Wiltsie’s thoughtfully highlights the artistic brilliance of independent Michigan artists.
“Festivals have a whole ‘nother dynamic and atmosphere, and I think we’ll get a different crowd in to see these musicians and artists. The goal is for them to get more recognition and acknowledgement for what they’re doing while being able to pay them,” said Jackie Pappas, an Americana singer-songwriter who co-runs Wiltsie’s with Brandon Still and Paul Angelini.
Midwest Sounds will feature a star-studded lineup of Americana, folk, country and rock artists, including The Real Dan Minard, Sean Miller, Emily Rose and Pappas, as well as a young songwriters round.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Americana quartet of Jason Dennie, Aaron Markovitz, Keith Billik and Scott Kendall – also known as Through the Thicket – will headline the daylong festival.
“It’s all about giving back to the musicians, getting more of a crowd in and shining a light on everyone because they work so hard and are so talented,” said Pappas, who’s also partnered with Oxford’s HomeGrown Brewing Co. and Fenton’s D&W’s Street Eatery for refreshing festival craft brews and food.
In addition, festival ticket proceeds will support a new Wiltsie’s grant and mentorship program for independent musicians. As a newly established nonprofit housed in Main Street MI’s historic co-working space, Wiltsie’s will help one artist each month with recordings, videos, photos and music distribution.
“We want to help get them on their feet and give them that first nudge, so they can have a great portfolio to move forward and send their stuff to some venues. If they really like what we’re doing, then they’ll come back and have the funds to hopefully continue with us,” Pappas said.
The Wiltsie’s Vision
Pappas started cultivating her vision for Wiltsie’s as a community-focused nonprofit music venue in 2020. At the time, she revisited her passion for music after being a stay-at-home mother with two boys.
“I just happened to check my Facebook messages. I opened them, and one was from Brandon (Still). He had heard from a high school friend that I used to do music, and he was looking for someone to do live music here,” said Pappas, who also invited Angelini to become one of Wiltsie’s emcees.
“I was just saying that I wanted to get back into the music scene. I had started recording my album, and it was this cool snowball effect. We started doing music outside in the summer during COVID. It was kind of underground, but we kept it masked and distanced so people could enjoy some music.”
Once the COVID restrictions were lifted this spring, Pappas, Still and Angelini shifted to indoor ticketed shows twice a month (Thursday Songwriter Sessions and Saturday Songwriters’ Circle) at Wiltsie’s. The initial shows featured Minard, Markovitz and Pappas as part of a revolving songwriter round.
Word about Wiltsie’s quickly spread as more shows sold out and additional artists were booked for upcoming performances. Pappas, Still and Angelini expanded their regular artist lineup to include Kurt Russell, Mike Ward, Billy Brandt, Trey Simon, Alison Albrecht, Bill Arnold, Audra Kubat and others.
While grateful for Wiltsie’s popular live music series, Pappas decided to broaden her creative vision beyond a live music venue. She wanted to grow Wiltsie’s into a community-based nonprofit for local artists needing assistance with music promotion and distribution. Today, it’s been designated as a Michigan nonprofit corporation.
“The idea for the nonprofit came from my experience of making an album and trying to promote it. I started feeling very passionate about it and seeing how amazing our local talent is,” said Pappas, who named named the nonprofit and live music venue after one of Clarkston’s founders.
Last year, Pappas collaborated with Berkley producer-engineer-guitarist Jim Rawlings, Markovitz (guitar, mandolin, bass), David Mosher (violin) and Ron Pangborn (drums) on her introspective, self-titled debut EP. The folky, heartfelt five-track EP follows an insightful journey of self-discovery filled with renewal, loneliness, heartache and disillusionment.
“A lot in my life was happening through that time period, so I grew a lot. Writing was just working through that for me, so that’s kind of what my EP is about. It was about how you give up on yourself and you lose yourself. You feel lost, and you don’t know who you are, especially when you have kids,” Pappas said.
Pappas beautifully explores those deep-seated feelings on “Fallen Gypsy,” a tender, forlorn ballad about searching for newfound freedom and growth.
Contemplative acoustic strums, wistful electric guitar, hopeful bass and gentle drums invigorate Pappas as she sings, “Your twisted worn out dreams/Lost to the cold, the dark, the thieves/Caged in from the start/But that wild mustang heart was born to run free.”
“I was reading The Alchemist at the time, and my aunt was visiting and had just gone through a divorce. She kept saying, ‘I just want to be a gypsy,’ and I was like, ‘You’re a fallen gypsy’ because she has this free spirit, and she was trapped,” Pappas said.
“I started writing it, and I was like, ‘This is also me.’ It was kinda about both of us. The song just calls you to follow your heart.”
Pappas also follows her heart on “Poison Town,” a reflective, acoustic tale about the challenges of being diplomatic in today’s divisive world.
Somber acoustic guitar, gloomy bass and melancholic violin echo Pappas’ lingering frustration as she sings, “Needles puncture pain upon our hearts/Leaving bitter grooves that turn us dark/Oh break down the walls/That are carved in cold/Surrender the ones/Who have blackened your soul.”
“I feel really passionate about that one, and there’s such a message I’m trying get across there. I don’t know if everyone gets it, but can just everyone co-exist together without being so angry?” she said.
“‘Poison Town’ is about religion, politics and everything in society, and for a long time it was simmering. I don’t like the way Instagram makes people feel badly sometimes, and I don’t like the way how Facebook has a lot of bullying.”
The Pappas Musical Path
Before the rise of social media, Pappas started expressing her thoughts through music while growing up in Ortonville. As a kid, she wanted to be a singer and started singing into her tape recorder. Pappas also wrote poems and songs, but didn’t play guitar until college.
“I was 20 and just done with college softball, and I actually learned how to play a song for senior seminar,” said Pappas, who attended Oakland Community College. “Shortly after college, I picked up the guitar, and I watched one of Patty Griffin’s live shows, and I just fell in love with her.”
Pappas learned one of Griffin’s songs, and she quickly started writing her own material. At the time, she sought additional creative inspiration from Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, Lori McKenna and The Avett Brothers.
After getting married at 23, Pappas decided to have a family and put music aside. Five years later, she returned to music and started writing songs again.
“My youngest, Gus, was about two. I remember they were napping, and Hank was being good. I went outside on my porch, picked up my guitar and wrote this chord progression. I started crying, and it was about my kids growing and how I want them to follow their dreams and never be afraid,” Pappas said.
Filled with new music, Pappas attended open mic nights at Lake Orion’s 20 Front Street and met Rawlings. At the time, she mentioned wanting to record an album, and the duo worked together to fulfill Pappas’ dream.
“I started writing, and I had all these songs I wasn’t doing anything with. I want to help people, and I feel like music is so therapeutic. You have such a message that you can give through music. We all go through things, and it’s scary to put your music out there.”
Since releasing her debut EP in October 2020, Pappas continues to write new material with Russell and execute on her Wiltsie’s vision with Still and Angelini. She also plans to release a new single, host more live shows and increase support for local artists in 2022.
“It’s getting there, and you just have to find the right people to fall into place. I keep telling myself that patience is a virtue. In my head, I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, this needs to get done right now,’ and I’ll start stressing out. But then all of sudden, things happen,” Pappas said.
4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27
Bay Court Park’s Brady Lodge, 6970 Andersonville Road in Clarkston