anything. So I don’t like the idea of universal truths, because that seems to be connected to an agenda. I don’t have one. I just want to tell the story as well as I can. In writing and working with it, I’m trying to create a context that makes it real. I’m using details to establish place and to help define who the teller is. These elements rebuild a truth around it. If the teller doesn’t come off as a real person, then I’ve messed it up. I write each one until it feels completely true. Maybe truer than truth.

Frelinghuysen coverMARK: What makes a good story? Or, more to the point, what makes a story Stupor-worthy?

STEVE: People do surprising things all the time. Weird things. Human nature is flawed sometimes hilariously so. Stupor stories have an edge. They are raw but are not without humor or tragedy. They are worth retelling, at least that’s how I feel about them.

MARK: Having done this for almost 20 years now, what, if anything, have you learned about humanity?

STEVE: There’s all kinds out there and everybody wants something. Maybe it’s just another drink, or to win a small jackpot on the Keno, or maybe it’s got something to do with their spouse or even the gal on the stool at the end of the bar. Everybody makes mistakes. I like people that behave badly. They have the best stories.

MARK: How many issues of Stupor have now been published? And are there plans afoot for another issue in the near future?

STEVE: I just counted 36 issues. I quit numbering them after issue 9. There never was a 10. I started slapping titles on them instead of numbers. So my newest issue, Stupor: Office Zombies is set for release January 10, 2014. I’ve been working on it with Detroit artists Steve and Dorota Coy, who go by the name the Hygienic Dress League. Their work is all about branding a fake corporation. So this Stupor is all office stories. I’m waiting now for an order of gold metallic paper. Yeah, this one is gold plated. I’m going to be reading it at the Work gallery in Detroit at 8:00 PM.

MARK: At 8:00 PM tonight, or on January 10?

STEVE: 8:00 PM, Friday, January 10.

MARK: A couple years ago, you released a bound collection containing some of your favorite stories. How’d that come about?

STEVE: I got a grant from the Kresge Foundation. They paid for the book.

MARK: Was it $10,000? I can’t recall the specifics?

STEVE: It was close to that.

MARK: What do you think the folks at Kresge liked about Stupor? Why, in other words, did you get the grant, and not someone, say, painting murals in Detroit?

STEVE: There was a group of judges for their Fellowship program. Four of them I think. I was only competing against other writers. I’d say my chances were pretty slim, being a zine writer. I guess I had a good application. That was for the big cash, the $25k. The grant for the book was a separate, project-based grant. All of the Kresge fellows were asked to submit ideas for projects and the funding needed to accomplish it. So the book was my project.

MARK: So you got $25,000 for the Kresge Fellowship, and then another $10,000 on top of that for the book project? …What did the fellowship entail?

STEVE: You’ve got it right. What an avalanche of dough! It all came at a good time too because of course I was broke and living off credit cards more than income. Basically it kept me afloat, during a hard time. As far as the requirements of the fellowship go, they were pretty loose. I think I had to agree to stay in the city for another year and keep writing. I didn’t have plans to leave, so it was easy.

MARK: How’d you select what to include? Did you know, going in, what kind of piece that you wanted to create, or did it evolve over time, as you sat with the material, considering it in its entirety?

STEVE: The book contains 14 full issues of Stupor that I published mostly between 2007 and 2011. I wanted to include all the work I’d done with artists, but pared it down just a little. It’s really a great collection. There’s over 100 stories in there, and the artwork is done by many of Detroit’s most recognized artists. So it’s a cool way to connect with their work as well.

MARK: How’d it sell?

STEVE: It did pretty good, especially at the beginning. I still have boxes in my office though. That’s the breaks for self-publishers.

MARK: Assuming people read this and want to buy a copy, what’s the best way for them to do that?

STEVE: Go to my website and buy it there. There’s a couple other issues for purchase there too.

Stuporreading3MARK: You’ve been making use of Kickstarter quite a bit lately? What’s that experience been like?

