The 11th Mittenfest kicks off at the end of the month at Bona Sera and we can assure you, without any doubt, that you are going to want to be there.
In part four of this ongoing series of features, Current explores the state of the local music scene, particularly surveying the opportunities available for bands eager to be heard and where audiences can hear them. Last month, we took you behind the stages to talk to folks who run venues such as The Blind Pig and The Ark. This month, we’ve asked Bona Sera to talk about its second consecutive year hosting this annual benefit festival raising funds for 826michigan’s ongoing nonprofit work in literacy and writing arts programming.
Since it started 11 years ago, Mittenfest has been hosted at a number of different venues. It became an annual holiday/New-Year’s-time scene set to a cozy-sweaters-with-whiskey vibe, where dozens of local musicians pack day’s-long lineups worth of performances to benefit 826michigan.
“Since our days as an underground supper club we have been involved in connecting with nonprofit organizations and fundraising with them,” said Bona Sera owner Annette Weathers. “We hold the importance of giving back to our community as one of our core principles.”
Since 2012, Bona Sera’s home has been at Michigan & Washington in Downtown Ypsilanti’s historic Kresge Building. Starting in 2009, Weathers was the co-cuisine-curator of an underground supper club of the same name, emphasizing diversity in their dishes, both culturally and flavorfully. “So, last year, when we were approached by 826 to host Mittenfest, we knew it was a great opportunity to work with a wonderful organization,” she said. 826michigan inspires school-aged students to write confidently and skillfully with the help of adult volunteers in their communities.
“We are very proud to be part of creativity in Ypsilanti,” said Riva Jewell-Vitale, a former Bona Sera supper club volunteer now managing the operation’s events and catering. “Although we don’t wish to be a bar, we enjoy using the underground event space for live music whenever we can. The space has hosted theater, weddings, parties, DJ events and live music.”
In its first two years, Mittenfest was hosted at the Corner Brewery in Ypsi and The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Its most formative years and lineups were hosted at the Elbow Room and Woodruff’s, two Ypsilanti venues that eventually closed. It nested at the Blind Pig for 2014 and now looks forward to its second go-round at Bona Sera. It seems that since Woodruff’s closing, more and more venues like Bona Sera, or Cultivate, or Crossroads, have been stepping up the live-music-hosting itinerary of their weekly schedules.
And that, says Mittenfest co-organizer Annie Palmer, is because “…nature abhors a vacuum…” The bright sides of Elbow Room and Woodruff’s closing is that “the community always finds a way to keep going—because it has to. The A2/Ypsi music scene has been, as long as I’ve been in it, supremely fortunate that we keep birthing out all these motivated and passionate creative organizers who can see the scene for what it is at whatever stage it happens to be in and come up with great ideas for how to nurture what we have going on here.”
Palmer is joining a quartet of co-organizers, including Dina Bankole, a local musician and vice president of Detroit-based nonprofit Seraphine Collective marking her third year assisting 826. Linda Ann Jordan is another local musician and board member for Seraphine, she’s returning to help out Mittenfest this year, as well as Brandan Pierce, 826michigan’s program director. “Our towns are special,” said Palmer, of Ypsi and A2, “and there’s always going to be a place here for art and artists, even if we sometimes have to make it for ourselves.”
“Ypsilanti has always been a creative place and I think (that) creativity will always find a place,” Jordan said. This year’s 3-day fest culminates on New Year’s Eve with a lineup Jordan encouragingly appraised as: “not to be missed…”
Thursday, December 29 through Saturday, December 31
7:30pm, doors | 8pm, music | $10 donation | Ages 21+
Bona Sera Underground | 200 W. Michigan Ave.
734-340-6335 | mittenfest.org