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This month’s MSMF brings the old and the new

July 8, 2018

Allison Beasley, 41, of Kankakee, who works at the Kankakee Public Library as its assistant director, has had a longtime love and appreciation for music, so it makes sense that she plays a big part with Kankakee’s Merchant Street Music Festival.

The Daily Journal recently sat down with Allison and discussed this year’s Merchant Street Music Festival, why it’s so local and some new things that will be happening to make this year’s MSMF even better than the last.

How much effort goes into picking out acts for the two-day festival?

“Typically, we start looking for bands usually in August, right after the fest is over. We’re working on headliners at that point. It is something that we do year-around. Once we get those bands that are harder to book in August or September, we’re also working on other events at the library. So we really start booking in earnest in the wintertime.”

Who should people keep an ear and an eye out for at this year’s festival?

“Probably one of the bands that’s most unusual is Murder By Death. They’re playing on the hill stage Friday night, and they have a huge following. That was a happy coincidence that we were able to get them, and that they were available. They’re from Bloomington, Ind., and their name sounds dark, but it’s like indie-rock and they have a dark, Johnny Cash sound, like a haunting, indie sound. It’s totally unlike anything that we’ve brought here for the fest.”

“As someone who grew up in the 80′s and 90′s, Jody Watley — that’s such a fun thing that we have her. Some of these 80′s and 90′s bands that we’ve had, they’re all aging, but she’s so energetic and still a really great singer and I think it’ll be a lot of fun having her sing those songs that a lot of us know from years ago.”

“Where else would you go that those two acts would be at the same fest?”

What can people expect from this year’s Merchant Street Music Festival?

“Dancing, a lot of great food, a lot of incredible music. For a lot of people who’ve moved away, this is the one time in the summer that they come home. That’s one of our marketing campaigns that we’ve been working on this Summer, is “Come home for MSMF.” This is a fun time for them to reunite with friends and family. We have three high school reunions that will be having their reunion (Eastridge class of 1973 and 1983 and Bishop McNamara class of 1976), at the festival this year.”

“I also think there’s magic in the diversity of this fest. That no matter what our politics are or how we feel about each other, music is the things that unites us all. It’s just magical to look around and see a melting pot of different types of people who’re enjoying the commonality of music and food.”

How many people does it take to put the music festival together?

“We have about 20-25 people that volunteer to manage a certain section of the fest, like traffic, grounds, information and tickets. Our youngest music fest manager is 17. That’s what’s allowed this fest to grow, that it’s not just a couple people doing everything.”

Has there ever been someone that you really wanted but couldn’t get?

“Oh yeah. We’ve got a long list of headliners like George Clinton, but they’re so expensive. People give us suggestions all the time, or they’ll ask why can’t we have a more modern band. We’re only charging five dollars, so people have to keep in mind that it’s important to keep the cost down as much as possible to make it affordable for the community. This year we have 36 acts, and that all costs a lot of money, so we have to be creative with the bands that we choose.”

“We really try to get an eclectic mix. its not just one or two genres, we go hog wild and try to get a mix of most genres that we think the community would enjoy. The fun is in the exploration of stumbling upon a band that you’ve never heard of, that you may never go to Chicago and pay to see, but we brought them here for you, and that’s what I think is the most fun part.”

There’s a lot of local acts this year on Saturday. How did that come to fruition?

It’s the same amount that we always have, we always try to have around forty percent local. That’s always something that’s been important to us. Every year we get more musicians who email us asking about how they can play this festival. So many young artists too that are getting into hip-hop and rap.”

“This year we have a couple of acts, that normally we wouldn’t book without a band on the Merchant Street Stage. We’ll do that if it’s our national act, but this year we have two, young artists who don’t have a backing band, who’ll be opening the fest on Friday. There’s T-Mac (Tevin Watson), he’s from Hopkins Park, and he just does such a great job of positive music. Then there’s Andrew Johnston, who we’ve all been watching his star rise, and he just has an amazing voice.”

Anything new this year?

“We’ll have pop sockets this year for your phone, and we also have enamel pins with our merchandise. You can find MSMF merchandise at the library on the third floor starting Monday, July 9. Something new that’s old is the BMX Division Stunt Show. That’ll be Saturday in the South Lot, and they’ll do 20-30 minute shows in between musical acts. It’s the 25th reunion of the Superhero Stunt Show that they had here in Kankakee 25 years ago. BMX was really hot here in the 90′s.”

“This year, we’re also looking into shutting down the 200 block of Schuyler on Friday, and opening it back up late Saturday night.”

What do you say to naysayers of the festival?

“Thank you... for making us all work harder. Your supporters are amazing and they’ll support you no matter what. But the criticism has helped us the most. That’s kind of what you need to keep it fresh and keep it going. I think we’ve tried to use that as fuel, we’re gonna give people an event that’ll make it hard to find things to complain about. We love this community, even the haters. We’ll make fans out of you, whether you like it or not.”

“We want to get better every year. We don’t want it to get stale. I think we’ve all been to events somewhere where you think it’s the same thing every year, and that’s the last thing that we want. That’s often why we don’t book bands multiple years.”

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