STEVE: I’ve done it twice. Both times were successful. It’s a good platform, especially if you use it as a pre-sale or marketing tool. I liked making the videos. Even though I raised less money, I think the video in my second campaign was more effective than the first because my collaborating artist Jessica Frelinghuysen was into it. I wanted it to promote her work as well as mine. So we filmed it in her studio. Kickstarter is cool, but there are only so many times you can ask your friends for money. And sending out 100 mailings for the different reward levels is a real task. I’m relieved not to be doing it for my next issue. That one is in black and white, and I’ve got a resource for printing that won’t cost too much. So I’m shelling out the dough myself and hoping to sell enough to break even.

MARK: Do you ever find stories too troubling to include?

STEVE: Yeah, that’s happened a couple times. I still have the stories but they’re pretty tough to read, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll work back into them, and decide to publish them anyway.

MARK: Care to elaborate on what it was that kept you from publishing those particular stories? What was it that crossed the line?

STEVE: I’m not interested in stories that have strong racist, sexist or hate stance, or really any stance at all. Those stories I didn’t publish were crime related, from the victim’s side. They made me feel sort of sick. I don’t want people to feel that way when they read Stupor.

MARK: What’s the best thing to come from Stupor?

STEVE: I’d say the best thing about Stupor is that it gave me a platform and a voice, an audience too. I guess that’s not so different from what any zine writer might say. So maybe that’s universal. Working with artists has also been a huge great thing. Once I started collaborating, Stupor became more of a community effort. The artists made it so. At the same time they add this great visual element. They broaden my audience to include their audience. Plus I love art and the thought process behind making it. So it’s cool to be involved with the arts, even if I’m coming at it from a sort of slant position.

MARK: Anything you would have done differently?

STEVE: I wish I had better distribution. I’m sure there’s ways to make that happen. It used to be easier back in the 90s to disto. But then, as you know, a lot of them flaked out or went belly up.

MARK: Every so often, when Linette teachers her zine class at EMU, she has you come in and talk with the students about your experience with Stupor. I’m just curious what you’ve taken away from those discussions.

STEVE: Each time it was a learning experience for me too. It forced me to talk about Stupor critically and explain myself. So it stretched my brain. Also each time I got a little more comfortable with what I was doing. That probably made the classes better too. I don’t know if it’s obvious through this interview but there has been a real evolution of Stupor. It’s changed a ton from when I first started. Going to Linette’s class inspired me also to keep going, to push forward and rethink what I was doing. That coupled with those early Shadow Art Fairs that you put together gave me a reason to make when I felt like my audience had dwindled.

MARK: Any advice for people who might be thinking of starting a zine of their own?

stevehughesdoitSTEVE: Do it. Make it. Try. See what happens.

MARK: What’s the best story you’ve ever been told?

STEVE: Recently I talked to a guy whose wife had just died. He was really happy, almost elated, like he’d won some jackpot. He told me the whole story. She had a heart attack and his daughter found her all blue on the floor. It was weird. I couldn’t tell if he was in shock, or if he was actually really glad. And if he was glad then, wow, that’s twisted! Either way, I got a great weird vibe from him. So far I’ve just sketched out his story, but I haven’t written it yet. To answer your question, though, I don’t have a favorite. Every story is my favorite. They mesh together. It’s more about the process of collecting and telling and writing it and discovering the truth of it that I most enjoy. Some go better than others. I’m not sure yet how I’ll handle this story of the dead wife. But I plan on spending some time with it. Working it and forcing the truth to surface.

UPDATE: Here, for those of you who have never seen a copy of Stupor, is an excerpt from the issue “Math of Marriage.” The layout is by artist Clinton Snider.

stupor2BootsScan

[If you like what you’ve read above and want more, be sure to check the other interviews in the History of Zines series.]

Posted in Detroit, Special Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Merry Christmas from the people behind the scenes

chinadollfactoryXmas

From the garment workers of Bangladesh who died to give you those ‘everyday low prices’ you love so much at Walmart to the religious prisoners of China who made those holiday decorations you bought on Black Friday at Kmart, the slave laborers of the world wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, full of electronics assembled in for-profit American prisons by non-violent drug offenders being paid $1.25 an hour and high-end lingerie produced by children

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Krampus 2013 recap

Judging strictly by the quantity of vomit I encountered outside the Corner Brewery yesterday morning, I’d say Saturday night’s Krampus event was a success. Thank you to all of you who came out to shake your asses with us and join our midnight march by torchlight.

