its name (formally the Sleeping Bear Dunegrass & Blues Festival) twice; is
now on its third promoter (a former promoter is spending seven years in
federal prison); has moved to its fourth location; and is now in a totally
For current organizer Ryan Lake he chuckles and says the roots of the past
have made Dunegrass stronger and wiser.
When you look back at where this festival started, what is has been
through to get where we are at today there is no question that we are
stronger as a result of it, said Lake. I certainly wouldnt say how we
got here is the model way to make a music festival work but I think what
we have proven is that music has a way of making everything okay.
This years three-day festival will be headlined by Donna the Buffalo who
will be joined by 40-plus other groups including several veterans of
previous festivals. Ella Riot (formerly My Dear Disco), along with
Rootstand, the Macpodz, Seth & May, Song of the Lakes and K. Jones & the
Benzie Playboys are all favorites in Northern Michigan and will help
anchor the diverse lineup and return the Dunegrass to its roots.
ROOTS OF THE ROOTS
Founded in 1993 by Mike Vanderberg, Dunegrass started out focusing on
local and regional acts with a mission to bring people to the Empire area.
Its close proximity to Lake Michigan and Empire Beach along with a whos
who of local acts made it a popular festival. Eventually Vanderberg teamed
up with Stephen Volas of Grassroots Productions whose vision involved
bringing in national and international acts.
For the first couple of years the concept worked. Eventually came the
challenges with the first major blow coming after the 2007 festival when
founder Vanderberg passed away suddenly just days after Dunegrass was over
while cleaning up the festival grounds.
Volas and and his co-organizers vowed to pay homage to Vanderberg with the
largest Dunegrass to date the following year that would include a stellar
line-up of talent. But with internationally renowned acts came higher
price tags, and a higher ticket price at a time when the the countrys
economic recession had just started. Those factors resulted in low ticket
After the 2008 festival, Dunegrass found itself close to $200,000 in debt
with most of the acts and vendors not paid. Then Volas and his wife were
busted with 1,500 pot plants in Benzie County (largest bust in county
history). According to police records they were selling pot to pay off
Dunegrass debts. Because of the size of the bust the case was handed over
to Feds and Volas is now serving seven years in a federal prison in
Now under Ryan Lakes direction, Dunegrass has come full circle and it
appears to be back for good.
Certainly I think we are now past the bad vibe of 2008. I understand what
they were trying to do but for this market up here that model just was not
sustainable, said Lake. You have to grow a festival with the people, not
the other way around. I feel good as we start year three; since I took
over we are growing. This the way the people want it.
One big change is the location. Dunegrass is now in Benzie County near the
village of Lake Ann.
I know people liked being by Lake Michigan but this new location is the
best and I believe our last, said Lake. It is isolated so we dont have
to worry about neighbors, it is large and secluded, plus we will have a
shuttle to and from the park at Lake Ann for people who want to swim.
Lake is quick to add another positive sign.
The owners are letting us build a permanent stage, said Lake. So I get
the sense they want us to stick around. We are on a 100-acre parcel --
twice the size we had at any of the previous locations -- and that parcel
is within 350 acres they own so I know people are going to be impressed.
TAKE A PASS
Another change is the elimination of the day pass. Well, sort of.
A lot of festivals are going to this model and we put a very great price
on the weekend pass and had it include camping, said Lake. While we
wont have a day pass for Friday or Saturday, we will have a day pass just
for Sunday. With our location closer to Traverse City and having
headliners Donna the Buffalo performing both Saturday and Sunday night, we
feel the Sunday day pass will work for people who cant make it for the
So far the concept is working.
People seem to like it and the lineup we have put together. We have been
to other festivals and people keep telling us that they cant wait for
Dunegrass, said Lake. Considering our advance ticket sales are twice
what they were last year at this time we feel confident that we are going
to have a great turnout.
The 19th Annual Dunegrass Festival starts Friday August 5 and continues
through Sunday August 7. For tickets, the weekend schedule and a map to
the new location checkout