The kids are all righteous

Mar 22, 2000 at 12:00 am
True bastions of the do-it-yourself youth scene – unadulterated by the influence of promoters and booze culture – are getting pretty hard to find these days. The shutdown of Pontiac’s all-ages, vegan haven, the Vegetarian Grocer, and the not-so-recent closure of the Dixie/Green Room in Ypsilanti haven’t helped matters. There are also the very recent struggles of East Detroit’s Wired Frog and Westland’s Pharohs Golden Cup to keep their doors open. Add the impending closure of downtown Detroit’s IO coffeehouse, and it leaves precious few above-ground entertainment options to keep active, driving-age teens from loitering in front of the local convenience store or, heaven forbid, succumbing to the anesthesia of Nintendo et al. Never mind entertainment joints that are politically alive enough to inspire kids to activism. The latter void is one that’s, thankfully – but only partially – filled by the ambitious Michiganfest, now in its sixth year. The annual shindig is held every March in Wayne, and features more than 30 of the best local and national punk rock, emo, indie-pop and new-music bands and musicians (including Elliott, pictured, and Alkaline Trio, see related story) all presented over one weekend and under one roof. Better still, the DIY community shows up en masse to set up workshops and information booths. According to Joel Wick, one of the fest’s organizers (though the event is truly a collective effort), Michiganfest was founded in 1995 to "have a weekend get-together to celebrate DIY ideas and music and to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak."

Besides celebrating great independent rock music, this year’s Michiganfest, which promises to be the biggest yet, includes seminars all weekend informing teens with such titles as "World Bank and Related Topics," "Birth Control," "Feminist Popular Education through Media Criticism," "Setting Up a Safe and Legal Show Space," "Abortion Options," and "Sex Talk." Vegan food is served all weekend and, this year, the fest is also offering workshops on photography, filmmaking and screenprinting. Heady stuff when compared to the current mass media pop culture climate that, to judge by the constant barrage of prepackaged, condescending teen-pop products, deems its audience either too apathetic or too comfortable to get actively involved with their community. But it’s all part of the larger effort to make sure that kids know there are other options than pop culture pabulum.

Says Wick, "Punk rock has always been about more than music ... at least to us. We love music but there are other aspects involved in the DIY movement. Hopefully we can put new ideas out there and challenge people not to live mundane, mainstream lives ... and also raise money for grassroots places that can actually use it."

Indeed, one of the key elements to the Michiganfest over the course of its six years has been raising funds for such organizations as MAPP (Midwest AIDS Prevention Project), Western Shoshone Defense Project, Big Mountain Defense Fund, World Tree Peace Center (an activist center in Kalamazoo) and this year’s beneficiary, Council Against Domestic Assault (CADA), a Lansing women’s shelter which provides shelter support, counseling and crisis intervention for women experiencing domestic violence.

So, for the 700-900 people who come out for the event from all over the United States, Canada and even a few folks from Europe ("Definitely a melting pot of people, which is great," says Wick) the Michiganfest offers a starting point, an affirmation and a momentum-building experience for people looking for another way to shape their world. (That and 72 hours of great music with open-minded fellow DIY travelers).

Not bad for an event that was started, as Wick says humbly, by "a few Detroit kids." Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]