Here, for what they’re worth, and in no particular order, are my abbreviated thoughts on Krampus 2013.

1. My favorite thing about this year’s event was the fact that my daughter did my hair, which was pulled in clumps through holes cut in my ski mask, covered in paste, and tied up in stalks with dental floss. My son, as you can see in this photo, isn’t particularly fond of the exceedingly dark pre-Christian Alpine celebration. I guess you could say, he’s more of a Santa person.

KrampusWkids2013

2. The biggest improvement this year, from my perspective, was the addition of real torches. In the past, we’d used tiki torches, like the ones suburbanites burn on their decks in the summertime to keep the mosquitos away as they drink lite beer. This year, though, I decided to go old school, and make my own from roughly-hewn tree limbs covered in accelerant-soaked rags. And they were absolutely incredible. It’s difficult to articulate how satisfying it is to hoist a burning tree limb above one’s head, and walk into the darkness. There’s something really empowering about it, at a very primal level. Here are my torches; before and after. (Next year, assuming we do this again, I want to host a torch-making workshop prior to Krampus. I also want to incorporate a bonfire, but that’s a completely different story.)

torch3a

smokingtorch2

3. This year, given the proximity to Christmas, the Detroit Party Marching Band was not able to join us and lead our midnight march. (Even if they had come, I don’t think they would have wanted to play in the rain anyway.) Surprisingly, though, another band did show up. About a dozen people dressed in blue marching band uniforms stumbled in about halfway through our dance party, and began making noise. When approached later, I was told that they’re the Ypsi Shitty Marching Band. And they were apparently just formed by Kurt Anschuetz, who, a week or so ago, had the foresight to purchased 200 band uniforms at an Detroit Public Schools auction for pennies a piece. As I understand it, anyone can join, regardless of musical ability. All you have to do is pay a $15 membership fee, which gets you a uniform and a place in the band. By the time we left on our march, only one member of the Ypsi Shitty Marching Band was still sober enough to walk with us. He had a tiny drum, and, if memory serves, one drumstick. I asked Kurt if they had plans to actually learn how to play together, like the Detroit Party Marching Band, and he said that they’d like to practice, but that they haven’t yet found a place where they could do so without complaints… I expect great things from them in the future.

shittyband2

4. My favorite non-torch-related moment of the evening came when, out of nowhere, Ben Connor Barrie handed me an inside-out squirrel. (In case it’s not evident from the photo below, it’s like a prehistoric, fur-lined condom, only there are appendages hanging from both sides, and sharp teeth protruding from the end.) He stuffed it into my pocket, where it spent the rest of the night, staring out at people throw hollow, leathery eye sockets. Also, it should be noted that Ben killed the squirrel himself, and ate it, before turning it inside-out and tanning it. So it’s not like he just grabbed a squirrel on his way into the Brewery, and turned it inside out, like a sock. That would just be crazy… Also, I should mention that the aforementioned squirrel now lives in the trunk of my car, as Linette said that I wasn’t allowed to bring it into the house. (I’m tempted to unwrap her Christmas present, and replace her brand new Fluevog boots with the aforementioned squirrel, but I think she’d kill me if she opened that beautiful blue Fluevog box, expecting to find the boots of her dreams, only to find an inside-out squirrel… And, yes, she already knows what she’s getting for Christmas, as I had to consult with her before ordering them. It’s not how I usually operate, but I didn’t want to fuck this up.)

MMsquirrel2

5. There were a few glitches this year. Most notably, our midnight march didn’t really come off as planned. We’d had a portable, battery-powered PA lined up, and the plan was to have a musician friend screeching Krampus-inspired material and playing noisy electric guitar at the front of the procession. Unfortunately, the rain killed that plan, as we didn’t want said friend to get electrocuted. So, we drafted the Yspi Shitty Marching Band, but, as I mentioned before, by that point in the evening, their number of upright and ambulatory members had dwindled to one. And, as usual, everything by that point in the event was in disarray. We did’t effectively communicate to people inside the Brewery that we were getting ready to march, and, as a result, a lot of people probably didn’t know that more fun was to be had outside. And, of course, some probably did know, but didn’t want to walk in the rain, holding torches and howling like prehistoric Alpine child-beating monsters. So, our numbers were small, but our torches were awesome, and I had a blast. I particularly liked when we surrounded the car with the steamed-up windows in the parking lot by the recycling center, holding our torches, and staring in at the man and woman inside, who must have thought that the end of the world had come. Sadly, there are no photos… Here, however, is a photo of the torches lit.

