Monday, July 25, 2011

Heatstock festival captures spirit of Woodstock

The Christy Howard Band, with special guest Jeff Grand (right) performs at Heatstock in 2009.
(Photo by Don McGhee)

For the last 15 years, Oak Park’s Mike Boulan has been realizing the dream of hosting his own local “Woodstock-type” music festival.
The 16th annual Heatstock festival, which features blues artists from Boulan’s No Cover label, is set for this weekend (July 29-30) in Fostoria, located in Tuscola County in Michigan’s Thumb region.
“Back when I was in high school, me and my friend Tim Baldwin used to sit around and talk about doing something like this,” Boulan said. “He called me in ‘96 and said, ‘Hey, remember talking about this years ago?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Well, I think we can do it at my house. I have five acres here.’ So we started off at his house.”
The first Heatstock was a one-day event with around 100-150 guests and music from three bands. In the event’s fourth year, it moved to its current location and started to grow in popularity, reaching a high of around 850 people two years ago. Boulan expects around 750 guests this year.
The Heatstock crowd enjoys a set by Motor City Josh. 
(Photo by Don McGhee)
“It’s a family reunion type atmosphere,” he said. “There are people who come from all over the country and even other countries, and they only see each other at this event. They’ve developed major friendships. (Blues musician) Curtis Sumter met his wife there and I know other people that have met their wives there.”
With a “family” of 750, it takes a lot of pre-event planning to make a successful event.
“I pretty much take the whole month of July (getting ready) for it,” Boulan said. “I don’t do much else. “
Admission is $50 in advance, $60 at the gate for a two-day pass. One-day passes are $40 in advance, $50 at the gate. A weekend pass for children under age 21 accompanied by an adult are only $20. Admission includes music, rustic camping, food, beer, and pop.
Boulan and his crew of 30-45 volunteers will cook 500 pounds of meat (plus a pig roast), 200 pounds of potatoes and six bushels of corn, served at four meals throughout the day from 2-10 p.m. Some campers bring their own food as well.
Overnight guests stay in camping accommodations ranging from full-size RVs to pop-ups and tents. Some people just sleep in their cars. There are fresh water and portable toilets on site. Some campers pay for a shower at a nearby campground while others cool off with a dip in an inland lake about two miles away.
“The Tribesmen (motorcycle club), who own the property, have been doing their own swap meets there for 30 years,” Boulan said. “So, it’s been set up as a festival ground for at least that long. They get at least 1,000 people for their events, so that’s how we knew it that it would be a good marriage. They make up a big part of our population (for the festival).”
There are 15 performers on this year’s schedule, including Lonesome Dave Paul, who has played at every Heatstock, including one year when he labored on with a broken arm. Music runs from 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and noon-1 a.m. Saturday. Friday’s headliners include Billy Davis (Hank Ballard and the Midnighters) and Psychild (Robert Noll), who will host a tribute to the late Albert Collins, featuring former Icebreakers bassist Johnny B. Gayden. Featured performers on Saturday include Yakety Yak and Mike Espy, Cathy Davis, and Motor City Josh, who traditionally closes the festival with an all-star jam session.
Musicians perform on a permanent stage with a 5,500 watt sound system manned this year by sound man Neil Sever, who takes over from Boulan, who ran sound at Heatstock for 15 years and is looking forward to less responsibility and “enjoying it more” this time around.
The summer of love may just be a memory to most, but the “Heatstockers” are keeping it a reality.
 “It’s the totality of it, the whole thing taken as a whole, that is close to achieving what I originally envisioned,” Boulan said. “When I look out at the whole thing, that’s when I get satisfaction.
“We have a bunch of people that it’s the biggest thing they do all year. It’s very, very, very important to them. That’s really cool and that means a lot to me. The thing I’m most touched by is that it means so much to so many people.”

For more information on Heatstock, call the hotline at (248) 398-6877 or click To send info to JB Blues, please email

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