Sam Porter’s brain does not idle well. In one 45-minute conversation, Northern Michigan’s event king touches on an impressive range of concepts, ideas, and plans.
Branded events are his specialty, and countless projects keep Porter – and his mind – moving at top speed.
PHONES AND POSSIBILITIES
A typical day at Porterhouse Productions starts in an office above Kilwin’s in downtown Traverse City, when Porter and his staff check in around 8:30am.
The coffee’s always brewing; the bright room is filled with art and whiteboards. A huge wall features awards that the company has won for more than 50 festivals and events in the past seven years.
Inevitably, the phones start ringing. “Conversations about logistics and production, and lots of appointments, take up the majority of each day,” Porter said.
Calling the Porterhouse offices “a community-supported laboratory,” Porter says his main goal is to show as many people as possible what a great place Northern Michigan is.
In answer to some complaints that his events are too big and noisy, Porter takes the long view.
“A lot of people are thinking, ‘Oh, there are so many people at these events, it’s such a problem,’” he said. “But that’s just going to happen regardless, because we live in such an amazing region.”
Porter says that regardless of how people feel, he and his staff will continue to “make the best of it.”
“So what do we do with that? Are we going to be negative? No,” he said. “We’re going to be positive and build on that.”
That’s a statement that can be taken quite literally. Porter and his team are replicating their Traverse City events model and bringing it to other Midwestern cities, such as Lansing and Chicago.
“We’re committed to putting forth exceptional experiences that make a positive impact on communities,” he said. “TC is the place for us to grow ideas and build events that highlight the region, and we’re taking those events to other places around the Midwest.”
Most are familiar with two of these events: the TC Microbrew and Music Festivals and Paella in the Park.
This summer, Porter is putting on several new shows and projects that support things close to his heart: symphony orchestras and youth concerts.
First up is TSO @ The Village, a layered, unique event that will feature the Traverse Symphony Orchestra on the Commons lawn, part of Porterhouse’s Symphony 2.0 Tour to help support independent symphony groups.
“Symphonies are dying all around the world, and we take that as a challenge,” Porter said. “We’re blending an EDM [electronic dance music]-style light show with foodie elements, photography, and geo-specific ‘aerial art.’” EDM means specially programmed lighting, and the aerial art will be a huge, earthy map sketching out the Up North peninsulas that people can actually walk on.
“We want people to fall in love with this event,” Porter said.
On August 15, Porter is working on a youth-friendly show featuring Toronto grime-electronica band Keys N Krates.
The event will be silent, with wireless headsets for 600 teens, as well as family friendly and alcohol-free.
It’s Porter’s effort to offer something cool for the high school set.
“I’m a big fan of youth, and I think no one really asks them what they want to listen to, so we’re trying to address that,” he said.
BIG STAGE EVENINGS
The Paella event happens on August 15, featuring “one of the best Cuban-Latin bands around,” Porter said about Grand Rapids based Group Aye. The set also includes bluegrass band Rootstand.
On August 16, it’s the TC Waterman Stand Up Paddle Boarding Challenge, with a concert from Laith Al Saadi in the evening.
At a new venue called Flintfields in Williamsburg, Lyle Lovett is playing on August 8 and ‘60s country-rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen takes the stage on August 9.
And then, of course, there is the Microbrew and Music August 22-23, possibly the biggest one yet.
“It’s so different this year,” Porter said.
“I’m passionate about the exit from shows and filling people with rich senses, sending them back into their community with a full bucket.”
In addition to the food and brews, big name headliner Brandi Carlile will take the stage on Friday night, with additional performances over the weekend from Chicago blues artist L’il Ed and the Blues Imperials, Ann Arbor’s The Ragbirds, Lansing indie popsters Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, Afrobeat/soul/funk hybrid Orgone, and Saturday headliners Nahko and Medicine for the People.
Local faves like The Accidentals and Grand Traverse Pipes and Drums and will round out the lineup.
TRAVELING AND CONNECTING
Hardly overwhelmed by his summer calendar, Porter’s got more in store.
His other project is called Tent Venue, the cornerstone of which is a futuristic canopy that can host 4,000 people.
To get one in the U.S., Porterhouse partnered with a company whose typical clients are The Walt Disney Company and the country of Dubai. To create it, the company fused four smaller tents together to make one big, modern-looking canopy.
“There’s really nothing else like it available in the U.S.,” Porter said. “And with our other focus being mobile touring, this is an important tool. We can set one up in eight to 10 hours just with ten guys and a truck.”
Porter might have to put another order in. He already staged a successful Microbrew and Music event in Lansing this past April, and his company is part of this year’s Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich.
He is also taking part in Petoskey’s Blissfest concert series and in The Hudson Music Project in Saugerties, NY.
The biggest news? Porter is planning to take his show model to Chicago next year.
“We want Chicago people to literally experience Northern Michigan in Grant Park,” he said. “We’ll build the map, bring in music from Michigan, bring in Michigan food vendors and craft breweries.”
Porter has even coined his own term for the concept: geotourism.
“[We are creating] incredible connections to our region through event design,” he said. “I love the idea of putting Northern Michigan on wheels.”
For more about Porterhouse Productions and their schedule of events, visit porterhouseproductions.com. To learn more about Tent Venue, search YouTube.