Event Guru Rob Bliss spoke to the Saginaw Valley Torch Club last Tuesday.
We (members of the Saginaw Valley Torch Club) walked out of the Midland Country Club Tuesday night shaking our heads and not really knowing what we had seen.
Incoming Torch president Bob Sarow had discovered the speaker and made the arrangements, being greeted by much skepticism about the topic by some of us older folks.
A young man named Rob Bliss was the speaker at the annual Guest Night of the club and had shown his video of what movie critic Roger Ebert has called "the greatest music video of all time."
A year ago he involved thousands of Grand Rapids folks, bands, cheerleaders, singers -- you name it -- to prove that Grand Rapids is not "Bland" Rapids, as some critics term the staid, conservative West Michigan city.
Michigan Radio Writer Lindsey Smith explains: "Really Bliss pitched it as a response to Newsweek Magazine listing Grand Rapids as number 10 of America's 'dying cities'. The list included Flint and Detroit too, but Grand Rapidians seem to be taking the designation more personally. The mayor wrote a letter to the magazine.
Irate, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell wrote Newsweek Editor Tina Brown in high dudgeon: "Dying city? Surely Newsweek must be joking! Would a major medical School (Michigan State University School of Human Medicine) move its campus to a dying city? Would a dying city have seen $1.4 Billion in downtown construction in the past seven years?...Would a dying city have more LEED certified buildings per capita (2009) than any other American city?"
"Bliss hopes the lip dub will go viral online, promoting the city in a positive light." (Note: It has gone viral, as they say, and you can see a short video about how the video was made on Michiganradio.org). That video has the potential of being famous for reporting how something else became famous.
Twenty-something Bliss runs a non-profit called Rob Bliss Events that does, well, really amazing events by any measure.
His activities have won him the sobriquet "social events guru." That he flies by the seat of his pants is evident in the fact that he has owed the city thousands but manages to pay the debt just in time to get approval for the next event, sometimes financed in part by the city itself.
When you see the video you may be of the opinion as we were: this can't be done. But it was done, is on tape and is being seen by, well, millions I guess on You Tube and other websites.
In the age of "famous for being famous" Bliss is a paragon of incomprehensible accomplishment.
The production was, as they say in the trade, "story boarded." That explains a lot of the flow that is the most incredible part.
Last year Smith promoted the production as follows:
"A community organizer is asking tens of thousands of people to help him create a video promoting Grand Rapids. Rob Bliss is known around Grand Rapids for putting on one-of-a-kind, free events and he's announced his latest idea. He's planning to make the video crazy enough that it'll go viral."
Poster publicizes the next Bliss extravaganza, a festival of lights in Grand Rapids.
A group of largely 60 and 70-something folks would not be expected to immediately grasp the import of such a, well crazy, production. And, of course, we are having trouble getting our minds around it.
Smith explained: "Lip-dubs are like a music video featuring regular people lip-singing and dancing to a song they all know. They're usually not edited -- meaning they have to shoot the whole video in one take.
"Bliss says lots of high schools and colleges have been putting together lip-dubs to promote their schools lately.
"But no ones really made a truly city-wide professional level production like this kind of thing. And I think that's really what's exciting about this, is that it's really attempting something that --at least to me -- feels nearly impossible."
Smith continued in wide-eyed observation:
"Which, to me, is sort of strange. Bliss has pulled off all kinds of crazy events. For ArtPrize once he made thousands of colored paper airplanes and flew them off skyscrapers downtown. He's attracted thousands of people downtown for a massive pillow fight, a world-record-setting zombie walk, sidewalk chalk floods, and the 'world's largest inflatable waterslide' which stretched two city-blocks down a steep street.
"The nine minute long video (set to the tune of a live version of Don McClean's 'American Pie') will be a continuous, single camera shot with no edits. Bliss says it'll take a whole day and thousands of residents to set up and shoot.
He says: "We stuff it full of all of this crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. Weddings, marching bands, motorcades with police officers hanging out the windows singing the songs, pillow fights, kayakers in the grand river, lighting parts of Pearl Street Bridge on fire, helicopter take-off out of downtown; ridiculousness really."
"Bliss has hired a professional production company for the video shoot. He expects to spend between $25,000 and $35,000 on it. (Cost ended up about $40,000, he said) He's now hiring some part-time staff and looking for volunteers to help with and be in the video.
The big day for the video shoot is Sunday May 15th with a rain date the following weekend.
That was a year ago, and now Bliss has been hired to do a column in the Washington Times. He's talking to corporations who want promotion, to Pure Michigan tourism folks, and, who knows, probably to Mid-East sheiks who want to entertain their harems.
This columnist, used to finding amazement in stupid statements made by politicians, is convinced Mr. Bliss is for real. What is his talent? He's the greatest organizer I've ever seen.
Could we do this kind of video in Bay City, Saginaw or Midland. I dunno, take a look for yourselves and go figure.
Check out the video and see if you don't agree at least that the organization is absolutely marvelous.