Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rothbury should embrace Michigan music scene

By Dustin Edward

Now that the first Rothbury Festival is in the books, it serves as a case-in-point of how to give a big boost to a local economy and save the farm (or ranch, in this instance). Bring in the biggest stages with the best gear and put on the biggest name artists. That'll bring out the people, and everything else follows.

That's what any festival is about, making a city of the people, and creating mass coherence through shared experience. In this case, Rothbury City was built by some of the nation's finest — young, old and corporate alike —people from across the land doing what they do best. I think everybody left honored to have been a part of it.

It took a lot of organizing to get this fest started, and I appreciate being able to see a show as good as any in the nation, right in my backyard.

As great as it was, Rothbury hardly felt like a Michigan festival. The "vibe" that goes with Northern Michigan festivals is some of the best in the land. You'll find voices that speak to your heart. You'll find a town of people who recognize the importance of sharing, sustainability, community building, and music.

First, there weren't many Michigan artists onstage and in the lineup, only two that I counted. This is a state that can support a three-day festival with strictly Michigan artists (check out Hoxeyville). It was a shame that Rothbury missed the chance to include more of the local culture.

I understand that the festival was designed to draw attendees from across the region. A lot of the locals just couldn't afford the high ticket price, or if they did, it meant that they were going to have to miss out on other Michigan fests.

That's the hard line of sustainability that we're dealing with as a planet. It's hard to throw a big festival while maintaining truly sustainable practices, including investing profits back into the community. Sustainability is not just a matter of recycling waste from a festival. It includes the full life-cycle of everything that goes into it—and out of it.

Growing a festival organically takes time. To get Rothbury off the ground and on the map in its first year, the organizers needed to bring in most of the infrastructure from outside, and to transplant the festival in our local soil. Hopefully this transplant will be harmonious and healing to its surrounding environment, and not an invasive species getting a hold over this region.

It is up to us now to do our part to help it grow in the right way. All of the reports I've heard give me hope that the festival promoters are going to work more with Michigan's local culture to make this a Michigan summer music festival fixture, starting off the season with a bang.

Then we Michiganders can head off to Blissfest, Hoxeyville, Dunegrass and Wheatland, to name a few — festivals with years of history and a roots connection with the local scene.

The peninsulated region of Michigan might as well be an island, so every action comes back around. If people are going to come here from afar, that is great. Let's introduce them to peninsula vibe and give them a taste of our culture, whether it's our super beer, our local businesses or our amazing musicians.

And as we enjoy the smaller budget local events, we can use that perspective to understand how we can best integrate Rothbury '09 into the Northern Michigan festival community — there's room for everybody to be a part. Whether that happens by creating a local stage (a little Michigan festival within a national festival) or by having smaller acts in between bigger acts, we can make it even better by building it with the local community.

Next year at Rothbury, we can be patronizing a world-class Michigan brewery like Short's, Bell's or Founder's while listening to some world-class singer/songwriters from right here in our backyard. All the people that travel long distance to see the big acts will take that peninsula vibe with them back to their own lands and spread the word about the culture brewing right here in Michigan.

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