Aug. 8 2012 12:00 AM

Inaugural beer and music festival fell short of expectations


There is more than enough room for improvement for the Michigan Rock N Brew festival after last weekend’s bust of a maiden voyage. It was a first-year festival — and you could definitely tell. 

After pulling the plug just days before what was supposed to be the first Rock N Brew last year, event organizers went out of their way to secure all the proper licenses and sufficiently paper the town with their bright orange fliers and posters. Alas, it still seems efforts would have been better spent elsewhere. 

It was advertised as a festival that sought to promote a vast array of Michigan music, businesses, environmental concerns and microbrew beer. But when I attended the event on Saturday, all I kept asking myself, “What are they trying to be?”

There was definitely plenty of “rock,” with over 25 musical acts ranging from rockabilly to metal, but the “brew” aspect really seemed to be lacking. For the record: I’m a beer-snob. For me, it’s craft brew or nothing at all. With craft beers being a focal point of the festival, I was disappointed to learn that even after paying for a $30 day pass or a $50 weekend pass, you still ended up paying $5 per beer.  That’s more than I’d usually pay at the bar. [Editor´s note: The writer and others received complimentary tickets.]

Having the name Michigan Rock N Brew, I expected a wider selection than what is typically available at the local watering hole—but there were two beer tents that served basically the same 10 or so beers. If you promote beer as one of the event’s tent poles, I’d expect to have individual beer tents from each brewer, sample size drink options and more variety. 

Even worse was attendance. Other media have reported that only 1,000 tickets to the event were sold (far short of the 3,000 they had claimed and the 2,000 they supposedly needed to break even), but all I saw when I was there Saturday afternoon were a few dozen folks milling about and trying to stay out of the sun. And oh, that sun. The rain-or-shine event certainly didn’t benefit from the shine that was going on. With temps in the 90s — and not a cloud in sight — the sun and humidity made standing in front of the stage a straight-up challenging affair. Another big headscratcher was the VIP setup, which was nothing more than a section of fenced-off sofas baking in the afternoon sun. You were better off standing under a tree.    

I love what Rock N Brew is trying to go for, but in its inaugural year it missed the mark. Next year I’d like to see individual brewer tents with sample sizes of a larger choice of drafts. Don’t just serve beer — celebrate it. Having separate tents would really highlight the unique styles and traditions of each company and give festivalgoers a chance to talk tap with their favorite crafters. And please — please — more shade.