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Blowout festival adds second weekend, new locale

For Journal Register Newspapers

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For its 16th year, the Metro Times Blowout is getting bigger -- and, its organizers anticipate, better.

A number of major changes have been made to the local music festival this year that are designed to make a more significant impact around the metro area -- and maybe even lead to a more ambitious event in the not too distant future.

For starters, this year's Blowout has moved from its usual early March position to late April and early May. "I think after a few times of four degrees and sideways snow, we thought, 'Why don't we do this in the spring?' " explains Metro Times publisher Chris Sexson. "It seemed like a real easy, logical move to make."

Even more significant is the addition of three more days to the Blowout schedule, bringing in a third municipality -- Ferndale from May 2-4 -- to join the usual opening night party at Detroit's Majestic complex (April 25) and two nights of music in Hamtramck (April 26-27). That move has not been without controversy, however. Some fear that bringing Ferndale into the mix signals an eventual move away from Hamtramck, but Sexson says that's not the case and is only about adding to a good thing rather than replacing something that already works.

"It's a touchy subject," Sexson acknowledges. "Hamtramck has a certain character and personality that is awesome and just perfect for rock 'n' roll music. But I've found, even among some of the younger music and creative people, that some people don't want to go down there, the same as some people might not want to go into downtown Detroit. It's just outside of their comfort zone."

Ferndale -- which also hosts the annual DIY Street Fair and Metro Times' Pig & Whiskey event -- presented the best option for a second Blowout location. "It's great walking community and a very creative community we felt would maybe open (Blowout) to people who might not otherwise come" to Hamtramck or the Majestic, Sexson says. Blowout has attracted about 20,000 people over its four nights for the past few years, he adds, but with the changes this year's pre-sales are already head of the festival's 2012 pace.


Chris Johnston was certainly up for the challenge of growing Blowout. A Birmingham Seaholm graduate and former musician (the Hannibals and 19 Wheels) who owns Woodward Avenue Brewers, manages several local bands (including the Hard Lessons, Passalacqua., Child Bite) and produces DIY and Pig & Whiskey, Johnston was tapped by Metro Times to book this year's Blowout, which shoehorns 240-odd acts into 10 Ferndale venues -- including the Ferndale Public Library -- and 11 in Hamtramck.

"I have a pretty good knowledge of the history of blowout, having lived around here and been in bands and watched it," says Johnston, who resides in Ferndale with his wife and two daughters. "I definitely had respect for how it's started and where it's come. I really like the challenge of making it a two-weekend event and having a second location and all the other things that are different this year."

Johnston says that he, too, was sensitive to any insecurities about Hamtramck's role in this year's and future Blowouts. He was careful in scheduling "to make sure every night in Hamtramck was just as strong as it can possibly be. People said, 'You're gonna put the best bands in Ferndale,' but I had the reaction to do just the opposite of that."

And, Johnston adds, "There's plenty of great bands that can play. There's no shortage of bands. I think having a second location only adds to the event and helps make it better for both places."

Johnston has made a few other changes to Blowout procedures. The opening night show in Detroit will have more bands -- 21 on three stages, including heavy hitters such as Amy Gore and Her Valentines, the Sights, the HandGrenades and the Hounds Below -- playing shorter sets to create "more of a night where people can get a preview of what's going to go on throughout (Blowout). It'll be a friendlier, more supportive environment, I think, and really good way, if you're a fan, to get a taste of what's going on in Detroit."

Johnston also tapped some artists to curate specific shows during Blowout. Danny Dirtbag of Meatmen, for instance, put together the April 26 lineup at Hamtramck's Polish Alliance Hall with his band, Easy Action, Child Bite, Nice Hooves and Golden Torso, while the rap group Cold Men Young oversaw a hip-hop bill the same night at New Dodge Lounge that will also feature DJ Nothing Elegant, Clear Soul Forces, Detroit Cydi, Doc Waffles and Doc The Artist.

Over in Ferndale, singer-songwriter Audra Kubat is presenting a May 3 show at Ferndale's Sakana Sushi Lounge, with Amy Gore, Alison Lewis, Emily Rose and Jessica Wildman. And Jeecy and The Jungle's May 4 set at the Rust Belt Market will feature a "50 Years of Detroit Music in 15 Minutes" medley featuring key moments from 18 historic Motor City songs.

Johnston adds that he's also enjoyed continuing the Hamtramck tradition of creating new music venues in Ferndale specifically for Blowout, including the library, Rust Belt and the upstairs banquet room at Como's. "When I went to Como's and told them what we were doing, they had no idea what Blowout was," Johnston recalls. "They thought I was there for a wedding rental.

"That's one of the things I love about Blowout. It just turns everything on its side and makes you look at everything differently."


Metro Times' Sexson, in fact, hopes the 2013 Blowout is merely a harbinger of more changes to come. "We want to grow Blowout into a regional- or national-represented music festival," he explains, invoking the names of major music gatherings such as South By Southwest in Austin, North By Northeast in Toronto and the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

The first step, however, will be making more of the setup established for this year and "sprinkle things in between the two (weekends) and have a week-long event," possibly involving other municipalities in the mix. He's also confident that Blowout's new dates give it a spot on the calendar that will be more conducive to courting national attention, which should also help with future expansion.

"It has a life of its own," Sexson says. "We definitely celebrate music in a way that hasn't been done before and is different from anything else. We want to keep the Detroit music scene growing and vibrant and keep a light shining on it and just elevate the stage for those bands to be on. We're definitely going to build upon some of the big changes we made this year and in years to come.

"It's a very exciting time for Blowout, I think."

The 16th Annual Metro Times Blowout takes place April 25 at Detroit's Majestic Theatre complex, April 26-27 in Hamtramck and May 2-4 in Ferndale. Tickets are $20 per weekend in advance, $35 for the entire festival. Prices will be higher at the door. Visit www.blowout.metrotimes.com for the schedule and other details.

Web Site: www.blowout.metrotimes.com

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