It was 30 years ago this fall that a group of Cadillac area residents got together to bring some “arts and culture” to their community. Now the organizers of Gopherwood Concerts feel they have come full circle as they start their 30th concert season.
“Musicians Rachael Davis, May Erlewine and Seth Bernard will kick off this year’s lineup,” said Tiyi Schippers, president of the Gopherwood Concerts board. “Those three grew up here and performed for us when they were teenagers. Gopherwood helped to launch their careers and all three are doing exceptionally well, so it is fitting they launch our 30th year.”
Gopherwood Concerts typically hosts 10 shows between October and May. Their opening show with Rachael Davis, May Erlewine and Seth Bernard with be this Saturday, October 5, at the Elks Club in Cadillac. But music wasn’t the organization’s original focus.
FROM MOVIES TO MUSIC
“Gopherwood started as a film guild and we brought movies to town,” said Schippers. “But eventually everyone had their own VCR player so we decided to transform it into the Gopherwood Folk Society to bring in music.”
The organization’s first show was the Lost World String Band at a camp outside of Lake City.
“After that first show we took up residence in the basement of the Congregational Church in Cadillac. After a few years we outgrew that venue and bounced around to a couple of township halls,” she continued. “In the mid-‘90s, we made our way to the clubhouse at the Cadillac Country Club, but they sold the building and it was torn down. For the past 12 years we have found home at the Elks Club in downtown Cadillac and that has been a perfect location.”
The Elk’s holds 250 people and most shows over the years have sold out. Gopherwood organizers feel fortunate about the quality of artists they attract.
“Sometimes we get lucky, as one of our members was connected to Mose Allison... to have a legend like him in the old country club was cool,” said Schippers. “Another time one of our members was at a festival and ran into Richie Havens. After telling Richie about Gopherwood he thought it sounded cool and said ‘sure I’ll come there and perform.’ We had Eddie From Ohio for their first Midwest show. We also had artists like Donna the Buffalo and Vance Gilbert as their careers were just taking off.”
KEEPING IT REASONABLE
Schippers also points to the generosity of many of the artists who come to Cadillac.
“We have always tried to keep the shows affordable (most shows $10 in advance $12 at the door) for the people who live here,” she said. “Most artists know that and they charge us a lot less than they would normally get for a show. We also have built a reputation on the quality of our audience and artists see that. Plus our audience buys lots of CD and merchandise from the musicians and they love that.”
The members of the Gopherwood Concerts also feel that their organization has played a major role in the cultural landscape of Cadillac.
“Gopherwood’s importance to the community has been huge over the years. We have brought a lot of great music to the region versus having to drive out of town to see shows.
Plus we have lots of people who come to town and make a weekend out of it,” said Schippers. “Over the years we have built a core audience and a reputation in the community that even if people are not familiar with the band, they will come because they know we always get good, quality performers.”
Most of the original founding members are still involved, volunteering in some capcity. Gopherwood has a board of directors, a set of bylaws and the group falls under the Cadillac Arts Council umbrella. They meet once a year and occasionally a couple more times if needed. As they look to their future, organizing a major weekend music festival doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
“The reality is a lot of us who are active with Gopherwood Concerts are artists and musicians ourselves and we are all busy traveling in the summer participating in various festivals,” said Schippers. “There are tons of festivals and activities all summer long and at least one music festival every weekend. So we felt having one or two big parties a month for eight months made more sense.”
So what is in store for the future of Gopherwood?
“Well, as all of us start closing in on retirement we are looking to the younger generation to carry the torch. There has been a real void here in Cadillac in the past as kids graduate high school and college and they don’t return; but I think that trend is slowly starting to change,” said Schippers. “Our audience is very mixed from an age perspective, and we book bands that are bringing a younger audience. So we are confident that there will be the next generation ready to step in and keep what we started going.”
Gopherwood Concerts opens their 30th season with Rachael Davis, May Erlewine and Seth Bernard this Saturday, October 5, at the Elks Club in Cadillac. Doors open at 7 pm and the show begins at 8 pm. On October 19, Blake Elliot and the Robinson Affair along with the Accidentals perform. Billy Strings and Don Julin take the stage on November 9. For a complete Gopherwood schedule and ticket information check out gopherwoodconcerts.org.