Starting this weekend, from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1, the seventh annual MittenFest takes place at Woodruff's Bar in Ypsilanti. What was a fairly modest affair at its inception has grown into a mega festive extravaganza featuring heaps of new local talent.
Organizer Brandon Zwagerman says that the first MittenFest was Dec. 23, 2006, a one-day deal, at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. "These were all stripped-down, acoustic performances, including Mitten Effect (a one-off "supergroup” including Chris Bathgate), Misty Lyn, Matt Jones, I am a Bolt of Lightning, and Santa & Rudoph,” Zwagerman says. "I had moved from Ann Arbor to New York that summer. When I lived in Michigan I was a big fan of local music and also booked shows around town various places, so when I was coming home for the holidays I thought putting an event together would be a great way to see a lot of my favorite musicians and friends (some of whom are one and the same) in one place.”
Zwagerman says that the goal of the organizers is to create the best small music festival in Michigan and a great party for the holiday season, all while raising as much money for a great organization — 826michigan, a nonprofit creative writing program for students — as possible. "MittenFest VII has five days of music with 50 bands from across the state, from the U.P. to southeast Michigan; and traditional-style acoustic music to hip hop, and approximately half of the performers have never appeared at MittenFest before,” he says. "We seem to have more Detroit bands on the bill than ever.”
Sounds good to us. We spoke to a bunch of the bands on the bill to find out exactly what we can expect from MittenFest VII.
Have you played the festival before? If so, how did it go?
Misty Lyn: We've actually played MittenFest every year! It's been amazing to be a part of the change and growth of such a cool event. It started out as a small, acoustic, one-night thing and now — well, you can see it's changed a ton. Every year has been an absolute pleasure. We've always played for a packed house.
Frank Woodman (Ungrateful Daughter): This will be our first time playing MittenFest. Woodman went 0-for-3 on previous years' applications, so UGD is pretty hyped to be playing. My daughter and drummer live a few blocks from Woodruff's so I hope to talk them into some afterparties. We've attended the fest over the years, and the vibe is pretty festive. Always good crowds and the guy who runs the joint (Andy) is a sweetheart. Depot Town is picturesque Americana. It's the only venue you cross a bridge over a river in the snow to be greeted by a cozy fireplace and friendly, drinking hipsters. We are the very first band of the fest and plan on kicking it off with a generous amount of joy and exuberance. Salute!
Chris Butterfield (Pink Lightning): This will be our first MittenFest. We have great reverence for the cause. It's good to perform for a cause, as it is noted in our probation. It's also one of the finest curated festivals around, so we're truly honored to be a part of it.
Leah Diehl (Lightning Love): We've played for the last four years. It was one of the first shows we ever played. It's been awesome every single year. There's a really cool feeling you get when all these bands and people come together from all over the state to share their art and raise money for a great cause.
What makes MittenFest different than other festivals?
Jason Stollsteimer (The Hounds Below): It's the overall group effort. There are no "headliners” in my opinion. Personally, it's the main way I discover new local bands.
Steve McCauley (The Walking Beat): The fact that it's all for a good cause makes it different, but there is also a very different atmosphere. In past years I've always felt a great sense of community and camaraderie between the other musicians. Most egos are checked and the music comes first. That doesn't always happen.
Lyn: I think the length alone makes it different, but there are other things too. It really feels like a reunion of sorts. So many musicians and friends under one roof. A lot of folks are there every night. It's a huge community gathering. There is a lot of love put into this festival and you can feel it when you're there. And it's all for such a great cause: 826michigan is a wonderful organization and it's the foundation of and the reason for the fest. I also think it's great that there is only one stage. It keeps a really big festival feeling small and accessible.
Ryan Spencer (Jamaican Queens): From what I can tell, all the bands are from Michigan, I think. Oh, and the money goes to charity. I'm sure there are other fests like that, but none that I've played.
Scott Sanford (Pewter Cub): What's great about MittenFest is that it's a celebration of Michigan music as a whole and does not focus on musicians from a specific city or genre.
