Mikee Bridges: Catching Up with the Founder of TomFest

posted in: Articles, May 2011 | 1

Mikee Bridges has been in more great bands than you probably realize. Not to mention being the founder of Tomfest – which was a great festival with bands that were geared away from the CCM scene and catered more to the punk/alternative/indie crowd. I never made it to a TomFest but I certainly wish that I could have. I remember seeing the pictures in HM Magazine for years of new bands, established bands, and crowds of people who looked like they were having a great time! Pictures of Michael Knott dressed in face paint and playing his unique brand of singer/songwriter/showman music were always a treat. I also have cool video from TomFest of Value Pac backing up Knott as the Aunt Bettys. It was a unique and special time in music!

Mikee is a husband of six years and is married to Vera Bridges. He has four kids that are ages 10, 11, 13 and 16 years old. I guess before it’s all over he will have four teenagers in the house at once! Bridges lives in California and attends the Ventura Vineyard on the West Coast. It was a lot of fun to catch up with Mikee and get his perspective on the bands that he played in and the scene that he helped influence through music (and through the monumental task of creating TomFest). It was also cool to catch up with him about what he is doing now – which is pretty unique and interesting in and of itself. Enjoy the chat!

What are all the various bands that you have been involved in, and can you recall from what dates they were around?

I have been in a ton of bands, but the ones of note would probably be Gecko Monks (Free Rain Records) from the early 90’s, Sometime Sunday (Tooth and Nail Records) 90’s, Twin Sister (Star Wars tribute band 5 Minute Walk Records) Mid 90’s, Tragedy Ann (Organic – Pamplin Records) late 90’s-2000’s.

How did the bands come together, what is the history there?

I moved from Ventura, California in late 1989 to Portland, Oregon and I didn’t know a soul. I was a beach kid who grew up listening to the latest in underground Christian music coming from Orange County. I was going to shows at least 3 times a month. When I moved to Oregon, there was nothing. There was no music coming out of Portland at the time and nowhere to go. I found a flyer at a grocery store for a band that was playing at a Church. I went to the show. The band was not my style but they were nice and we became friends. They turned me on to a Christian club in the next town over and though the place was cheesy, it was a start. I met a guy through my first job up there that had a ‘gospel’ recording studio. It really wasn’t but we became friends. He had a building and I asked him if he wanted to start a club. Long story short, we did and it was great.

I met a lot more people and musicians. I found a few guys to jam with and Gecko Monks was born. I was playing bass at the time and I really wanted to sing so a couple of years later I literally stole a few guys from other bands and asked them to join with me, Sometime Sunday was born. We did well locally and had a great following very quickly. We won a contest for new bands and played at Cornerstone one summer on the new band showcase stage and met Brandon Ebel who was just about to start Tooth and Nail. We also met Andy Prickett from the Prayer Chain, Andy liked us and would go on to produce a bunch of our records. We were practicing at my house one day and we were goofing around. All of us had switched instruments and Todd Fadel from ‘Sappo’ and now ‘Agents of Future’ grabbed the microphone and started singing Star Wars dialogue as lyrics to the heavy, funky music we were playing and Twin Sister was born. We were very popular so we went in and made a record as a joke and people loved it. Sometime Sunday died because of some controversy about our record, so I decided that I wanted to start another band and do more of a Foo Fighters meets Social Distortion project and Tragedy Ann was born. At that point Portland had a thriving Christian music scene so finding musicians was relatively easy. My guitar player Erik Whittington (Rock for Life) was the one consistent member. He played in Sometime Sunday, Twin Sister and Tragedy Ann.

What are your musical influences?

My musical influences were all of the bands coming out of Calvary Costa Mesa and Yorba Linda Friends Church. Undercover, Altar Boys, The Choir (Youth Choir), Common Bond, Lifesavers, all of the Broken Records stuff, etc. I ate that up in high school. I was a huge fan of all of those guys. Interesting now to be friends with a lot of them. I was also into U2 and a lot of 80’s new wave and I really liked the Christian punk movement with the Crucified, Point Blank, etc.

What are you doing these days, still playing music?

Right now, on occasion, I will play some worship and I have an 80’s new wave cover band that plays new wave but with heavier guitars. Other than that, nothing really. I don’t have a lot of time for it and I was never one of those true musicians that always did and always will play. I enjoy watching my kids play and being the dad that doesn’t mind if they play loud drums in their room. My son plays guitar, one of my daughters plays drums, and one of my other daughters plays piano, guitar and sings. One of the greatest moments was a couple of years ago when my eldest daughter did her first solo show at TomFest. I was her roadie. It was great.

Do you have a place for people to purchase your music past and present, a website, etc?

I don’t have anywhere people can buy the music unfortunately. It’s really a time thing. People write me and ask for stuff. The only thing I have in my garage right now is Twin Sister CDs. I would like to add something to my website. Maybe there is someone out there that would help me :). Erin Collins, a band archivist from those days, and a band member herself, has a website with some stuff on it. The record she has up is the Sometime Sunday demo EP we did.

