The Chesaning Showboat Music Festival started in 1937 with the intention of raising money for community projects. In an age when communities throughout the Great Lakes Bay region struggle with funding public safety and addressing the renovation of their infrastructures, the inception of this idea by Chesaning community leaders back in the 1930s was a rather ingenious one.
Indeed, for the past 7 decades, over one million dollars in proceeds from the Showboat Festival have provided funding for the purchase of everything ranging from fire trucks and ambulances to helping with the preservation of historic structures within the community of Chesaning.
Staffed 100 percent by volunteers, the 2013 edition of the Chesaning Showboat Music Festival will run from Friday, July 12th through Saturday, July 20th, anchored by four nights of amphitheater entertainment and kicking off with live entertainment in the River Bend Hospitality Tent on July 12th at 6 PM.
According to Scott Hewitt, Festival Chairman, the Showboat began in 1937 as a community extravaganza. “It was truly a Bing Crosby type of 'let's put on a show' effort where everyone was involved in some part of pulling together and putting on the show,” he explains.
“Things started off as a Vaudeville style variety show, with local amateur talent, and with an occasional professional entertainer in the mix. But then in the early 70's the show took a huge step forward with the addition of National acts like Jack Jones and George Gobel. The vaudeville and variety roots still were a big part of the show, but there were always true headliners at the end of the night.”
“Over the last decade or so Showboat has become much more of a "Concert" venue. As the magnitude of the talent grew, the crowd had less and less interest in the novelty and comedy acts,” reflects Scott.
And when you look at the evolution of entertainment with the advent of television and then the electronic media revolution, this makes sense when considering that back during its humble beginnings in 1937, opportunities to catch and experience a wide variety of live entertainment were fairly limited.
Not so with the 2013 Showboat Line-up. Appearing on Tuesday, July 16th, is The Charlie Daniels Band with special guest Kari Lynch; followed by a Wednesday, July 17th performance of Bret Michaels with Quiet Riot and Romance for Ransom.
Thursday, July 18th with feature Theory of a Deadman with Puddle of Mud, The Last Vegas and Bad Axis. And closing out this annual event will be the one and only KC & the Sunshine Band with Global Village on Friday, July 19th.
The Showboat Blues Fest concludes the live entertainment on Saturday, July 20th starting at noon in the River's Bend Hospitality Tent, featuring Rusty Wright Band, Chris Canas Band, Motor City Josh, David Gerard and Sena Ehrhardt.
Additional activities include a Road Race, River Race, Car Show and Battle of the Bands on Saturday, July 13th, Pancake Breakfast, Showboat Parade and Praise in the Park concert on Sunday, July 14th and Bike Run on Saturday, July 20th.
Scott's own involvement with the Showboat began when he was about 7 years old. “I used to go down with my Dad to take tickets at least two or three nights a year,” he reflects. “That was in the days that one act would headline an entire week of shows. It was always part of the fun to see how the 'stars' would end up interacting with the town. I remember winding up as Phyllis Diller's dog walker once, and driving to Alabama to read children's books for story hour at the library. For awhile it was pretty common for headliners to choose to stay with some of the folks they et in town, rather than the hotel rooms they had.”
Having been involved with the Showboat for such an expanse of time, what does Scott feel are some of the qualities about the Showboat that distinguish it from other summer festivals in the area?
“Some of the big differences are obvious when you first come to Showboat,” smiles Scott. “Of course, we're about half the size of some venues in the Area, so you end up with a much more intimate concert experience, and we always do our best to deliver a more budget-friendly show than you might find closer to Detroit. To me though the important differences have nothing to do with those things, though.”
“I take tremendous pride in the way we treat people around here,” emphasizes Scott. “Most people that have been to Showboat will point out that it has a hometown feel, even with some of the edgiest acts up on stage. Even the artists will comment that they end up feeling more like guests than performers when they are with us, and we hear the same thing every year from our fans.”