Krampsu2013torchesWjason

6. This year was weird. I don’t know if it was the energy of the bachelorette party from Rochester Hills, but something strange was in the air, as evidenced by the beautifully athletic twerking of our Mayor, who literally owned the dance floor all night long. (Speaking of the dozen or so women in matching pink hair who descended on our event from Rochester Hills, a friend of mine came up to me at some point during the evening and congratulated me on their presence. “You know you’ve made it,” he said, “when you’re a destination for bachelorette parties. I’m not used to seeing that outside of gay bars.”) Here they are with a time traveling photo bomber from a distant ice planet. (They’re the worst kind, as they know exactly when you’ll snap the photo, and beam in right as you’re pushing down on the button.)

KrampusBachelorettes2

7. I wasn’t there for it, but my partner in all things Krampus, Chris Sandon, told me that he had an odd run-in late that night, as he walked home from Woodruff’s, where our march had ended. Apparently, Chris, who was, for reasons that I can’t get into right now, dressed like an enormous monster vagina, was accosted by two huge men on the street. He said he got the vibe from them that they were going to beat him to death. There was some exchange of words, at the end of which, one of the men thrust a mason jar half-full of liquid at Chris, telling him to drink. Chris doesn’t know how much he drank, but he did gulp some down, at which point the men left. Chris says he thinks it was moonshine. Whatever it was, though, it completely erased his memory of everything from that point onward. The next thing he remembers is waking up in his own bed the next morning.

There’s more that I could say, but that’s all I have time for right now, as Christmas presents need to be wrapped. If you came out, thank you. I hope you had a good time.

Those of you who didn’t come out, but would still like to help Ypsilanti’s Fly Children’s Art Center – the local non-profit we handed all of the night’s donations over to – can do so here. All gifts are tax deductible, and you’d be hard pressed to find an organization more deserving of your support this holiday season.

Posted in Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Reflecting on the origins, accomplishments and future of Mittenfest

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Ypsilanti will, as it’s done for the past seven years, play host to the incredible Michigan music festival known as Mittenfest. Following is a short interview I conducted online with organizers Brandon Zwagerman, Jeremy Peters and Amy Sumerton on how Mittenfest got started, how it’s changed over the years, and what they’ve got in store for us this time around.

Tickets for the festival, which is scheduled to run for five consecutive days at Woodruff’s, starting on December 27, will not be available for purchase in advance, and, I’m told, there will be no multi-day passes this year. So, if you want to attend, you’ll have to buy your general admission tickets at the door each day, for $10 a piece. And, as always, all proceeds will be donated to the fantastic kids’ creative writing non-profit 826michigan.

large_78015db6-fdca-40b7-a109-ddb992df5dc5MARK: I think everyone in my audience probably knows what Mittenfest is, but, just in case, let’s start with a little history… Would it be accurate to say that the whole thing has its roots in Brandon’s homesickness?

JEREMY: I don’t think that’s inaccurate at all. Mittenfest has its roots in Madisonfest, which was a fun gathering of local musicians that Brandon put together in his backyard on Madison Street the summer before he left Ann Arbor for NYC, after graduating from U of M with a Masters Degree in Urban Planning. That winter, he had the idea of getting friends together for some music and revelry over the holiday break – so many folks were around, it provided a great opportunity for everyone to see some of the bands they loved, and to hang out over the holidays.

