KALAMAZOO, MI – “I wanted to bring something big to Kalamazoo,” said Jennifer Hudson-Prenkert.
Hudson-Prenkert, founder of Kalamazoo’s newest music festival and symposium Sounds of the Zoo — which begins Monday, September 26 and runs at venues across the city through Sunday, October 2 — is doing just that.
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The free, first-year festival promises to showcase diverse styles of local, regional, national and international live music at various venues throughout the city of Kalamazoo, Hudson-Prenkert said.
Sounds of the Zoo begins with a Monday night show at 7pm at Bell’s featuring The Incantations, DC and DJ Boogie, and The Mainstays. The spotlight then turns to singer-songwriters from across the region, including Kait Rose, Nicholas James Thomasma and others, while Kalamazoo’s own Carrie McFerrin interviews each of the performers from the Hilton Garden Inn stage Tuesday night as part of her and her performances.
The singer-songwriter showcase is one of many events throughout the week that Hudson-Prenkert hopes will serve as a catalyst to move Kalamazoo’s music scene forward as it seeks to harness some of the energy that’s evolving on the festival arises.
Over the next year, she said, McFerrin and Sounds of the Zoo will partner to host monthly singer-songwriter shows featuring local and regional artists, hoping to keep that momentum going.
“I think one of the things that I’m offering is an actual curation of who we can be as a music city,” Hudson-Prenkert said. “I think we lost that a bit. Lots of great things are happening in Kalamazoo. We have Fontana, we have the symphony and the Gilmore Piano Festival. There are many things that are wonderful, but they are all special niches.”
What Hudson-Prenkert saw was a need to focus more on the local, independent music scene, something she says is waiting to flourish through continued collaboration.
An example of this collaboration will be on display at The XPerience on Thursday night when one of Kalamazoo’s newest venues partners with the 95-year-old Kalamazoo State Theater to host a dance party featuring Serita’s Black Rose Duo and Latin X DJ Mel V.
This comes just after Local Spins writer and musician Enrique Olmos delivered a short workshop on the importance of press releases and biographies aimed at aspiring artists. The workshop, hosted like others by the Michigan Music Alliance and recording engineer Ian Gorman, follows the template of the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas by offering workshops and presentations “designed to engage artists, industry professionals and music lovers to strengthen and unite around the world,” said Hudson-Prenkert.
The festival is expected to reach its crescendo over the course of three days at Bronson Park from Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2, as music fills downtown from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, 12:00 p.m. to midnight: 00 Saturday and 12:00 p.m. will fill -19:30 p.m. on Sunday. Acts including Grace Theisen, The Bootstrap Boys, Dani Darling, Earth Radio, Jordan Hamilton, Zion Lion and FlyLite Gemini will take to the Bronson Park stage over the weekend.
The park is lit up at night with a disco ball installation and lights dangling from trees, along with a few surprises, Hudson-Prenkert said.
“I think it’s going to make the city look really great,” she said. “We all discover this together. We’ve planned, organized and scheduled the music and there are certain things happening like the daily classes, but all of that has an element that as a festival in its first year it’s literally a work in progress, which I feel is unique to this festival and a gift of sorts , which I offer to the community by offering a really solid and varied program and making it free.
“When you start doing tickets and headlining, the dynamic changes. I try to bring about change in the community in a different way. I want people to be able to just see great music and understand that you don’t have to know all the bands or know all the songs, just be open to the experience and hearing different things.
In addition to live music, Hudson-Prenkert said she has created various villages within the park, including an arts village, a music village, a sustainability village and a mental health awareness village, which will be open Friday through Sunday. The latter two villages will highlight themes that are as central to the festival as music and music education, said Hudson-Prenkert.
The interactive villages will be information and sales oriented, but will also offer participants the opportunity to take advantage of free yoga classes, acupuncture or massage sessions while learning about music therapy, holistic healing and traditional community counseling services.
“This year is all about encouraging the conversation about mental health,” she said. “We have a lot of crisis services available, which I think is great and important, but I feel like just doing the conversations and making people aware of things that maybe aren’t, may seem small but it is an important element.”
Mental health awareness services that will have a presence at the festival include Backline, a national organization formed with the aim of supporting the mental health of musicians and other industry members who spend significant time on the move and with a different series of psychological challenges that many therapists deal with on a regular basis.
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In addition to events in the park over the weekend, four busking stations will be set up around town on Saturday, October 1 from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., with six different acts performing 45-minute sets each day. The stages feature everything from established acts to up-and-coming rock and hip-hop acts. Busking stations will be set up under the Kalamazoo State Theater marquee and outside of Brick + Brine, Rocket Fizz, and the Burnham and Flower Plaza.
“The simple story is that I aspire to make change through music and I feel like if I’m doing this over seven days, ‘grow big or go home’ and I want to push that forward so we can feel that energy of what it was like in the past when we had more things going,” said Hudson-Prenkert. “It’s an exciting time in Kalamazoo.
“There is still a lot coming in the pipeline for local music. We really need to build our local infrastructure so we can lead for the future.”
As the festival is 100% free to attend, Sounds of the Zoo is accepting donations for participating artists on its website to make it accessible to all. Sounds of the Zoo is funded by private dollars and supported by the City of Kalamazoo, she said.
Hudson-Prenkert, who is not only curating the festival with co-producer Chelsea Whitaker, but will take the stage at the Old Dog on Wednesday night when the Nathan Moore Project presents a tribute to Dacia Bridges in honor of the late Kalamazoo and international musician.
Visit soundsofthezoo.com for more information and a full program of music and workshops.
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