“Almost everyone involved in the show takes ownership and pride in the show. It's sort of the golden rule for showbiz - we want to put on the kind of show we all wish we could get everywhere. I don't think you can find a venue anywhere more interested in making sure fans leave with a smile.”
“Probably a big part of that is the access our fans have. I can't think of another venue where you can realistically expect an officer or chairperson to interact with fans as much as we do. Comments, concerns and questions. all end up right in the hands of the executive committee. Where else will you find the director of the venue responding to Facebook posts first hand?” he laughs.
After all these years of the Showboat, Scott ironically points to the biggest challenge for this event as being one of location. “It's hard to get artists routed through our little town, and when you do it's sometimes tough to get the fans to make the trip in to see them. We joke sometimes that our strength is that we are an hour away from anyplace, and the weakness is that we are an hour away from everyplace. But we really wouldn't have it any other way.”
One other challenge Scott points to that is a relatively new one is finding industry professionals to work with. “Even as we grow and evolve we have an identity we try hard to keep in tact. It's been hard to find anyone with enough industry experience to help us out who can still wrap their head around what we are all about. With that said though, I'll give a shameless plug to Mark Peterson and the Crew at EFX Productions. They have done more to help us grow without giving up on the things that set us apart than anyone I can think of. Just a great bunch of guys.”
Scott is decidedly enthused about the caliber of this year's line-up. “If they aren't already, people should be paying attention to this years lineup. In 30+ years being involved with the show, I can't remember a stronger group of entertainers. Charlie Daniels, Bret Michaels, Theory of a Deadman and KC & the Sunshine Band - and that's just the top of the tickets. If you add guests like Quiet Riot and Puddle of Mudd who are headliners in their own right, and opener's like The Last Vegas and Global Village Band - it's just a great lineup.”
“Even more than that people should take note of the other things we incorporate into our festival. It's more than just the "big name" entertainers. It's also one of the state's best car-shows, and features softball and races, parades and pancake breakfasts. It's also about the smaller shows like our Battle of the Bands, Praise Day in the Park, and the Red White and Bluesfest. The highlight really depends on who you are. If you look at all we offer we really do try to offer something for everyone.”
When asked how the committee goes about the selection process for their entertainment line-up each year, Scott notes that “This has been our most involved and deliberate selection ever. The first thing we do is try to listen to the fans. They are never bashful about telling us what and whom they want to see. We try to make sure we offer something for as many wish lists as we can manage.”
“All those requests have to go through a reality filter though. Some of what the fans want just isn't economically feasible. Whether it's because the artist is too expensive, or their appeal is just too narrow, some acts just won't ever make sense when it comes to the economics of putting on a show.”
“Finally then it comes down to who's available during our narrow little window. We've just got the one week in July. If the artist is somewhere else in that time frame there's not much else to do about it. We had at least two or three acts who actually are asking to be a part of the festival this year, but they couldn't be here when we would need them. With any luck they'll keep planning for us for next season.”
As for his own 'personal' favorites in terms of festival highlights that stand out as being unique or unforgettable, Scott says many of his favorite memories center around Bluesfest. “The very first one featured Larry McCray. I was sitting back stage getting to know him, when he suddenly realized that he was sitting right where the public pool he had swam in as a kid had been. Last year's headliner, Rusty and Laurie Wright, have become really good friends. I think that's part of what makes Showboat so fun for me - it brings back that element of connection and friendship that has been so much a part of our heritage.”
River's Bend Hospitality Tent admission the Chesaning Showboat is $5 nightly, but is included with any main-stage ticket. General admission for each of the four Amphitheater shows starts at a modest $20.00, with reserved and VIP ticket packages available.
Amphitheater show tickets are available at the Showboat Box Office or at Star Tickets at www.startickets.com and River's Bend Hospitality admission is at the door.
For further information, please contact Scott Hewitt,Showboat Box Office at (989) 845-3056.