By Kevin Alan Lamb
Only you can map the measurement for what you perceive as success in your life. If you love something I recommend you harness the passion to put in the energy and effort it takes to hold onto it, and keep it present in your day-to-day life. For the third consecutive year, I’ve had the pleasure to meet up with MO POP producers Dan McGowan and Jason Rogalewski in the days leading up to what has become a staple in the Michigan music calendar. Each year, my faith in music and humans is given a dose of organic prozak by their sense of humor, attention to detail, and genuine care for the experience they continue to evolve and provide for folks like me, who prefer to take their medicine in the form of music.
If you are anything like me you are most excited to see Bon Iver close out Saturday night, but do you know why a man named Justin Vernon performs as Bon Iver? What it means? Or the set of circumstances which lead to his production of his critically acclaimed debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago? Whilst living in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he grew frustrated with his songwriting which suffered from spending too much time working at a sandwich shop, Vernon contracted pneumonia, then mono, which developed into a liver infection that condemned him to a bed for three months. Then 25, depression was fueled by indifference, and he knew it was time for a change. He broke up with his then-girlfriend, packed his recording equipment into the trunk of his car, and drove 18 hours through the night to his home, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, hoping to be alone.
He landed at his father’s hunting cabin, where he and his father spend weekends at the 80-acre property when he was growing up. He hunted his food, killed two deer, and was even greeted by a wild bear who entered his cabin one night, lured by his stew. Vernon viewed the excursion as “an opportunity to escape the trap of society, to not pay bills, to play music and live really cheaply.”
Three weeks into his eventual three-month journey, he was tired of being depressed and self-indulgent in the form of sitting on the couch, drinking beer, and watching television. It was time to face the painful melodies in his head and heart, and make music. By February, Vernon walked out of the wild with nine songs, and an album that he later perceived as a victory for his mental health. The album’s title, For Emma, Forever Ago comes from the middle name of his ex-girlfriend, and was his way of bringing a close to his own history.
We all have the ability to find a Silver Lining and turn even the most intimate of pains, into a positive experience. Music is a catalyst for catharsis, as is the community it creates. Be mindful of the wonderful company you keep this weekend at MO POP 2018, and try to remember that each and everyone of us is on a journey driven by two certainties: struggle, and love.
KAL: MO POP 2018, looks like we’re expecting record attendance, close to 35,000, how we feeling today gentlemen?
Dan: Really good, we’re better prepared, better organized than we’ve ever been, and we’ve always been pretty organized. So far everything is moving in the right direction.
Jason: Last year was some of our key staff members first year, so it’s nice to have them back with a year under their belt. It seems to be rolling really smooth so far, and yeah, sales like you said, best year yet as far as I know.
Dan: Yeah, I think across the board it’s looking like this year will be the best in a whole bunch of ways. Not only sales, but all the new-fun things we’ve added, and tweaked some of the old things.
KAL: Speaking of new, fun things!
Dan: We’re gonna have pinball machines in the arcade! [laughing]
KAL: Did you hand-select them?
Dan: I didn’t, but I’m a big fan of The Simpsons video game and The Simpsons pinball machine so I’m really hoping that one makes it in. Anything with The Simpsons on it I’m a fan of.
KAL: Have you ever been to The Home Pub? It’s up by Rifle River, halfway between here and Traverse City. I stopped in there on the way home from Beaver Island, outside they made a stage out of an old pontoon boat they call the Tune Toon, and inside there’s a Simpson’s mural made of chalk, it’s pretty badass.
Dan: I haven’t been there but you’ll have to text me their address and I’ll check it out next month [laughing].
KAL: I saw that you guys, among the partners this year, have teamed up with the Detroit Lions, can you tell me how you’re working together?
Dan: Yeah, they have a really fun activation where they are giving ice cream away, along with a season schedule, it’s a promotional thing. We’re excited to have them! Those kind of local partnerships, especially with a name like the Lions, it’s just fun, everybody likes going to a football game, and everyone likes free ice cream.
KAL: How many wins do you see the Lions having?
Dan: I’m not going to make any bold predictions this year, but what I can tell you is that the ice cream comes in either a cone or a cup, and that the sprinkles they put on it are blue and grey. And I’ll let Jason go into detail about the Lions.
Jason: I’ll be disappointed at the end of the season [laughing].
Dan: Set your hopes low, then any number of wins are positive, right?
Jason: Yeah. We also got Haute to Death, a new little dance area with John and Ash from Haute to Death who have been throwing parties in the city for over a decade now. Places like Temple Bar, Marble Bar, El Club, stuff like that. We’re excited to have them out, over on the west side of the site, the opposite end as the stages. It’s a new area for people to go hangout, chill, hear some great music. We wanted to add something new but we didn’t want to add an entire extra stage of music, we sort of like just the two stages, and no overlapping sets, so this felt like a good fit to give people something else to check out.
Dan: It’s over by The Shipyard, and we’ve enhanced that this year as well. We have the standbys like Slow’s Bar B Q, and this year we’ve added Voyager, we’re pretty excited about that, they just made Food & Wine magazine’s Restaurant of the Year list.
KAL: Have you been to Voyager?
Dan: No, but their other restaurant Lovers Only, I have been to, and it’s pretty tasty. We also have Fist of Curry in The Shipyard, Imperial is bringing out a big tent of their own, by the north side of the site, with their food truck and a pretty big footprint, it’s gonna be exciting. They’re getting ready for robust taco sales, which sounds awesome. Robust tacos sales.
KAL: Do you have a favorite taco joint in Detroit? In the past you have mentioned that your favorite burger in Detroit is at Checker Bar.
Dan: Before this interview, I was trying to figure out how I was gonna work it in, the rice and beans, now three years in a row I have mentioned it where at…
KAL: Armando’s! Mexicantown, Jessica Hernandez’s fam.
Dan: Yes, Armando’s! You can get refried beans, or black beans, with white rice. It’s a little bit unusual and I prefer that, black beans white rice. Mission accomplished! Three years in a row.
Dan: Yeah I’m excited for Imperial. I’m a big fan of their tacos and hot dogs.
KAL: What advice do you have for Michigan artists who want to play MO POP in the future?
Dan: I would just say, playing a lot of gigs, and doing their thing. We pay attention to what’s going on out there. We don’t have a ton of slots for Michigan artists but we’re always kind of watching.
Jason: Yeah I think we usually do four Michigan artists a year, two each day. I go through the submissions we receive, so you can submit that way, and there’s about a dozen people I reach out to just like, “Hey I’m starting on MO POP are there any bands you’re diggin’, that you’re paying attention to?”
They’re people who I trust their opinion, and they know what the festival is and what I like, so I go through what they send over as well and usually end up with 20 to 40 acts that we’re giving a serious look to, and widdle it down to four.
KAL: Real excited to see Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers this year…
Jason: Yeah! I was really excited they were into playing, that’s great. I mean, every Michigan act, Shortly, Curtis Roach, it’s gonna be good.
KAL: Always gotta talk about it… I was looking at old photos, Lake MO POP, it looks like we have great weather this year! In the 70’s, not too hot, not too dusty.
Jason: Yeah if this holds it’s going to be great.
Dan: Still too early to be confident in it, in my opinion. The night before, if the weather still looks good I’ll be very happy, but right now it’s looking good.
Jason: I’ll call it right now!
Dan: Don’t jinx us!
KAL: And then what everyone really wants to know, tell us about this new game you’ve created, I know you’re working on the name, whether it’s Rock Log’n or Log Rock’n?
Dan: I’m glad you brought that up! We were actually… So the game’s called Rock Log’n, and essentially what you do is find a nice sized stick, or log, which the technical term in the game is called a shuttle, and you launch the shuttle out into the river, then you gather some rocks and create a rock nest at your feet, with different sized rocks for different distances. The whole goal is to throw said rocks at the shuttle; If you hit the shuttle it’s worth a point, if it bounces off and hits twice, you get two points, basically a point for every time it makes contact. You play to 10, so whoever gets to 10 first wins, and if you somehow get the rock to land on the shuttle, and it doesn’t fall of, it’s worth three points, and any other time you hit it throughout the game, you get three points so long as the rock remains sitting on the shuttle. John Stuyvenberg and I just added that because he managed to do that while we were playing this morning.
