Friday night’s live music lineup included emerging acts competing in the first night of a March battle and seasoned, acclaimed songwriters unfurling poignant, harmony-hued tunes in an intimate setting.
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On one hand Friday, there were five up-and-coming Michigan acts trying to make inroads by playing short sets as part of The Stray Cafe’s first-ever “Battle of the Bands.”
On the other — just six miles away — there were five well-established, highly touted singer-songwriters showing off heartfelt tunes for a sold-out house at Grand Rapids’ Listening Room.
In either case, it made for an entertaining evening for those on hand.
At Listening Room, The Accidentals’ Sav Buist and Katie Larson were joined by acclaimed veteran tunesmiths Kim Richey, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Maia Sharp for a stop on the “Time Out” tour that came the same day The Accidentals released their “Time Out: Session #2” EP featuring co-writes with a bevy of respected songwriters.
And it was only apropos that Chapman launched the songwriters-in-the-round evening with her “Women in Charge,” because these women more than proved their mastery of songwriting and their mettle as performers over the course of the 1-hour-and-40-minute show in the cozy confines of the packed, 200-capacity Listening Room.
Trading back stories and songs while shuffling numerous instruments between them — guitars, violin, keyboard, mandolin, bass, saxophone — the fivesome performed striking acoustic renditions of tracks new and old, while occasionally unfurling five-part harmonies for an appreciative crowd.
Highlights included Chapman’s tear-inducing version of her much-admired 1979 song, “Sand and Water,” written after the death of her husband, Richey’s “Chase Wild Horses” from 2018 and Sharp’s final choice, the “swampy” and blues-tinted “Junkyard Dog” from her latest studio album.
The encore featured a rousing take on Nanci Griffith’s “Outbound Plane,” leaving many fans aching for more — perhaps even traveling to Kalamazoo for tonight’s “Time Out” tour stop at Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe or shows next week at The Ark in Ann Arbor and The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks. – J.S.
PHOTO GALLERY: ‘Time Out’ at Listening Room
Photos by Anna Sink
THE STRAY KICKS OFF ITS MARCH ‘BATTLE OF THE BANDS’
Meanwhile, at The Stray on Friday night, a Gobles singer-songwriter and “one-man band” — aka Daisybox — outperformed other competitors to come out on top in the first round of the cafe’s March Battle of the Bands.
Taylor Hottenstein, better known as Daisybox, delivered acoustic, soft rock with emotional, sincere overtones. With the exception of one cover, “Circles,” by Mac Miller, he focused on originals and clearly won over the audience.
“This was my first time playing a live show in a long time. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised, but this is like a breath of fresh air,” said Hottenstein, who’ll now move on to the finals on March 25.
Coming in second, Sebastian & The Mood exuded a feel-good indie vibe, with a very distinctive, yet familiar sound. Extremely interactive with the crowd, band members (from Grand Rapids and Holland) proved their ability to work a venue.
Consisting of just two guitarists and a bassist, Lansing’s The Dead Lennies brought their signature eccentric, evolutionary folk sound to The Stray, along with a few fans. A table full of dedicated Dead Lennie fans near the stage showed their support with cheers and applause.
“I’ve been listening to The Dead Lennies for a long time, years even. They just kill it every time I’ve seen them,” said fan Colin Carnegie.
Performing songs from their newest album, “Space & Time,” Grand Rapids’ The Polyphonic Element also put on an entertaining set featuring a headbanging, space-rock sound with rapidly recited lyrics that created a high-energy vibe. Perhaps most memorable? Lead singer Bradley Hartwell’s stellar dance moves.
Finally, Detroit-based rock band Tink & The Lost Boys uncorked an alternative rock style embraced by the audience.
“It’s the first time we’ve played this venue. I mean this is the first time we’ve even been to Grand Rapids and it’s great,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Jack Fulton. “This was a fun performance and a cool event.”
Guest judge Dre Wallace (DJ SuperDre), an entrepreneur and musician, likely had the hardest job of the night.
“It’s pretty difficult to try and evaluate these bands,” she conceded. “I grade the first performance and then I have to use those numbers as my reference point for all of the following acts.”
The second round in the Battle of the Bands will take place March 11 with Bond Girl, Shankool, Grace Theisen, Josh Garvelink and Epitones. Round 3 will feature Ficus, Whorled, Painted Friends, Low Phase and Dalmatian Stone. Winners from those two rounds will join Daisybox for the finals on March 25. Admission to the show is free.
The grand prize winner will receive $300 and a giveaway from Grand Rapids’ Dogtown Studio; second and third place will each take home $100. Read more about the band battle here. – R.N.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Stray Band Battle – Round 1
Photos by Robert Novak