What happens when you pair $18 million in beach and park improvements, the crystal clear waters of Green Bay, and Reggae, Roots and Rock? The Midwest Sunsplash Music Festival in its new home in Sister Bay, Door County!
This August 7-8, the new Waterfront stage in Sister Bay hosts the first new major music festival to hit Door County in a decade. A line up of 9 musical acts, an eclectic mix of food and drink vendors, and sellers of groovy goods will bring a fresh vibe to the village and give people an opportunity to check out the newly completed beach and Waterfront Park.
“Midwest SunSplash is a fun and funky new venture for Sister Bay, that will ideally make people take another look at Sister Bay as a place to visit,” said Zeke Jackson, administrator for the Village of Sister Bay. “This event is an opportunity to showcase the new public waterfront in an active and vibrant way. Sister Bay is the place for young, active families to relax and make fun memories.”
Village President David Lienau confirmed Jackson’s sentiments, adding, “This will attract new visitors that haven’t been to Sister Bay or Door County, and give people who haven’t been in a while a reason to come back.”
The connection with Sister Bay and the Midwest Sunsplash (MWSS) event was a serendipitous one. Unity the Band played the first ever concert on the new Sister Bay Stage July 31, 2014. After the show, Unity lead singer Pita Katobalavu and Sister Bay Advancement Association Director Paige Funkhouser chatted about the new venue, music and SBAA’s desire to bring a music festival to the Village. Thus, Midwest SunSplash found a new home.
MWSS began as a concert series by Katobalavu and his partner, Kay Halbrook. They were looking to grow the series, and for a new, better venue than previously used.
“Unity headlining the first concert at the new Waterfront Pavilion last summer packed the park,” Funkhouser said. “It was a perfect night: warm, beautiful sunset, people on boats listening to the jams. The energy of Pita’s band and their really positive messages created beautiful atmosphere on the waterfront. Unity drew a huge crowd with a fantastically diverse mix of ages and personalities. Zeke (Jackson) and I started talking with Pita and from there the festival idea grew into what people will experience Aug. 7 and 8.”
Funkhouser, Jackson, Katobalavu and Halbrook met in November over sushi at Bonsai in De Pere, and started planning this year’s event as a soft opening of the new waterfront. A Joint Effort Marketing grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism was written, and awarded to help promote the event. The grant award is funding the traditional and social media marketing to attract visitors from around the Midwest to the event. The state’s tourism marketing arm was onboard with the goal of inviting younger people and more diverse visitors to the state and Door County.
August 8 will be an art and music-filled day on the water in Sister Bay. Sister Bay Advancement Association will also host the 13th annual Door County Festival of Fine Arts in Waterfront Park on the north side of the Sister Bay Village Hall. This festival showcases Door County fine artists, who sell, and demonstrate their craft throughout the day, 10 – 5 p.m.
“By pairing these two events, people attending Midwest SunSplash can spend their day perusing fine art at the Door County Festival of Fine Arts, and learning how artists create,” Funkhouser explained. “DCFA will also have live music throughout the day to put people in the mood for MWSS. Door County’s successful art scene will help draw people to MWSS, and people who have come for the new music will get to experience the vibrant art scene in Door County.”
Katobalavu handpicked the entertainment to represent diverse music styles, with the idea to appeal to the usual Door County crowds, with aspiration to attract new visitors who may not have been to the peninsula.
“My band has played all over in Door County, at Fishstock and other events for many years, and I love the warm welcomes we receive,” Katobalavu said. “I wanted to make sure we brought up great musicians that will entertain the local people who are exposed to lots of great talent all the time. I also chose bands for their geographic location and the size of their fan base. The bands will invite their fans to come up to Door County and hear their favorite band in a new location. Did we mention you’ll be able to swim while listening to the music?”
The festival kicks off Friday, August 7 at 4 p.m. with three bands playing on the Waterfront Stage until 9 p.m. Saturday’s line up features six bands playing from 2 p.m. until Midnight.
Honey & the 45’s kicked off their 2015 touring season by opening for Smash Mouth in North Carolina, and are including Midwest Sunsplash in their busy schedule. Katobalavu first connected with them through a fan in Rockford, and in his search for unique acts for MWSS, he thought they really stood out.
“Their folk/blues/funk combo is really kick-ass,” saaid Katobalavu. “Having two women musicians out front isn’t something you see too often!”
Lead singer/songwriter and guitarist Kristina Cottone shares the stage with Kim Kozel, who sings and plays saxophone and violin in this Chicago-based group. Kottone and Kozel are joined by lead guitarist Jon Gould, Sean Tatum on bass, and drummer Jarad Kleinstein. Among their credentials is a Best Blues/Jazz Band honor in 2014 from the Chicago Independent Music Awards. They recently released their second album “MAD.” They will kick off Saturday’s line up at 2 p.m. on the Sister Bay Stage.
Natty Nation will draw their fans from Madison and southern Wisconsin to Door County, with the lure of a great Friday night headliner show at MWSS. Traditionally, Sunsplash festivals are known for the Reggae message of peace, love and unity, and Natty Nation has been touring and playing those positive vibrations since 1995. A steady back up band for such legends as Lee “Scratch” Perry and Chaka Demus & Pliers, they have a tight dub-based sound that attracts reggae purists as well as seekers of roots-rock-reggae.
Other bands performing during the two day event include: Katobalavu’s Unity the Band, Whiskey of the Damned, Recalcitrant, Big Wig Mechanics, Wifee & the Huzz Band, and Earth to Clark.
For a full festival experience, camping is available for festival goers at the Sister Bay Sports Complex, with a separate area for tents and RVs. Starting at 9 p.m. Friday night, MWSS ticket holders will be treated to an acoustic “after-hours” campfire music jam at the camping area hosted by Door County’s own Mary Jane Gang.
“Camping really makes the festival by adding a communal setting for people to share and chill during and after MWSS. The Village of Sister Bay has helped make this happen, and they are building a bonfire for Friday night’s acoustic jam, and will shoot off fireworks Friday night,” said Funkhouser.
To create a festival atmosphere, MWSS is looking for food and drink vendors, and arts and crafts vendors, that will fit with the Reggae-Roots-Rock vibe.
“We would love to bring locally sourced foods and drinks that include healthy options mixed in with summer treats to our festival, and that has been the focus of our search for unique vendors,” festival manager Kay Halbrook said. “The arts and crafts vendors will be distinctly different than the artists showcased in the Door County Festival of Fine Arts. We have a multi-cultural focus, with people sharing ethnic rituals like the Fijian Kava Ceremony and Henna Tattoo Artists, along with people selling natural and peace-building goods and native arts.”
The musical lineup for the day will take the stage on the Sister Bay Waterfront Stage, except Friday night after 9 p.m.:
Midwest SunSplash Music Festival is Friday from 4-9 p.m. at the Sister Bay Stage in Waterfront Park, 10693 North Bay Shore Drive, Highway 42, Sister Bay. Friday’s entertainment will move to the nearby Sister Bay Sports Complex (2155 Autumn Court) from 9 p.m. – midnight. Saturday, the festival grounds open at noon with music from 2 p.m. to midnight at the Sister Bay Stage in Waterfront Park.
Tickets are $30 for General Admission and $10 per person for camping. Tickets are available online at www.midwestsunsplash.com and at the door the day of the event. Children 10 and under are free.