How To Produce A Premier Music Festival: A Conversation with the Producers of MO POP Festival

29 July 2017
Kevin Alan Lamb

A city will not be understood by its skylines, landscapes, and roadways which connect it; a city is made by the soul and spirit of those who not only wish for it to be better, but utilize their energy resources, and gifts to see it done. Folk’s like Dan Magowan, Jason Rogalewski, and Justin Miller who take great joy and pride curating experiences to serve as an escape for others. Even on the worst of days, these fellas are grateful for the lives they live, like MO POP 2015 when the grounds gave way to Lake MO POP, Dan Magowan could be spotted with an encouraging grin standing knee-deep in the water holding a Good Sign.


While most folks attend shows and festivals to let go and connect with something that too often eludes us, these fellas attend with an intent to discover ways to evolve their events for the benefit of each user’s experience. I am fortunate enough to have developed a meaningful tradition with these fellas over the last three years, and get exponentially more stoked for MO POP with each minute spent together. They are an inspiration to have the gumption to be diligent enough to do what you love for a living and imprint a ripple significant enough to result in the individual and collective happiness of a community.


MO POP is consistently one of the more enjoyable two-day conversations I find myself submerged in, and the music always offers something for everyone. Tops on my list this time around are Vance Joy, Alt-j, and Foster the People. I once saw Vance Joy play on the altar of a church in Austin during SXSW at 1:45 and that was kickass. I hope y’all are daring enough to manifest some kickass moments of your own at MO POP Festival 2017.

We are back here with Dan and Jason here at West Riverfront Park, the grounds of MO POP and in my experience, each year that goes by it’s a little bit easier and little smoother. How are we feeling a day away from the main event?

Jason: Yeah, I would say eerily smooth, the weather’s been so great so far, it’s looking good for the weekend, it’s gonna be year three on this site and we’ve definitely got it down and we’re really happy the way things are progressing so far. We’re hoping Friday will be slow, that’s the goal.

Dan: Yeah I agree with all that. With any event like this, you always sort of have the human element which can throw a wrench into your plans. So far everything has been great but you just kind of patiently waiting and see.

For people who don’t really have any idea, when did you guys show up on site?

Dan: Were you here Friday night?

Jason: No, Monday morning.

Dan: Most of us were here Monday morning, there may have been one or two people here plotting and planning Sunday evening, but Jason and I always pick the days with the worst weather to come visit the site. We started coming last February?

Jason: Yeah, snow storm.

Dan: We kind of pick a date, and it ends up being rainy, snowy, freezing - you name it.

In February, what kind of things are you doing?

Dan: Brainstorming, mainly, site changes, building forts [laughing].

Who’s the better fort builder?

Dan: Jason. 

Jason: I’ll take it!

Dan: He’s got the Grand Rapids, lake effect, history…

Jason: Yeah, the new edition is the shipyard, located where the beer garden was before so we have some actual brick and mortar restaurants, so we were figuring the layout, and how it would work for those restaurants, and still have the beer option with Griffin Claw and Blake’s Cider. Then the tiki bar that Sugar House is helping us with, that’s another addition that we’ve been figuring out with them.

Dan: We’ve got a MO POP branded beer made by Griffin Claw that’s available in a couple stores: Whole Foods, Plato Beer Company, we’ll have it on the site so we’re excited about that. The label of the beer can is based off our admat so that’s exciting.

What kind of beer is it?

Jason: It’s a pale ale. MO POP Festipale Ale.

Dan: We also added a general store for this year, which is kind of an experiment, but it will have a variety of products, like if you forgot sunscreen and that type of thing. We’ll have MO POP branded products in there, and one of the things I’m most excited about in there is we will have a Faygo cooler in there, and Fago is one of the sponsors that is sold at all the bars but in the general store we’ll sort of have all the colors of the Fago rainbow, as well as some rare Fago flavors, like a case or two. They’ve been really cool with that, I’ve been hounding them to know what’s coming, but I don’t know much about it, but talking to them there are people who obsess over certain flavors, and it’s a niche thing that some people get really excited about, so I’m super excited.

Over the course of the year are their other festivals you take a look at, I know you guys are both super busy in the music world, I don’t think there’s too much festival going…

Dan: Pineapple Orange is the Fago flavor!

[Collective laughter]

Dan: Pineapple orange. Yeah we’re both event nerds, I was driving down Woodward last fall when I saw orange, red, and brown porta potties, and I almost got into an accident because I was so excited to see that you can customize colors for porta potties because you normally see the blue, with the green, and I did a u-turn and went back to find out who the manufacturer is. That’s not a very exciting story, Jason does Coachella and he’s got better stories about that…

Go on and finish! Are we gonna have MO POP colored portas this year?

Dan: Not this year, but one could dream of future years of colorful portas…


Jason: Without even going to festivals, with social media and an Instagram account, it’s good to follow the other festivals and see what they’re doing…

Dan: Yeah Jason has a secret Instagram account, he doesn’t share with anyone. He spies on everyone else [laughing].

Jason: Yeah even yesterday we were scrolling through festival’s Instagram account trying to figure out how to do a bar frontage, and we brought it over to the carpenters  and we changed the top of our bar frontage because their design was better than the one we had, so just little shit like that is cool to figure out without even going to festivals. But I do like going to festivals, I usually go to a half dozen each year.

Dan: You learn from every event, every single event you go to. It drives my wife crazy because I can’t sit and enjoy a show, I’m always watching how security is doing its thing, the air quality, whatever the fuck it is I’m always watching something to see how we can improve what we do, or how they could improve what they’re doing if it’s a competitor or anybody else, so it’s a never ending learning cycle.

As popularity in Detroit increases and people keep traveling further and further from other places, what kind of demo do you'll have in terms of local versus out of town traffic for the festival?

Jason: Yeah we’re definitely aware of the buying patterns of where people are coming from when they purchase the tickets through us, but it’s still Metro Detroit where we sell most of the tickets. The state of Michigan is probably 75% of where we sell our tickets, but there are definitely people coming in from Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago actually was a surprising jump in sales this year which is cool to see. Then you get scattered sales all around the US.

Dan: You’d be surprised when you look at the little numbers. There are people from all over coming but like Jason said, most of its Michiganders coming to see Michigander.

Nice. To get into the music, what - in your eyes that might not be as obvious to other people were some real steals; I know last year you were talking about diversifying the lineup to really be representative of all of Detroit?

Dan: Yeah, Solange is a huge win for us. The Motown influence is significant on her and to have her at a festival here in town is awesome.

Jason: We got a few more hip hop acts this year with Tyler, the Creator, Run the Jewel, and Amine. Middle Kids is a new act that I’m really excited to check out. And we’ve got the usual suspects in that alternative-rock-indie with your Alt-j’s and PUP.

Dan: Mondo Cozmo. The local music is a little bit larger this year, with folks like Michigander, who is one of my favorites, Stef Chura…

Jason: Heaters is pretty cool, representing the west side of the state.

Dan: Humons. I think we’re probably most excited about this lineup than anything we’ve done yet.

Jason: Yeah, definitely.

Dan: And the after parties! Arkells at PJ’s Lager House Sunday night which is already sold out. Then we have Wavves at The Magic Stick Saturday, that’s a really good bill. Yoshi Flower is playing downstair on top of the bowling lanes. There will be no bowling during the set.


Dan: That should be pretty exciting, I believe it’s his first Detroit show, Gosh Pith’s solo project. The Arcade is back! If anyone would like to challenge me or be on my team rather, The Simpson’s game is four player, I call Bart, or I could be Homer, now that I’m a dad I’m more like Homer [laughter].

Much slimmer.

Dan: Yeah, thank you. It’s amazing what a grape trail of fatherhood Homer actually ends up being. Like an amalgam of all dads, doing things like “holy shit! Homer Simpson did this.” [laughing]

Does the part of you that likes The Simpson’s smile, or does the part of you that realizes Homer is Homer cringe a little?

Dan: Part of me cries, and part of me celebrates it. I would love to hang out with Homer if he was a real human.

Jason: Did he send over the list of what games are going to be here?

Dan: As much as was here last year and some special stuff. Don who does Off World Arcade, he brings the games in and he’s like a true video game nerd, in totally a positive way. He lives and breathes it and will be so excited about a game I may not have ever played or even heard of and he’s just like, “People are gonna freak when they see this!”

What’s going on in the art department?

Dan: The visual art installments will be a lot like last year, some fun little surprises, but it’s one of the things we hope to grow in the future. There are all kinds of really cool activations across the site, things for people to do. Jeremy Hansen with The River’s Edge, he’s back doing his thing and he’s got a whole crew of artists painting stuff right now. One of the most exciting things, we have some giant MO POP letters coming in. Nick, from Jason’s team, built those with his old man.

Dan: So Nick and his old man do one carpentry project a year and this year they chose to do MO POP letters so it’s really cool for us to have that for those two to spend that time together doing something for our collective good is pretty sweet.

[Enters site operations manager Justin Miller]

Year three on these grounds, the theme is it’s been a little easier, is there anything you're nervous about, or has it been smooth sailing?

Justin: Well we’re nervous every time we do this, anytime we do anything like this we’re nervous.

Dan: I’m nervous 90% of my life [laughing].

Justin: If you don’t wake up at three in the morning with a pit in your stomach you’re doing something wrong. Being here for the third year definitely, makes things easier. We learned some hard lessons the first two years, but the key is to take advantage of those, learn from your mistakes, and do better next time. I think we’re there now.

Yeah, it’s kind of been polar opposites: the first year was Lake MO POP and the next year was the Sahara desert…

Justin: Yeah that’s the thing. Weather plays a big deal, you never know what’s going to happen. But the grass has never looked better, the site looks fantastic, we’re expecting great weather, I probably shouldn’t say that out loud, but I just did.

And from the fun side, you guys have a great relationship, great rapport, can you talk about the opportunity to get to work in music doing something pretty cool that brings people a lot of satisfaction and doing it with great folks?

Dan: Yeah, sort of the canned response I always give is, I’m grateful to be in a position to do this, no matter what I’m doing, both MO POP related, The Crowfoot, and life in general, my job is to enable other people to have fun, and that’s a pretty wonderful position to be in, even when it’s a grueling day, when I’m doing the worst thing that we do, it’s still about that experience and letting other people relax and hopefully discover some new ideas and meet some new people and have a great time, so that’s very rewarding.

Justin: Yeah Dan nailed it. Fifteen years ago I was a carpenter; there are worse jobs to do, we’re very fortunate. Not saying that Carpenter is a bad job, I’m still swinging a hammer today, but we are in a unique position where we get to see behind the scenes where everyone else gets to kick their feet back, it’s awesome.

MO POP is a great first or 40th festival: two stages, staggered set times, and a beautiful blend of music, art, and Detroit soul. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and a cool summer breeze off the Detroit river in West Riverfront Park before you close your eyes and the leaves are turning brown. And just in case you were looking for one, This is a Good Sound.

Tickets: Weekend GA | Saturday GA | Sunday GA