Reuniting mostly to play next weekend’s Cowpie Music Festival, the popular, one-time Grand Rapids band is revving up its first Michigan shows in seven years. Story, video, podcast.
THE BAND: Grasshoppah
THE MUSIC: Genre-melding bluegrass
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 p.m. Saturday at Park Theatre in Holland; 8 p.m. Wednesday at SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids (part of Local Spins Wednesdays’ Cowpie Pre-Party); 11:30 p.m. Thursday and 5:50 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 12) at Cowpie Music Festival in southern Kent County; 4 p.m. Aug. 13 at Red Dock in Douglas.
SCROLL DOWN FOR LOCAL SPINS ON WYCE PODCAST, GRASSHOPPAH VIDEO, PHOTO GALLERY
With Grasshoppah generating a buzz by playing its first Michigan shows in seven years, Glenn House figures folks might see more of the bluegrass fusion band which made a major splash in Grand Rapids more than 15 years ago before moving to Portland, Ore.
“This could be a new beginning,” concedes the guitarist, drummer and harmonica player. “We will definitely be playing more in the future. … There is no formal plan for Grasshoppah over the next year or so, but we will see what transpires.”
As super-mandolinist Brian Oberlin puts it: “This is our, ‘Look out mama, we can still kick ass’ tour.”
If “The Return of Grasshoppah” were a movie, the first kick-ass screening revved up audiences with the band’s distinctive genre-bending charm on Friday night at Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids, with a few more West Michigan performances over the next week leading up to the three-day Cowpie Music Festival being held on Shagbark Farm in southern Kent County Aug. 10-12.
Indeed, it was “Farmer” John Crissman, farm owner and organizer of Cowpie, who first contacted House last winter in Portland in hopes of hosting a Grasshoppah reunion at his music festival, which boasts a robust lineup of regional and national acts, including Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, Fareed Haque, Ekoostik Hookah and many more. Details, tickets here.
Since then, Oberlin, a renowned mandolinist and music instructor inducted recently into the Rockford Public Schools Hall of Fame, moved back to Rockford from Oregon and started a Folk Music program at Grand Rapids’ Triumph Music Academy. (He and Don Stiernberg are also hosting a mandolin camp Oct. 5-7 at Grand Rapids’ Crowne Plaza Hotel. More information about that at mandoberlin.com.)
Along with bassist-singer Chris Carr (and on Friday night, flute/sax player Dan Giacobassi), House and Oberlin decided to kick up their heels for a full week of Grasshoppah shows in West Michigan, including tonight’s (Saturday) appearance at Holland’s Park Theatre and Wednesday’s special “Cowpie Pre-Party” at Grand Rapids’ SpeakEZ Lounge. They also visited Local Spins on WYCE Friday morning, performing a couple of songs in-studio. Watch the video for “We Carry On” here, with the full podcast below.
VIDEO: Grasshoppah, “We Carry On”
Fans attending Grasshoppah’s shows can expect a bevy of original favorites along with the band’s unusual take on covers by artists as wide-ranging as Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Elton John and Journey, something that’s long distinguished the group’s approach – a tack that blends folk, funk, blues, rock and reggae.
“We wanted to keep close to the bluegrass roots while maintaining our love of funky and folky stuff,” Oberlin explains.
ORIGINAL, DIFFERENT BLUEGRASS FUSION
“We also wanted to be original and different and that is why we had so many arrangements of things like The Simpsons’ theme, Star Wars cantina theme, Muppets theme, Super Mario Brothers themes as well as bluegrassing up tunes like ‘Wheel in the Sky’ and ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran. Now, the new music coming from us is a little more chill, more subject matter in the lyrics. I guess 20 years of ‘good clean living’ will make you reflect on the wild times.”
Adds House, who was also part of the much-respected Grand Rapids band Karmic: “Grasshoppah’s musical direction has always been fusion. I came from the jam band scene but was always very interested in more traditional music and Brian came from the bluegrass scene and was always interested expanding his horizons. I don’t think the direction has changed, just matured.”
The band – which released two studio albums, including 2002’s Jammie Award-winning “Oh So Young” – doesn’t currently have plans for another, though House concedes he’d love to record some of the group’s unusual covers as well new original material in the future.
Oberlin, meanwhile, is also part of a “killer five-piece bluegrass band” – The Journeymen – that he formed with West Michigan’s Luke Gitchel. That group plans to release a new album later this year.
And while House continues to make his home in Portland, he’s proud of what’s transpired in West Michigan’s music scene with an explosion of bands and creative talent.
“I have followed the music scene in Grand Rapids and Michigan as much as possible through social media and I’m amazed at how much it has grown,” he said. “I also find it a source of pride and feel I contributed to its foundation with all the years of Karmic with our weekly mainstays at The Intersection and Billy’s in Eastown, and also, Grasshoppah’s weekly gig at the Radio Tavern.”
“I’m excited to be a part of it all,” adds Oberlin, who’s released four solo CDs over the years but still revels in the special vibe that Grasshoppah has created.
“We stood out because of our original take on music,” he offers. “ The fact that we made all of that music with only three guys – sometimes four – is our greatest attribute I believe.”
In addition to Grasshoppah’s in-studio appearance, Friday’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE featured a performance by contemporary jazz band Blushing Monk, plus new tracks by Nordy, Lushh, Delusions of Adequacy, Elroy Meltzer, Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish and Jake Kershaw. Listen to the podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (Aug. 4, 2017)
PHOTO GALLERY: Grasshoppah at Billy’s Lounge
Photos by Kendra Kamp
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC