The inaugural Benton Harbor festival offers up three two-set shows from national touring acts, showcases local artisans and more on Saturday at Lake Michigan College.
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A Benton Harbor venue normally known for theatrical performances ranging from Cirque du Soleil to “Alice in Wonderland” — as well as some old-time rock and folk acts — will be transformed this weekend into the home of a brand new musical showcase of indie stars.
Highlighted by two-set shows from national touring acts — Switchback, The Accidentals and The Hunts — Saturday’s Indie Fest 18 at The Mendel Center on the campus of Lake Michigan College will provide music enthusiasts of all ages an opportunity to get down from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Local favorites The Accidentals, Traverse City’s fast-rising, genre-melding, alt-folk act, will make a return trip to the Lake Michigan campus. The band featuring Savannah Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause holds down the middle slot, taking the stage at 6 p.m.
The other two bands — Chicago’s Switchback and Virginia’s The Hunts — will make their first appearances at The Mendel Center.
“Being on a college campus, we are always looking for ways to engage students,” Mendel Center’s Mainstage director Grace Kelmer told Local Spins, “especially with The Accidentals who are so well-known in the area and played our Hanson Living Room Series a couple years ago.
“They are one of the few bands we’ve had that have sold that event out and we wanted to get them onto the Mainstage. We thought this would be a good way to get them in there and to get the students interested in the other two bands as well.”
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
The Accidentals packed the 250-person Hanson Theatre in 2016, but this will be the trio’s first time playing the 1,500-person Mendel Center Mainstage. Sandwiched around their performance, meanwhile, will be a pair of bands that have both Kelmer and Mendel Center executive director Mike Nadolski equally excited.
“We’ve seen showcase shows of both Switchback and The Hunts at Arts Midwest and at the Association for Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) in New York,” Nadolski said, “and the energy in the room for both shows, along with their musicianship and the vibe that they create when they perform, was just amazing. They are both going to look great on our stage.”
The auditorium featuring that stage is described as a “jewel” among Southwest Michigan’s performing arts centers, with top-notch acoustics and sight lines. It’s hosted past performances by the likes of Peter Frampton, Boyz II Men, Kathy Mattea and Jethro Tull.
For the inaugural Indie Fest, the soulful Chicago-based, Celtic-roots-rock duo Switchback will kick things off at 4 p.m. The veteran duo of Brian FitzGerald and Martin McCormack has appeared numerous times on PBS, and has toured the country extensively with a sound that is at times rockabilly, and at others, traditional Irish roots music — something that’s made the band well-known to Irish music devotees.
Closing things out on the three-band bill at 8 p.m. will be The Hunts. Comprised of two sisters and five brothers, the harmonious Chesapeake, Va.-based indie-alternative-folk act has been making waves on the national scene for the past half-dozen years.
In addition to a 2016 appearance at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park — opening for O.A.R. (see photo below) — the sibling act has made festival and tour stops at Austin City Limits, Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Milwaukee’s famed Summerfest. It has also racked up more than 14 million Spotify plays with hits such as “Make this Leap” and “Valentina,” along with an amazing cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
TAKING THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
With discontinuation of its Art of Beer and Winter Delights festivals, which focused on beer and wine respectively, the staff at Mendel Center wanted to put together one big event that also piggy-backed on the success of the ongoing Hanson Living Room Series.
That series — which commences Nov. 9 with a performance by Ian Maskin and the Zaria Band — has brought in the likes of The Way Down Wanderers, May Erlewine and The Accidentals in recent years.
“The Hanson Living Room Series has been picking up steam and our other two festivals were doing well, too, but it was kind of a lot to do all over the place,” Nadolski said, “so we thought we’d try doing one big festival and incorporate the best elements of all of those events.”
Offering more than just music, the inaugural one-day fest will feature a handful of food trucks parked right outside, as well as a lobby filled with beer and wine vendors and more than a dozen local artisans. Lake Michigan College Performing Arts Department’s jazz and rock ensembles will play tweener sets in the lobby while the Mainstage is silent.
General admission tickets for the festival are $25; reserved stage-side seats are $50. Less than two dozen stage-side seats remain. Tickets can be purchased at TheMendelCenter.com, by calling 269-927-8700 or at the door.
VIDEO: The Hunts, “Make This Leap”
VIDEO: The Accidentals, “Odyssey” (Local Spins on WYCE)
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