‘Whateverfest’ transforms Detroit house into music festival

Whateverfest was held at 173 E. Grand Blvd. on Detroit's east side .Photo by Paul Douaighy
Whateverfest was held on E. Grand Blvd. on Detroit’s east side. Photo by Paul Douaighy.

Events like the 4th annual “Whateverfest” on Saturday prove that local Detroit musicians are still alive and strumming. Hosted in an east-side house on Grand Boulevard near Belle Isle, the event attracted a splendid array of young artists with a mission to “showcase some of the best up-and-coming talent Detroit has to offer.”

Open mic at Whateverfest.
Open mic at Whateverfest. Paul Douaighy.

The day started with an open mic at the outdoor stage where musicians performed unplugged guitar around a campfire. Small vendors sold clothes and art. A photo booth with full props, lighting, and a tapestry background was aptly placed next to the campfire.

Something to understand about small local festivals: They don’t have professional audio engineers on the soundboards. Feedback was common, and the acoustics weren’t perfect. But when playing music in an old dilapidated house in Detroit, you can’t expect top-notch sound.

WhateverfestThe basement stage hosted tremendous talent from young bands such as The Vonneguts, Awesome Jarvis and the Whales, Stellar Clouds, and BLAKDOG. A plethora of balloons were kicked around while the crowd rocked out to high-tenacity punk rock, blues, grunge, surf rock, and screaming ballads. The artists overcame the poor acoustics to deliver outstanding performances.

During the day, the turn-out was small and left some wondering if the festival would still be a success. But as the sun set, Detroiters piled into the house to see what these bands had to offer. For a $3 entrance fee, you got more than you paid for. At the end of the night, it turned out to be a success.

Although advertised as a festival, it was more of a house party where the musicians hung out with the crowd after their performances and reveled in the authenticity of the event. Local rappers free-styled outside and played percussion on the ground with broken beer bottles after their shows. Nearly everyone played an instrument or had a musical talent. Before each act, a fan came outside and yelled to the crowd that a new band was about to come on.

Photo by Paul Douaighy

The first floor stage didn’t present a specific music genre. Tart, Ponyshow, and Mexican Knives displayed the wide-range of harmonies that are still keeping Detroit music relevant. A projector cast old film onto the wall next to the artists. Although it was quite empty during the day, those that attended kept the energy flowing. If they weren’t dancing with their feet, they were bobbing their heads to the beat.

Sometimes, the guitars were out of tune and the drummers didn’t show up until 15 minutes after they were supposed to play. The audience didn’t mind, though, as they said, “It’s whatever, man.” That seemed to be the catchphrase of the night – a quote that reminded people to be more carefree and lose themselves in music, even if it was only for a day.

It is joyous to see that Detroit is still putting on independent events such as this where fresh local talent is showcased. All it takes is a house, and a knack for melodies. The fifth annual “Whateverfest” will take place about the same time next year. If you want to see real Detroit talent, this is the place to look.

Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.