By Maddy Baron*
ALLOUEZ TOWNSHIP -- Unfamiliar with Farm Block Fest? Two years ago local musician Graham Parsons started a two-night, three-day camping and music gathering on the farm where he grew up in Allouez Township, Mich., just outside Ahmeek in Keweenaw County. The fest features musicians and artists from all over Michigan, with a focus on providing a much-needed outlet for local talent. The gates open this Friday, July 30, and festivities continue into Sunday, Aug. 1.
Parsons found inspiration to create the festival after the death of his best friend and fellow musician, Dan Schmitt. Schmitt had taught Parsons a lot of what he knows musically.
"He was the first person I played music with, first person I formed a band with; he was the first person I recorded music with," Parsons said. "Dan was a prodigious musician. Talent and skill far beyond his years. Beyond music, he had not an enemy. He could hang with anyone, always bringing joy into a situation. He was able to have fun in any circumstance and at the drop of a hat. The energy he held was undeniable.
"When he passed I struggled with the idea of continuing to make music. I had never played without him, but I knew I needed to honor the time we shared and our friendship by seeing what we started through."
The first Farm Block Fest was an emotional experience for all in attendance, according to Parsons. Celebrating Dan’s life through music provided community members and friends from afar an opportunity for sharing their sense of loss, for grieving and shedding tears, and for healing.
Long-time family friend and fellow musician George Krainatz helps with organizing the event. Parsons and Schmitt had started Krainatz in music; if it wasn’t for them he would never have picked up a guitar. Never having had the chance to thank Schmitt for this influence, Krainatz said the Farm Block Fest is a great way to give back because it raises money for the Dan Schmitt Gift of Music Fund which provides music lessons and instruments for area youth who otherwise would have access to neither.
Krainatz invited everyone to come out for a beautiful weekend of fun, especially those with a love of music.
"Graham has done an outstanding job finding talent all over the state of Michigan," Krainatz said. "Artists that perform are class acts that will make you want to dance, and I don’t mean maybe."
Farm Block Fest also occurs with help from Keweenaw Krayons, a local non-profit arts agency. Farm Block Fest not only supports the Dan Schmitt Gift of Music Fund, it also functions as a fundraiser for the local arts community.
This year’s festival features live music and poetry, camping, art vendors and yoga, a three-on-three basketball tournament, and local organic and sustainable food provided by Bill Caputi and Ray Weglarz of Ray’s Polish Fire. New this year are more acts from southwestern Michigan, including the communities of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Attendees are welcome to explore the 40 acres of pristine wilderness that borders the farm. Visitors will also have the chance to interact with musicians from all over Michigan and local artists displaying their wares.
Farm Block Fest has been growing since it started in 2008. Last year almost 400 people attended. Every year Parsons and his family receive more support from the community, making it a little easier each time to host the festival.
"Ideally we want to keep doing it as long as we are able," Parsons said. "I would like the fest to have some more dimensions in the future -- more activities and vendors. I will always strive to bring more new and diverse music to the Keweenaw through this event."
Parsons added that the goal is to blend community and environment through music in perfect harmony.
Farm Block Fest 2010 kicks off at 5 p.m. this Friday, July 30, and continues until 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1, on site at the Parsons’ Farm, 2239 N. Farmers Block Rd, Allouez Township, Mich. Weekend passes, which include camping, cost $35, day passes cost $15 and parking costs $5. Carpooling is encouraged.
2010 Schedule and Lineup:
Friday, July 30:
5 p.m. -- Gates Open
6:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. -- The Tallest Building
7:15 p.m. - 8 p.m. -- The Chanteymen
8:15 p.m. - 9 p.m. -- Red Tail Ring
9:15 p.m. - 10 p.m. -- Nathan Kalish and the Wildfire
10:15 p.m. - 11 p.m. -- Benjamin Riley Band
11:15 p.m. - 12:45 a.m. -- Rootstand
Saturday, July 31:
9 a.m. -- Breakfast
10 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. -- Poetry and TBA
11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. -- Open-mic with George Butala
12:30 p.m. - 1:15 p.m. -- Corie Brown and Mark Lavengood
1:30 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. -- Katie Lee
2:30 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. -- The Turnips
3:30 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. -- Pitchy Kanto
4:30 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. -- The Derek Tuoriniemi Experiment
5:30 p.m. - 6:15 p.m. -- Fiona Dickinson
6:15 p.m. - 7:15 p.m. -- Dinner Break
7:15 p.m. - 8 p.m. -- Photographers
8:15 p.m. - 9 p.m. -- This is Deer Country
9:15 p.m. - 10 p.m. -- The Nerves
10:15 p.m. - 11 p.m. -- Matt Jones and the Reconstruction
11:15 p.m - 12:15 a.m. -- Raven Congress
12:30 p.m. - 2 a.m. -- Graham Parsons and the Go Rounds
Sunday, Aug. 1:
9 a.m. - 10 a.m. -- Breakfast, Stretching, Yoga, Re-hydrating, and Poetry
10 a.m. -- Three-on-three Basketball Tournament commences
10:45 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. -- Gitis Baggs
11:30 a.m. - Noon -- The Sound-Stable-Minds
12:15 - 12:45 p.m. -- Huffing Pink
1 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. -- The Brothers of Ina
* Editor's Note: Guest reporter Maddy Baron is a student in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Technological University.