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By Shelby Clark Petkus
Washtenaw County’s annual music festival, Mittenfest, comes to Ann Arbor this January. Blind Pig will host 2015’s event from Jan. 1-4. The yearly event hosts a variety of different music acts in support of 826Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, while also helping teachers to inspire students to write.
Mittenfest – which has taken place in other Washtenaw County venues such as Corner Brewery, The Elbow Room and Woodruff’s – has spent the last eight years fundraising for 826Michigan in the form of a “good-time holiday get-together.” Since its creation by Brandon Zwagerman in 2006, the event has been featuring over 60 bands and garnered at least 1,500 attendees. Zwagerman conceived of the event to help service 826Michigan after seeing the success he had with the backyard and campus shows he organized while still a student at the University of Michigan. The event has not only helped support the metro Detroit and Ann Arbor factions of 826 but also paved the way for spin-offs of the event, like “S’Mittenfest,” a summer version of the fundraising concert that took up two stages of Detroit’s the Magic Stick in 2013.
This year’s Mittenfest features over 30 acts, including Ann Arbor’s own Shigeto. Shigeto (http://www.ghostly.com/artists/shigeto) is known for combining a variety of sounds and genres that form a “bridge between the past and present.” Raised in the Detroit/Ann Arbor music scene, Shigeto – psuedonym of Zach Saginaw – has crafted vividly beautiful electronic music that shows Saginaw’s musical influences, ranging from the Motown he grew up with to the jazz he studied for three years at NYC’s New School.
Mittenfest’s performing artists are primarily local, with the most far-reaching act hailing from nearby Chicago (Emily Jane Powers). Other Ann Arbor area acts include Casual Sweetheart (http://www.casualsweetheart.tumblr.com), a psychedelic punk and avant-garde garage rock band that’s been performing throughout Southeast Michigan. Composed of Lauren Rossi Harroun on bass/vocals, Dina Bankole on drums/vocals and Erin Norris on guitar/vocals, the all-girl band funnels their feminism into their raucous sounds.
Other Washtenaw-based acts include Child Sleep, Congress, Disinformants, Loose Teeth, Matt Jones and The Reconstruction, Minihorse, and Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful, all of Ypsilanti. Other Ann Arbor-based acts include Fred Thomas, Rebel Kind and Shells. For the full line-up of the festival, check out Mittenfest’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/events/480468815425889.
The services of 826Michigan are structured around their belief that “great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” 826Michigan is a part of a nationwide network of non-profits under the 826 moniker, beginning in San Francisco with writer and editor Dave Eggers; he created the non-profit as a means to mentor kids in creative writing.
Steven Gillis, a writer, founded the Michigan chapter in Ann Arbor. Through after-school programs, drop-in tutoring, field trips, workshops, writing rooms and other methods, 826Michigan works to inspire local young people and foster their creativity. As programs are free of charge, fundraisers like Mittenfest are vital to the charity’s continued work in the community. 826Michigan is housed in the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, 115 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. For further details on the non-profit, call 734-761-3463 or visit http://www.826michigan.org.
Mittenfest 2015, an 18-and-over event, opens at 7 p.m. each night of the festival, which runs from Jan. 1-4, 2015. The Bling Pig is located at 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor. A $10 minimum donation is required for entrance to Mittenfest. Tickets and more information are available at http://www.blindpigmusic.com.