The dreams never stop for the visionary behind Porterhouse Productions
By Rick Coates 10/12/09
Sam Porter leans back in his chair at the Old Town Coffee & Eatery in Traverse City and sips his coffee. He pauses and smiles as he has just connected all the dots on his latest concept. At 33, Porter is still a kid at heart; and he loves to dream.
I like to see how everything connects itself, said Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions. My work is about connecting the dots which are connecting people, connecting relationships and connecting concepts. Typically, when you are connecting the dots, a dot is missing; that is what I like to do -- identify what is missing and put it into place so the dots are all connected.
Porter grew up in Traverse City and attended Central High School, graduating in 1997. After graduation, he went to Northwestern Michigan College for a year before heading west to Bozeman, Montana to ski and attend Montana State University.
While at Montana State, he founded Porterhouse Productions and quickly started promoting concerts, film festivals, a beer festival and several other cultural events. His work out West, along with that of his wife Abby, led the two of them in 2006 to be awarded Bozeman Heroes: Locals Creating Positive Change, Visionaries Helping to Make Bozeman, Montana, a Vibrant, Growing, and Sustainable Place to Live.
Porter and his wife still maintain their operations in Montana but a few years ago moved to Traverse City.
I returned for family (Porters mother-in-law owns Toy Harbor in downtown TC) and opportunity, said Porter. Traverse City and Northern Michigan have so much potential, there is a lot of good growth happening. I saw some things missing from this community and felt that I could help to facilitate some change.
He is not coming from a perspective of arrogance, but rather from his own experience of growing up in the area and, like so many other young people, felt he had to leave to have opportunities.
One of the concepts that we have at Porterhouse Productions is to create opportunities for young people in Northern Michigan from high school all the way to pre-school, said Porter. To involve them into their community at an early age so they feel a connection to it and become a promoter of it.
This is where a big smile comes across Porters face as he connects the dots.
Imagine kids from Northern Michigan heading off to college and telling their friends about all the cool things they got to do in Traverse City, from producing concerts to cultural events. Telling their friends that the region supports the arts, ideas and young people, said Porter. These friends who have never been to Northern Michigan are going to think, wow you got to do all of that in your town. It must be cool up there. Maybe I ought to move up there after school. This is where the dot connecting comes in. These events and concepts are not just about the moment, they are about our future.
I now have a production company that has high school kids from Central, he adds. I am always looking for other students, either high school or college who want to learn about the music business and how to produce a concert or an event.
Okay, involving high school kids is one thing, but how do you start kids at the pre-school age in the process?
Simple. Here is something I am working on now. I am bringing the Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo group to Lars Hocksted Auditorium this winter, said Porter. I am having the pre-school kids create all of the art that will be on the stage for the performance. These kids will be sitting in the front row and will be connected to the show. They will be contributing to the performance. Regardless of their age kids can and should feel a connection to their community.
Porter is fresh off some very successful events. His concert series at the Opera House in Traverse City has brought in several acts that have sold out, including Ani DiFranco last spring. He is preparing for Keller Williams this week, another show expected to pack the house.
He also was the mastermind behind the inaugural Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival this past August. Porter had successfully created and produced a similar festival in Montana. Despite skeptics and dismal weather the festival exceeded expectations with a larger than anticipated crowd. Breweries sold out of beer and legions of music lovers stuck it out through the rain to dance the night away.
There is still a buzz about this event and the wine festival the weekend before. We are so excited about next year. The long-term vision is to create an anchor event with the Microbrew and Music Festival to support a community non-profit week-long annual Epicurean Harvest Festival celebrating food and craft beverage as well as arts and culture for all ages. We also aim to raise funds to support local youth empowerment programs through the Good Work Collective (GWC) and Little Artshram.
What we accomplished with the wine festival and the beer festival is show the community what can happen when you produce an event the right way.
Porter lights up with enthusiasm as he connects the dots of event management.
We have so many great venues in the region for events. My concern is that if an event is not produced right, that jeopardizes future use of these venues. I think that has happened in the past. So one of our goals is to create the model for producing events in the region so all events succeed. A poorly run event has a negative impact on all events.
For Porter it is not about competition, it is about collaboration.
The wine festival and beer festival on back-to-back weekends being put on by different entities is a great example of collaboration and what we are all about. We all worked together, shared resources to put these two events on. Both events were a success and now we are looking to collaborate even more. At Porterhouse Productions we make our events happen by collaborating with several independent contractors and entrepreneurs.
So just how many concepts and ideas is Porter currently juggling?
I dont know at least 30, maybe more, said Porter. I am the type of person who needs to wake up and look forward to doing something different every day. I am working on a concept at the Barns at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons that will include an amphitheater and commercial kitchens. Also, I am working on a portable covered stage for the region. It is something we do not have, and so many events need a stage and everyone is renting one. Well, if I can find enough events to pitch in we could own one.
I am also working a mobile convention center that would allow for large events up 10,000 people to take place anywhere. Plus, I am getting ready to put on the biggest Halloween event that Traverse City has ever seen by giving those under 21 a chance to dance with several national DJs coming in and also we are recreating the Thriller video in tribute to Michael Jackson.
He doesnt stop there.
I was down at Rothbury (the three-day music festival north of Muskegon) and there is so much energy and so many ideas coming from there. So I am looking at a post-Rothbury think-tank retreat in Northern Michigan, said Porter. Imagine hiking in the woods of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes with Ani DiFranco discussing sustainability concepts. Or being over at the Manitou Islands in a workshop with guys from the Grateful Dead talking about community based arts programs.
It may not all make sense right now but at some point Sam Porter will figure out how to connect all the dots. He is currently taking applications, submissions and suggestions from anyone who is interested in working with him. To learn more about all the projects Sam Porter and Porterhouse Productions are working on, contact him directly go to porterhouseproductions.com or call 231.499.4968.