To understand why and how a big, multi-day annual bluegrass festival took root in the small town of Milan in the 1980s, just think of the factory-job-fueled migration trail previously forged between Appalachia and the Detroit Metro area.
“In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, people moved to this area from Kentucky, from Virginia, from Tennessee, from West Virginia, … and [bluegrass] was the music they loved,” said Mark Gaynier, who hosts and organizes the Milan Bluegrass Festival. “The Kigers [who launched the first iteration of the festival] came from Alabama originally. … Lots of people around here had been born and raised on this type of music, so the Bluegrass Festival just felt like a big old family reunion.”
Ruth Kiger planned the inaugural Milan Bluegrass Festival as a charitable fundraiser (to help a friend who was suffering from an illness) in 1980, but the response was so overwhelming that she and husband Cayce Kiger, who’d built the KC Campground, decided to put on the festival annually.
The festival quickly grew in prominence – to such a degree that bluegrass god Bill Monroe appeared at the last one planned by the Kigers in 1986.
“Then Ruth Kiger passed away from cancer,” said Gaynier. “And the festival bounced around a little bit. It was in Leslie, Michigan for a while.”
Back then, Gaynier was a salesman for Frito-Lay, and the Kigers’ campground was one of his accounts. “I got to be friends with them,” said Gaynier. “I used to joke and say things like, ‘I should have a job like yours, where you sit out there in a lawn chair, and people just throw money at you and go put up a tent.’ And then in 1996, they came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you buy the campground?’”
Gaynier did just that. READ THE REST HERE