BRANDON: When I lived in Ann Arbor I spent a lot of (too much?) time and energy seeing local bands, and eventually putting on some pretty grassroots shows, most notably biweekly unamplified acoustic shows in the backyard of Madison House, my house venue on Madison Street in Ann Arbor. I booked a few one-night fundraiser festivals at Arbor Vitae as well, and also had a really fun stint as part of the East Quad Music Co-Op, the group that booked shows at the Halfass and even made a point of putting a few guerilla acoustic shows on at the underutilized West Park bandshell. As a last hurrah before I moved away, I put together Madisonfest, a 3-day festival featuring 40+ performers. We had a donation jar at the door like any show at Madison House, but this time proceeds were split among three causes I had a connection to: the East Quad Music Co-Op, Growing Hope, and 826michigan. I think around $300 was raised total.

I got a job in New York and moved away, but definitely missed the music scene back in Washtenaw County, so I had the idea of putting together a show for when I’d be back in Michigan for the holidays as a way of getting some favorite friends and performers together for a party. I mentioned the idea to Chris Bathgate and the band Canada when they were playing NYC for the CMJ Music Marathon, and I think the first thing out of Canada cellist Amy Sumerton’s mouth was: “Can it be a fundraiser for 826michigan?” Of course, I said, sure! And that’s really how the essential pieces of Mittenfest came to be.

MARK: Amy?

AMY: I remember it just about exactly as Brandon does. I met Brandon because I played in a band and he booked shows; Canada played Madisonfest, 826michigan got some of the proceeds; Brandon wanted to book a show for the holidays, I shamelessly suggested my workplace as the beneficiary.

MARK: Tell me about the first Mittenfest.

BRANDON: While I tried some of the more obvious “rock club” type venues in Ann Arbor and Ypsi, for sake of infrastructure simplicity, by the time I really tried getting something together that first year (probably during November) everyone was booked up on the weekend before Christmas, which is when I wanted to do it. Looking further afield, I reached out to the Corner Brewery, and they were happy to accommodate us with the caveat that there was a need to be noise-sensitive to their nearby neighbors. This necessitated that the performers all play stripped-down acoustic sets, and, besides, the seated setting, good beer and pre-Christmas feelings lent themselves well to such an approach anyway. A friend brought in a PA and helped with sound, so it wasn’t completely acoustic, like some house shows, but it was definitely low key. I believe there were about 14 performers, and everyone imbibed plenty of holiday cheer. All of the door take went to 826michigan.

AMY: The first Mittenfest was a lot of beer and a rotating cast of stripped-down sets. If I remember correctly, there was some question about whether Fred Thomas, the “headliner,” would make it in time. (Something about a flight, Michigan weather, etc.) He did, and he played a set I’ll never forget. It was the perfect end to a pretty magical day… I think we raised just about a thousand dollars that year. I remember feeling, all day, like something special was happening. I don’t think it occurred to me that it would happen again, let alone become one of 826michigan’s key annual events, though.

MARK: If I’m reading the roman numerals correctly, this will be your 8th year. How have things evolved since that first year?

AMY: I’d say Mittenfest evolved slowly the first few years – adding venues, days, types of music. And, in the last few years, it’s settled into a comfortable pattern. It happens at Woodruff’s, it lasts about five days, many bands are involved. I’m inclined to say we’ve got a model that works, and I’d expect it not to change much in the future. The first year felt very intimate, and now it definitely feels more epic.

It has, poetically enough, sort of mirrored 826michigan’s growth as an organization. I believe we had two people on staff that first year, a few handfuls of really dedicated volunteers, and maybe a hundred students. Now we have a staff of seven, hundreds of volunteers, and serve almost three thousand students each year. (I’m still awe-struck every time I type that.) There’s been an organic, grassroots feel to our growth, not unlike what I’ve watched happen with Mittenfest.

JEREMY: It’s definitely grown. Mittenfest I was a one-day affair with mainly acoustic sets (and a few awesome comedy performances too). In the following years, we’ve moved venues and expanded the number of bands and days, but we’ve always tried to keep the same basic focus: a fun gathering of awesome music, mainly from the mitten, with 100% of the door going to benefit 826michigan’s work to make it fun for kids to write.

MARK: What, if anything, will be different this year? Or, after years of trying new things, debating multiple venues, etc., have you pretty much stopped tweaking things?

