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Sponge frontman calls controversial Wisconsin festival a "positive experience"

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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A controversial music festival in Wisconsin this week was a "positive experience" for Detroit rock band Sponge.

The group -- best known for its international hits "Plowed" and "Molly (Sixteen Candles Down the Drain)" -- played Thursday, July 16, during the first day of the 3 Day Mini Fest in Ringle, Wisc. The event, the first U.S. music festival to feature a gathering of national touring acts since the Covid-19 pandemic hit inmid-March, was initially billed as the Herd Immunity Festival but changed its name after negative feedback.

Among the 15 acts on the bill were Static-X, Dope and Adelita's Way, while Nonpoint and another Detroit rock band, Kaleido, dropped out prior to the festival.

Sponge frontman Vin Domborski acknowledged afterwards that he had some apprehensions about performing at the festival. "They got some pretty bad press," Dombroski said after the band returned to Detroit early Friday, July 17, but I felt like you had to give it a chance -- maybe there's something that will shed some light on how to do these things. There's nothing up there. The area's a cornfield.

"If we were gonna do anything like this, it felt like the safest bet I'd seen so far. I went with an open mind -- and a little apprehension."

Dombroski said that while festival organizers' details about anti-virus precautions "were a little vague," he found that the audience -- which he estimated at between 750-1,000 people for Sponge's set -- distanced itself though did not wear masks.

"It seems like social distancing has gotten to be the norm," Dombroski said. "If it was a family, they stood together, but people were in rows and it seems like people are getting sort of programmed -- 'OK, I'm gonna stand six feet away from somebody else.' I was surprised to see that being so natural to folks. There was no mosh pit or trying to get up close to the band.

"I don't know what's going go on the other days, but from what I saw yesterday (people) were doing a good job. I was a little surprised, but my experience was a positive one, as risky as it sounded."

3 Day Mini Fest organizers said that they were capping capacity at 2,000 for a space that could hold 10,000 "so that anyone has the choice and ability to social distance." Wisconsin is among the states whose Covid-19 cases are rising.

Sponge had a busy summer of shows planned before the pandemic shutdowns began to take effect. The group has other shows still on its schedule for August, in Pennsylvania and back in Wisconsin and at the Machine Show in Flint on Sept. 18, but it's not yet known if those will proceed.

Meanwhile Dombroski has been hosting regular Beer Sessions performances and guitarist Andy Patalan plays live Make It Up As We Go shows, both on Facebook.

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