Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Save Muskegon Summer Celebration

Today the Muskegon Chronicle ran an article on planned changes to Summer Celebration, “Summer Cel officials to add air show, headliner to 11-day festival.” I’m going to preface this blog post by saying that I've learned to hate Muskegon Summer Celebration, so here’s an extremely fast-paced history:

I love Muskegon, and have had great times at Summer Celebration. However, Summer Celebration has suffered in recent years, and frankly, has been an embarrassment. Seven years ago I wrote a letter to the editor in the Muskegon Chronicle. In the letter I outlined the problems with Summer Celebration and some possible solutions. Among the solutions I suggested were better acts, fewer days, and an outdoor atmosphere similar to what ultimately became the Rothbury Festival.

After the piece ran in the Chronicle, one of the event organizers called me; we had a friendly debate about whether my solutions were realistic. He claimed that Muskegon didn’t have the money to bring in big-ticket acts, and that Muskegon preferred to see washed-up 80’s acts anyway. Turns out Summer Celebration is now willing to concede they need a good headliner and they need to cease catering to - as I believe I described them in my letter to the editor - “Reeths-Puffer High School class of 1985.”

Moving forward now:

Summer Celebration has a ton of unrealized potential. Yes, there’s competition from Rothbury now, but Summer Celebration is too late to the game to worry about our neighbors to the north. Time to move on. Here’s how to fix Summer Celebration, and just maybe, make Muskegon a better place to live.

Shorten the festival: 11-days of anything gets stale. The concert series should be six days, period. Sorry about your lost revenue from 11 days of beer sales – we’ll make that up later in my plan. Keep up.

Six days of better acts. I’m not talking about out-of-reach names. Muskegon doesn’t need – nor can we afford or host – Dave Matthews, Bob Seger, Radiohead, etc. What Muskegon needs is quality, mid-tier acts with a loyal following, the kind of acts that play St. Andrews, the Intersection, Royal Oak Music Theater. I’m sure there are a lot of possibilities, but I’ll name a few of my favorites as examples: Cold War Kids, the Black Keys, G. Love & Special Sauce, Hot Hot Heat, Josh Ritter, Kings of Leon (nice work suggesting them as a possibility, by the way), Old Crow Medicine Show, Pete Yorn, Vampire Weekend, and on and on.

These acts work for five reasons:

  1. They’re more affordable than “huge” names.
  2. They fit into the venue.
  3. Their loyal followers will make the trip from far away lands and spend their tourist dollars in Muskegon (this is most important, so keep it in mind).
  4. Instead of charging $10, Summer Celebration can charge $40 to see these names.
  5. Muskegonites will still show up to drink beer, and just might find some new, exciting bands.

If tourists from Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit, Chicago-land, and Ohio come to Muskegon to see their favorite band, not only will they spend their tourist dollars in Muskegon, but they’re sure to see the beauty and potential of the area, and are likely to return for a second trip, or even a business venture. Muskegon already has parties in the park and a lot of other festivals for locals, so forget about Muskegonites for a minute and consider Summer Celebration as a way to sell the city to outsiders. Eventually the music scene in Muskegon will prosper and there will be ample opportunity for locals to get their fill of music and Miller Lite.

Two last side notes:

  1. The stage is on the exact wrong side of the grounds. Artists should have their back to Muskegon Lake so concertgoers have a beautiful backdrop during the show. This will inherently create more space, and more ticket revenue.
  2. No more lawn chairs. If you want quality acts to return they need to feel energy from the crowd. 60-year-olds in lawn chairs bitching at kids for dancing during concerts has to be the most disheartening thing an artist can see.

I admit I’m glazing over a lot of the issues here and that there’s plenty of detailed bookkeeping and planning that goes into such a large-scale event. However, I’ll say this – I proposed many of the changes seven years ago that Summer Celebration has decided too late to adopt. If Summer Celebration does nothing more than they’ve proposed - Kid Rock and some airplanes - they’re doomed to fail again. It’s time to make serious changes to this summer series – blow it up and start over. There is a precedent… think Muskegon Mall.