An Open Letter To The Performing Bands at Mittenfest…
Well, the first thing I’ll say is thank you, thank you and thank you again… to every human being who walked through Woodruff’s doors over the New Year’s holiday. Whether through the front doors (passing the counter collecting donations to 826michigan) or whether through the back doors (spurted from a backed-up van-like transport shuffling yourselves past the bar with a hulking amp clunking in tow, I say thanks for your presence, participation and support. Thanks to the bar and all auxiliary staff / volunteers, as well.
You’ve seen the numbers on your Facebooks: $22,765 raised from the seventh Mittenfest Music festival (for educational non-profit 826michigan’s expository/creative-writing programming for local students). Seven years hosted in Ypsilanti (and Ann Arbor), with hundreds of bands and hundreds-more attendees, raising $77,000 total.
Bands, though, I’d like to speak directly to you. I want to sensitively iterate a distinction between donating frayed green legal tender and donating art. For us, attendees, listeners, revelers, the “thank-you” we received for donating to 826michigan was your songs, your performance.
We might not have bought your CDs or your band-shirts that night because we might’ve only wallet-wedged enough dough for the door’s donation and a couple beers.
We might have even missed your set because, inevitably, there’s so many bands (with only so many scheduled nights) that you may have gone on as early as 5pm.
Check out our photos from Mittenfest VII.
I came because I knew I could hear stirring songs and see exciting live performances. You (still) came to perform said stirring songs and exert said-exciting live performances (and –still— came despite no “guarantee,” no cut of the cover charge, no guarantee, even, of “a good turn-out” for your 30-ish minutes of presumably pouring (a few pieces) of your heart (out) on a stage, under lights.
That kind of intense sharing is taken for granted. A decades-long tradition stereotyping the “bar-band” aesthetic of some artsy type reliably getting up there on a stage to strum and hash-out some new pop/blues/punk ditty while in-the-know attendees stake positions in the corners to maybe nod or surreptitiously tap their toe has brewed a bit of cynical entitlement, perhaps… Like: We showed up, we’re here, go on up and play or whatever – we’ll pay attention if we like…who really cares about your new song, anyway?
Now, I’m not sure how many of you have that cynical voice cloying around in your creative brains and I don’t intend to plant it as a sinister seed if you were free of it prior to reading this column. It’s just that if you were the band that had to get time off your day job, had to speed over icy roads from Detroit or Grand Rapids, had to hustle-in at 5:01 PM on a Sunday and plug-in, had to drive back with no gas money…or didn’t have as many people as you might have liked out there on the modest/cozy dance-floor… don’t ever think we don’t care.
We all showed up to Mittenfest because we care… We care about 826 Michigan and the important/impacting work they do for local students and fledgling writers (fledgling songwriters, to boot…) That goes without saying, or, for the sake of this open letter, it sorta goes without saying.
We all showed up because we care about the local music community as well – and that’s YOU. It’s endearing that you’d devote your time and songs and we, the festival organizers and 826 Michigan, want to emphasize that.
Popular perception is that no one’s gonna be a rock star around here so the least we can get is a kickstart, or a bandcamp balance, or a frickin drink-ticket…for the 30 minutes we spent breaking a string or losing our voice or sweating, singing and stomping exuberantly in public like that…
I hope you found fulfillment in participating / supporting 826 Michigan. It’s significantly special event, often tinged with that enthusing vibe inherent to altruistic enterprises, a crackling fire in the middle of the room reflects what one hopes is the same warmth in the hearts of all those working/supporting/attending said-Festival. It becomes encompassing on a different level, beyond the “Hey, man, ‘really dug yer set…” pat you might get after loading off stage. You’re one musician amongst a garrison of goodwill, sharing songs.
But I wanted to write this letter to alleviate any Facebook-baked bitterness or disillusionment, that we don’t care about what you’re giving…
We all care. That your songs aren’t secondary…not at Mittenfest.
Thank you. Thank you all.