Archive for the 'Creative culture' Category

The Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, MI.

The magical Sherwood Forest looms in the distance at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, MI

It is like an unbelievably fun surrealistic dream. The beautiful woods you find yourself in pulsate with a plethora of inspiring musical sounds. Genre warping electronica music, New Orleans funk, reggae, classic, southern, progressive, and jam based rock, soul-jazz inflected boogaloo, hip hop, it is all here thunderously reverberating through the cathedral like forest. As you explore this realm, new possibilities leap into existence. You could saddle up on a horse and ride into the sunset or board a shuttle to the massive water park. Perhaps a round of golf on the beautiful 240 acre golf course calls or you can take a dip in the nearby lake. You could just relax, watching hilariously playful people while you lounge in a heavenly hammock. At night the surroundings transform into a shimmering luminous vortex of light and sound. It is as if you had stepped into a dimension where everything was alive and resonating with the joy of its own existence. Thank goodness the price of admission included camping, because you don’t want to leave. You’re at the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan.

Hot on the heels of their incredible Rothbury Festival, jam band moguls Madison House Presents return to the beautiful Double J.J. Resort in Rothbury Michigan to bring you the Electric Forest music festival. The list of musical artists who have signed on for the June 30th to July 3rd event co-produced by L.A. based Insomniac is pretty jaw dropping. “We’re excited, the line up is amazing. It is the kind of event where I am excited not just to play but to hear everybody else and get to hang out and just see what the vibe is like” says tenor saxophonist Karl Denson whose band Tiny Universe is a featured act. He adds “Jam band festivals are some of the most interesting for me because they are so wide ranging, you get so many styles of music in one place and if you like music you will definitely get something you didn’t expect.” Other featured acts include Shpongle, Galactic, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, J.J. Grey and Mofro, REO Speed Wagon, and the String Cheese Incident.

Asked what his own notoriously fun packed band brings to the table Karl says “We try to hit hard and be big punchers. I come from a serious jazz background but also love dance music. I try to listen to everything and continue to know what is out there”. Denson’s eagerness to push the boundaries and incorporate new elements is indicative of the jam scene that will be in full bloom at Electric Forest. These days the scene even incorporates elements of electronica music, a development that is featured at Electric Forest. “They did a great job of mixing in the whole jamtronica thing that is going on right now” says Karl. “It’s a jam band contribution to the electronic scene, it has a little bit from what we have created over here but with DJ’s from this side of the table.”

If boundary pushing music, spectacular natural settings, mind blowing visual production, and positive vibes are your scene, you would be hard pressed to find a better summer getaway than the Electric Forest festival in Rothbury, Michigan.

Hip Happenings in Michiana

Niles Bluegrass Festival

In its 9th year at Niles’ beautiful Riverfront Park, this free bluegrass festival features 2 stages of bluegrass and Americana music and is held June 2nd through the 5th.  It specializes in non-traditional bluegrass that has elements of rock, country, and blues. Festival booker Tom Majerek says “the bluegrass genre of music has evolved in many directions and is broader than people think. One of the reasons we keep the festival free is we want people to experience that.” National, local, and amateur acts all share the stages, and people who attend can participate too. Confirmed performers this year include touring acts Kenny and Amanda Smith, Audie Blaylock and Redline, Special consensus, The Roys, as well as festival torch bearers like Lonesome Meadow and Goldmine Pickers. There is a workshop tent where people can meet the artists and get musical instruction. Arts and crafts vendors sell their wares on site as well. Oh and don’t forget the food. According to Majerek “there are plenty of food vendors with lots of options, a whole parking lot full of vendors. You can get elephant ears to a full meal.” Then there is the location itself, which features affordable camping for the event. “It is one of the most beautiful places to watch a concert, it’s open air with the St. Joseph River right by your side.” says Majerek.

On July 31st the Shady Grove festival in Berrien Springs will bring together a unique combo of locally grown food and live music. In its 12th year, it is held the last Sunday in July each year. The festival features roots music and traditionally oriented rock, jazz, Irish, old-time country, and bluegrass. Entrance to the event is free, and local farmers donate food that is sold there to pay for the event. Festival patrons can enjoy sweet corn picked the morning of the festival, organic beef burgers, and freshly picked local fruit. It is an all day event with music workshops and instrumental contests where players from far and wide compete for cash prizes. It is held in beautiful Grove Park above the dam on the St. Joseph River overlooking Lake Chapin. According to festival coordinator Jan Burda “It’s a unique free festival that is family oriented for young to old. There is always something going on.”