JEREMY: We always try to take a second and re-evaluate what’s been working and what hasn’t – from the exact number of bands, to the set times, and the days the festival is held. We’re insanely proud to be able to work with a venue that donates the space and the labor, which means that there aren’t really any deductions from the money taken at the door. We love holding the event in Ypsi – not anything against Ann Arbor, but the event raises enough to help fund 826’s programming in Ypsilanti, and we love that the dollars raised there go to support programming there. That being said, I think we’ve found a model that works – though nothing’s perfect and we’re always open to suggestions on how to make this completely volunteer led event even better.

BRANDON: Adding to what Jeremy said, having it at one venue frankly keeps things simpler logistically for a volunteer organized event, and Woodruff’s has been a gracious host. (It’s also big enough to generally accommodate the crowd, but still has a cozy and intimate feel.) We certainly continue to tweak, but for the immediate future this general model seems to work well. We’re happy to hear new suggestions, though!

MARK: In spite of this, as I recall, there was some talk last year about moving the event to Ann Arbor. Why did you decide to stay in Ypsi?

AMY: While 826’s storefront, the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, is based in Ann Arbor, much of the work we do is in Ypsi. Four nights a week, we offer free tutoring at Beezy’s. Three nights a week, we offer free drop-in writing programs at the Ypsilanti District Library. Five days a week, we offer free in-class support to teachers in Ypsilanti schools. As an organization, we are deeply rooted in Ypsilanti, so it just makes sense to have one of our biggest annual events happen there.

JEREMY: So long as there’s a venue that can handle the sound reinforcement and crowds that the festival generates with management that’s willing to bend over backwards to make the event a success in Ypsilanti, I don’t think there’s any reason to move it. We held it in two cities one year, and it was a bit of a logistical hurdle – it would also be insanely tough to be able to move all the decorations!

BRANDON: I’d just add that the entire community of Ypsilanti has been so supportive, from local media folks like yourself, to Mayor Schreiber who typically attends, to local businesses, and even folks who open their homes to touring musicians from other cities. It’s a personable, human-scaled community for an event like this, and I’m always excited to spend a week strolling Ypsi’s streets every winter.

MARK: Mittenfest, as we’ve discussed, is a fundraiser for 826michigan. How much has been raised over the last seven years, and what has that money allowed 826michigan to do that it might not have been able to do otherwise?

JEREMY: All the Mittenfests combined have raised over $75,000.00, which has gone directly to support programming that 826michigan puts on – in recent years, 826 has been able to host field trips from schools in what’s now the Ypsi-Willow Run Consolidated School District, provide in-school and after-school programming, and tutoring in the city of Ypsilanti. Every single children’s program that 826 puts on is absolutely free to the students, and without the support of this event and our generous fans and sponsors we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. (I say this as a member of the Board of Directors and Finance Committee of 826michigan.)

AMY: What he said. (Points upward.) I’ll also add that in the fall of 2012, we were able to hire a full-time staffer whose main focus is Ypsilanti programming, and Mittenfest funds are certainly a part of that.

MARK: Given that this event takes place at a bar, at night, you can’t really incorporate the kids of 826 as much as I’m sure that you would like to. In spite of that, though, I believe there have been attempts over the years to have them more represented. You, of course, sell their collected writing at the event, and have people on hand to talk about programs, but, if I remember correctly, there may have been attempts to do even more. For instance, wasn’t there talk of having a band or two write songs inspired by the work of 826michigan’s young writers?

JEREMY: Of course we’d always hope to be able to incorporate student writing even more into the event, but the bands are already doing an amazing service donating their time performing, their art, and their gas money to get there, for that matter, but we wouldn’t protest if anyone wanted to write a song and perform it based on student work!

AMY: Over the years, we’ve tried a few ways to show Mittenfest attendees just how clever and funny and profound our students are. We’ve had staffers read student work from stage; we’ve had volunteers act out short plays written by students; we’ve had performers choose their favorite student work from the year to share with the audience…. None of these have been particularly successful, though. People come to Mittenfest, I think, mainly for the music and the beer. Although we do sell a good number of our student publications at the event, so attendees are definitely interested in and supportive of our work.

