Michigan’s GTG Fest, Where ‘Performers and Audiences Are Equal’


Image of Michigan indie rock band the Wild Honey Collective

The Wild Honey Collective are playing Michigan’s GTG Fest – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Michael Boyes

Local Music Beat: Michigan musician and GTG Records co-founder Tommy McCord chats about Michigan’s GTG Fest

Michigan-based GTG Records is an independent, DIY record label and community that’s all about making local music and art thrive. The label, based in Lansing, Michigan, has been going strong since 2005. It also features a range of DIY bands and artists from Lansing and across Michigan.

Each year, GTG Records holds its annual GTG Fest, and it’s back Friday (Oct. 20) and Saturday (Oct. 21) at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing. Tommy McCord – GTG records co-founder and a member of Michigan bands The Wild Honey Collective and The Plurals – caught up with Audio Ink Radio to discuss this year’s show, why indie music is about the performers and audiences being equals and more.

Audio Ink Radio: Congrats on 16 years of Michigan’s GTG Fest. How has the festival evolved over the years?

Thanks! One of the best things about GTG Fest is that it started as an organic grouping of friends and musicians and has always stayed that way. In 2008, it was a single day, private backyard party, and in 2023, it’s a multi-stage event in The Avenue Cafe, which has become the most consistent and diverse music venue in Lansing. Most importantly, the same core group of friends has been part of it the whole time. We look forward to meeting new faces every time.

Michigan’s GTG Fest is a celebration of live music, independent art, culture, community and Lansing, according to its official description. Please elaborate on that.

GTG Records began as a very simple co-operative DIY label with a focus on community building just as much as music. Lansing remains a fiercely independent and unpretentious artistic community. The festival celebrates all of the above while also just trying to be a good time for all who attend. I firmly believe that music is meant to be a communal experience, and the performers and audiences are equals.

GTG Fest features two events this year: Punks vs. Pokes on the 20th and the general festival on the 21st. What should attendees expect from each night?

Punks vs. Pokes is a long-running Lansing tradition started by Flatfoot’s Aaron Bales. It’s been held most years since, and it features punk bands and country bands alternating sets and covering the respective opposing genre. The genres aren’t so different once they’re broken down. I personally have been splitting my time the last few years between the more punk-oriented Plurals and the country-folk act Wild Honey Collective, so it’s a real natural fit for me. Aaron was on board with combining the events when I brought it up to him earlier this year, so we’re giving it a shot as one big weekend. The second night is more of a smorgasbord of indie rock, garage and pop, but both nights will feature rotating stages with continuous music.

How do you go about booking the bands for this festival, and who are you most excited to see this year?

We always try to roughly split the bill between GTG Records artists that have new or current or upcoming releases and also primarily local or independent acts that maybe haven’t played as often as others but we feel deserve to be seen by a new audience. Dale J. Gordon is an old friend who’s coming up from Nashville, making him the farthest traveling act this year. So, I’m very excited to see him perform. I haven’t seen Nonbinary with a full band yet, so I’m looking forward to catching them. Lemoncollies is always a fantastic sounding high energy band that I haven’t seen in about a year. Flatfoot is one of my favorite bands of all time. I also always love getting pummeled by the sheer volume of No Skull. But, I obviously am a fan of the whole bill, and there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Tell me about GTG Records and the mission behind the indie label.

The Plurals started the label as a vehicle to combine efforts with our band friends from neighboring small towns, which in 2005 meant helping each other have access to recording and making CDs. It’s always been a largely co-operative loose organization. We use GTG Fest profits to fund upcoming releases, and in the present day, it’s equally a grassroots promotional collective of bands that help each other book shows and tours and also a digital and vinyl distribution hub for bands’ recordings. We work with people we trust and get along with; no contracts and no, well, less, egos.

I find it fascinating that GTG Records really started up being a DIY label before music was as widespread as it is now. How has the musical landscape changed since its start?

Things are basically completely different than when we started 18 or 19 years ago. Everyone has access to recording software. Very few people make CDs. Global digital distribution is accessible and affordable. There’s always a niche market for physical media, and we do still sell plenty of CDs. But, vinyl, the primary physical format of choice, is cost-prohibitive. One of the main tangible “services” GTG provides to artists is funding and coordinating vinyl releases. Sometimes, I’m kind of just a project manager. Other times, I’m a full-fledged producer and financial backer. It just depends. I love that the playing field feels more level, even if things change constantly in the digital era.

What are your thoughts on the local music scene in Lansing and Michigan? What about indie music, as a genre these days?

Lansing will, hopefully, always be kind of dirty and scrappy, and the music created here reflects that. Things ebb and flow, audience-wise, for certain genres, but creatives in Lansing consistently have an independent spirit which serves us well in the long run. “Indie” music doesn’t really specifically mean anything anymore, if it ever did. That’s probably a result of the internet exposing more people to different sounds. I think genre borders breaking down is a net “win” for society. I don’t think anyone should ever feel “othered” for liking any kind of art, and the less gatekeeping the better.

Finally, anyone interested in our long back catalog of releases can stream most of it at Gtgrecords.bandcamp.com. Please sign up for the old-fashioned e-mail newsletter to stay posted on what’s happening every month.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Local Music Beat, Music, Rock News