Goshen First Fridays

The whole town of Goshen and the surrounding areas come out to play on Goshen First Fridays. From 5-9PM in downtown Goshen restuarants, taverns, art galleries, musicians, artists, the Goshen Theater, various entertainers, and performers throw a free giant roving street party that has something for everyone. It really is a fun and unique experience. A great range of people and happenings all come together in the classic small town ambience of downtown Goshen to make First Fridays something special.

Zen and the Art of Guitar: Up and coming guitar ninjas discuss their craft

Marcus Robinson laying it down.

I spoke with several talented local guitarists about their passion. Each player interviewed has a unique and evolved approach to the instrument. The interviews shed a fascinating light on guitar artistry. Guitarists interviewed were Kyle Paulk of funkateers Soul Funktion, Adam McCray of jam rockers Fillmore’s Ladder, Neil Carmichael of prog pyros Escherbach, Marcus Robinson of the red hot neo fusion band Gun Metal Black, and Justin Ross of jazzy tunesmiths Half Pint Jones.

What does it mean to be a good guitarist?

Kyle: “I don’t want to see the guy who is school taught and can play every trick, I like the guys who go for it and rip it right out of their gut. I am not interested in scales or practicing patterns, I am interested in stuff with a raw human feel, where every time you hear someone you know its them. I work on my sound and try to sound like me”.

Neil: “A good guitar player is aware of space and time and the moods of the other players. Know where to put the notes to make them effective. Time stretches depending on what you play. Phrasing and tone are also critical…Try to convey emotion”.

Marcus: “Players need to be self-expressed. I’ll take a guy who knows one scale but somehow slips into the music and reveals himself. Chops are secondary”.

Justin: “Guitar players should learn not just from guitar players but also from trumpet players, sax players, and other instruments”.

What mistakes do you see inexperienced players make?

Adam: “Hurrying”.

Kyle: “A lot know the notes but they don’t have feel”.

Marcus: “Too many want to sound like somebody else. Eric Clapton became Eric Clapton after he stopped trying to be Robert Johnson”.

What is the most important thing you have learned as a guitar player?

Justin: “How much I have yet to figure out. Play within your abilities at the moment. You have to be flexible. You have to learn all the rules but ultimately you learn there are exceptions to them”.

Neil: “Don’t overplay. Some guitarists can play really fast but are not able to convey emotion”.

Kyle: “I gave up practicing tricks. I try to play stuff with the least amount of notes.

Adam: I used to not know how to tune myself before I played. Now I like to grab time to myself and meditate. I’ve outgrown a lot of the party aspects. I am more centered now. The party aspect comes in the music”.

Marcus: “Music is about life. You don’t have to have it all made pretty and wrapped perfect, but it has to be real. That’s the way I play and the way I try to live life”.

Is there anything you have learned not to do as a guitarist?

Kyle: “Don’t play too loud. Its offensive”.

Justin: “Don’t overplay, sometimes silence is just as important as the next note you’re gonna play. Lots of people, including pros, get caught up in trying to play faster but not necessarily in trying to make better music. What separates BB King from 1000’s of other guitarists is that he found his voice”.

Marcus: “You gotta work on your chops but once its time to perform you gotta leave that behind and be in the music”.

Adam: “I learned to not put my head in the turtle shell. Play loud and unapologetically with no fear. Even if you mess up you may gain some respect, it’s like throwing the first punch in a jail cell”.

Do you have a philosophy of the instrument?

Marcus: “Treat it like a lover”.

Justin: “If you think you have it figured out then you aren’t looking hard enough. Keep looking, stay hungry, and stay curious”.

What is your philosophy of music?

Neil: “I like switching keys and modes and chord voiceings, and taking all those ideas and placing them in time and space in ways that are interesting and unique”.

Marcus: “Music is inherent in the universe. The creation myth is God spoke, so music created the whole universe. As I play I am trying to find that primordial sound in me, and reenter that original creation space and find what is there inside me”.

Do you have an approach to playing with other people?

Justin: “Listen, it’s the most important thing. Don’t step on anyone’s toes”.

Marcus: “It requires a real ability to let people into your heart and sacred musical space and you do that through listening. I want to feel what they are feeling through the music, resonate with it, and then have a dialog about it”.

Adam: “What I want is a meaningful connection with the people I am playing music with. Try and “out-honest” your friends, and they will be honest with you”.

