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MI Fest gets off to smooth start after week of controversies

for Journal Register Newspapers

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – As the adage goes, the show must go on.

And so it did on Saturday, Sept. 17 — following a week of confusion and controversy — for the inaugural MI Fest at the Michigan International Speedway.

Under sunny skies, Macomb Township teen rockers Shockwave got the 11-hour-plus festival off to a raucous noon start, as early arrivals also checked out the farmer’s market and music memorabilia marketplace nearby. The scene felt more like an afternoon picnic, with plenty of stroller-toting families (children younger than 12 were admitted for free) setting up blankets and lawn chairs in front of the MI Fest Stage as the Ben Daniels Band played a set of rootsy folk-styled rock and Michigan music legend Mitch Ryder cranked through favorites such as “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “C.C. Rider”/“Jenny Take a Ride” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”

The smaller Grandee Stage, meanwhile, hosted a standing-room-only crowd for the gentle acoustic melodies of the Thornbills and the raucous garage rock of the witch-like Black Belles.

MIS President Roger Curtis said Saturday morning that nearly 10,000 tickets had been sold for MI Fest with hopes for a substantial walk-up due to the nice weather by the time headliners the Racontuers, Sheryl Crow and Ronnie Dunn came on. He estimated that about 350 vehicles used the track’s overnight camp site, where Al Hendrick, 29, of nearby Manitou Beach — who came with his wife and two children — said the scene was “pretty laid back … a nice night of camping, sit by the campire and drink beer.

Many of those attending MI Fest, in fact, were not aware of the week’s travail, when organizers eliminated a third planned stage along with nine acts. And by showtime, even those who were familiar with the issue accepted the snafu as part of first-year growing pains.

“Even going into this, as an artist, we knew it was ambitious,” said Jeff Daniels, who planned for his mid- afternoon set to be a final music performance before he dedicates himself to filming a new HBO series.

“I really like the idea of a big, Michigan music festival. I just hope things go well today and they’ll be able to do it again.”

Ryder said he was also undeterred by the issues. “My mission is to perform and make people happy, whether it’s one or 1,000,” he said. “The politics or whether it bombs or doesn’t isn’t my concern. My whole objective is to do the best show I can.”

Many of those at the festival said they were lured primarily by the Raconteurs — which was evident by the long lines throughout the day in front of the yellow mobile store from Nashville-based Third Man Records, owned by native Detroiter and Raconteurs member Jack White. A very popular item was the new single “Lech Mich Im Arsch,” which White recorded with the Detroit rap duo Insane Clown Posse and Third Man’s Jeff the Brotherhood.

Among the Raconteurs fans were Adriane Blaesing, who came from Munster, Ind., with her 9-year-old twins and 7-year-old son. “We’re really here for the Racontuers and Jack White,” she explained. “And it’s very affordable to do it this way, since I only had to pay for me and easier to watch them in a place like this.” Blaesing was also among those who had paid the full $79 for a ticket but was given a $20 refund when organizers reduced the price during the week.

Mark Arminski, the Detroit painter and poster designer who curated the artist’s area, was happy to see the MI Fest attendees coming through and buying things and said that the festival “has potential. It could turn out to be a nice event that continues. I’d like to see that.”

Dana Chessor, 43, and Dee Teachout, 57, of Tecumseh felt the same way. “It’s great to have something like this so close,” Chessor said, with Teachout adding that, “Usually to see good music we have to drive two hours” to Detroit. “Hopefully this will do well and it’ll happen every year.”

Carrie Sennett, 51, of Redford, meanwhile, felt MI Fest was well worth the drive. “So far it’s awesome,” she said on Saturday afternoon. And though she and friend Judy Ryan, 45, of Berkley “came for a lot of the bands” they found themselves spending a good deal of time — and money — in the artist area. “We came all the way here to … shop!” she said with a laugh.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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