The Middle of the Mitten is a basic annual local music festival celebrating the opening of The Record Lounge, an all vinyl music store opened in early 2008 in East Lansing.
Shortly after beginning work at The Record Lounge, Joel Heckaman (future director of Middle of the Mitten), got back into playing with his band and developed a desire to trade shows with other Michigan acts from different locations.
It was this desire to meet and share local Michigan talent that planted the idea in Heckaman’s head of putting on some form of a showcase. It wasn’t until Jerome White, owner of East Lansing music venue The Small Planet, suggested a showcase to honor the anniversary of the opening of The Record Lounge and then the pieces really began to fall into place. Upon hearing this idea, Heckaman was inspired, and he and Heather Frarey (owner of The Record Lounge) started planning the first Middle of the Mitten.
What started as a small one night showcase of a half dozen bands in 2009 has now become so much more. Though the first two years of Middle of the Mitten were largely planned by Heckaman, the growth even between the two years was impressive; 2010 saw the addition of four bands to the lineup and the attendance raise from an impressive 300 in 2009 to an astounding 500 in 2010.
In 2011, Heckaman had an even more impressive addition to Middle of the Mitten. As a student in Michigan State University’s Professional Writing program, Heckaman (as well as his professor, Jon Ritz) saw the potential in his fellow students to aid in putting Middle of the Mitten on the map. And so, together Ritz and Heckaman set up an independent study for a select group of students to earn credits by organizing and promoting Middle of the Mitten.
The idea turned out to be hugely successful. The 2011 Middle of the Mitten event was the biggest success yet, adding more bands, attendees and even a separate stage for acoustic acts. The acoustic stage was such a success, in fact, that the 2012 Middle of the Mitten festival will feature a separate night dedicated to showcasing Michigan’s finest folk and acoustic talent.
Heckaman says this growth is one of his main aims each year. And though he and Reanna Trombley, the graphic designer for Middle of the Mitten, have since graduated from the Professional Writing program, there are still ten students involved in organizing Middle of the Mitten, including Assistant Director, Dan Nufer.
In addition to growing Middle of the Mitten as a festival, Heckaman and his team have also formed the non-profit organization, Middle of the Mitten Events. Dan Nufer and Professor Jon Ritz even worked together to secure a grant from MSU for the organization, and last spring Middle of the Mitten Events put on a day long fundraiser called “Jamming for Japan on Record Store Day”, an event to raise money for a tsunami relief fund.
Middle of the Mitten also offers financial support for local bands, this year providing sponsorships thanks to the incredible monetary donations and support from the community. But at the heart of the event, Heckaman says it’s still just about supporting local talent. He says, “Michigan independent businesses and artists [are] brought together by the one thing that transcends age, ethnicity, education, background… music. It’s also a chance for great bands from around the state to share the stage, get to know one another, and introduce their fan bases to other incredible local bands.”
Middle of the Mitten will be taking place this year on Friday February 4th and Saturday February 5th at (SCENE) Metrospace and The Loft, respectively. And for just $10, you can get a ticket to see 17 local bands over the two night event. So get your tickets today and be sure to check out Middle of the Mitten on Facebook! ~Hayley Serr, Feature Writer