The Grand Rapids area is becoming a mecca for music partly because its musicians relish backing each other in so many ways. And that bodes well for the future. A Local Spins commentary.
When Justin “Stovepipe” Stover embarked on a new solo recording project at Amber Lit Audio in Grand Rapids, a bevy of musical pals “jumped on board without any hesitation.”
That highly respected musicians from different camps – Matt Ten Clay, Dan Fisher, Mat Churchill, Kyle Rache, Nathan Kalish, Benjamin Riley, Justin VanHaven – have pitched in to assist Stover in various ways over the years isn’t a surprise but rather a signature quality of West Michigan’s music scene.
“I’ve been blown away by the collaborative spirit of the folks in the West Michigan music scene since Day 1,” says Stover, who recently moved back to Grand Rapids from Traverse City, and who officially releases his new album, “Love in the Time of Satanic Panic,” on Saturday night at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
“The West Michigan music scene has very wide open gates, in my experience. If we all keep that spirit strong and protect ourselves from becoming too tribal, then I have nothing but positive hopes for this place.”
That collaborative spirit.
West Michigan musicians talk about it all the time.
They relish the chance to record and play with fellow instrumentalists and singers, network for bookings and promote each other’s projects and shows.
But it’s more than just a feel-good, fun endeavor. Credit that ultra-cooperative attitude for the fast-rising profile of the Grand Rapids area as a mecca for music and a magnet for musicians who are poised to take the region to the next level. That’s simply not the case in other parts of the country.
“You go to other cities and it’s not like that. People still have a really competitive mentality and it’s a little frustrating,” says Kalamazoo singer-songwriter Megan Dooley, who released her solo debut album in 2015. “I love how supportive and collaborative everybody that’s a part of West Michigan’s music scene is.”
DRIVING PASSION: THE THOUGHT OF FUTURE COLLABORATIONS
From Traverse City to Kalamazoo, Holland to Grand Rapids, even extending to the Upper Peninsula, popular and emerging acts in various genres are performing together, writing and recording with one another, and generally, supporting each other’s projects and concerts.
“What drives me is just the thought of future collaborations,” insists Holland singer-songwriter Olivia Mainville, who recently released a new album, “Maybe the Saddest Thing,” with her ensemble, The Aquatic Troupe, whose members are culled from different groups based in eastern and western Michigan. “We really love making connections with other artists.”
They’re not alone.
Last week, popular Grand Rapids folk-rock band The Crane Wives brought members of Traverse City’s The Accidentals on stage for a sold-out show at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo – a concert that also featured an appearance by Grand Rapids hip hop artist Rick Chyme, who frequently pops up on stage as a special guest with different Michigan acts, including folk, rock and jam bands.
Indeed, The Crane Wives fully embraced this trend toward intrastate cooperation when they recorded their most recent album, “Coyote Stories,” at La Luna Recording in Kalamazoo with producer Ian Gorman.
Guest artists appearing on the Grand Rapids band’s album included several from the Traverse City area: Savannah Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause of The Accidentals and Seth Bernard of the already ultra-collaborative Earthwork Music Collective. In addition, Dan Rickabus, drummer for The Crane Wives, has partnered with other musicians from across the state for side projects and performances.
During last year’s Tuesday Evening Music Club finale at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park — with various pairings and guests arranged by singer-songwriter and collaboration mega-proponent Ralston Bowles — Buist credited Michigan’s vibrant music scene for creating an environment that’s helped generate national attention and acclaim for the band’s music.
‘IT DOESN’T HAPPEN ANYWHERE ELSE’
“It’s only possible because of things like this,” Buist said, “which don’t happen anywhere else.”
Other recent examples abound, including Upper Peninsula electro-pop artist Alexander Lynch moving to Grand Rapids late last year to collaborate on a much-buzzed-about new recording (“Love Lives”) with Stepdad’s Ryan McCarthy, of Grand Rapids. Lynch quickly has expanded his musical partnerships, working on a new track with hip hop’s Lady Ace Boogie and joining a new collective of artists, which includes McCarthy, E. Andrei and Darkly.
Perhaps even more tantalizing, efforts are under way to cross the state to expand that collaborative approach with Detroit-area artists. In a recent Local Spins interview, up-and-coming Detroit pop artist Flint Eastwood, aka Jax Anderson, says she’s “super-excited” about the future of Michigan’s scene and hopes to capitalize on the ultra-supportive attitude she’s found in the Grand Rapids area.
Over the past year, Michigan House, a so-called “pop-up venue” supported by the Creative Many Michigan organization, has hosted events during the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids and the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, helping promote Michigan music, arts and products.
Last week, Michigan House did its part to bring various segments of the state’s music scene together. Coinciding with the North American International Auto Show, Michigan House-Detroit leased space about a block from Detroit’s Cobo Center, hosting band performances, food events and more.
As part of an “east meets west” theme, Grand Rapids soul-rock band Vox Vidorra traveled across the state to perform for the first time in the Motor City, playing a Michigan House-Detroit gathering along with DJ Ryan Clancy from Detroit’s Jamaican Queens.
“As a Michigan musician, Detroit is staple. We’re hoping to start playing here (in Detroit) a lot more,” Vox Vidorra’s lead singer Molly Bouwsma Schultz told Local Spins writer Ricky Olmos when talking about making connections with musicians across the state and building audiences in other Michigan cities.
For Dooley, there’s really nothing like living in a place “where I can work and collaborate with other musicians that love and relish the opportunity to learn from each other” and explore new projects.
“I wouldn’t be the musician I am today if I didn’t collaborate with some of the area’s amazing musicians. We’ve got something really special going on in this area.”
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC