Sam Porter is a busy man. Not busy, as in “I’ll call you back later” busy. Sam Porter is busy, day and night, prepping for Porterhouse Productions’ sixth Microbrew & Music Festival in downtown Traverse City on Feb. 8.
Porter has a solid team that he works with, but it’s Porter’s house, the one-man idea factory which have launched several events to help revitalize the Traverse City concert scene.
Microbrew & Music is only the tip of this entertainment iceberg.
“When we did our first summer microbrew fest [in 2009], people loved it,” Porter said. “That’s why we started the winter one – from people saying, ‘That was great, you need to do something like that again, and soon!’” Porter chose a relatively slow weekend in TC for the winter version of the event, which is expected to bring 4,000 people downtown. Special after-parties at other local establishments will help connect festival attendees with the downtown district even later into the night, he said.
Porter also hosts the popular summer Microbrew & Music Festival in August, and says he’s in the middle of taking the concept to Lansing in April.
The February event is the one taking up the majority of Porter’s focus at the moment – with good reason. There are performers and bands to wrangle, more than 30 carefully selected breweries to organize, and food vendors to round up.
It all adds up to a logistical puzzle. For Porter, it’s all about finding those thoughtful, quality solutions.
“These fests are a pairing of all the senses,” he said. “It’s about that relationship between music and food and drink. It’s who we are as northern Michiganders. It’s about highlighting and celebrating these things.”
With everything hand picked, Porter says it’s also an opportunity to showcase “the new, the next, the greatness of the region,” much of which is reflected in his musical choices.
“I try to mix it up,” he said. “This year, we have a New Orleans horn line, there’s reggae, there’s ska, and we just added Frontier Ruckus. We’ve got plenty of standout local performers, and we’ll be presenting the entertainment on four stages, so there should be something for everybody.”
The main stage – a 2,000-capacity heated tent – will feature the bigger names on the bill, with Mustard Plug and Third Coast Kings serving as headliners. The second ‘Americana’ stage will include Frontier Ruckus, as well as additional appearances from Don Julin and Billy Strings.
A new solo and duets stage will showcase acts like local favorite Miriam Pico. And the Silent Disco tent – where attendees wear wireless headphones to dance to DJ-spun tunes – is back by popular demand.
The summer Microbrew and Music Fest will feature more buzz bands. The Lansing version is expected to crank things up a notch further, as Porter works to book artists on the level of second-stage Lollapalooza acts for his downstate festival debut.
But of course, music is only one half of the bill. The other half is that extensive roster of microbrews and food to go along with it.
The fest really kicks off on Friday night, as Porterhouse Productions hosts a special Brewers Dinner at Grand Traverse Resort with self-proclaimed ‘Beervangelist’ Fred Bueltman, who runs the New Holland Brewing Company. The dinner will feature 10 small plates paired with brew samples, plus live music in the Michigan Ballroom.
Bueltman is also going to be downtown on Saturday, suggesting specialized food and brew pairings to adventurous attendees.
“You’ll be able to find Fred, show him what beer you’re drinking, and he’ll send you along to match it up with some great food,” Porter said. “He’ll say, ‘Take that brew over there and get the truffle mac and cheese; you, take that one to the paella guy.’” The food is all part of the overall experience, Porter said.
“You walk in, get a custom glass, get your drinks, pick out some food,” he said, “and then just walk in circles, listening to all of this amazing music.”
Even the brews are handled in a more curated way, including the Hop-n-Brew Shack, at which brewers will be offering special samples of their craft beer, and meeting festivalgoers to discuss more about the brewing process and the differences between the beers themselves.
“Beer fests are changing,” he said. “We never want to be just ‘beer in a tent.’ We always want to find ways to connect the fans with the makers. We actually only allow breweries in that can have a representative available on-site, to tell you about the recipes, to explain the process. I think that’s really important.”
Also important to Porter and his team is the chance to give back to the community, even though some of Porter’s ideas have, at times, been too progressive for some of the locals, who have on occasion tried to scuttle his efforts.
What some might not realize is that each of Porter’s festivals help support hundreds of local artists, farmers, food providers, small businesses, and lodgings throughout the region. Each festival also directly supports a charity, with 100 percent of alcohol sales going to benefit the selected local nonprofit for each event. This year’s event supports Porter’s personal favorites, Bay Area Recycling for Charities. The fest additionally works to recycle and compost as much as possible.
“I’m very dedicated to BARC,” Porter said. “What they do is very important.”
What Porter’s doing is important, too, if in a different way. He’s helping musicians find new fans, he’s introducing craft brewers and chefs to new customers, and he’s also simply presenting an opportunity for people to have fun, himself included – although it’s not the kind of fun you might expect.
“The best part of these festivals for me is looking at all of the happy people,” Porter said. “That feedback is why I do what I do. Seeing their cups overflow with this experience – that’s the ultimate. “I’m so busy, I usually don’t even get a beer.”
The 2014 Microbrew and Music Festival in downtown Traverse City is scheduled for Feb. 8. You must be 21 to attend. For tickets and more info, visit microbrewandmusic.com.