And I will also say that there are a few bits of student writing floating around here lately that I think would translate pretty easily into song, and I have a now-not-so-secret hope that, in the next year or two, we’ll be able to put together our own album of songs inspired by student work… 826LA did a great one – Chickens in Love. (The song “Boring” is my personal favorite.)

MARK: I know there would be huge logistical issues, but I’m curious if you’re ever considered holding a Mittenfest event out-of-state. I suspect, for instance, that the people of New York would like an opportunity to hear the bands of Michigan, and I suspect that 826 would appreciate funneling some east coast money back into programs serving the kids of Ypsi/Arbor, right?

JEREMY: To be honest, I’m not sure we ever thought of that, but it is a great idea! If we could find a venue and the right grouping of bands who happened to be in NYC at the same time, it’d be great – I know it costs a ton for bands to get out there and even spend an evening in the city. (I work at 2 labels, and have toured with a few bands, so I know this from experience.) We’d probably need to find a partner to help with logistics, but I can’t say we’d turn down the opportunity if the right one arose. We wouldn’t necessarily want to cannibalize any of the fundraising 826NYC (or 826Chicago) does, though!

BRANDON: Well, I haven’t mentioned it to Jeremy, but I’ve tossed the idea of a MittenfEast in NYC around in my head in the past. There are definitely some complications with this idea in my mind …i.e. touring bands already are lucky to break even, so it’s hard to ask them to play a benefit show on tour – some serious outside funding would be needed. Admittedly the saturation of the live music landscape here in NYC would make it a challenge to break through, as there are shows upon shows, and festivals upon festivals, pretty much weekly. But there are also plenty of Michigan expats, so there’s a built-in audience to some degree (as you’ll see any time a Michigan band plays in Brooklyn). And as Jeremy notes, other cities already often have their own local 826s! One situation where I could more realistically see something like this working well would be, say, during SXSW in Austin, when a lot of bands from the area are already there anyway. One could put together a showcase pretty well representing the state as a tie-in. An interesting idea if anyone wanted to organize it – the one time I was at SXSW, two years ago, there was a similar Michigan day showcase; Mittenfest alums Stepdad and Nightlife performed at it.

MARK: I’m curious, Brandon, as to how this whole thing has changed for you. As we’ve discussed, it kind of got off the ground because you wanted to come back home to Michigan and see some of your favorite bands play. Now, however, many of those bands are no longer in existence. And, I suspect, at the same time, your personal interests have changed a bit. I’m just curious as to whether, after eight years, you find yourself deriving a different kind of pleasure from Mittenfest.

BRANDON: It’s kind of funny… at this point, with some notable exceptions on this year’s lineup (Saturday Looks Good to Me is one of my favorite bands of all time, for instance), the performances don’t come with a great deal of nostalgia for me anymore. First of all, I’ve never even seen over half the bands before! So maybe the most exciting part for me is discovering a new favorite by seeing them for the first time at Mittenfest. Then there is a whole group of other performers who maybe I first saw at a Mittenfest, say three years ago, and they’re playing again, and it’s always wonderful to see how they evolve over time. I’ll certainly see plenty of old friends and meet great new people over the course of the five days, as always, but that’s not really as much of a focus anymore, as generations and communities continue to evolve. Mittenfest helps create its own connections among all of those participating or attending, I like to hope.

MARK: So, let’s talk about the bands this year. How many applied? How many will be playing? And what communities will we have represented?

JEREMY: We had a record number of bands apply this year – over 200 by my count, and we selected a representative sample of 40 to play this year’s festival – we wanted to cut down a bit on fatigue for the fans (and bands, for that matter), and thought that starting each night a bit later would make the event more fun for everyone involved! There are bands from Detroit, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids, Ferndale, Toledo, and all over the place!

Mittenfestlineup2

[Links to all 40 of the bands who will be performing at Mittenfest VIII can be found here.]

MARK: Several years ago, when talking with you (Jeremy and Brandon) about what makes a band “Mittenfest appropriate,” you mentioned that it wasn’t just about the geography, although all the bands had to have a substantial tie to Michigan, but also a “shared value system” (Brandon) and “a certain work ethic and forethought” (Jeremy) that comes from having lived in the midwest. I’m curious as to whether or not any of you would like to elaborate.

