Totally Awesome Fest kicks off Friday at noon (at Friends Closet on Perrin St.), commencing a 72-hour takeover of a substantial swath of Ypsilanti, packed with performances from many, many musicians spanning myriad genres, and all of it sprung from the pure passionate efforts of grassroots organizers and the desire from various venue operators to support local art and music.
The first TAF took off in 2005, started by local singer/songwriter/artist/pied-piper/provocateur Patrick Elkins. From its outset, Elkins aimed for an epic scale for his showcase of local culture, packing as many performances into one space (and one chunk of hours) as possible, while also including as many artists, local organizations and venues as possible. It was, and continues to be, as awesome as freaking possible.
Oh, and before we forget: it’s free.
That’s right, you can stroll over to the Dreamland Theater, or VG Kids, or to Prospect Park and encounter an uncannily enchanting ambiance flourishing with local color and swarming with quirky, cool, and understatedly rhapsodic characters of all kinds, while being inundated with live music and chill vibes, and there’s no cover charge. There’s also a basketball tournament and, quite likely, lots of pancakes. When I think of Totally Awesome Fest, I think of a hug. I think of making the local music scene that much more accessible to a specifically general capacity of demographics, i.e., anyone and everyone. I want you to come to this; Pat Elkins wants you to come to this… Amber Fellows (of Rebel Kind, and other notable local arts/music endeavors) is part of the hard-working team of volunteers helping out this year, and she, also, wants you to be there…
Amber Fellows: (Totally Awesome Fest) is my favorite holiday of the year! It’s situated right at the break of spring, so that all the wintertime feelings of quiet introspection can finally culminate and break out in full fire; it’s a very Midwestern feeling. I’m a believer of the inclusive, chaotic, and positive affirming qualities of the fest and I’ve personally benefitted so much over the years from (Totally Awesome Fest)’s existence. I’ve wanted to help see it continue and for new people to experience it. TAF is a community effort for sure, but there is quite a bit of behind-the-scenes labor even for a gnarled fest such as this one.
Fellows has attended every TAF since its inception, while also performing at a handful and helping out, last year, with sponsorship opportunities. So at this point, let’s first direct you to the FB page that lists the staggering line up. And next, let’s go back to TAF’s origins (in Ann Arbor).
Patrick Elkins: In ‘04/’05, I was living in a spot in Ann Arbor called the Totally Awesome House with Dustin Krcatovich, Penelope Richardson-Bristol and Jason Voss. And we had a regular weekly event called Tuesday Night Supper Club, where we would serve free vegetarian and vegan food and have local and touring bands play for donations; we also hosted a number of other events at the house. When we were told that we had to vacate the house so that it could be destroyed and the property redeveloped, we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to throw a free, all-ages three-day festival before we left.
The sense of caprice combined with easygoingness, that idea of defying the typical concert-going idea, as well as the opportunity to legitimately engage with perfect strangers, to actually meet new friends in a welcoming environment, are among the many characteristics that continue to assure TAF’s endearment to those who experience it.
Elkins: I think that people appreciate the fact that it is a free, all-ages event that’s organized by individuals in the community and not sponsored by organizations with corporate interests or other agendas. To be honest, the level of appreciation and excitement that people have for Totally Awesome Fest is what motivates me to continue to be involved; there have definitely been times during the past twelve years when I have strongly considered throwing in the towel, but the level of energy other people bring to the event is what has kept me going.
And, yes, basketball is a vibrant element in the makeup of TAF. As is both pancakes and karaoke. But how are TAF’s typically received by the community as a whole?
Elkins: Well, during the first year of the fest, we did play basketball every 12 hours. The 4am basketball game that happened that year is still one of my fondest TAF memories. But one year, the police did try to shut us down by issuing noise violation warnings to all of the venues a few days before the festival started. Three years later, a city councilperson invited us to hold an event on the roof of a strip club. A lot of other weird stuff happened before, during and after those three years.
Fellows: Last year the format changed to having round-the-clock performances for about 56 hours. It was successful to varying degrees: A young person named Danica became Danica Danger when she took the mic and improvised about the statue of liberty during Children of Pop’s sound check. A DJ that will not be named slept through their 11pm set time, and in their place a spontaneous cypher happened. I gave a ride to a drunk bedraggled guy walking in the rain to the next venue—his dinosaur head costume was flopping downward as he staggered in cheetah cutoffs. And, I remember making copies of the TAF schedule in the solace of Ypsi’s downtown library, just this nice, quiet moment before chaos. And these are just my experiences from last year.
So it got me wondering; how much of Totally Awesome Fest springs from the natural impulses of those involved, like Elkins, Fellows, and others like Benjamin Miller, or how much of it is determined by the collective character of Ypsi/Arbor, itself? Would Patrick Elkins still be doing something like this if he were in Brooklyn or Portland? Or does the city, itself, play a role in inspiring him?
