Blog: Andrew Clock

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. - Betty Reese
Water Street Trail Project founder Andrew Clock, volunteer coordinator of the Michigan Roots Jamboree and barfly philanthropist, offers the pick-me-ups to prove that no one is ever a speck on the wall.

Post 4 - Michigan Roots Jamboree: Politics, a name change, and pride

Performing or promoting music on a local level is not nearly as cool as you may be led to believe. That's not to say it doesn't have it's rewards. You might get a pitcher of beer, or a burger. Sometimes you make enough money to almost cover what you spent on beer, food, gas, posters, hand bills, strings, batteries, time and effort.  Living the rock'n'roll lifestyle is rarely easy or free, despite all efforts to pretend otherwise.

Not that any of this has ever stopped anybody from making music.  Let's face it, to some of us there is nothing more rewarding than spending countless hours and money we don't have on producing and performing music. If you're in a band, hey, at least you get to play, and it's called playing for a reason. If you promote, you get the privilege of dealing with the club owner or manager,  who has a 50/50 chance of being an outrageous jerk, and dealing with the artists, who are, well, colorful and particular, as a general rule.  All without getting to play.  I know I make it sound glamorous, but seriously, putting on a really great show is a reward all it's own.  Even if it's you and five other people listening, dancing, appreciating what a good band can do, it can be totally worth it.

Even with all of this knowledge on how hard it can be to produce local music on a small scale, I was immediately drawn in to the idea of putting on a large scale music festival in Ypsilanti.  My friend Don Sicheneder had hatched a plan for a small bluegrass festival, and with the help of Erik Dotzauer and the Depot Town Community Development Corporation, it had grown into a full blown, two-day, two-stage, local music extravaganza featuring some of the best bands in the area.  It was to be a not-for-profit festival, with any proceeds going back to the DTCDC for investment into other projects around the city.  It was to be called The Ypsitucky Jamboree.

Then, the festival wound up being called the Jamboree, then the Michigan Roots Jamboree.  Along the way to the new name, there were city council hearings and human rights commission hearings.  There were accusations of racism.  There were things said that I still can not believe I heard from otherwise reasonable adults, let alone members of government.  The end result was not only a name change for the festival, but a not-so-flattering-for-Ypsi story that was picked up in the national media.  There was also Ypsilanti City Council's action to cancel a standing contract with the DTCDC for management and maintenance of Riverside and Frog Island Parks.  The cost of this action to city taxpayers has still not been disclosed to the public.  Evidence would point to a high number; the DTCDC had been chipping away at ten years worth of deferred maintenance, had helped to upgrade lighting, electrical, and structures in the park, even helped to provide free wireless internet in cooperation with Wireless Ypsi.  In the first maintenance season since the contract cancellation, the weeds have grown taller, flood damage has been poorly addressed, graffiti and trash have increased.  But we didn't use Ypsitucky, a word that is supposed to be the excuse for all of these actions.  At least a lot of the bands playing got good, funny, songs out of it.  

Sooner or later, we got back to work producing the festival.  Putting on a music festival is a complex job.  Our volunteer staff is over 200-strong.  Providing security, working with bands, cleaning up trash, selling tickets, you name it, there needs to be a volunteer for it.  While I wouldn't call it easy to line up and manage that many people, those who step up tend to love it.  It comes back to the whole idea that music is fun.  It's fun to listen to, to watch, to make, to create.  People who have never picked up an instrument in their life can be a part of it by volunteering. Your staff can make or break your festival, and ours made the Jamboree.  Like so many other things in Ypsilanti, we couldn't make it happen without the help of the community.

So far, our venture has been a success. Our first year, we very nearly broke even, the second, we made a very small profit.  That is well above the curve for young festivals.  In our second year, we added urban camping in Frog Island.  I don't know of any other city music festivals in the region, maybe the country, that can boast that.  We have incorporated painting, puppets, dancers, and fire performers.  Everything has been peaceful; there have been no fights and very few problems of any kind.  The only people thrown out for any reason have been gatecrashers.  Most importantly, we have brought scores of people into Ypsilanti and shown them a great time.  We've provided them with local music, local art, local food, and local beer, and been rewarded with huge smiles from all involved.  We've made our share of mistakes, but we've learned from them, too.  You can't make everyone happy, but you can take care of quite a few.

We are already starting to plan for the 2011 Michigan Roots Jamboree.  We plan to expand our music offerings as well as bring in more art and performance.  We hope to expand our cooperation with local clubs to have more music after the festival closes for the evening.  After the success of our trial run, camping should be back too.  Once again, so many people will pour countless hours of their free time into making our little festival  unforgettable for everybody who comes to visit us in Ypsilanti that weekend.  And when it comes to creating music, that's what really counts.