Smash bash

This year marks the seventh anniversary of the Summer Smash music festival, practically making it a staple of Detroit’s ever-shifting music scene. And yet, unless you are a local indie rock enthusiast, you’ve probably never heard of it. So, with the 2005 version happening this weekend in Corktown at the Lager House, that cozy den of sin, and with a lineup of 20 local and national acts ready to rock your world, it’s time to ask: Where’s the love, people?

While the monsters of garage rock have long held sway over the city, it wasn’t always so, and there are still of plenty of local musicians whose influences aren’t firmly immersed in the sludge of three-chord bliss. They are the offspring of Pavement, Sebadoh, Cub, Superchunk, Bikini Kill and a hundred other indie-punk parents, more proud of their record collections than their haircuts and unafraid to celebrate the music they love with geeky abandon.

Once they had a home in the now-lionized walls of Zoot’s Coffee shop, a ’90s enclave of indie pop, space rock and experimental noise. But since that brilliant flame was snuffed, local indie rock has never really found a new hearth. Kelli Miller is part of what’s referred to as “Team Summer Smash” and singer-guitarist for pop punk stalwarts the Trembling (who will anchor Friday night’s schedule). Here’s her take on the indie rock diaspora: “It’s the idea of a community but not an actual community; it’s people who have similar styles and interests but are so spread out geographically, it’s kind of hard to keep it together.”

Sometimes the festival itself has suffered from being too spread out. In 2002, the action sprawled among three different locations. Having learned their lessons, the promoters have kept the subsequent festivals more focused. And with this year’s action at the Lager House, the hope is that everyone from the diehards to the slightly curious will feel at home.

More than just a summer music festival, Summer Smash is also a fundraiser. Proceeds from this year’s festivities will benefit the Gift of Life, an organ- and tissue-donation organization, and C.O.T.S., which provides temporary shelter and assistance to the needy. Individual acts are welcome to sponsor any charity they like.

The bulk of the booking duties were handled by music journalist and Detroit ex-pat Stephen Cramer, a Summer Smash co-founder and longtime champion of all things indie. But make no mistake, this year’s roster reflects a sense of adventure. There will be appearances by a number of returning favorites, such as the Pop Project, Tiny Steps and New Granada, as well as first-timers Those Transatlantics, a delectably poppy new unit hailing from Mount Pleasant. Friday will feature a mostly out-of-town lineup with melodic pop from Racetrack (from Bellingham, Wash.) and dreamy post-rockers Picastro (from Toronto).

Much to the promoters’ chagrin, all performances will be 21 and over. “I think kids have a lot less stigma about music. They’re not looking for the coolest, hippest things. They just want to feel good,” Miller says.

Speaking of feeling good, DJ’s will be standing by each night to keep hearts pumping after the bands stop, culminating in a Saturday night dance party, which organizers explain should last until the wee small hours of “whenever.” In fact, nothing would make the planners of Summer Smash happier than if spontaneous fits of dancing erupted everywhere, as an antidote to the hands-in-pockets-lurking-by-the-bar approach favored by certain hipsters. Miller says, “I wanted to start a secret underground dance revolution where we would go dance at shows and see if people caught on to the fact that it’s supposed to be fun.”


Summer Smash 2005 is Thursday, Aug. 18-Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668. Visit for detailed lineup information.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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