Virginia Avenue Folk Fest founders Mike Angel and Patrick Burtch throw genre-bending block party in Fountain Square
Something round this way comes – a baseball, a doughnut, a vinyl record – working magic in the life of Patrick C. Burtch, co-founder of the Virginia Avenue Folk Fest. The third annual show will run Saturday, May 13 in Fountain Square.
The festival’s eclectic offerings could be called the music of the spheres in Burtch’s universe. Raised in Fishers, he entered young adulthood with a wish to fulfill his childhood dream of playing professional baseball. After a collegiate athletic career and graduate school, his interest waned in professional sports.
During a transition period, Burtch earned teaching credentials and taught high school. He began to concentrate on a sphere shaped like the middle third of a baseball – the doughnut. Putting his business education to use, Burtch opened Rocket 88, a vegan-friendly doughnut shop in Fountain Square that eventually had a sister location in South Broad Ripple.
He found it difficult to hire employees who were willing to make handcrafted doughnuts at 2 a.m. for the wages he could pay. The stressful routine and unimpressive profit margins led him to conclude he didn’t enjoy the food service industry. But he’d developed important connections with a regular customer and a neighboring business owner.
“As much as I had headaches . . . it created everything that I have now,” Burtch said of Rocket 88, which opened in 2014. Both stores closed in 2016.
Shortly after the start-up, he’d met Franklin Central graduate Mike Angel, a frequent diner at the shop. They discovered a mutual interest in music. In fact, Burtch had named his shop after a rock’n’roll tune from the early 1950s. Playing acoustic guitar, Angel sings with the folk band he founded, Bigfoot Yancey.
A former expediter for a freight shipper, Angel was on the job driving south of San Antonio, Texas, when he saw the names of two towns, Bigfoot, and Yancey, on a road sign. He called his friends in Indiana and told them they’d have a group called Bigfoot Yancey. Eventually, a structure was imposed on what had been impromptu sessions played around campfires in Brown County.
Burtch said that joking around with Angel produced farfetched ideas that became realities. Soon, the pair decided to produce a folk festival, first imagined on a limited scale with the doughnut shop’s lot as the venue. The idea ballooned into an event with multiple stages and a plan to benefit a neighborhood non-profit, Trusted Mentors.
The first Virginia Avenue Folk Fest was held in 2015 with 70 acts. Sponsorships backed the musicians’ fees, and beer vendors produced extra income. Volunteers also walked the sites to solicit donations for Trusted Mentors.
Burtch said he and Angel operate the Folk Fest as a limited liability corporation rather than struggling to assemble a board of directors for a non-profit. “Everything we do is streamlined,” he said.
After the first year, they decided to close down a few blocks on Virginia Avenue to stage the 2016 festival, which was impacted by unseasonably cold weather. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful was last year’s beneficiary.
The avenue will be closed again this year from Grove Avenue to Prospect Street. Music fans can pick from among 100 acts on 13 stages. A portion of the proceeds will go to Southeast Community Services.
With the closure of his eateries last fall, Burtch focused on yet another sphere – something like a baseball flattened into a thin slice – the vinyl LP record. Burtch and Angel opened Square Cat Vinyl last November on Virginia Avenue. The store sells vinyl records, but keeps a small supply of CDs featuring local bands.
A neighbor to the old doughnut shop provided financial backing for the record store, Burtch said. Fountain Square veterinarian Kurt Phillips is the key investor while Burtch and Angel run the enterprise.
Angel said he first suggested to Burtch that they run a venue for live performances, and they settled on the name Square Cat for their production company. The name is a reference to Fountain Square and to the “insane number” of feral cats in the area.
Then, Angel said he heard that a vet next door had a mascot cat named, “Square.” Allowing that he’s somewhat superstitious, Angel said they should talk with the vet. They became friends, and one day, Angel suggested they open a bar. He said Phillips declined, saying he’d rather own a record store. They agreed to open one, and Angel had his venue.
Patrons can preview recordings on turntables and partake of coffee, beer, and wine from a bar in the back. A centrally located space is for live bands. Just recently, Angel and Bigfoot Yancey gave two nights of shows at Square Cat for the release of their album, “Hills.”
Burtch admires Angel’s ability to get things done. “I haven’t met a lot of people who can make things happen,” Burtch said.
The Folk Fest is a genre-bending block party that includes rock and hip-hip performances. Acknowledging the expanded format, Burtch said, “Down the road, we may even have to change the name.”
The Virginia Avenue Folk Fest
When: Saturday, May 13, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Where: From 647 Virginia Ave. to 1102 Virginia Ave. Street closure from Grove Avenue to Prospect Street.
Admission: Free. VIP upgrades are available for a fee.