The nonprofit group will host the Riverfront Music Festival in Allegan this Sunday featuring B&F Union Railroad, Four Got to Shave and more. Check out the back story about this group that nurtures musicians.
Mike Bogen has been playing guitar since 1968. But it wasn’t until the past couple years that he finally became comfortable enough to start performing in front of anyone who wasn’t a close friend or family member.
And after linking up with the K’zoo Folklife Organization, things began to take off for the retired truck driver who can now be seen around Kalamazoo playing solo as well as with the Bride of Fleckenstein and B&F Union Railroad, both bands in which he shares the stage with Mike Fleckenstein.
From Papa Pete’s to Brite Eyes Brewing to the Old Dog Tavern, Cooper’s Glenn and at various farmers’ markets in and around Kalamazoo County, the Battle Creek resident is quickly becoming a recognizable face on the local music scene.
“It’s pretty neat for me, been pretty much a dream come true,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the K’zoo Folklife Organization I wouldn’t be out playing or have met the people that I have. I’ve met some pretty topflight musicians in the area and when those people start complimenting you and pushing you, you start to think, ‘Hey, maybe I sound a little better than I think I do.’”
Bogen first got involved with the organization after a distant relative, KFO board member Matt Cosgrove heard him play in 2014. Cosgrove then threw some gasoline on a fire that had been simmering for more than 45 years.
And while Bogen’s story is a good one, it’s just one of a handful of success stories that KFO president John Speeter has witnessed in his five years at the helm. The success stories at K-zoo Folklife aren’t measured by Billboard charts and arena gigs, but rather by experiences like that of the former truck driver.
NOT EVERYONE GETS FAMOUS PLAYING MUSIC AND THAT’S OK
“Our mission is pretty clear,” Speeter said. “We like to promote traditional acoustic American folk music, and in doing so, we like to provide venues for musicians in the area of which they are many to play. … It’s really an opportunity for musicians to network, have fun together and get together for informal and formal jam sessions. Not everyone gets famous playing music and that’s OK.”
Established in 1985 and “made up of musicians for musicians,” the organization — made up of primarily an older demographic, but open to all ages — has multiple jam sessions occurring each month and works hard to connect its 100-plus members with area farmers’ markets and other gigs. Best yet, it’s open to all.
“We invite participation from all musicians, regardless of their ability level,” Streeter said. “Race, religion, politics, gender, age, it doesn’t matter: Everyone is welcome. All the time we are finding new talent out there, and we want to make the membership available and affordable for everybody. To join the organization, all you have to do is make a donation in any amount, whatever you are comfortable with.”
As Streeter points out, it isn’t a group where you are going to “get a membership card, a magic whistle or a secret ring decoder, but you will get a real opportunity to play with other musicians and maybe get some gigs.”
“What KFO does, at least what it did for me,” Bogen added, “is it gives you a foundation where you can either come and play just for fun with other players or get serious about it, like I did, and start playing out more. Like anything else, you get out what you put into it though. You have to get out and do it if you want it.”
FESTIVALS WITH HEART
In addition to providing connections to play with and venues to perform in, the nonprofit also puts on three festivals per year.
The largest and most well known festival of the three is the K-zoo Folklife Festival, which is held the second Sunday in July in Portage. The fest is funded by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, which just this past week awarded KFO with its annual Epic Award, for enhancing life in the community through the arts.
The organization also puts on the Loaves and Fishes Benefit Concert each November to help raise money and food donations to feed needy people in the area.
The newest festival of the three is the Riverfront Music Festival in Allegan, which will take place 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 20) at the Riverfront Plaza in downtown Allegan. The festival, which will serve as a benefit for the Renewed Hope Health Clinic in Allegan, will feature local barbershop quartet Four Got to Shave, The Clearwaters, Cottonwood Grove, Four Wheel Drive and Bogen and Fleckenstein’s B&F Union Railroad.
VIDEO: K’zoo Folklife Artists 2015
VIDEO: Bride of Fleckenstein, “The Dutchman”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC