Last year, when we covered the first D Pollen music festival, we surveyed the sojourn of founder-slash-promoter-slash-comedian-slash-actor-slash-attorney (no joke) J. Kim Welch from the ghetto to the good life.
Reared in the impoverished Cass Corridor of the ’70s and ’80s, the son of a widowed Korean immigrant, Welch was the perfect example of a kid who rose above adversity. His interest in putting together a music festival to “bring people together” was admirable and, we did say to ourselves, a little ambitious.
For two days straight, the Hastings Street Ballroom teemed with enthusiastic rock ’n’ rollers and curious onlookers.
Hometowners performed along with out-of-towners, including NYC’s bad-ass stoner rock outfit Bad Wizard and Brooklynites the Bloody Hollies (not to be confused with Motor City’s former Bloody Hollys, now known as the Cyril Lords).
The crowds took in killer performances from folks like the terminally underrated Waxwings, old-timey hams the Salt Miners and a bevy of local stand-up funnymakers. Meanwhile, beer and sake flowed backstage; bellies became distended from a fit-for-a-king spread.
One catch was the whole thing lost money. It looked like plenty of tickets were sold, so something tells us that Welch’s generosity to performers and fans let the expenses side of the ledger get out of balance. Nonetheless, Welch faced an onslaught of phone calls inquiring, “When is next year’s show and where do we sign up?” And Welch was at it again.
After all, Welch says, he didn’t get into this for money. Don’t expect any banners touting the virtues of Pepsi-Cola, Easy Mac or Carling Beer. As Welch puts it, “It’s all about love.”
Or to be more exact, it’s about love and a “cross-pollination” of musical and theatrical genres and scenes. Welch has succeeded in booking an incredibly broad spectrum of entertainment, from heavy hitters to acts yet to be discovered. D Pollen welcomes them all.
Take the Waterford band Lee Marvin Computer Arm, for example. Front man Casey Weedon’s Iggy-like writhes and snarky stage presence had members of the downtown coterie whispering, “Who’s that?” Had it not been for D Pollen, many locals (this scribe included) would never have seen these guys.
It is that unlikely hero thing that makes events like D Pollen so important — and damn if it isn’t that ethos that seems to separate a city like Detroit from, well, everywhere.
Speaking of Detroit, Welch loves this town.
Originally, he hoped to relocate this year’s D Pollen festival to the casino on Belle Isle. “Apparently, there are antique chandeliers in the casino that could have been shattered by loud music,” Welch says. Like any true rock ’n’ roller, he opted not to sacrifice the thundering sounds of rock music for fancy ambience. The result? D Pollen is back at the Hastings Street Ballroom.
No matter, Welch loves the ramshackle appeal of Hastings Street anyway. “It is surrounded by smoke stacks and train tracks and the old red light district of Detroit,” he says. If you think about it, you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect venue. The ballroom is cavernous while the adjoining 5,000-square-foot Tangent Gallery is the perfect place to set up a stage. The addition of this year’s Buzz Dome, an outdoor tented stage, promises to take full advantage of warm late-May weather.
This year’s lineup speaks for itself with more than 80 acts. Standouts include Nash Kato’s Urge Overkill, the Come Ons, Whirlwind Heat, the Sights, the Demolition Dollrods, a performance of homegrown rock opera Manny and the Mirror (see Metro Times' review here), stand-up comedy from über-funnygirl Jen House, burlesque, performance art and much more.
The comedian in Welch crops up as he describes one of his most anticipated bookings: Cleveland’s Gil Mantera’s Dream Party. Through a series of giggles and gasps he describes the act as “all trampolines and Speedos.”
His laugh now contagious, Welch adds, “My goal is to get disbarred and become the merch guy for Bad Wizard.”
D Pollen festival is at the Hastings Street Ballroom (715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit) from Friday, May 21, to Sunday, May 23. (Festivities commence Friday at 5:30 p.m. with a happy hour replete with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.) Call 248-207-6000 for tickets or visit www.dpollen.com for further lowdown.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]