Best Concert or Project: Ben Cohen: The FreeMusic Festival 

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 726   By: Robert 'Bo' White

19th May, 2011     0

Ben Cohen is a Music Freak who talks the talk and backs it up with action. Cohen is not content to sit on his laurels while popular music is co-opted and recycled by evil empires such as Disney or anyone who owns a piece of Justin Bieber.  Music and the Arts are relegated to dumps and landfills of our broken dreams and recycled to an indifferent and uninformed public. It's as if all that is original and truly creative is lost in space and imploding like a bright star disappearing into black hole. It's people like Ben Cohen and the folks at DStreet Entertainment that care enough to preserve our cultural heritage and pass it down to our children; and Cohen and his tribe are like Zen warriors pulling back the arrow that cannot be sent, ego-less free spirits giving away music. It's a labor of love.   

This year Cohen was finally honored for his efforts with the annual FreeMusic Festival by being selected at the 25th Review Music Awards as producing the Best Concert or Project.  Consequently, we checked in with Cohen to glean some insight into his thoughts.  

This is the 4rh Annual Free Music Fest coming up in June. Have you been part of this event since its inception?  How did you get involved?

I've been a part of FreeMusic since 2007, the very beginning. Basically, the original idea behind FreeMusic Fest was just to get a bunch of our friend's bands together on a stage for one day. We had no idea it was going to turn into the event that we have now!

You are part of D Street Entertainment Foundation. Can you tell me about it?

Joining D-Street was probably one of the best things I've ever done. I've really learned a lot working with them. D-Street's mission is to improve the quality of life through the support of the musical arts.  We focus on education, community service, and the art of entertainment. You can find us backstage at the Pig Gig, Relay for Life, plus we organize our own community events, such as Parkapalooza.

What was the inspiration for the Free Music Fest?

Free music. Original music. There really aren't a lot of events in our area that celebrate original music on the scale that we hope to reach. It's amazing to me just how many talented musicians are in our area, and it seems like they only have opportunities to perform in a bar or club. I'm hoping that through FreeMusic Fest we can help these musicians reach a wider audience than they would be able to reach under other circumstances.

What is your mission? Your purpose?

My mission and the mission of Phoenix Productions is to provide Mid-Michigan with the finest in live entertainment available. Through FreeMusic Fest we're able to provide the community with an all age's original music event unlike anything else our area has to offer. We provide the bands a venue that exposes them to hundreds of potential new fans, plus we're able to structure the event in a way that allows us to give back to the community, this year through the Just for Kids Foundation.

Is anything really free?

Absolutely! Some of the best things in life are free, right? A warm summer day, a great park, spending time with your friends or family…and at FreeMusic Fest you get all of that plus some of the best live music around!   


You have some great support for the event - State Farm Insurance, Graff Chevrolet, 360 Mainstreet, Pats Food Center in Freeland, The Joe 97.3 and Phoenix Productions, Magic Bean Café and Family First Credit Union - how were you able to get such a great team of sponsors? 

We've been really lucky to get all the support that we have. The concept of FreeMusic is something that's pretty easy to get behind and as a team we're able to offer an event on a much larger level than I would be able to do on my own. Over the years some of our sponsors have changed but they all have had one thing in common, community awareness. We all understand that FreeMusic Fest is more than just a concert, it's an opportunity. It's an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than all of us. To give back to the community that has given so much to us

The event will raise funds through Disc Golf Tournament. How did you choose the Just for Kids Foundation?

The Disc Golf Tournament has added a whole new dimension to the festival. Its two rounds of 18 holes and the prize packages we've assembled this year are just amazing! Tittabawassee Park has one of the best courses in the area and you can hear the bands throughout the entire park so you don't miss a minute of the music! Being involved with a couple non-profit organizations myself (Dstreet Entertainment and Creative 360); I always keep an eye on what other organizations are doing for the community. I stumbled upon Just for Kids online one day and thought, “I really like what these guys are doing!” I attended one of their events, met members of their board and made my decision. Last year's tournament raised funds and food for both The Shelterhouse and Open Door of Midland. Through the Just for Kids Foundation we will be able to impact children and their families from all over the Great Lakes Bay Region!

This is such a well-organized event. Who is on the Free Music Fest Board? When do you start planning? How many volunteers are involved?

FMF is mainly organized by Phoenix Productions. I handle most aspects of the event and my wife Heather manages the website and any design work. She also doubles as the fest photographer. Raymond Benaway directs the “Making Change through Chains” disc golf tournament. Ray has become an invaluable part of the FreeMusic team! The MCTC tournament gives us a great opportunity to utilize the entire park, and a fun and interactive way to raise money for charity!

The art fair is new to FreeMusic Fest and that's run by Rodney Whittcopp of Michigan Crafts and Shows. And we've been lucky enough to get some great support from members of our community. Tim Boychuck, Lisa Kusey-Rechsteiner, Kimberly Megoran, Jeanne Lesinski…I could go on and on…

How difficult is it to get the community involved? Freeland seems to be pretty progressive in terms of supporting artistic events for the public

The local community has been amazing! In the last couple of years, they've really gotten behind what we're trying to do. Freeland's grocery store, Pat's Food Center, even hosts a coloring contest for the's a lot of fun seeing the kids come up on stage to get their prizes!

And Family First Credit Union joined the team this year too. I think the community supports what we're doing because, in a way, what we're doing supports the community.

You have a great afternoon lineup for the event from singer/songwriters such as Amelia Jo, Jeff Yantz, Dan Vaillancourt and Bob Hausler to great bands that pop and rock such as the Banana Convention, The Hand-Me-Downs, Jimmy & the Growlers and Empty Canvas and those ever lovin' jazzmasters the Chromatic Effect. And the evening lineup is “take me home and make me like it” outstanding - Finding Clyde, Dave Kellan Galactic Sherpas and the incredible Maybe August. This represents a world-class body of music for the people. How did you choose the acts?  

We've had some great bands on the FreeMusic stage over the years, and this year is no different! I actually get a lot of emails from bands interested in playing and it's pretty difficult to narrow it down to the 10-15 that that we have each year. Michigan really has a lot of great original music to choose from! I'm amazed every year by the caliber of talent that we're able to get together for the festival and it seems like it just keeps getting better and better! This year's lineup is non-stop awesome from start to finish! I encourage everyone to make it out to FreeMusic Fest early this year so they don't miss a minute of these great performances

Besides 15 musical performances, the event includes over 50 vendors with food, an Art Fair and a Kids Corner. This gives the event an exciting cultural diversity that is also family friendly. Is this your intent? Is it any wonder that Billboard Magazine listed the Fest as one of the top 5 free music events in Michigan? 

We want to be sure that FreeMusic Fest offers something for everyone. We also want to make sure that there's enough for everyone to do all day! There are plenty of things to keep the kids busy, from bounce houses to face painters plus the great playground the park has. For the adults, there's an art fair to stroll through, disc golf to play, plenty of vendors to visit, Joe FM is hosting some games and, of course, great live music too!

FreeMusic Fest takes place this year on Saturday, June 11th at Tittabawassee Park in Freeland from 10 am to Dusk. For more information go to


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