BLED FEST | Hartland Performing Arts Center | Howell, MI
BLED FEST has occurred annually in Michigan for the past 14 years, with the past 11 years taking place at the Hartland Performing Arts Center. This high school turned community center serves as the home for this day long festival that this year hosted a total of five stages spread throughout classrooms, a cafeteria, and even the buildings main lobby. Hello, rock and roll high school!
One important aspect of BLED FEST is the fact that it makes music accessible to the community. In addition to the venue itself being wheelchair accessible (something that not every venue can take pride in, unfortunately) there are a slew of various genres including indie rock, hardcore, rap, and spoken word. There's truly something for everyone, even if you aren't familiar with any of the artists on the line up and are just going to check it out or are tagging along with pals. Who knows...you might even discover your new favorite artist! Additionally, the bands themselves are generally manning their own merch table, so you have the opportunity to interact and connect with musicians that you enjoy throughout the day.
BLED FEST prides itself on being a substance free event, so seeing people ranging in age from late teens to early thirties checking out artists and having fun without alcohol was a nice change of pace from other festivals. BLED FEST's list of impressive sponsors this year included Triple Crown Records, Impact 89FM, TicketWeb, peta2, and DynamicX Drums. You can learn more about the formation of BLED FEST here on their official website.
Gatherers - Stage B *
We kicked off our BLED FEST experience this year with Gatherers who performed on Stage B (AKA in the lobby) shortly after doors opened. The band immediately set the tone for their set with a flood of red lights framing the stage. While this is every photographers nightmare, the lighting mixed with the melodic yet chaotic sounds of Gatherers music to create an abrasive ambiance that worked beautifully.
The band worked their way through new tracks off of their latest album WE ARE ALIVE BEYOND REPAIR. Gathers ripped through their set seamlessly with little talk in between tracks while preparing BLED FEST attendees for the long and exciting day ahead.
‘68 // Stage B *
The fact that '68 played on a small stage was surprising, as they would easily pull a large crowd at the main stage. While this was in no way a poor decision, it was a bit odd not seeing front-man Josh Scogin throw their guitar all over the place.
If you have followed Scogin’s journey from Norma Jean to The Chariot and now to ‘68, you’re aware of the energy that is created not only within the bands that he's a part of, but with the entire crowd. '68 easily had the most chaotic set of the day, even though they didn't have a large amount of space to perform in.
Jetty Bones // Main Stage
While we've covered Jetty Bones in the past (they toured with The Wonder Years last year!) this was the first time seeing them play to such a large crowd. In previous years, the "main stage" at BLED FEST was actually two separate stages in the cafeteria of the Performing Arts Center. This year, however, the two stages had been done away with and one single stage took their place, meaning that the entire crowd was there for one artist, rather than two.
Jetty Bones' set included "Second Death in the Rabbit Hole" and "Lumos" which have both proven to be crowd favorites. Vocalist Kelc's vibrant energy can be felt through her rich vocals and lively stage presence as she often spends the duration of each song bouncing around the stage . Their career is surely taking off -- the number of people who showed up to see them perform speaks for itself. The crowd was captivated from the start, which an important aspect to note as they performed early on in the day.
Vagabonds // Stage C
The addition of musicians to an otherwise solo act invariably has the ability to portray lyrics in a different light, reveal a new angle, and sometimes just simply add to the original and intended ambiance.
Luke Dean, a solo artist who performs as Vagabonds, was joined by two friends for his BLED FEST performance who offered drum and cello accompaniments. Having performed the previous year to "half as many people," Luke expressed his appreciation and gratitude for everyone that came to watch him play. The highlight of his set was his latest single, "Honest," which had been released the day before BLED FEST. He explained that this was his first independent release and that he was happy to be working as an independent artist again.
The downside to this specific stage is the fact that it's incredibly close in proximity to Stage B, which generally always had a band playing at the same time. This caused there to be an overlap of heavier artists set crossing over into this small room, as there weren't any sound barriers between the two stages. That sort of took away from the over all experience, as solo artists sets are often meant to be an intimate performance. The same situation occurred when Bogues performed later on.
Hot Mulligan // Main Stage
Hot Mulligan are gaining momentum, and fast. They're a name that I've grown used to seeing daily across social media platforms, and for a good reason. They have a heavy nostalgic quality to their music that brings back memories of carefree summer days spent in the sun with no time constraints and no responsibilities-- just good times all around.
The main stage area was totally packed and the crowd was buzzing with excitement in anticipation of this Michigan based band taking the stage. If you arrived to their set after it started, you would be lucky to be able to get past the door. As soon as they started playing, one thing was made clear: their fans go hard. There was even a child who looked to be about five years old rocking out with his dad!
Their set included "How Do You Know It's Not Armadillo Shells?" and "I Fell In Love With Princess Peach" which drove the crowd wild-- crowd surfers, stage divers, and beach balls filled the room. They're a band that's set to go far-- the amount of recognition that they've gained over the last year alone is immense.
Astronautalis // Main Stage
Andy Bothwell, who performs under the name Astronautalis, was the self proclaimed (and accurately so) rapper of the day and took the main stage directly after Hot Mulligan finished their set. Less than half of the crowd remained, which was a disappointment due to Astronautalis' immense talent. However, the crowd that remained went wild when they found out that his music was about "breaking into buildings and fighting cops" as they erupted in cheers and applause.
The entirety of his set was essentially an energetic dance party -- he even got down into the crowd and danced with the audience. He's a true wordsmith and his energy is contagious. He acknowledged multiple times how much he was enjoying BLED FEST, and even referred to it as an "adorable" festival which really hits the nail on the head. At one point, Astronautalis joked that he was expecting a principle to kick him off of the stage at any moment. We caught Astronautalis in Nashville a while back which you can read about here.
Bogues // Stage C
Alternative emo artist Bogues opened his set with "Renting & Trashing a U-Haul Van" off of his 2016 release, Mulligan, which has maintained its status as a crowd favorite. Another popular track that he played was "Orchard to Bartnick" off of his latest release, Life, Slowly which came out this past March. This track entertains the question "Am I a bad person? / If I am, I hope you forget." The stark contrast between his passionate vocal delivery and lone guitar accompaniment, truly let you into an otherwise personal world.
He announced that he'll be back in Michigan in August of this year as part of nothing,nowhere.'s upcoming tour, which will prove to be an interesting combination of genres.
Our overall BLED FEST experience was fantastic, and we're looking forward to being able to do it again next year! As someone who grew up in an area that did not have a local music scene, it truly filled me with joy to see people of all ages enjoying this event. Let us know below what artist(s) you'd like to see perform at BLED FEST next year!
* Written by Nick Zimmer