Michigan Mike: A Nederland music icon

Michigan Mike: a Nederland music icon
Barbara Lawlor – Nederland

Early Thanksgiving morning, Michigan Mike Torpie died. He was found in the Nederland shopping center parking lot with a gunshot wound to the head. The cause of death has not yet been released, pending an investigation. There was no apparent foul play.

The Nederland music community was stunned as the news of Torpie’s death circulated rapidly through Facebook. Although most people were shocked at the death of the well-known music promoter, some people say they weren’t surprised and that Torpie had been despondent for a while and had been talking of suicide.

Torpie’s friends were filled with sorrow, confusion, anger, remorse and guilt, thinking there was something more they could have or should have done to help him through dark times. They mourned the loss of the music promoter, the NedFest Music Festival creator, the initiator of Nederland’s Acid Jazz boom and the friend and professional advocate for the mountain music community. For the past 16 years, Torpie has built a music family in Nederland — talented artists who grew up here musically and then went out into the world, sharing their love of music, but they usually came back to Nederland and to their mentor Michigan Mike.

Last Sunday night, Nov. 27, up to 400 people attended a benefit concert at the Stage Stop Inn, with Vince Herman and Leftover Salmon reuniting with members of Elephant Revival. Herman introduced the band saying the benefit was a fundraiser to raise awareness about suicide, about the decision that Torpie made and how we, as a community, can learn to help others who are going through difficult times.

“Part of what we are doing tonight is trying to help the town digest what has happened, and music is how we do that here. We are performing in honor of the influence of Mike’s life. Mike’s work is still going on tonight, bringing in music to bring people together.”

Herman said that a musician’s insurance fund is the result of having benefits, such as this one. Nederland Therapist Theresa Kratzer told the somber crowd who packed into the Stagestop loft that there were people in the room who also had thoughts of suicide. “You can’t save them,” she said, “but you can be there for them and let them know that things get better, that tomorrow is a different day.”

She asked the crowd to seek help if they knew someone who was about to push the envelope to the end and to call 1-800-SUICIDE. Within 20 seconds someone will be able to give you advice on how to help your friend. The hot line is a support organization that will be helped with the funds that were raised on Sunday night. Tickets to the event were sold out by noon on Sunday, when the word spread.

“We share love on this planet,” said Kratzer, “and we need to take good care of each other. She suggested also contacting Hopeline.com.

When Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival sang her first song, a mournful but quietly joyful ballad for Michigan Mike, mourners held each other and rocked back and forth to the soulful words and melody. Dango Rose, Daniel Rodriguez and Jeff Austin soon joined her, picking up the pace, and then Leftover Salmon, Torpie’s first introduction to Nederland’s music world, gave the crowd the musical release it craved, a concert of reunion and with the promise of carrying on Torpie’s musical gift to his mountain friends.

Susan Sepanik, a longtime NedFest fan, danced and smiled remembering 14 years of attending the weekend long concerts and dancing in the sun. She said, “Tonight is a time to honor the precious nature of life and to preserve it.”

Please continue on to read Michael Torpie’s obituary, click here…

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.