By Kevin Alan Lamb
Michigan is a beautiful, unique, and often stubborn environment where one day you wake up, it’s winter, and it feels like it might never end; but it always does, just rarely when you expect it. Our environment simultaneously challenges us and provides for us despite our predatory tendencies, neglect, and unwillingness as a species to stand up, stand together, and reduce our imprint.
I woke up this morning and it feels like the first of day spring. The sky is bright blue. The flowers on the fruit trees are blossoming. The grass is long, lime-green, and enriched from frequent showers. The birds are singing along with The Accidentals playing from the speaker on my porch, and for the first time in three weeks we will be playing softball tonight after a series of rainouts.
Depending where you focus your gaze the world is either a beautiful or scary place. Since last May I have grown closer with a tribe of people who focus their energy on building a conscious community through music. It is hard work, but rewarding work to engage in your passion and help others find their joyful place. I have covered music festivals as a photojournalist for several years now, but it wasn’t until Cole and Evan Rupple asked me help them with the inaugural Handmade Music Festival that my role as a storyteller began to evolve into something more.
While working on the website for Handmade I came across the insignia for the Michigan Music Festival Roundtable, and wasn’t in tune with what it was. I arrived on site in Chesaning, it was a frigid day in October, and time to set up tents. There I met Ryan Williams, who over the course of the weekend shared with me the Roundtable’s mission to shape a collaborative effort to establish safely, sustainability, cooperation and commitment within the Michigan music festival community.
Michigan is a sacred place. Each of us has a responsibility to create, shape, and contribute to the consciousness of our culture, and community. Music is transformative, magical math in motion; it is our duty is to create, maintain, and protect the environments where it can connect us, move us, and give us the courage to be leaders in our sub-communities.
In three days White Birch Music Festival will kick off the 2019 Michigan music festival season. In its third year, White Birch takes place May 17, 18, and 19 at Moreland Motorcross Park in Stanton, MI. (Click for Google Maps). Here’s everything you need to know along with my interview with White Birch owner and producer, Ryan Williams.
Give me the White Birch origin story?
I’ve been in the festival industry for around 15 years now, getting my root working with Ozz-fest for two years, then moving forward after finding this amazing Michigan music festival community. I worked and volunteered for many years at Bliss, Harvest, Farmfest, Buses, Hoxey and worked with many more through the efforts of the Michigan Music Festival Roundtable. I wanted to take what I learned from all of those amazing producers, and with the heart of the people in and around our community bring it to an area that deserves the same community celebration. So we got together with a few key people who have put their hearts and efforts into building this amazing community.
We’ve had the unique ability to remember our roots and bring you a new spring celebration of life, music, and culture. Local driven, community forward. We met with Grant Moreland and the location was perfect for what we had in mind. We were searching for a name and when I asked the history of the track Grant mentioned the original name for what is now called Morelands, was White Birch Cycle Park founded in the 70’s; so to honor the history of it we went with White Birch Music Festival
Three things about owning/producing a private musical festival that people don’t know unless the do?
Most folks think because you own a festival you must be wealthy, which is not the case. It takes a lot of generous offerings from businesses and individuals as well as quite a bit of personal investment to make it happen. We often rely on pre-sales to help in this. Michigan is unique because of the constant weather changes, so it makes it difficult to gauge.
Producers who are successful book for their attendees not for themselves.
It takes nine months of planning, hundreds of man hours, and nothing is guaranteed!
Looking at this year’s lineup who are you most excited for who might fly under the radar?
Well I get excited at new talent! Monte Pride, Red Rio, some of the new blood in Michigan has been inspired by many of our still touring artists and it shows.
You’re plugged into a little bit of everything in the music and mid-Michigan community – take a minute to walk us through what it all means to you and how you came about this path?
Well it was a chance meeting with Michael Erlewine Sr. that ended me up in this festival world. Now, I’m a god loving man but I would have to say walking onto the Harvest Gathering site many years ago was like walking in one person, being healed, and walking out like I ust went through church! Not so much a traditional church but the good you feel after walking out of an amazing Sunday service. I laughed, cried for the first time after a very tough life full of very tough situations. For the first time I felt like I had a real family that was there through thick and thin.
The music my goodness was inspiring, uplifting, thought provoking, enlightening and had the ability to take you out of your self and made everything feel like it was all going to be ok. Since then I have made it my effort to help these events grow so other folks can feel that cleansing of spirit and the coming together of so many people for the same reason. To feel apart of something bigger than ourselves. In other words, this community and these events mean everything to me!
Who are some folks you’d like to recognize for where WBMF has been, and where it’s going?
Folks to recognize of course my beautiful wife Melissa, Melissa Hawes. Kerri Easterly, Laura Han Thorn, Jodi The Jedi, Jamie Mr. Pants Collins, Rudy Reithstahl, Grant Moreland and his awesome wife Amber! Along with many, many, more we call family. The future is unknown, we hope for growth and to be able to share this experience with many others! For now we focus on today! Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
What do people need to know about WBMF 2019?
Be prepared for warm and cool it is Michigan after-all.
No open flames, no candles, no tiki torches and we ask you keep glass bottles at home and if you do bring please not in our main areas.
Propane grills are permitted.
Most importantly this is a family friendly event so please keep that in mind and try to leave the property better than you found it when you arrived.
What are some of your goals for the festival?
We want to provide a wholesome family environment and have enough of our community come out, get tickets, and celebrate a coming together of amazing people, culture and music!
I will be on site taking photos, dancing, and enjoying the sweet tunes Saturday and Sunday. Just in case you were listening for one, This Is A Good Sound.
Saturday, May 18th
-All ages welcome, ages 12 and under are free.
-Children must be accompanied by an adult.
-Please do not bring pets or other animals.
-Please no glass bottles.
-Please leave your charcoal grills, tiki torches or open flame candles at home (propane grills are ok).
-Please no outside firewood.
-No unauthorized vending.
-Wristbands must be worn at all times on the festival grounds.
-Ins and outs are allowed.
No generators (unless previously approved by producers).
-Please do not bring fireworks, explosives or road flares.
-Day parking areas must be cleared by 1am.
-Please be respectful. Patrons engaged in disorderly behavior, underage drinking, public inebriation, illegal drug use, stealing or any inappropriate behavior are subject to removal.
From US 131 – Take exit 120 onto MI-57, then turn right onto 14 Mile Rd. In 11 miles, turn left onto Lincoln Lake Rd NE. Stay on Lincoln Lake Rd/19 Mile Rd/Sidney Rd for 25 miles. Just after the S-curves, make a left onto Vickeryville Rd. In just under 2 miles you will see the sign for Moreland’s Motorcross Park, turn left onto E Pakes Rd.
From US 127 – Take exit 127B toward M-46 W/Alma/Edmore. Turn right onto M-46 W. In 12 miles, turn left onto N Crystal Rd. Then after 8 miles make a right onto Stanton Rd. Go 3 miles and then turn left onto S Vickeryville Rd. In ¾ of a mile you will see the sign for Moreland’s Motorcross Park, turn right onto E Pakes Rd.