Keweenaw Coop hosts blues festival

Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette — The Keweenaw Coop’s first BluesFest featured live music, children’s games, free ice cream, and a beer tasting.

HANCOCK — The first Blues Fest took place Saturday at the Keweenaw Coop, as a way to appreciate customers and the community.

“It’s the first event of this scale but four times per year we try to do a customer appreciation day,” said general manager Curt Webb.

The event featured live music, free samples and ice cream, and children’s games and face painting. There was also a beer sampling by Barrel and Beam, a Marquette-based brewery.

“We do a party every quarter and [summer] is our one opportunity to do it outside,” said coop marketing manager Todd Gast. Gast is the one credited with suggesting the Blues Fest theme. “We’re celebrating everything blue but mostly everything about this community.”

While some of the musical performers played country and blues music, the inspiration was actually blueberries. The delicious little berries are coming into season in the area.

“As much as anything, I think it was just thinking about the seasonality of it,” said Webb. “It’s a lot easier if you have a theme to wrap things around.”

The event was advertised more heavily than previous customer appreciation days and was promoted through physical flyers in the community as well as through social media campaigns.

“It’s actually my first time coming to one of these,” said Yang Yang, a Michigan Tech student who found out about the event on social media.

The event was also an opportunity for 31 Backpacks, a local non-profit organization that helps to provide food to at-risk families while their children are on holiday. Many children receive one or two meals five-days per week during the school year at their school, often through assistance programs. Families are not always able to make up those meals during the long summer break.

“We provide food for over 200 students,” said 31 Backpacks founder Mellissa Maki. “Those students are identified by people who work at the schools, so we don’t know who the children are.”

Some of the food purchased by 31 Backpacks is purchased from the coop. Shelli Karjala, a coop employee, is also involved in a program that purchases food from the coop to teach students at the Horizons Alternative School. The relationships led to the Coop hosting a “round up” campaign for 31 Backpacks. The campaign encourages customers to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar, with the proceeds being donated to 31 Backpacks.

“We began the campaign after the Father’s Day Flood last year as a way of helping out the community,” said Gast. The campaign will continue at the Coop for the next two months in preparation for the back-to-school season.