Jason: Did he really!?
Dan: He was able to get the rock to sit on the shuttle. What you call that is, for the rest of the game he is a Log Baren.
KAL: Is there any limit on how close or far you have to throw the shuttle?
Dan: Yeah, you want to make sure the shuttle is at least five feet off the shoreline, and you really want to push it out so it’s not lingering by shore. You want it to zoom out, and on a calm river like the Detroit River, the current still takes it, and moves it away; But if you’re on a calm lake, like Lake Michigan, where this game originated, when it starts getting to close you have to go wading into the water and push it out. The fun thing too is that on Lake Michigan, this weekend I played it with a whole tree, an entire tree, like driftwood, but it’s giant and I pushed it out. Good time! It’s very satisfying every time you hear a rock thud onto the shuttle.
Jason: I prefer it when Dan holds the shuttle for me…
Jason: That’s for five points.
Dan: You heard it here first folks, new national pastime.
KAL: Can you each identify an artist that you think people might not be as familiar with that you think is really going to open some eyes, and ears this weekend?
Dan: I can’t help but to push the local artists, Curtis Roach is just really, fucking cool, and Shortly is great, this morning we did an interview and she performed and it was really beautiful so I’m excited for them.
Jason: I’m personally in love with everything that Billie Eilish is doing, so I’m excited to see what the live show is like. I’m also really happy that BROCKHAMPTON ended up working out, after the issues that they went through, to have them here, live, I think their just something really special, so I’m excited to see those guys again.
Dan: I think this year’s lineup is really exciting, and there’s going to be surprises and things that really make this year stand out.
Jason: Yeah, there’s a lot of really interesting band connections, that I wasn’t aware of until their production manager, tour manager, started talking about stuff they’d be doing together, so I think there’s going to be a lot of cool shit this year.
KAL: What were some of those connections?
Jason: Can’t say!
Dan: Look on the internet and I’m sure you’ll figure out at least one.
KAL: If at any point during MO POP an alien spaceship landed, ET came out, and you had the chance to portray mankind in the form of a single comedy film, what would it be?
Dan: A single comedy film, mankind. My gotos are always Dumb and Dumber, and Airplane, they’re just really, really great, and I actually just discovered that Airplane is almost a shot-for-shot remake of a 1950’s thriller, Zero Hour. They obviously added some jokes into it, but there’s scenes where they literally just reshot and the actors read the exact same lines, just subtly different. On YouTube you can find where they show one scene, then the remake of it and it’s fucking hilarious. Well worth the 15 minutes to watch that video.
Jason: That’s a good question, I don’t know, do you have one? What’s yours?
Jason: That’s a good one. I had that one in my mind as well.
Dan: Dumb and Dumber is funny, and there’s some universal themes in it. The search for love…
Lilly (Intern): Did you guys get the MO POP colored porta-potties?
Dan: No, not this year [laughing].
Jason: Someday we will have them. It’s good to not achieve all of your goals.
KAL: Or else why would you get out of bed in the morning.
While living up north Justin Vernon wrote a letter. He came across a story about an Alaskan town where the people, the first snow of every year, come out of their homes and gather in town square. They hug and kiss one another and say “Bon Hiver,” it means – good winter. Vernon didn’t feel that the spelling evoked the proper emotion, so he changed it to Bon Iver. Just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound.
Who I’m Most Excited to See
Bon Iver, Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers, Portugal The Man
Who I’m Excited to Learn More About
Billie Eilish, Dermot Kennedy, Shortly
Food I Want to Eat
Where You Can Find My Photos
Four bands each day will spend an hour at the Meet & Greet Tent. Follow MO POP Festival socials to discover which artists will be there!
Tickets are still available to MO POP FESTIVAL 2018!
Feature image courtesy of MO POP FESTIVAL Facebook Page.
Special thanks to Kevin Alan Lamb for sharing his MO POP FESTIVAL interview with Good Life Detroit!