Aug. 21 2013 12:00 AM

Mason’s ‘Song of the Summer’ is the Sun Dried Music Festival


Surrounded by cornfields, with a population under 9,000, Mason is not a metropolis. But the Ingham County seat’s annual homegrown “Sun Dried Music Festival” is turning this sleepy town into an end-of-summer attraction. 

An estimated 12,000 people attended last year’s festival. Mason Mayor Leon Clark expects more between 12,000 and 15,000 this year. Only in its fourth year, the Sun Dried Festival already feels like a perennial crop.

The festival owes much of its success to its open-ended format and exclusive use of local talent. Clark gets requests from all over the state from bands to come and play, but he resists the temptation.

“There’s so many good local bands that we decided that at least for the time being, we´re going to deal strictly with local talent,” he said. This year, that includes acts like blues specialists Freddie Cunningham & The Root Doctor Band, classic rockers Showdown, the Ukelele Kings (no adjectives necessary), country rockers Bittercreek and experimental rockers From Big Sur. 

Clark said the festival’s name came from a former executive director of Mason’s Downtown Development Authority who envisioned a Jimmy Buffett/Caribbean themed music festival.

“We didn’t think it had the wide reaching appeal that we wanted to get,” Clark said. “So we kept the name but the format is entirely different.” Genres included in the festival have ranged from blues to classic rock to country, with new bands and events every year.

The festival’s two stages ensure a continuous harvest of music. Breaks between main stage bands are covered by 20-minutes sets from a second stage nearby. In a cozy setup similar to last year’s, audiences can dig it all without missing a beat by swiveling their chairs around.

The festival’s picturesque downtown setting in the shadow of the historic Ingham County Courthouse is a major attraction. There are also a beer tent and activities for kids over the entire weekend. 

A new addition this year is a 50/50 raffle with a drawing Saturday night. “And it’s going to be a true 50/50 drawing,” Clark said. “So if we sell everything, we should be able to make somebody really happy.”

Festivals like Sun Dried fill a big hole for many music lovers, especially middle-aged ones. Longtime Dansville resident Laurel Switzenberg, 50, attended two of the past four festivals and had followed two of this year’s bands, Showdown and The Squid Band, for years. Like many of her peers, she used to attend music events more frequently in the 1980s and 90s at former local venues like the Silver Dollar and Corral Gables. To her, the inflated costs of most concert tickets make Sun Dried look very attractive. “You just show up and find a place to park and you can spend the entire day there listening to good music,” she said. 

The festival is also a great social scene. Locals catch up with each other and out-of-towners soak up Mason’s village-square intimacy. “There´s so many people that live in the area who´ve known each other for their entire lives, so it´s a great way to get together with your friends,” Switzenberg said. “People bring their kids. It´s just a really nice way to spend a summer day.”

Clark is pleased that word on Sun Dried is spreading. “We´ve had people come from as far as Tennesee,” he boasted. “At least three or four classes have held their class reunion that weekend. They just all get together downtown and hang out.”

The best crops aren’t forced. Clark is hesitant to speculate on the festival’s future growth. “We´ve taken an attitude with this thing right from the very beginning that we would only grow as much as the festival tells us to,” Clark said. 

Sun Dried Music Festival

Aug. 23-24

Ingham County Courthouse Square, Downtown Mason

Friday, Aug. 23, Main Stage

7 p.m.-11 p.m. Life Support

Saturday, Aug. 24 Main Stage

Noon-1 p.m. Modern Day Drifters

1:30-2:30 p.m. Smooth Daddy

3-4 p.m. Bittercreek

4:30-5:30 p.m. Freddie Cunningham and the Root Doctor Band

6-7 p.m. From Big Sur

7:30-8:30 p.m. The Backwoods Band

9-10 p.m. The Squid Band

10:30-11:30 p.m. Showdown

Saturday, Aug. 24 Second Stage

1-1:20 p.m. Assume Nothing

2:30-2:50 p.m. Assume Nothing

4-4:20 p.m. Hot Eraser

5:30-5:50 p.m. Hot Eraser

7-7:20 p.m. Taylor Fernandez

8:30-8:50 p.m. Taylor Fernandez

Friday, Aug. 23 Kids Stage

6-10 p.m. Martin and Company

Saturday, Aug. 24 Kids Stage

5:30 p.m. Blue Jello/The Ukelele Kings