Blowed out good

Has it been 10 years already?

We all know the fable of the Little Festival That Could. It seemed so simple on paper, that first Blowout. They were simpler times, music scene-wise, at least. Times when you could call up your local blossoming rock star or on-the-bubble major-label aspirant and brashly ask them, "Well why wouldn't your popular jump blues band want to play for free in Hamtramck at a techno bar?!"

It wasn't that simple at all, of course. The first Blowout cemented the rock-scene-as-high-school working metaphor for me. Friends' bands wanted to play with their pals. Folks weren't exactly keen on mixing genres. And I suppose in hindsight that was natural. When you're getting paid in free beer, you'd best be drinking and rocking with friends. That first year, Matt Smith (Outrageous Cherry) also set the bar high for subsequent Blowout musicians by playing in three different bands. I spent an awful lot of time on the phone with him. As usual, Matt also threw a lot of "you know who you should really call is ..." suggestions.

The last real moment of clarity came at a McDonald's drive-thru as Metro Times promotions manager Brian Boyle and I were headed back from Pontiac with a van full of backline gear. As we received our Quarter Pounders and headed back into Detroit, it got a little Thelma & Louise there for a second. OK, that sounds totally dumb. But it did sink in as we were delivering the gear, checking on beer supplies, and stocking the venues with wristbands that this thing better damn well work, since at least six bar owners in one of the country's most drink-tastic cities were giving up two prime weekend nights. And if we weren't in over our head, we'd better learn to swim really, really fast.

Everything got blurry after that. But it plays out in my mind like a time-lapse sequence showing not, say, the progression of the seasons, but rather the progression of bags under my eyes and cigarette butts piling up curbside.

I witnessed the first of many "Bizarre Blowout Blizzards" rolling in, and I freaked out. But I was soon blown away by the number of people who came out in the snow and slop to rock. The time and location of Blowout is a blessing and a curse.

It helped the sense of general confusion that first year that we had a crap set of walkie-talkies. Those things connected us to our army of volunteers, who were often left wondering just what the fuck was going on. But that added to the fun! And there's still some confusion in my mind about whether Eminem actually showed up then, or if he was a roster no-show. I learned plenty— especially my liver's true capacity for Molson and Stroh's.

I didn't think any act could properly follow the Wildbunch (not yet the Electric Six), and yet the Hentchmen tugged on Detroiters' blue-collar, hard-rawkin' crotchstrings and closed out the final night at Paycheck's in fine form, Farfisa-ing the festival to a glorious end.

I also realized that it's probably unwise to carry bags stuffed with cash around Hamtramck at 3 a.m. If you're painfully naive and get away with it once, then no damage done. But if you're passed out and using one of those bags as a pillow, only to be awoken by a tongue bath from someone's overzealous dog, it's not the best way to end an event. And yet, that's how mine ended that first year.

I survived. So did the dog. God Save the Blowout.

Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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