Elkins: No matter where I’ve lived, I have always found people and spaces to collaborate with in regards to organizing events so I suspect that regardless of where I go, I will always be trying to put something together. But, this particular event has evolved a lot due in no small part to the influence of our local community and the numerous cultural influences in this area, so I suspect that it contains elements that you won’t find in any other festival on Earth. Coincidentally, my housemates and I are currently planning an event called Little Weasel Fest when we move out of the house we are in now (The Little Weasel House) at the end of June so I guess the answer to your question must be yes.
But as I told both Elkins and Fellows, I find myself appreciating, most of all that this three-day fest activates and energizes unconventional venues and DIY spaces. Also: free! So, it’s like by taking money out of the equation, it also takes the pressure off, in a way.
Fellows: I believe the form of an event—the decision to host at a bar or not—informs its energy, and certainly informs its content. The sordid capitalist relationship between bands/artists and bars is a never-ending anxiety of selling enough of x, y, or z (usually booze) for the bar to justify a performer’s existence. That wack power structure makes for less room for interesting stuff to happen. Taking the money aspect out of a festival like TAF allows for weirder things like first time performers, experimental plays, challenging sounds, daytime scheduling… and it is probably why some people feel more able to be themselves at fests like TAF. And, TAF definitely activates Ypsilanti on a wider community level, and you can feel that by the enthusiasm carried through year-by-year. TAF accepts donations as a way to pay for printing posters, and covering gas money for traveling performers.
The only thing left to wonder is what Elkins is looking forward to most, for year number 12:
Elkins: Speed dating, Pancakaroke, the expanded Fashion Show…, unannounced sets by bands playing under fake names…, secret after parties, the basketball tournament…, sleep.
As long as you’re here, you may as well feast your eyes on the glory that is: the TAF XII lineup…
@ FRIENDS CLOSET (310 PERRIN ST.)
12:00 p.m. Hairy & The Eyeballs
1:00 Jim Cherewick
2:00 Stef Chura
2:30 Philup Banks
3:00 Avery F
4:00 p.m. King Milo
@ VG KIDS (884 RAILROAD ST.)
5:00 p.m. Blessed Beast
7:00 Zombie Jesus & the Chocolate Sunshine Band
7:30 Annie Palmer
8:00 p.m. Meshes
@ DREAMLAND THEATER (26 N. WASHINGTON)
9:00 p.m. CJ Mind Control
9:30 Ministry of Boredom
10:15 Kelly Jean Caldwell
11:45 Dear Darkness
12:30 Louis Picasso
1:30 Andrew Bruce Mitchell III
@ CROSS GROVE (322 E. CROSS ST.)
11:00 a.m. TAKE HOME FASHION SHOW
11:00 a.m. Jo Pie Wyld
12:00 Sean Ruona
12:30 Re Steinam
1:00 Mercury Salad Sandwich
2:00 Dan Florida
2:30 Malcolm S.ex
3:00 J. Gardner
3:30 Derick DeLaRosa
4:00 Fangs ‘n’ Twang
4:30 Bob Voorheis
5:00 p.m. Human Skull
@ AM1700 (33 N. WASHINGTON ST.)
6:00 p.m. Disinformants
6:30 Crime Victims
7:30 p.m. Steve Jolley presents “DESIGNATED DRIVER”
@ DREAMLAND THEATER (26 N. WASHINGTON ST.)
7:45 p.m. Dreamland Puppet Troupe presents: “DRONE DOG’
10:00 Haze Saheed
10:45 Laserbeams of Boredom
11:30 Billey Madison
12:00 Sex Police
12:30 White Power Dies Today
1:00 a.m. Airport
1:30 Battery Acid
@ PROSPECT PARK (CROSS ST. & N. PROSPECT ST.)
8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
TAF 12 BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
@ HOUSE OF MOLE (310 MAPLE ST.)
Live painting by Kayj Michelle
Poetry & spoken word performances by Devin Leatherman, and TBA
11:00 a.m. TAKE HOME FASHION SHOW
11:30 a.m. PANCAKAROKE
12:00 Canadian Constitutional Crisis
12:30 Nathanael Romero
1:00 Aimee Adams
1:30 Britney Stoney
2:00 Dora Diaspora
3:30 Toto Recall
4:00 True Blue
4:30 Terrible Materials
5:30 Autumn Wetli
6:30 p.m. Real Ghosts
@ LAMPSHADE CAFE (206 W. MICHIGAN AVE.)
8:00 p.m. Platonic Boyfriends
8:45 Gruesome Twosome
9:30 Marisa Dluge
10:15 Renee Willoughby
11:00 Body Tingly & the Catatonic 4
11:45 Peanut Brutal