Taking Inventory of the 1st Annual Hamilton Street Corridor BASH

    icon Sep 01, 2016
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Even though it took months of diligent work to pull together, the Hamilton Street BASH appeared like an oasis forming a link to a legendary musical strip connecting the bands and artists that helped define the sound of our region for over three decades.

A fitting acronym for the BASH could easily be BANDS ALIVE on the STREETS of HAMILTON. Featuring a laundry list of 27 pivotal & defining groups performing upon 3 stages over 3 days, in many ways this inaugural gathering echoed the ghost and channeled the spectacle and cultural significance of the legendary Woodstock music festival: both events were first-time efforts that fostered high-expectations and featured a litany of top performers; both events were held in August; and both events were beleaguered by bouts of intermittent rainstorms.

Day One on Friday got off to a rocky start with inclement weather forcing the cancellation of Laurie Middlebrook and hampered attendance; while the stretch of performers on Day Two brought well over 1,500 people together to savor the sounds and soak up the ambiance of Saginaw's historic Old Town District; even though as Burnaround's Tony Furlo aptly put it as he mounted the stage to kick off the festivities, it was one of those hot & humid Michigan summer days where you literally  "wear the air". 

Organizer Tom Shwannecke deserves a magnum of Dom Perignon for possessing the chutzpah and savvy to envision this ambitious celebration and actually pull it off, especially considering this is the first time he has stepped into the arena of concert event promotion.  Deftly organized and assembled and with the assistance of numerous volunteers, it was a beautiful sight to see hundreds of people strolling the streets, kids playing in the Kid Zone that was set up in the Covenant green-space, people flying on the Zip-Line (except for the girl I saw who cell-phone fell out of her pocket and smashed on the concrete - remember to tuck that tighter in your undies next time!) and of course, the inescapable power of the Music.

Each stage witnessed musical brilliance. Burnaround kicked off Day Two on the Michigan Lottery Stage with a blistering set that matched the heat radiating from the sky. Consisting of former members from legendary regional rock bands Wet Cement & Shovel, both of whom performed regularly on the Hamilton Strip back in the 1990s, they deftly set the tone for what was to transpire throughout the day, with strong performances following from The Hipakritz and Avenue 5 that culminated in one of the evening's highlights: a reunion of the original Mick Furlo Band, including guitarist Dean Vanston, bassist Rick Brown and drummer Donny Brown delivering an impassioned performance of hits from the 80s & 90s that they once performed on the very same hallowed-ground of the former Fordney Hotel, which was tragically lost in a devastating fire back in 1990.

Equally exciting was the musical action on the Junction Stage, which hosted young rockers Greta Van Fleet making a rare appearance (the group has been performing mainly in the Detroit & Grand Rapids areas and are moving onto a series of gigs in Chicago next week in the midst of recording their debut CD); followed by the high-energy country/rock fusion of Tweed & Dixie; and then the unmistakable energy & musical precision of The Matt Besey Band, who left no note unturned; which led to the welcomed return of internationally acclaimed Blues icon Larry McCray, who also cut his teeth on the streets of Hamilton back in the day.

The final Sunday of the BASH started promising with an inspired performance by Count ‘n the Change followed by Donny Brown & Friends on the Junction stage, only to have the skies bust open and douse the streets with rain. As the crowd fled to the main stage tent, Donny and the band turned to them and broke into an impromptu reading of the classic hit I Can See Clearly Now, which definitely crystallized into a special moment.  But alas, by the time Stewart Francke made it to the stage at the end of the day, about only 70 people remained; which was a pity, considering he brought a crack horn section, a 9-piece band, and a back-up singer that has worked with Anita Baker to mark his long overdue hometown return.

Regardless of the challenges posed by Mother Nature, critically the BASH was a huge success and garnered positive feedback. “In my opinion, this was the most important event staged in Old Town over the past 20 years; and maybe even longer,” commented Paul Barerra, owner of Jake’s City Grill.  And when asked about his own impression of the BASH, musician Andy Reed said, “I remember Hamilton Street so vividly back in the day when I was playing with The Haskels; and it reminded me of how amazing this strip is and how exciting it was to share the stage at The Hamilton St. Pub with bands like Studiotone and Poke.”


The Aftermath & The Future

The day after this inaugural ‘baptism’ promoter Tom Schwannecke said that he received a phone call from John Witts, who promotes and founded the immensely successful Arts, Eats & Beats event down in Royal Oak; and who was also pivotal in mentoring Schwannecke on how to assemble the BASH.   “John said to me: “Tom, if you had a first year event and dealt with three days of rain and haven’t filed bankruptcy and you’re still standing, you have it set up right – that’s the bottom line.”

With an investment of $100,000 to stage the three-day celebration Schwannecke says that 60% of the cost was funded by sponsorships and another 15% was covered by ticket & beer sales, so he ended up taking approximately a $25,000 loss, which he hopes to cover at next year’s event. “If we would have had a crowd on our opening day of Friday like we did on Saturday, the event would have been profitable,” he added.

“My estimation is that 2500 people were here for Friday night’s finale, not counting the people in the bar; and we had another 2500 roaming the perimeter of the event grounds, so in terms of an overall count for the three-day festival, I would say we clocked just shy of 5,000 people, which isn’t bad when you factor in three days of rain,” reflects Schwannecke.

When asked about his biggest overall impression from the endeavor, Schwannecke commented: “I literally shed a tear during the Saturday evening finale when the Mick Furlo Band took to the stage. When I looked around each side of the stage it was like a movie and I had flashbacks of the Fordney Hotel in the 1980s with a lot of the same people that used to frequent the Fordney each weekend dancing and having the time of their lives.”

“Overall my most vivid picture was mid-day Sunday when I saw a couple holding hands, him with a beer, her with a glass of wine, and they were probably 65-years old walking down the center of Hamilton Street on a Sunday afternoon enjoying themselves and the music,” he continues.  “The fact they had the ability to do that made me feel good about what we were doing.”

Indeed, the clubs, bars & restaurants of Hamilton Street had to be happy. As this writer was walking back Saturday night between the Junction stage that was featuring Larry McCray to the Michigan Lottery stage featuring Mick Furlo at 11 pm, there wasn’t a single seat empty in any of the establishments – something this writer has not witnessed in at least a decade or longer.

Apart from the weather which was uncontrollable, Schwannecke says the biggest error was failing to get visual artists involved so that he could stage the ‘Music & Art Festival’ that he initially intended.   “The number one screw-up was with the art and we’ve already started on it yesterday for next year.  If I don’t have 100 art vendors in attendance next year you can call me out. Some of the people involved with assembling the artists this year dropped the ball on me, but next year will be different.  If we can mix the music with the type of art fair like the old Westside Art Fair once drew, which was the first and oldest art fair in the State of Michigan, we’ll have 50,000 people here next year for sure.”


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