Beloved Neighborhood Music Festival Aims for August Return

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

The Orchard Street Pump House

Pumpstock Music Festival organizers Dudley “Smitty” Smith and his wife Kristin McCool are eager to bring live music back to East Lansing, but they are not quite ready to break out the guitars and stages just yet.

“First of all, we are proceeding slowly and making sure all plans are easy to cancel,” Smith said. “Musicians are being booked with a full understanding that the plan is tentative. I keep shaking my Magic 8 Ball, asking if it will be ok to host Pumpstock in August, but it keeps saying ‘reply hazy, try again.’”

If all goes as planned, this will be the eleventh year Pumpstock will take place. Traditionally, Pumpstock takes place every June in Bailey Park in the Bailey Neighborhood. Musicians from all over come to East Lansing, bringing the best in folk, rock, Americana, alternative country, and bluegrass, spread across two stages. The family-friendly event also brings in local food vendors, art installations, and various activities for kids, including something Smith describes as an “instrument petting zoo” to introduce children to instruments.

The music festival is an offshoot of the Orchard Street Pump House Concerts, which are currently on indefinite hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Past performers at Pumpstock have included local acts such as Jen Sygit, Matt Sprague, and the Matt Bliton Band, as well as national acts such as Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, Missy Raines, David Luning, and recent Grammy winner and up-and-coming bluegrass hippie, Billy Strings.

While the festival still remains in flux, Smith has tentatively started nailing down a few acts.

“Our plan has been to bring back, or I should say, bring, the artists that we had booked last year,” Smith said. “We book early for Pumpstock, and when the pandemic hit, we had all our plans in place for 2020. I expect we’ll have Nathan Bell from Chattanooga and Gaines & Wagoner – an amazing and fun duo from Madison, Wisconsin, along with six-time Grammy nominee Dan Navarro from California.”

McCool went on to add, “Nathan is a veteran of Pump House Concerts and Pumpstock, and Dan performed a Pump House Concerts’ show just before the pandemic hit last spring. Dan had such a great time with our audience last March that he has been wanting to come back. I’m excited his return will line up with Pumpstock!”

As Michigan is opening up vaccination eligibility to all adults age 16 and up starting April 5, area businesses and entertainment venues are slowly starting to reopen.

Here in East Lansing, Smith is willing to give the festival a try, but only if it’s safe, and all precautions are in place.

Smith and McCool are working closely with the city to decide if, and when, the music festival will be a go.

“As far as details like masks, social distancing, we’ll follow all CDC and state and local requirements and recommendations, as well as read the pulse of the Bailey Neighborhood, making sure that our neighbors’ thoughts and concerns are part of the plan,” Smith said.

“If we can’t do this safely, we are not going to do it.”

While Smith and McCool are the visionaries behind Pumpstock, they are quick to remind everyone that the festival is very much a community event.

“Pumpstock has always been a neighborhood event for the community,” Smith said. “While people come from all over Michigan (and farther), the focus is local. And the festival cannot happen without local support. We need volunteers, and we need donations (green room food, money for the musicians, etc.). Anyone that wants to get involved and/or donate should email me at pumphouseconcerts@gmail.com.”

For more information about Pumpstock, the Pump House Concert series, and recommendations for watching concerts online, visit their Facebook page.

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