The inaugural MI Fest

Badass Beer was the best brew on offer. Well, maybe that’s not the best place to start, but it’s pretty much where we started. This was the first-ever MI Fest at MIS in Brooklyn, Michigan, and if nothing else, it was a unique experience.

An outstanding September day set the stage: fresh breezes blew away ominous clouds to reveal sparkling blue skies; the temperature was brisk yet comfortable. My husband and I left our 1-year-old with a sitter for a very rare night out and headed for the 1,400-acre Michigan International Speedway complex, most famous for hosting NASCAR races twice a year. The event, billed as “an outdoor music & camping experience,” was set up in a large, rolling field used as camping space during NASCAR. Wristbands on and backpack checked, we entered and soon found ourselves browsing an array of artisan and farmer’s-market-type booths, just after passing the impressively long lines at the Third Man Records van.

The variety of stands really added to the “festival” for us, and we ended up buying a few chocolate chip cookies (dry and bland), eying some jewelry and – after much finance-related discussion and some bartering – purchasing a very cool handmade ashwood-trimmed birdhouse. So that was fun.

the Third Man Records van

But, we were thirsty. And that was a problem. Perhaps this is de rigueur at all the events these days, but it seems deeply wrong to me: water was $4 a bottle, and that was the only water one could get. This, I was not a fan of. Empty (or full) water bottles were not allowed into the festival, and even if they were, there was not a single drinking fountain or even a damn hose to be found. Touted as a family-friendly event, there were kids here, and pregnant ladies, and hell, really drunk people! Maybe I’m being an old fart, but this is beautiful, wonderful America, where you can drink free-flowing water from almost any tap and not get sick, and here 12 ounces of water cost more than a gallon of gas – and it was the only water available at a 12-hour festival. It offends me.

It's wet and it's cold. Yay.

Ah well, we like beer, and so we gravitated to one of the refreshment stands dotting the grounds. Twelve ounces of Badass Beer: $5; 16 ounces of either of two varieties of “light” macrobrews: $7; I won’t quibble with these prices. Although my husband and I briefly debated the price-per-ounce question, it was a moot point, as I had no desire whatsoever to drink a light macrobrew. So Badass it was. And the discussion of that beer is another topic for another blog, but let’s just say, it’s good if you really want a macrobrew. ‘Nuff said, thirst quenched.

But this was a music festival, right? When we showed up, The Romantics and Ty Stone were blasting out music that seemed to compete for our attention – the two stages were only about 100 yards apart. Music from one stage vibrated the air during the lulls in songs being performed on the other. I don’t think the artists loved this, and at least one performer commented on it between songs. However, this motley collection of acts seemed to make the best of it for the most part. I should mention at this point that when I bought our tickets, there were three stages planned and a host of mostly-Detroit-based talent on the ticket, but that all evaporated a few days before the event launched. The tickets didn’t sell as robustly as the organizers had planned, and I also caught wind of the promoter bailing just before the event, and MIS assuming control. So two stages and less bands, but really, I didn’t care. I was here for one reason, and one reason alone: The Raconteurs.

Yet Jack White didn’t take the stage for a few hours, so we tooled around the grounds, eventually brushing past the main, “MI Fest” stage, where Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks & Dunn fame) was doing his thing. Since this sounded like run-of-the-mill-radio-country to me, and that isn’t really my thing, we drifted to the “Grandee” stage, where The Rockets were slaying it.

OK, these guys are old. They played one song that we thought we had heard before. But you know what? They totally rocked! Maybe we were chuckling as they went through their clearly time-honored posturing, but it was undeniably enjoyable. The lead singer posed and writhed and sweated, the guitarist jammed out on a righteous solo and they delivered a tight set of fan favorites. Sweet!

Here’s another odd facet of this festival: the variety of acts, and the people they attracted. The attendees were a mix of families, young and very cool hipsters, and the retired set in their Velcro sneakers and fanny packs. All this diversity made for some stupendous people-watching!

Many people brought lawn chairs, blankets and coolers of food and “camped out” near the main stage. This was fine for most of the day, but things got hairy when the headliners took the stage and fans began pressing closer around, stumbling over chairs and trampling blankets. (However, many of these “campers” packed up and left after Sheryl Crow finished up; they saw what they’d come for and left more room by the stage for me!)

It was tough luck for The Rockets that Sheryl Crow began 15 minutes before they ended, as they finished up to a sparse crowd. We stayed on for the end of the Rockets’ set, then dispersed through the gathering twilight to see the big-ticket draw.

Not Detroit

Sheryl sounded great and presented a high-energy performance. This pocket-sized singer ran through her hits and actually seemed to enjoy doing it. If I could give her personal feedback, I’d advise her on two topics. First, know where you are. Yeah, Brooklyn, Mich. is near Detroit, just like Nyack, NY is near New York City or Benton Harbor, Mich. is near Chicago. Over and over, she shouted out things like “are you feeling me Detroit?” Um, we’re two hours from Detroit. That ain’t right. Second, send out a lackey and see what kind of event you’re at. Shouting out, “how do you like those corn dogs?” doesn’t really work when there are no corn dogs on offer. Trying to redeem yourself by asking about the (non-existent) funnel cake doesn’t help, either. We were eating ribs and burritos. And waiting for The Raconteurs!

pitter-pat

I was grinning from ear to ear and bubbling with excitement as night fully blossomed and the crew set up The Raconteurs’ equipment. Once they finally took the stage, I was not disappointed! Courtesy of Jack White and the rest of this finely-tuned music machine, I was transported to a galaxy of awesome, along with the rest of the remaining crowd who came not to hear country music or bands from the 70s, but for this, this.

As long as I’m dispensing advice, here’s some for Jack: I know you’re in your own world and that’s why we love you, but please consider us, the little people, before you turn your back to the crowd to jam out with the drummer; we want to see you tear it up, man! I know, I’m just being greedy. I’ll admit that, for a few moments, I understood those screaming girls in the old Beatles movies. Overall, their performance was fantastic. I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating by using the word Epic. When it was all over, I wanted it all again, and again!

I walked back to the car in a bubble of music-fueled joy. The festival had a few kinks, sure, but if The Raconteurs return next year, so will I.

Spin did a good write-up and took some solid photos

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“Celebrate Earth Day” festival in Jackson

Earth Day came and went, but there’s no reason that we can’t honor the principles of this occasion all year long. On Sunday, April 25, Cascades Park in Jackson will be the site of the fourth annual “Celebrate Earth Day” outdoor festival. There will be activities and educational displays, and the Cascades Humane Society will have adoptable dogs on-site, along with information on how to be a more eco-friendly pet owner. I know, because I’ll be working the event. It’s a family-friendly event that should appeal to both tree-huggers and those just looking to spend a few enjoyable hours outdoors.