Aug. 23 2012 12:00 AM

Diverse music festival takes over Mason



An earlier version of this story included an outdated promotional photo of Stringtown Trio. The photo included former band member/musician David M. Ross, who was born Dec. 30, 1952 and passed away on March 14. Ross, an Okemos resident, owned Ross Violin Repair and performed in groups such as Lost World Stringband, Stringtown Trio, Midnight Shift and Jive at Five. Ross also taught at the Michigan State University Community School of Music. We regret the error.

Living in a small town can be a tad drab, a little too hushed and bit too Mayberry-ish. Perhaps that’s why the city of Mason decides to ditch the quiet life, pitch a beer tent and pump up the volume this time every year. The third annual Sun Dried Music Festival, happening this Friday and Saturday, hosts a mixed bag of live sounds on three stages downtown near the historic Ingham County Courthouse. 

“Music is the focus of the festival,” said Mason Mayor Leon Clark, who is also the chairman of the Sun Dried committee. “People can expect a family style festival with a little something for everyone. There’s an adult beverage tent but there’s also a kid’s play area with inflatables and kid’s music, magicians and clowns. It’s just a whole day-and-a-half of family entertainment.”

While some music festivals prefer to carve out a specific genre as their niche, Sun Dried organizers dabble in rock, jazz, blues, Latin jazz, salsa, country and children’s music. There’s also an assortment of food and merchandise vendors lining Maple Street. Last year it drew in roughly 8,000 to 10,000 people; not bad considering Mason has a population of just over 8,000 residents. This year’s performers include Root Doctor, Showdown, Avon Bomb, The Rock Canyon Band and Stringtown Trio, a band hailing from mid-Michigan that plays an exuberant crossbreed of country, bluegrass, swing, blues, Celtic and world music — a perfectly eclectic choice for a festival based on delivering a diverse bill. 

New this year are additional stages, featuring a roster of up-and-coming local performers in between headlining acts, eliminating the in-between band lulls. There will also be a kids stage, which will host local songwriter Mark Nester, known for his original ditties like “The Problem Solving Song” and “Manners Rock.” 

“There are some great local bands that are just getting started or don’t have the notoriety to draw as many people,” Clark said. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t we put up a second stage and give these folks who are trying to get started a chance to play in front of a decent crowd?’”

Joel Hekler, marketing director for Sun Dried, said he’s trying to spread the word that Mason is steadily growing into an arts-friendly city. Mason City Council has been hashing out plans to build a massive public stage to accommodate live music, films and theater events. 

“Some of us are trying to get Mason known as being a music city,” Hekler said. “I’m trying to ingrain the slogan ‘Mason Rocks’ into everyone’s head. The Rotary Club of Mason just approved the funds to build a stage at Rayner Park. It’s just outside of town about a quarter of a mile. They’ve got the funds together and they’re trying to get a contract to build a big music shell, or amphitheater. I’m guessing that if Sun Dried keeps going we’re going to outgrow the downtown and probably move out there.”

Mason Area Chamber of Commerce president Doug Klein said he hopes this festival draws people to the bustling city.  

“There is this perception that Mason is as far away as St. Johns and Howell,” Klein said. “We’re really not off the beaten path at all — we’re right off of US-127. Our hope is that we get people from Jackson, Lansing and East Lansing who haven’t been to Mason before. Quite frankly, that’s what we’ve seen the past two years.”