In Memory of Mike Torpie: Aug. 9, 1968, to Nov. 24, 2011

Mike Torpie moved to Nederland in 1995 and within 16 years brought about the rebirth of Nederland’s notable musical history. He nurtured the musicians and then sent them out into the world to share their talent. His baby, NedFest, has become a major music festival in the Front Range, and burgeoning artists have been launched after getting the nod from Torpie.

On the day Torpie arrived in Nederland he was nicknamed Michigan Mike, which soon became his billing name: Michigan Mike Presents. Torpie was born on Aug. 9, 1968, in Plainwell, Michigan. He lived in Detroit until he was nine years old. and the family moved to Plymouth, Michigan. During his teenage years, he worked as a camp counselor. He also worked for his high school radio station from September 1985 to June 1987. Producer’s Color Service as assistant Videotape Editor doing commercials, advertisements and programs.

Torpie’s interest in music production and communication carried into his years at Western Michigan University where he earned a bachelor’s degree, studying communications with a mass media emphasis, journalism and recreation with related advertising and marketing economics.

During his college years, he worked with radio and television studios, becoming the president and executive director of a monthly taped TV show and a monthly live TV show in Kalamazoo. By the age of 20, Torpie was a disc jockey for a radio rock show, and his love for music was bubbling into a career.

He became adept at camerawork, programming, editing, learning everything he would use later on as a music festival producer. In 1992, Torpie left Michigan and headed west, arriving in Boulder in November in the midst of a snowstorm. He couldn’t see the mountains. He didn’t know anyone west of the Mississippi River and he decided to find some live music for company. He was directed to J.J. McCabes on Pearl Street where half a dozen people were listening to music.

Three of the half dozen people were named Mike, and to distinguish him from other Mikes, they dubbed the red-headed newcomer as Michigan Mike, a name he hung onto. His first job in December of 1992 was as a DJ at the Darkhorse, where he played standard party music on Thursdays and initiated a Grateful Dead Bootleg Night on Tuesdays.

By this time Torpie had become a huge fan of Leftover Salmon and did whatever he could to help the group move into fame. He was a part-time videographer, photographer and archivist and taped the band’s first Telluride Bluegrass Festival performance in 1995 and went on to tape much of their summer tour. In his Facebook history, Mike wrote, “I just tried to spread the word and help promote their shows.”

During this time he attended the University of Colorado where he studied elementary education, which led him to employment in the Boulder Valley School District, working in the after school program of Whittier Elementary School. In 995, Torpie moved to Nederland where he became aware of the burgeoning music scene and began producing concerts with groups that showed up in Nederland and became booking acts, such as Blackdog and the Mountain Music Project, under the name of Toe Jam Presents.

In April of 1995, the first Michigan Mike Presents concert was billed as the First Foot Stompin’ Mountain Movin’ Music Festival and was held in a backyard and garage of a home in Cold Springs. That September Torpie moved the party to his house on Caribou Road, where there were kegs of beer, a tarp for stage protection, no budget and no cover charge. Just a place for locals to ‘jam out.’

“It was small time, very chill,” said Torpie.

At this time, Nederland was going through demographic changes, evolving into a community for families and growth. There were few places for young people and up and coming musicians, to hang out. When the backyard concerts ended, Torpie moved his acts to a once-a-week gig at the Top of the Square, where Accounting Specialists is now located.

He was so successful he was soon booking five nights a week. The Nederland music scene was blossoming, which led to the creation of Nederland Acid Jazz, in which many well-known bands had their start, including Charles Sawtell and Whippets, Tony Furtado, Wendy Wood Band, Zukes of Zydeco and a long list of performers who went on in their careers.

Torpie’s first big concert was the Eldora Special Recreation Program Benefit Concert at the Boulder Theatre on May 4, 1996, featuring Sawtell, furtao and Tim O’Brien to help handicapped and disabled children and adults enjoy snow sports recreation at Eldora Mountain Resort.

The first Nederland Music and Arts Festival took place on Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9, 1996,in Chipeta Park, showcasing more than 20 local and touring bands. It was a huge success. The next year, Topie initiated the Big Ole Mountain Festival in Rollinsville. At this time the Nederland Acid Jazz players began to perform on a regular basis at the New Potato Café in the former Chalet Suisse, the present Black Forest Restaurant.

In 1999, Torpie decided it was time to expand and to find a larger venue for his concerts that were bringing in up to 300 people. At first the Nederland Town Board was against the idea but, with a list of conditions, they approved the event to be held at the Jeff Guercio Memorial Baseball Field on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5, in 2001.

He operated the company and created the festivals, in charge of design and marketing for his website which featured performing artists. He obtained the permits and licenses, the insurance, the sound and the financial sponsors. Torpie was Nedfest.

He carried his organizational prowess into the community. In April 2004, Torpie was elected to be a Trustee on the Nederland Town Board of Trustees and to work closely as an economic development liaison, as well as working with the Public Works Department and RTD.

Over the years, neighboring residents have complained about festival noise, public drinking, fights, parking and security issues, but Torpie always prevailed, taking care of all the details and bringing in the permits that allowed NedFest to continue. Weather was always an issue, determining the difference between okay attendance and fabulous attendance. This past August was one of the best-attended, well-organized events of Torpie’s career.

His death is a monumental loss to all those musicians he offered a hand to, to all the audiences who attended the festivals and to the Town, which profited financially and culturally by Michigan Mike’s concerts.

Cinematographer Eric Abramson recalled Torpie as “Having a huge heart for music. He is an integral part of the continuing passion for music in our town. It is important to remember that he was looking through different lenses than we all do and to remember his contribution to music that will outlive all of us: the fabric of music in Nederland forever.”

Vince Herman remembered when Torpie went to California as part of the Leftover Salmon’s show. He was ready to climb on the bus and travel with the musicians. “That trip made him feel he had to do something in the music world. Nederland would be less of a town if he hadn’t landed here.

A memorial will take place sometime in the next two weeks at the First Street Pub and Grill.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.