Monday, April 21, 2014

Splitting The Scene? Speaking Too Soon? More inclusiveness? Let's just "move the tradition forward"

Likely you've heard about the Blowout at this point.

I know most of this site's traffic are people living in Michigan. I know you've likely already read three (four?) other blogs based around the scene who have already uploaded the posters and the MP3 streams and the line ups ....
(You can get all that here)

This is the second year that the annual music festival will be an "expanded edition." In fact, going from being hosted exclusively in Hamtramck (with a kick-off party in Detroit) to being an event spread across three cities (including the northern neighboring suburb, Ferndale) seems to be the new norm for Blowout.

"Blowout was born and raised in Hamtramck," acknolwedges Chris Johnston, co-owner of the Woodward Avenue Brewers and co-coordinator of this year's Blowout, (year #17). Singer/songwriter Jeff Howitt (of local post-Beat/post-surf/post-psych outfit Duende), refers to it as "...a young adult," now. 

"Now ..." says Johnston, "with Blowout in its teenage years its 'parents' separated ...and one moved to Ferndale. Now it gets older it finds out it has ties to more and more places. I'm always disappointed to read one parent say something bad about the other, and now have other relatives take sides. This kid still needs support from everybody. I feel the same way about the music scene. I'm excited that Ferndale is making a stand as great live music town, but I don't think the goal is to do it at the expense of any other cities. I'd like to believe that the bar is being raised everywhere. I'm strongly in favor of a vital music scene in the Detroit area, and work hard to promote good shows and great bands in far more places than Ferndale."

I have fond memories of going to Blowout's just as many of you do. I think this is my 10th time attending, if not just the 9th, for certain. It was (usually) always three days, hopping from a dozen different bars in Hamtramck to catch as many 3- and 4-band line ups performing live, simultaneously. It was like our own CMJ-fest or SXSW-fest. (In fact, it started out as a launchpad-type event for the local bands of the late 90's to gear up for ambitious road trips of their own down to SXSW itself...but...)

The whole event flowed by like a movie montage - sometimes sequenced for perfect visceral sublimity and sometimes cut, staggered or disoriented with pauses, blips or blow-ups -all, nonetheless, giving the attendee a profound sense of nowness - bursting into one venue, and then another, just as the band that you wanted to see and hear was already midway through their set and essentially hitting their performance pique - beads of sweat showing, every instrument warmed up nicely, the vocals hitting their proper pitch - the nowness, the fun-ness of each band, their energy and overall electrified enthusiasm was often just popping at all those instances where you brushed, elbowed and impolitely-toe-stomped your way to the front of make-shift audience spaces in front of makeshift stages. 

At least, that's part of what I remember...

Some history from Mr. Howitt: "I remember during the first couple BLOWOUT’s I’d just go into any bar and see what was happening. There wasn’t a sense of who you had to “see” but who you could. I didn’t know who any of the bands were beyond The Hentchmen or Murder City Wrecks or trying to figure out who Mick Collins was playing with. My first gig was at The Hamtramck Pub, that I think had closed by the first BLOWOUT even, so I was hip to that enclave, but to see the streets flooded with so many people I had never seen really made you feel part of something that still is so surprising and unclassifiable as our the Detroit scene."

In fact, as I was going around interviewing various performers and event coordinators for another story published recently, some had a lot more on their mind, than others. Howitt painted a vivid picture of Blowout's primordial days...days some of the newer bands might not remember, if at all, or least have only heard about...(in instances such as these)...

Mr. Howitt continues:
"For the most part leading up to what became known as BLOWOUT it seemed you either went to The Gold Dollar or Magic Stick which wasn't really developed yet with a couple bowling lanes still there, a stage on the other side of the room and a bar that you almost immediately bellied up to when you got to the top of the stairs. I remember a rumor that Jack White was quitting all his other bands, The White Stripes and Two Star Tabernacle, to focus on The Go who had just signed with SUB-POP but at the show Willy Wilson announced them and said “This is not their last show”, and you know the rest. 

After all this, though, Howitt still believe The Blowout to be an effective barometer of what's happening in the contemporary scene, despite, as he puts it, how random it can be as far as style and presentation. 

Howitt says that Detroiters have always rebelled against something if it felt like a bait ‘n’ switch, acknowledging those who were disconcerted by proceeds rolling into the Detroit Music Awards, he recalls the uproar spawned by protest experiments like the Anti-BLOWOUT (or "Mid-by-Midwest" hosted, once, during the actual Blowout at the Majestic Complex. "Another time," Howitt said, "a former organizer of BLOWOUT started a blog and tried to run another competing festival the same weekend which got beat down as “splitting the scene”. That person learned the hard way that you can’t play people against one another. Especially Detroiters.

What's it all come down to, though? What's the takeaway?


"Some forget that BLOWOUT had become slightly stagnant in the post-Garage Boom-era (03-06-ish) and to some degree, somewhat of an insiders game, where it felt like you had to have the pedigree or blessing of those who had come before." 

Which is completely opposite of how it started, he concurs. 
"I think the expansion into two weekends spoke to that and attempted to settle that issue by being more inclusive, which I do think it accomplished. I think it is still solidly representative of how many people love as well as play music around here, and to continue to level the playing field so the newest bands can share stages with those who has stuck it out over the years is part of our living musical tradition." 

And so... The Blowout seems to be here, in Ferndale (and elsewhere) to stay...for now. People will always beat up on the 'burbs, Howitt says, but "...we should see all these neighborhoods and smaller cities as boroughs of the larger Myth of Detroit. It’s Spirit."

"... and then move the tradition forward." 

Further thoughts shared HERE via the Ferndale Friends Newspaper

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