Kyle: “We play funk and it requires a lot of feel and tightness. Really I’m a part of the sum of the whole. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re too loud and playing over the top of the band it’s gonna suck”.

Neil: “We aim for a cohesive energy and sound. Its not a competition, you don’t want to be on top of the music but right inside of it”.

Is there any advice you have for beginning guitarists?

Marcus: “Play what you love and make up as much new stuff as you can”.

Justin: “Find the styles that move you, study the masters, and develop your own unique voice. Stick with it until you get over the learning curve. Don’t stress out, and take your time. Practice patterns until you don’t think about it anymore”.

Kyle: “Band experience is a must. Also don’t pigeonhole yourself into liking one thing. Don’t block out good music you havn’t heard because you think your thing is all that matters. The more you get into the more you realize there is so much more to get into. The more you learn the more you realize you need to learn”.

Neil: “Practice, practice, practice. Put down the guitar hero and pick up the guitar”.

Adam: “The more time you spend doing nothing with the guitar the more you may actually learn to use it. Everything you do should have a guitar with it”.

Three Oaks Michigan: The small town that dreams big

Ain't no party like a Three Oaks party...

The creative spirit is alive and well in the thriving community of Three Oaks, MI. You might be surprised to discover just how alive, if its been a while since you have been there. Since the mid 90’s, the village has seen the establishment of an art house cinema, a top-notch venue for music and stage performance, a strikingly eclectic independent radio station, several thriving art galleries, a summer music in the park series, various outdoor art festivals, a monthly art walk, an annual circus nouveau side show, a non profit arts funding organization, and some truly unique antique shops. You can also find a yoga studio, a poet laureate, a farmers market, a used bookstore, and several quality cafes. Not bad for a small village with a population less than 2000. So how did it all happen in such an unlikely place? The answer is people stepping up, pooling resources, contributing talents, and patiently collaborating to have a larger impact on their community.

“There are a lot of creative people that contribute to make it all happen,” says Jon Vickers of the Vickers Theater, a beautifully restored turn of the century film house. He adds, “It’s really about the whole community coming together and contributing. I look at this as opportunity. We all have a chance to help create opportunities for others but also to enjoy them for ourselves”.

“Everyone is pretty dedicated and pitches in to make fun things happen,” says Kim Pruitt. Pruitt is a prime example of a local resident who contributes to a variety of creative projects. She is an artist, helps run WRHC radio, programmed the current Music in the Park series, and sits on the board of directors of the Harbor Arts non profit arts organization. She adds, “Because of the community feel and the wide variety of talents that we have living here, we end up collaborating on a lot of different projects together. Everything happens very organically so you feel you have a part in creating it”.

The Three Oaks arts movement has played an important cultural role as the town has morphed into a dynamic mix of big city second homeowners, fun loving tourists, long-term residents, and an ongoing influx of new people. “There is such diversity here, we have both liberals and conservatives, and can’t be pegged as one thing,” says Pruitt. “Arts and Culture bring people together though and are languages that can reach all the different communities that make up Three Oaks”. She continues, “One great thing about the WRHC radio station for example, is that it has created community where there wasn’t any and people who wouldn’t know each other or come into contact now have this great medium for networking and building relationships. After being four years on the air people look to us as a resource to send press releases and find out information about local happenings.” Vickers ads, “the whole idea of the station was to create an alternative form of media to debate issues and stimulate discussion”.

A deep appreciation of the important cultural functions of the arts seems to be both a common thread linking Three Oak’s cultural creatives as well as an expanding ethos in the town itself. “Now with Harbor Arts, Music in the Park, WRHC, and the Acorn and VickersTheaters, a structure is here to encourage artists that this is a good place to be where they can try new things” says Vickers. He continues, “For the size of our town we probably have per capita more unique things happening in the arts than anywhere in the country. I feel strongly about that. I love the fact there are interesting things to do, that we have music in the air on summer nights, and being able to turn on the radio and hear things I would never be able to hear on commercial radio”. He summarizes the spirit of the Three Oaks arts movement by saying “I like that in a small town, it is so easy to participate and you have the opportunity to make a big difference”.

The best of Three Oaks:

Film: Cinema buffs will enjoy the foreign, independent, and off beat flavor of the beautiful Vickers Theater.

Theater and music:

The Acorn Theater offers music lovers and fans of stage performance a truly beautiful place to see a wide variety of shows. There is also an open mic on Tuesday evenings and video lounge on Thursdays.


