Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys’ upbeat Dobro-meister from Grand Rapids releases a new solo recording this weekend and mounts a mini-tour with Bluegrass Bonanza. Listen to a song from his latest project.
THE ARTIST: Mark Lavengood
THE MUSIC: Energetic bluegrass
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: CD-release show at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids (with The Railway Gamblers and Trout Steak Revival); 6:30 p.m. May 24 at City Opera House in Traverse City, CD-release show with Seth Bernard (with Max Lockwood, Janga, The Lil’ Smokies); June 1 at The Ark in Ann Arbor (with The Native Howl); June 2 at Bell’s Brewery Beer Garden in Kalamazoo (opening for Greensky Bluegrass)
SCROLL DOWN FOR A MUSIC VIDEO OF A SONG FROM LAVENGOOD’S NEW ALBUM
From the sidewalk outside a nondescript Eastown apartment building, all the doors look the same.
They’re distinguished only by house numbers etched at the top of the frame. But on the corner of the building, there’s a door with a concert poster pinned up proudly in the center.
“Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza!” it reads in bold script. “ ‘We’ve Come Along’ – Album Release Tour”
It’s an elaborate piece. The outline of a bird is conjoined with a mountain peak as the centerpiece, while intricate illustrations draw the eye along every inch of the design.
The poster disappears when the door opens inward. Mark Lavengood emerges through the entryway with a brimming smile, arms stretched wide for an embrace.
It’s been a busy year for Lavengood – extensive tour dates with popular Michigan-bred bluegrass group Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, the recording of a new solo album and fatherhood have kept the songwriter’s hands more than full.
“With the Flatbellys, we’re a team and we have an agent and other support systems,” says Lavengood, who’s affectionally known as “Huggy Bear” due to his penchant for wrapping his arms around everyone he sees or meets – and that means, everyone.
“With my own bands, I’m doing all the work. The booking, songwriting, set list writing, publicity, hiring the musicians, tour logos, etc. I love it both ways, but just want to get back to the music.”
UNLEASHING A NEW ALBUM, TOURING INTERNATIONALLY AND TEACHING
After an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign (raising over $15,000 in donations from fans of the musician), Lavengood’s new album, “We’ve Come Along,” will be released Saturday at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids alongside Railway Gamblers and Trout Steak Revival. It’s his first solo release since 2014’s “No Part of Nothin’.”
Tickets for the Grand Rapids show are $12 in advance and $15 day of the show. Doors open at 8 p.m. Get tickets and details online at pyramidschemebar.com.
“I want to be touring primarily locally and regionally, but also doing at least three to four national tours and one to two international tours,” Lavengood says of his eventual goal with the solo project. “Building my studio in town for teaching lessons is also where I will be prioritizing my time as well as writing, recording and settling into my own.”
As he leads the way into his music room – a small space inhabited by an assortment of instruments (guitar, Dobro, banjo, steel guitar), he takes a sip from a ceramic mug and talks about the new album.
“It’s got a lot of influences. The birth of (his son) Louis Allen Lavengood, living anew and that good ole’ bluegrass sound,” he says, while also giving a nod to his former band Winter/Sessions.
The album takes a beautiful snapshot of traditional and modern Americana music. From the timeless conventions of bluegrass, to modern foot-stomping folk numbers – even an incredibly fitting bluegrass cover of Springstein’s “Hungry Heart” – the record is a carefully crafted one, and at its core, a labor of love.
“I just have so many songs floating around,” he says, adding that there is already material in the works for his next solo album.
EMBRACING THE ‘HEALING AND THERAPEUTIC ELEMENTS’ OF MUSIC
In a frenzy, Lavengood jumps from his seat and reaches for a guitar. His fingers dance around the neck with a slide as he belts out gravely, backwoods vocals for a new song he’s working on.
In a profession that requires late nights, constant travel and weeks (or even months) away from home, the responsibilities of parenthood can seem daunting for career musicians. But they remain at the forefront of importance for Lavengood.
“It’s really made me prioritize all the many things I want to be doing now,” he says of being a parent. “It’s made me reconsider touring and how I approach it, as I want to be spending as much time as possible with Louie.
“The sacrifices to friends and family, lack of regular lifestyles and the never-ending work schedule can be difficult.”
This summer, Lavengood plans to continue paralleling his solo efforts with The Flatbellys’ schedule.
On the docket are a number of festivals, including Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and Redwing Roots Music Festival, a bevy of solo release shows including The Ark and Bell’s Brewery and a teaching workshop at Targhee Music Camp in Alta, Wyo. And Lavengood is eager for all of them.
“I love the way music connects the human species and unites us in a way unlike any other form of expression,” he relays enthusiastically. “Its healing and therapeutic elements can do so much for us.”
But deeper than his love of music is Lavengood’s love of people, which gives him a most endearing character — so much so, that in his days working at Founder’s Brewing Co., Lavengood was bestowed the nickname, “Huggy Bear.”
“I just love hugging people. It’s good for the soul. I think the world would be a much better place if we just hugged more often,” Lavengood says, as his eyes light up and his arms part almost involuntarily, preparing for a farewell bear hug.
Get more information about Lavengood and his upcoming performance schedule at marklavengood.com.
VIDEO: Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza, “Three Day Blow”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC