The secret summer festival you aren’t supposed to know about

by Heather MacIntyre

The Midwest Music Summit sits rightfully atop of the summer festival mountain. Kids from all over, not just the Midwest, gather in Indianapolis for a three-day music festival. Carpools of kids in their twenties come into the city, which also has its state fair the same weekend, giving a little tourist action to promote the community. This isn’t the typical weekend of unbearable heat, because the promoter makes a point to safely book it every year during the first week of August, unlike so many other concerts in the July sun that really leave you to weigh comfort against enjoyment.

Bonnaroo, Coachella and so many other events seem so large that the tiny ants you are watching perform a half a mile away hardly seem worth it. MMS has it covered: multiple venues that are mostly indoors and spread out over a few-mile radius so that you can pick and choose which you’d like to attend. But it seems like they’ve had just the perfect attendance every year – enough people to have a fun and productive weekend, yet you can breathe and move around and not have to worry about having to pay for a five-dollar water.

One of the more business-forward aspects of this summer weekend are seminars full of panel speakers from record labels, booking agencies, press officials, magazines, radio stations, songwriters, musicians, promoters, venue representatives and advertisers, so there is plenty to learn. And because of the ratio of opportunity to population of the festival, you can even sign up for a one-on-one interview or meeting with most of the representatives. You can learn how to start your own label, get your band signed and study promotion and advertising via radio station DJs. It’s basically a music industry “career day” weekend.

Kick-off parties start the night before the fest begins, hosted by some of the labels and XM radio, classes run during the day, performances start in the afternoon and headliners rock at night followed by more networking/schmooze meet-and-greets (bands also attend). But though this isn’t just for those involved in music industry, the music is always a solid enjoyment. Thousands of submissions are sent from artists and bands every year, and only a couple hundred make the stages. Margot & the Nuclear So-Sos played in 2006, as well as Silversun Pickups, Page France, Mickey Avalon, Murder By Death, the Hot IQs and Dr. Octagon.

One of the more important aspects of this Indianapolis retreat is the diversity in genres of music. In the past, there have always been a wide range of well-known performances: the indie-blues queen known as Cat Power, Tegan and Sarah (indie-pop), Fall Out Boy (pop rock), the French Kids (indie rock), Brazil, Rachel Yamagata (female singer/songwriter), Russian Circles (melodic/experimental), Love As Laughter and hundreds more. The Warped Tour is great, don’t get me wrong, but when you are looking at the schedule and have a conflict of three bands you want to see playing at the same time on different stages, it can be frustrating. The set-up here is a lot more convenient, with local restaurants and shops dispersed throughout it like its own little town (well, it is). They skipped MMS last summer to really put more into the 2008 festival. They wanted to get bigger and better acts, and continue to grow in more activity, press functions and seminars.

To comment on this story, e-mail Heather MacIntyre at