What are some of your best memories from playing live? Are there shows that you played that were memorable and what makes that stick out in your mind?

The shows were always great. We had a pretty good draw for all the bands I was in so touring was fun. Although I loved playing I really saw the stage as a great way to speak about Christ in a very real, non scripted, honest way. So much so that it got a little controversial at times. God allowed us to affect a lot of people and I am happy about that.

That was my main reason for doing it. The fun stories are the practical jokes and pranks we pulled, that was the best. There were some very elaborate pranks we pulled on other bands and even promoters. We had one tour when Tragedy Ann was just starting. We just finished our record and it wasn’t even on shelves yet, and we went on tour with Grammatrain and Common Children. We were the first band each night and we had only a 20 minute set. People who were Sometime Sunday fans knew who I was, but Tragedy Ann as a whole was an unknown so we needed a gimmick to become memorable. We all dressed up like cowboys at the shows and we had our sound guy turn the speakers in and we invited everyone in the audience up on to the stage. They were part of the show. It worked out great. So much so that we were selling out of everything we had and becoming the crowd favorite. The management from the tour made us raise our prices twice because we were selling so much, that made us a little mad being that we were not getting paid a dime and we were the openers with very little time to play. Grammatrain used to open for Sometime Sunday so it was an odd situation. We came up with a way to get even. Each show had lunch and dinner catered and anything left over would basically go to the headlining band. Well, while the headliner was playing we would have our driver go in the back and load up all of the extra food and drinks into our RV. We called it Operation Blackhawk. The funniest part was when the other bands would come to our RV after a show asking if we had anything to drink or eat. HAAHAAHAA! Of course we did! We were heavily stocked the entire tour! (I hope they don’t read this.) We pulled a lot of other pranks as well. One was in Arkansas. Basically we started playing and literally trashed the audience with water, silly string, confetti, markers, perfume, etc. It was mayhem. The promoter loved it and so did the audience. One year later when we returned for a show, the audience got us back. We didn’t know they had a plan but one song in and the audience unleashed a barrage of the same thing we got them with the year before. It was hilarious.

Tell me about Gamechurch and how that came about?

GameChurch is weird. I was not a video gamer, I am a musician and a promoter. I’ve been in a bunch of bands, I have built 5 clubs, done tons of one off shows and 14 years of music festivals. In one of my latest clubs I had a small room that had a few arcade games in it. I got rid of the arcade games and put 12 PCs in it and hooked them together. People liked it. So I expanded it in the next venue I built which is the one we are presently in. We put 31 PCs and all the consoles in a sci-fi bunker type theme. Kind of like the entrance to a ride at Disneyland. We started a Bible study called GameChurch on Thursday nights and found that a bunch of people that would never go to Church really liked it and so we wanted to figure out how to make it bigger.

We met the guys from XXXChurch and really loved their model. They go to Adult conventions and Porn shows and hand out a small Bible tailored to that industry. It’s the Gospel of John with commentaries from the Adult world in it. We decided to do the same thing in the video game industry. We took a year and went to a bunch of video game trade shows and found that no one was doing it. So GameChurch became our project. We go to video game trade shows like E3, ComicCon, PAX, GENCON, etc, and at our booth we tell people Jesus loves them, give them a video gamer Bible (if they want it) and hang out. It’s a bit controversial because our icon is Jesus with a headset and game controller in His hand. We also serve beer and we are honest about what we do. We also have a very secular website with news, reviews, forums, videos, a TV show, parodies, etc as well. It’s only when the visitor clicks on the word ‘Church’ will they see anything spiritual. It’s kind of like Facebook for gamers. At CES in Las Vegas in January, we gave out 3000 Bibles. It was great.

How did TomFest come about, was that a partnership or a solo venture?

TomFest was an idea I had after playing a bunch of festivals and producing a ton of shows. I thought “How hard can it be?” Well it’s a lot harder than I thought. I had a friend that found a location and the people that managed the location were willing to let me try it. We were driving home from looking at the location and someone in the car said, we should name it Tom or Frank or something. So TomFest it was. Getting bands to play was pretty easy. I was in Sometime Sunday so we had relationships with all of the popular bands at the time and back in the day it was a phone call to book a band. No management, agents, etc. I had friends that donated time, sound systems, lights, etc and I did my first one. I think it was 80 bands or so. My friend Todd Fadel was with me and we ran the first one almost by ourselves. It was crazy but it worked. In 14 years I did 18 of them in 4 different states. The last one was 2 years ago. In the height of it, it was 5 days, 5 stages, and 250 bands.

  1. Sometime Sunday were and still are the greatest Christian band I’ve ever heard. Honest, raw and just rocking songs.

    Thanks for the great interview.

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