JEREMY: I’d say this still holds true — there’s a certain something about musicians from the midwest. Sure, everyone would like to make it huge, but we’re all here to make art for arts’ sake, and that work ethic and mindset shows thru in all the bands who have performed at the event over the years.

BRANDON: The more I live elsewhere, I’m not actually sure I really believe in a Michigan or Midwestern exceptionalism when it comes to art and music, as romantic as the notion may be. There are folks all over the country and around the world, to varying levels, embracing a DIY ethos and building community centered around the arts, be they up against the (for different reasons) challenging environments of places ranging from New York City to Detroit or Ypsi. However, perhaps from a broad sense, there is a shared language and landscape in Michigan that is often drawn upon by local artists, explicitly or otherwise – the lake-effect snows, post-industrial cities, urban sprawl, small towns, or wooded dunes are all around. What’s the state motto again? Si quaeris coney island amoenam circumspice? Does the cold cold climate build work ethic (or character)? Are disinvested cities primarily a challenge or an opportunity for a working artist? One can discuss these things ad nauseam, likely with complicated results. However, I have a deep love for my home state and I’m proud of those I know who are creating music and art there, and greatly look forward to all of the performances this year.

MARK: If I were more of a prick, I’d use your, “I’m not actually sure I really believe in a Michigan or Midwestern exceptionalism when it comes to art and music” quote when promoting this interview, and try to drum up some controversy. Sadly, though, I’m not that big of a jackass, and, more importantly, you happen to be right. We don’t corner the market on meaningful artistic expression. Still, though, I think you always curate a lineup that, when taken as a whole, articulates a certain vibe that’s perhaps unique to this region… if that makes sense.

BRANDON: As always, you are a gentleman! Surely every creative community and region is a product of its context to some degree (and folks are likely having a similar conversation in Alabama or Iowa or Buffalo, with just as much passion). You are right, if I look at this year’s lineup, Michigan reference points are clearly apparent in much of the music, explicitly or evocatively arising in lyrics, for example, off the top of my head:

Breezee One: “…strong curves like Verlander”
Frontier Ruckus: “I’ll meet you out where the outlet malls turn to black holes”
Saturday Looks Good to Me: “Someone was talking about moving to Brooklyn / Last day in Michigan”

…or even whole songs like “Ypsilanti” by Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful.

But more importantly what I see, and I think we consciously aim for at this point, is to showcase a relatively diverse set of approaches to live music performance and “scenes” (of course, one can easily note the vast musical communities NOT represented well or at all, we are aware) rather than a particular overarching theme or vibe, especially in more recent years.

Do rappers from Detroit and singer-songwriters from Pinckney and theatrical synth acts from Grand Rapids or psych bands from Ann Arbor have much in common (and what, beyond simply being humans and musicians)? I can’t claim to be sure! It would be interesting (if we wanted to turn this into more of an academic exercise, which I am not so sure anyone does) to have a public discussion among performers at Woodruff’s about whether there is a shared “Michigan-ness” in their approaches or art. If nothing else, regional identity tends to be a powerful rallying-point in the area music scene(s) (and in general)– people seem to rep Detroit or Ypsi or Michigan pretty hard.

What I do hope and believe for Mittenfest is that it represents and encourages a generally cross-supportive community of artists statewide, at least. Everyone performing is playing to support the cause or because they simply want to participate in the event and believe it is something special – everyone is donating their performance, time, and in fact even gas money, since our budget is practically nil. It’s pretty amazing.

I think we’ve always made a point of slotting performers back-to-back with others from different cities or scenes that they (and their fans) may not have been familiar with. I’ve seen, for instance, bands from Grand Rapids and Detroit first encounter one another at Mittenfest and then start sharing bills in one another’s cities in the following months. In a very tangible sense the densification and cross-strengthening of audiences and artists across the state is one of the greatest potential outcomes of Mittenfest outside of the fundraising aspect, and the possibility for such connections is intentional and good for everyone involved.

Here, for those of you who can’t make it out to Ypsi, is Frontier Ruckus performing their song Dark Autumn Hour.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Michigan, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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