An Oral History Marking the 10th Anniversary of an Annual Celebration of Musical Talent & Community Involvement on the Banks of Sanford State Park

    icon Aug 21, 2014
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One sure sign that an eventful idea has fully come into fruition is when it hits a ten-year landmark, as once the mark of a decade is felt in terms of impact upon a community, enough memories and moments are able to accumulate to the point where said event starts to carry the imprimatur of history and the weight of legacy to fortify it.
Such is the case with the annual Parkapalooza Festival that will be celebrating its landmark 10th Anniversary this year and will once again serve up a healthy feast of musical entertainment on a half mile of lakefront and 1000 feet of soft sandy beach at Sanford Lake Park.
Presented by DStreet Music Foundation and Joe Caudy Farm Bureau Insurance, this year’s 10th annual Parkapalooza will take place on Sunday, September 7th from 12:00 PM until 8:00 PM. Featuring such high caliber musical entertainment as Sins In Stereo, Jimmy & the Growlers, Midnight Blue, Ten hands Tall, The Sinclairs, The 25 Cent Beer Band, The Hipakrtiz and Faultr, a broad litany of free activities such as Woodcrafting for Kids, Rock Climbing, Face Painting, and Karaoke will also be featured, as well as a Sand Sculpting Contest and a Huge Silent Auction commemorating 10 years of this landmark gathering.
Insofar as it functions as a key fundraiser for DStreet Music Foundation, with free admission to the Park by foot, bicycle or boat; and a meager $6.00 parking fee if you bring your vehicle into the park, over the past 10 years Parkapalooza has managed to bring thousands of people together in the Great Lakes Bay Region for a memorable end-of-summer Fandango, if you will, all with the focus of supporting an impressive range of community organizations.
In order to trace the impact of Parkapalooza over the years and mark its progression and evolution as a means to engage the musical community together with people throughout the region in a celebration of civic-mindedness, The Review recently sat down with festival organizers Ed Kerns and David Dauer to map out an oral-history of Parkapalooza as it embarks upon this landmark celebratory convergence.
Review:  Seeing as this marks the 10th Anniversary year of Parkapalooza it seems fitting to take a trip back in time to the early days when you were organizing this festival.  Can you tell me how the idea for this festival first surfaced and the process involved with bringing it all together.
Ed Kerns: As I recall, the idea was born during a conversation between Dave (Dauer) and I over a pub table at Oscar’s in Midland. Being a Parks and Rec employee, I was coming at the concept from that perspective. I wanted to attract new visitors to Sanford Lake Park. It’s a beautiful park and makes a fantastic backdrop for the festival.
I’ve also been a musician most of my life, and though I didn’t know Dave at the time, I knew of DStreet and that organization’s ties to the musical community.
Dave Dauer: DStreet was originally a for profit business concept and we had a large musician following on our website.  It was a Facebook site for bands before there was Facebbook.  DStreet was organizing fundraiser concerts for people in need and helping bands get gigs too, so we had a great pulse on local bands and talent.  Ed Kerns approached me with his idea for the concert inside the park on the beach. Needless to say, I loved the idea.  My degree from CMU is in Parks and Recreation, so it sparked my interest immediately. 
I want to really get this point across.  Without Ed Kerns and the support of the Midland County Parks and Recreation Department in Midland, Parkapalooza would never have happened.  The infrastructure to support this event comes from the staff of Sanford Lake Park, directed by Ed Kerns and Kim Haller. 
Review: What do you each of you feel distinguishes Parkapalooza from other festivals that happen throughout the area?
Dave Dauer: We are the only event I know of that puts a stage right on the beach with the water as a backdrop.  We invite numerous other non-profits to attend at no cost.  For eight years this event was entirely free.  Now we only charge for parking and that money goes right back to the Midland County Parks.
Ed Kerns: Well…we have lots more vowels in our name than the typical festival! But seriously, and again from the parks perspective, the setting for Parkapalooza is truly unique. The main stage is set in the middle of 1000 feet of sandy beach with the lake in the background. There are plenty of treed picnic areas, a splash pad, lots of parking, modern restrooms – and all that is even before we talk about the festival itself!
I think it would be misleading to think of Parkapalooza as only a music festival. There are many activities available from Karaoke to rock climbing to face painting and here’s the kicker – all those activities are free!
