The bands were among 11 acts competing for two slots in the March festival at Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Friday’s event boasted a packed house and lively performances. Check out the photos, videos.
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Eleven acts, delivering an eclectic array of sounds, took to the stage Friday night at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, all with one goal in mind — to earn a slot at the March 3-4 Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival and a chance to play their own show at the museum during this year’s Friday Night Highlight Series.
With six competing in the electric category and five in the acoustic, it was Kalamazoo’s own Blarney Castle (acoustic) and Last Gasp Collective (electric) who won over the judges in tight balloting and will return to grace the stage at the March festival.
Last Gasp Collective, whose core features rapping guitarist Jay Jackson, cellist Jordan Hamilton, bassist Joe Lucas, drummer Jahlil Johnson, vocalists Ashley Hicks and Lakeshore Drew, plus Jon Boyd on keys, offers up influences from Earth Wind & Fire to The Roots to Arrested Development.
The group, whose first album will drop Feb. 14 (available on the band’s website and iTunes), has been staging dance parties at bars and clubs around Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Detroit for the past year, describing its sound as “gumbo.”
“It’s a little bit of everything, there’s something for everybody,” said Jackson, adding he hopes the recognition from the Friday night showcase will help open up more eyes at venues around the state, with people looking past some things that have been associated with rap over the years. Last Gasp, he said, is all about positivity.
On the acoustic side of things, progressive Celtic band Blarney Castle also aims to step forward on stages across West Michigan. The sextet – featuring Joel Myers (violin/mandolin), Lukas Stanley (piano, cajon, viola), Elizabeth Schubkegel (flute, voice), Patrick Hartson (guitar cello), Kyle Pitcher (bass, vocals) and John Robey (violin) – brings its own blend of diverse backgrounds to the stage.
“Our goal is to take the tradition, which is a beautiful tradition of Irish music, and expand it to other levels,” said Myers, who formed the band two years ago after meeting his bandmates through Western Michigan University’s music program.
The band, which has mainly played around Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Port Huron and was featured at the Kalamazoo Scottish Festival, has a six-song EP available on its website and will release a full-length recording this spring.
DIVERSE, INSPIRED PERFORMANCES
Other acts competing Friday were:
• Kalamazoo four-piece Cold Mountain Child kicked things off on the electric side of the fence with a pair of songs inspired by nature. The act, featuring drums, acoustic and electric guitar, and electric bass showed off its softer melodic side before playing an upbeat jazzy Spanish ditty with a touch of flamenco flair.
• Mark Reitenga, of Royal Oak, is a solo troubadour who waxed poetic with his original “Detroit Blues” riffing on competing views, struggling neighbors and imagery that honed in on downriver and the Woodward/Cass Corridor. He followed that up with another blues-driven number that gave listeners a temptation-riddled ride on the “The Devil’s Train.”
• The Change, an upbeat six-piece outfit out of Grand Rapids featuring a few beards as big as their sound, took the stage next, competing in the electric category. Driven by steady harmonica playing and some soulful singing, the band featured two drummers/percussionists, two acoustic guitars, a harmonica and an electric bass.
• The 42nd Parallel, featuring Kalamazoo Music Hop founder Will Alderman on vocals and guitar, was up next. Alderman, with a voice reminiscent of Cat Stevens, took the stage with keyboardist Andrew Garay and a goal of “trying to be the quietest group of the day.” Alderman’s songs focused on the recreation of innocence and days gone by that were longed for yet again.
• Rebel A’s, an acoustic duo from Ann Arbor, unfurled a pair of songs that painted the picture of small-town life and the mixed bag of emotions that is love. Amy Johnson’s vocals and the guitar playing of Aaron Tice tugged on the heartstrings of listeners.
• Fried Egg Nebula, an electric three-piece jam band (guitar/bass/drums) out of East Lansing, turned the tempo back up, taking the audience down an improvisational road fueled by musical interplay between guitar and bass and soul-searching lyrics.
• Honeywise, an acoustic bluegrass trio (standup bass, mandolin and guitar) from Cedar Falls, Iowa, won the award for farthest traveled as the only non-Michigan act. The trio’s swinging Western sound and powerful vocals provided by Sophia Landis, should give Michiganders a reason to get out and see them the next time they’re around.
• American Darling Valve, an electric Kalamazoo two-piece (fiddle, guitar) offered up a pair of soft and elegantly simple numbers full of word play, perfect for a walk in the park in any season or a relaxing night at home.
• Nathan Douglas and the Douglas Fine Line closed the evening out with a pair of country-driven cover songs, including one by Lefty Frizzell, showing off the group’s electrifying roadhouse sound.
Judges for the competition were: Quinn Mathews, WYCE-FM station manager; Jay Morris, former brand manager at WZOX-FM and marketing manager at the PFC Grocery & Deli; John Sinkevics, radio host and editor/publisher at Local Spins; Shannon DeVries, talent buyer for Kalamazoo State Theatre and Chelsea Cloyd, freelance booking agent. Sound mixing was provided by Bryan Heany of 37ENT.com, with Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s Chris Falk hosting and organizing the event.
The 2017 Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival takes place March 3-4 at Kalamazoo Valley Museum, with bluegrass band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys playing the opening night concert on Friday and progressive bluegrass outfit Fauxgrass headlining Saturday’s day-long event. The Saturday lineup will feature performances by regional bands on four stages, with numerous workshops and vendors, many of whom design stringed instruments. Admission is free.
PHOTO GALLERY: Play-In Contest for 2017 Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival
Photos by Derek Ketchum
VIDEO: Last Gasp Collective (Play-In Contest)
VIDEO: Blarney Castle (Play-In Contest)
VIDEO: The Change (Play-In Contest)
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC