Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ali Spagnola barred from performing in Michigan college community

Updated 5/4/2013: Ali Spagnola, a musician best known for performing a 60 minute power hour, was barred from performing a concert in Houghton and Hancock, Mich. on May 2 due to issues possibly involving Michigan Technological University and the The Houghton County Liquor Control Board.

The concert was to be held as part of Spagnola's Epic Power Hour College contest in which the college with the most votes received a concert at their school. Michigan Tech won the contest with 650 votes.

A “power hour” consists of 60 different one minute songs. At the beginning of each song, Spagnola and her audience take a one ounce shot of beer. The controversial show is likely what caused the initial problems.

Spagnola has played these concerts before without incident. Last year, she toured the United States, performing about 15 shows.

The event was originally scheduled for May 2 at the Continental Fire Company, a nightclub in Houghton, but they canceled on May 1 with a statement.
“We've received notification that MTU is quite upset with the idea of CFCo hosting your concert. We've hosted various MTU department events over the year and have begun to build our relationship with one of the MTU student groups such that we could serve as the venue for some student events. We were told that MTU would likely cut ties with us if we were to host your concert and I'm afraid we can't risk our long-term relationship with the university for the opportunity to host your concert.”
Michigan Technological University President Glen Mroz was surprised at the statement and denied this is the case. 

"This is the first I've seen this statement," said Mroz. "I don't know who wrote it, but I can say that no one was ever threatened with any reprisals...This is an issue between the organizers and vendors they have under contract. They need to sort it out."

Spagnola confirms that the university initially had no problem with her performing in Houghton, as long it was clear the concert was not affiliated with MTU. "The only communication I received from the university was an email asking me to clarify on my Facebook event that it was unaffiliated with the university and that I shouldn't use their logo," said Spagnola. "I immediately did as they asked, and they thanked me for my very prompt compliance. At that point I assumed they were happy with me. I heard nothing else from them though all of this."
The event was moved to the Orpheum theater in neighboring Hancock, but because they do not have a liquor license, issues with attendees bringing their own beverages forced them to move it to The Uphill, a nightclub in Hancock.

"Someone alerted the authorities about the show and I heard through word of mouth that what we were doing wasn't allowed and they were going to shut it down," Spagnola said. "Once I found that out, I again began scrambling for another option."

The concert then caught the attention of the Houghton County Liquor Control Board, who instructed The Uphill to shut it down, leaving Spagnola and her opening act, Professor Shyguy, with no place to go.

The reason for the cancellation, as explained to Spagnola, was three-fold.

"They said the event could not be advertised with a $5 cover. It's illegal to advertise the cost of something at a bar. The fact that the description of my event on Facebook had the word 'game' is also not allowed. The third problem is that I'm not allowed to sell my merchandise. They said it's illegal to sell things that aren't food or alcohol in a bar," Spagnola said.

MTU Alum Adrian Hannah was baffled by this reasoning. "It just feels like whoever contacted The Uphill was grasping at straws to try and do whatever they could to shut it down," Hannah said. "All of the elements of this whole situation put together feels like a concerted effort from one party to keep Ali out of Houghton." 

The students who voted for the concert were quite shocked and angered by the cancellation. Suggestions began pouring in encouraging Spagnola to come to the city anyway. A event was created to help cover Spagnola and Shyguy's expenses, and within two hours they were covered. Spagnola was thrilled by the support.

"Never has it been so awesome that so many people were upset. The students and alumni were really supportive of me through all of this and it was amazing to have them so excited for my show. I was absolutely flattered by the fact that there was such an uproar when it didn't work out," said Spagnola.

Even after the concert was canceled, however, it seems someone was still out to keep Spagnola and Professor Shyguy out of Houghton. A local establishment, The Downtowner, offered a room for a Power Hour-less party, but was contacted by the State Police and told they could not comply. Spagnola was also initially unable to find a room in the city.

"MTU even went so far as to try to stop me from having a place to stay. They told students not to let me stay with them. They tried to stop me from sleeping in the city of Houghton! On top of scrambling to find venues, I was scrambling to find somewhere to stay because people had canceled after MTU told them they should. I didn't know that was why at the time. I just thought I was having really bad luck with everything all at once."

While it's possible that someone at the university acted against Spagnola, President Mroz insists the school had no part in keeping Spagnola from performing.

"This is not a university function, nor is it sponsored by any university organization. So Michigan Tech has no say in it," said Mroz.

In the end, Spagnola is disappointed that those who wanted her out of the city didn't contact her in a reasonable manner.

"I really wish whomever was behind all of this would have just came to me in the first place. I was fighting a battle that I couldn't possibly win but I thought I was just fighting against bad luck and circumstances. This whole thing cost me a lot of time, money, hard work and stress," she said. "When I realized I was caused all these troubles not by bad luck but by a specific person or people that were out to thwart my every effort, it felt absolutely awful. I could have been saved all this strain, worry, effort and disappointment if they would have just been straightforward with me instead of silently following my every move and attacking once I'd gotten things set up again and again.

"Despite the fact that my marketing makes what I do seem like all fun and games, this is my livelihood. This is my business and my passion. I lost a huge amount of time and money that could have been spent on things that could have taken my business forward but instead, I was spinning my wheels and getting nowhere after days and days of effort because the people that were out to get me would not speak to me personally."

As of this time, none of the state agencies could be reached for comment.


  1. I don't understand how advertising costs at a bar is illegal? I hear about drink and food specials many times that included prices, such as the CFCo advertising "$1 off drafts and rail liquor and glasses of wine for $3.50" just last week on their facebook page. And what about the Downtowner and KBC shirts that they sell? If these are really laws, then they aren't ever enforced. Who would be so against her to go to these lengths? So crazy...

  2. Tech has many employees. I don't know who was at fault from the University, but I would like to believe that there was internal strife with the actions. I imagine that it was a religious fanatic of some kind who hates drinking that had to ruin a good time for other people. The majority of the students, faculty, and locals in the area drink at least on special occasions. End of a semester can be a special occasion. It sucks that someone had to enforce their belief, that drinking is bad, onto the many people who wanted to have a good time with Ali Spagnola and Professor Shyguy.

    Michigan Tech is known as an engineering school. Engineering students are stereotyped to drink. A solid reputation that the students drink makes the argument, that the University was trying to curb association with drinking, sound silly. Along with the formal denial that MTU had anything to do with the shutdown, it makes me think there is some self righteous destroyer of good times out there petting an evil cat and grinning.