Three Oaks Art Galleries include Gallery H, Blue, and Studio B. There are also art showings at The Vickers Theater and in the Wine Shop at the Acorn. Galleries and other businesses stay open late during the summer for Art Walks that happen on third Saturdays from 5PM to 9PM.

WRHC Radio: Boasting a roster of 45 DJ’s, countless original shows, and a volunteer army, WRHC is an astonishingly eclectic source of music, news, and information. Original shows run the gambit from comedy, classical, talk, rare groove, news, jazz, experimental, spoken word, rock, bluegrass, alternative, oldies, and more. Listeners outside broadcast range can stream WRHC online at

Harbor Arts: Three Oaks only 501(C)(3) arts funding organization, Harbor Arts has sponsored a wide variety of local arts festivals including Opera at the Acorn, Shakespeare in the Park, The Festival of Lights, The Sounds of Silents Film Festival which combined live music with silent film, Commit Art, and Music in the Park. It is also the parent organization responsible for creating WRHC.

Music in the Park: From June 13th to September 5th there is free music in Dewey Cannon Park in downtown Three Oaks on Saturday nights. Check the Harbor Arts web site for scheduled performers.

Antiquing: Antique enthusiasts will find lots to love in Three Oaks. Eclectic shops like Ipso Facto, Springdale, and Opulence Antiques are destinations unto themselves.

David Fink and Kim Clark, the creative visionaries behind Three Oaks’ Acorn Theater.



          Kim Clark and David Fink are men of big dreams and even bigger actions. As the heart, soul, and creative minds behind the Acorn Theater they have been a big part of Three Oaks’ burgeoning arts renaissance. In its 5 years of existence the Acorn has quickly established itself as one of the most unique and innovative performance venues in the region. The dynamic duo has used the venue to push the creative and cultural envelopes of the small town consistently. “All creativity requires some kind of risk,” says Clark, the theater’s artistic director and co-owner. The former head of writing for Second City goes on to say “We try to be a hothouse for creative and new works at the Acorn and we try to bring a big world to a small town.” His business partner and the theater’s producer, David Fink, chimes in “People don’t expect to find this kind of big city culture in the middle of a corn field.”

            Since opening in 2003, Three Oaks’ Acorn Theater has brought an incredible range of diverse performances to the Michiana region. “We try to vary what we do so people can come over and over and not get bored,” says Fink. He is not exaggerating either. To date the venue has hosted jazz, folk, blues, rock, and world music concerts, vaudeville style performance artists, cabaret acts, plays, art showings, opera, and participatory theme based dance parties. Additionally, the venue hosts acting and art classes, a comedy camp for kids, a Thursday night video lounge, and has a well stocked bar and in house wine shop. It is more than just these happenings at the Acorn that makes it so special. Fink and Clark put an incredible amount of thought, time, intention, and money into both the rehab of the building and the design and construction of the theater.

            “We wanted to create a sanctuary for the arts, a place where artists of all kinds would have a unique platform to express ideas to an appreciative audience,” says Clark. It was this intention that led them to install performance friendly quiet air conditioning and silent heating. The acoustic design was also given careful consideration. These and countless other details helped give the Acorn a unique ambience that several performers consider among the best in the country. “Many of our performers tell us this is their favorite place to play,” says Fink. “Now it is to the point where people like Jefferson Starship are contacting us to play here.” It is easy to see why. The Acorn Theater is unpretentious yet classy. It is spacious yet intimate. Few people would have had the creative vision to see how an old dilapidated featherbone factory could be transformed into such a warm and inviting space. Clark and Fink had that vision, as well as the patience, passion, and dedication to back it up. Now the Acorn has a carefully cultivated and inspiring ambience that has endeared it to both performers and audience alike.

            “The great thing is the relationship we have cultivated with our audience,” says Fink. “They really trust us and might come see things they would not normally see just because they know we book good stuff.” He adds “ We also get thank you gifts and postcards at the theater from people who regularly come here.” “I think this theater fills a big space for a lot of people” explains Clark. The heartfelt appreciation of the Acorn audience is just one of many things that makes running the theater so rewarding for the two owners. When asked the best part of running the Acorn, Clark says “getting to know so many smart, interesting, and fun people”. Indeed the pair seem quite happy with the love, energy, time, and capital they have so heavily invested into the Acorn. Fink concludes “We feel lucky. We have front row seats to the best show ever, and it never stops.”