Review: Are there any special features or activities that you have planned to mark this landmark anniversary?
Ed Kerns: To a degree we take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. The formula will remain basically the same with just a few twists thrown in. That is not to say things will remain stagnant. We are constantly refining what we do to try to make it better for our guests.
This year we will give away a special door prize for the oldest palooza shirt in the crowd and we will probably play a wicked game of Parkapalooza trivia from the stage. At 10 years old you begin to get a sense of history. The 2014 festival shirts will also commemorate the 10-year milestone and have every band whose has ever played at palooza listed. Other than that, great bands, free family activities and a gate fee of just $6 per car load – what’s not to love?
Dave Dauer: Not that I am aware of.  I would like to commission someone to make a bronze statue of Ed Kerns, maybe in a Rocky pose with his hands in the air and have it placed on the walk way along the beach.   If anyone is interested in donating that work of art please call me. Seriously, Ed Kerns is the one of the reasons that the park is such a wonderful place to be and as he is retiring this year, I would really like to recognize him.
Review:  What do you feel is the most challenging component involved with the production of Parkapalooza?
Dave Dauer: Sponsorship and fundraising is the biggest challenge.  Additionally, DStreet is a very small organization and all volunteer.  We rely heavily on the staff of Sanford Lake Park and Midland Parks and Recreation support. Without our sponsors and the park staff we would not be able to put this event on.  There is allot of work that goes into the event before the day comes and the Parks and Recreation staff are invaluable toward this effort.  I personally want to thank Kim Haller and the Midland County Parks and Recreation Department for their support.  I hope we can keep this going for a long, long time.
Ed Kerns: At the risk of sounding cynical, the most difficult aspect of staging Parkapalooza is raising money. Even though virtually all our help is volunteer, it’s still quite expensive to produce the event with costs like insurance, advertising, the sound provider, etc.  Fortunately, we’re blessed with a number of generous sponsors. Unfortunately, these are tough economic times, and even the most civic minded sponsors have understandably experienced some serious belt-tightening.
Review:  Has the festival grown over the years; or has it drawn a consistent number of attendees each year?
Ed Kerns: The first couple years of the festival our crowd was around 1000 to 1500. Since then, we’ve consistently drawn about 5000 visitors and peaked a few years back with nearly 6000. Even in 2010 when they literally drained Sanford Lake (that year’s motto; “Now with More Beach than Ever”) we had good attendance. As much as we try to build a really well rounded event, it’s a humbling fact that probably the biggest factor affecting attendance is the weather!
Dave Dauer: The first year we had about 1000 people attend and we thought that was big back then.  Now we are looking at over 5,000 that attend each year and the park is at capacity for parking.   People really look forward to this event and we have been blessed with good weather for 10 years. 
Review: How did you go about deciding upon the performing bands this year?
Ed Kerns: The line-up is debated and ultimately voted on by our board, but I think for all of us, it’s a difficult procedure. We always feature 8 bands. Each plays a 45-minute set and we usually have a few acts that entertain during the band changeovers.  In recent years we’ve been in the enviable position of having more bands volunteering their time and talent than we’ve had time to accommodate. This is gratifying, if not surprising, given the scope of the talent in our area.
I want to make clear that every band who plays is volunteering their talent to help the Dstreet cause.  The Foundation uses the revenue from Parkapalooza to help continue our BandWagon and scholarship programs and we sincerely appreciate the musicians who perform for us.
The criteria for choosing bands haven’t changed since the beginning. Obviously we want talented musicians, who behave professionally. We ask a lot out of the bands. There is an increased level of difficulty playing outside, with a million distractions and very little time for a sound check. We also look for diversity in musical styles. Every year we try to introduce some new bands to the Parkapalooza audience as well as the perennial favorites. We also keep in mind that our event is a Sunday in the park as opposed to Saturday night in a club. The bands have to be appropriate to the venue.
I sometimes think Parkapalooza loses a little street cred. Because it is a family ‘variety’ show. There is no musical elitism here. I guarantee that you’ll be able to sing along with most of the songs that day. Dstreet does a great event called Songwriter’s Showcase that features all original music, but whether you’re 8 or 80, Parkapalooza is for the masses.
Editor’s Note: Additional sponsorship of Parkapalooza is engendered through the generosity of Chemical Bank, Merrill Institute, LX Electric, MIG, and the Great Lakes Loons.

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