Ferndale isn’t well known for music festivals. Mostly because there haven’t been many. For the second consecutive year, though, Jason Stollsteimer (formerly of the metro Detroit indie-rock band The Von Bondies) has put together a successful extravaganza of talented musicians for The Secret Friends Festival at The Loving Touch.
Acts from many different places performed at the Ferndale night club on Friday and Saturday for this musical mini-fiesta. Some made the trip from Canada (Dead Broke), New York (Cold Blood Club), Pennsylvania (Nox Boys), Ohio (Brian Olive), Iowa (Max Jury) and Illinois (Twin Peaks and Vamos). The rest were metro Detroit-based bands that Stollsteimer intelligently booked with no repeats from the year before.
The Loving Touch, as a venue, has an enticingly comfortable atmosphere with a wall of ivy in the back and a decent sized dance floor. Acoustically, though, the place ranges from downright horrible to mediocre (at best) depending on where you are sitting or standing. Especially with the heavier acts, sometimes it was hard to make out the lyrics they were singing.
There were two stages, the side stage and the main stage, with performers playing 30-minute sets and alternating between the two. The side stage had the worst noise of the two because it was in the middle of the building, so if you were behind the band then you lost a great amount of sound quality. Some musicians made up for the shoddy acoustics with intense on-stage energy and phenomenally produced instrumentals. Others did not.
A few artists of note at the side stage that overcame the sound troubles were The Vonneguts, Dead Broke, Blaire Alise and the Bombshells, Nox Boys and Nigel & the Dropouts. Dead Broke was the most exciting band of the bunch as they completely disregarded the small size of the stage and brought the high tenacity that hardcore punk is known for on Saturday. The lead singer even fell on me during the show. The previous night, Blaire Alise and the Bombshells strummed heart-warming pop-punk that included a kazoo solo in one of their songs.
For the most part the scheduling was on-point besides a few hiccups here and there. An example would be the vocally-generic sounding solo-folk artist Max Jury (If you are reading this Jury, please don’t ever cover Neil Young again) being placed before Dead Broke. Jury was one of the least impressive acts of the two nights as he notably brought down the energy and would’ve been better placed before the crowd came.
Twin Peaks closed out the weekend on the main stage and stole the festival. The Chicago-born indie-rock foursome combined beguiling melodies with captivating, on-stage antics. They reminded the gathering of Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers what rock n’ roll is all about as they head-banged and played so hard that they broke multiple strings. The main stage also hosted memorable performances by Valley Hush, Valentiger, Siamese, Eleanora, Cold Blood Club and Brian Olive.
Despite a few flaws, The Secret Friends Festival drew a large audience during the two days. And for a modestly priced $8, you got your money’s worth. It was pleasing to see such a spectacle on a brutally frigid weekend in Michigan. The crowd and music warmed the bones of the masses.
Visit the Loving Touch website to see the schedule of events. Depending on booking and finances, there will hopefully be another Secret Friends Festival next year. Keep an ear out, because you won’t want to miss it.
Other music features:
- UFO Factory in Corktown revives bar where Kirk Gibson, Babe Ruth drank
- Old Miami remains unique gem for music in Detroit’s Cass Corridor
- Baker’s Keyboard Lounge retains remarkable jazz tradition in Detroit.
- Cadieux Cafe, a former speakeasy, serves up great live shows, Belgian beers
- Punk rock is not dead in Detroit. Trumbullplex, others keep genre alive
- Jack White’s Homecoming at Fox Theatre Was Final Piece of Puzzle
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.