Maria Nuccilli (Deadbeat Beat): There's a good mix of bands from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and other places in Michigan that no one ever really thinks about. If you look at the lineup you'll see familiar faces from around town and MittenFest's past, but also a lot of different acts that usually aren't on every other bill.
Is that time between Christmas and New Year a good time for a festival?
Phantasmagoria (collectively): I think so. Last year, a bunch of our friends made the drive from Detroit to Ypsi to celebrate New Year's with us and it was a lot of fun.
McCauley: The timing is great. Anyone who has lived in Michigan their whole life has a lot of friends who've moved away. It's a great chance to reunite with some friends from my musical past who are back in town for the holidays. There's always a warm holiday glow at MittenFest.
Sheefy McFly: It's the perfect time for a festival! All the Michigan natives coming back home from college, everyone is getting a break from work, and during the holidays everyone is trying to party — they will need somewhere to rage at, MittenFest will be that place. And everyone is in more than a festive mood, it's like ... a revolution happening, man, we are living in the future and, shit, it's mind-blowing to me.
Lyn: I think it's a great time for a festival! It's a break from family events to go see great live music, support an awesome cause, drink and see some faces you haven't seen all year. Everyone is feeling festive! The decorations make the atmosphere warm and fuzzy. At least in my experience! And New Year's Eve is always amazing.
Bad Indians (collectively): The festival does have a very "festive” holiday vibe to it. It's a good way to send the old year off.
The Handgrenades (collectively): Between Christmas and New Year's is a great time for a festival, especially because people are home for the holidays. Everyone is feeling festive, there's a lot of love going around.
Jax Anderson (Flint Eastwood): I think post-Christmas into New Year's Day is a great time for a festival. The majority of people are home from their collegiate duties and everyone's sort of lazing around, waiting for life to start back up. It's like a weeklong version of Thanksgiving Day: The fun stuff happens then you're sort of happily waiting for it to be over so you nap a lot. I think having a festival during that time, especially one with such an amazing lineup of artists each night, is an intriguing opportunity to grab a group of people and break the boredom cycle that occurs every year with some awesome music at an equally as awesome venue.
Passalacqua (collectively): As good a time as any! Spirits tend to be pretty high, people aren't overly stressed, drinks are flowing freely ... everybody's loose and ready to party, which works out well for us. We like to see people shakin' their butts.
What can we expect from your set?
Stollsteimer: Since we are on stage when the ball drops we are planning something very '80s.
Phantasmagoria: You can expect some new songs and some new versions of old songs, lots of improvised transitions, and lots of dancing, hopefully. Our set is made to make you dance.
McCauley: We haven't played Ypsi since summer, so we should have a bunch of new songs for the folks. I'm super excited about the new material. Plus, we are a much better band now. Things are clicking much more these days. And finally, we have a new-old 1960s Farfisa organ that our drummer Danny fixed up. That thing sounds awesome.
McFly: Expect a life-changing performance. Women will have to change their panties and men will have to refrain their girlfriends from them giving away their goodies to me. I am focusing on blowing minds that day when I touch the stage.
Spencer: We're playing on New Year's Day, so I'm pretty sure everyone's feeling strung-out or hungover.
Butterfield: I really don't know what to expect — wouldn't show ya my cards anyway. That's for next year. I can imagine Ypsilanti's keymaster, Anthony Gentile, will want to hug. We like that guy.
Anderson: You can expect the most adrenaline-inducing, fist-pounding, inviting dance party you've ever experienced on New Year's Eve (that might be an exaggeration, but your head may or may not explode a little).
Nuccilli: Since our guitar player Josh moved to Nashville last winter, we've added Neil Laperriere on bass. Before joining Deadbeat Beat he had played in metal and noise-drone projects; it's nice to play music with someone coming from a different background than yourself. It forces you to grow creatively. Bands evolve the more they play together, so I guess you can expect that! Also, we're planning a secret surprise with one of the other bands playing that night. Ssshhh.
Passalacqua: 70 percent rapping; 20 percent masks; 9 percent confetti; 1 percent slow-motion high-fiving.
MittenFest VII takes place Dec. 28-Jan. 1
at Woodruff's Bar; 36 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti;
Brett Callwood writes City Slang
for Metro Times. Send comments to