For artists such as Joshua Davis and Troll for Trout, the return to stages in Grand Rapids this summer after more than 16 months of COVID silence has created a peculiar but welcome experience. Photo galleries.
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Uncertainty offset by excitement.
Getting back on stage after more than a year due to an unprecedented, forced hiatus from live shows due to the COVID pandemic has created an awkward yet exhilarating situation for some Michigan musicians this summer.
On Friday night at Studio Park, northern Michigan singer-songwriter Joshua Davis leaned on humor and his familiar, congenial stage manner during his first Grand Rapids show in well over a year.
“My social anxiety is in full effect, so keep your distance. I don’t trust any of you,” he joked early on, later revealing that he’d grown accustomed over the past year to performing online, live-stream concerts alone from home.
“I’m not used to being in front of people anymore. I’ve asked people not to clap at shows.”
Of course, there was plenty of applause from fans gathered on the outdoor piazza for the Listening Room’s “Listening Lawn” show.
After an opening set by West Michigan Americana band Benzing Graves Collective, Davis rolled out gems dotting his extensive catalog — from material appearing on 2013’s “A Miracle of Birds” to a poignant song inspired by his father’s death, “Paper Boats,” to a brand new tune he wrote just the day before.
He conceded afterward that he’s still a little “gun-shy” about in-person concerts after playing just a handful of shows thus far this summer. But to fans on hand Friday, the Traverse City singer seemed as comfortable on stage as ever facing a Grand Rapids audience again. (He played the second official show at Listening Room back in October 2019.)
“It’s coming back slow and steady, ups and downs,” the seasoned stage performer and accomplished guitarist said of live music’s return. “I’m happy to be doing this in front of people again. It means a lot to me that you’re here.”
TROLL FOR TROUT REVELS IN RETURN TO ‘THE JOY OF LIVE MUSIC’
The night before, another seasoned performer, Michael Crittenden, led West Michigan folk-rock band Troll for Trout in a lengthy, two-set performance outside Grand Rapids’ Sandy Point Beach House — the group’s first full-band concert in 18 months.
The Thursday evening show amid pleasant weather came with its share of worries about turning on those amps and getting those PA speakers fired up again, Crittenden conceded.
“Not really nervous per se,” he said. “But just really hoping that everything sounded good and that the gear cooperated. We had a little bit of an issue with the sound system at the beginning, but Lane (sound engineer) got it ironed out by the second or third song. That guy is a genius! It felt really good on that first down beat feeling the whole band kick in.”
With just a few missteps and re-starts — accompanied by jovial sparring (“What key is this?” “Wait. Where does this go?”) — Troll for Trout’s return featured plenty of vintage Trout (“The Balloon,” “Rancho Relaxo” “Wishuwell”), select covers (“Wildflowers” “Chain Gang” with guest vocalist Tara Cleveland) and new material from an album being released this fall (“Got the Radio On,” “Way You Look at Me”).
Ultimately, the performance for longtime fans and friends felt like a much-welcomed, overdue reunion.
“Kind of reminded me several times during the show of what it was like when we first started doing this back in high school. Purely just the joy of live music,” Crittenden reflected.
“And seeing lots of our old tried-and-true fans back out having a great time was really special. One thing that’s happened over the years that is really cool is that people who did not know each other now our friends as a result of coming to our shows. I love that.”
There were other “firsts” this week when it comes to live music in the Grand Rapids area.
On Thursday, the effervescent, jazzy and world music-inspired Pink Martini played its first show at Meijer Gardens in several years, this time teaming up with Grand Rapids Symphony to regale a near-capacity crowd.
The same night, the first “GRAM on the Green” concert in nearly two years pumped up the terrace outside the Grand Rapids Art Museum in downtown Grand Rapids with the jazz manouche and Gypsy swing strains of Djangophonique and Via & The Playboys. (The next GRAM on the Green hosted the museum and WYCE-FM: Aug. 5 with hip hop’s JRob & Bedrock and garage rock’s Hollywood Makeout).
View the photo galleries from these shows here.
PHOTO GALLERY: Joshua Davis, Benzing Graves Collective at Studio Park (Listening Lawn)
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
PHOTO GALLERY: Troll for Trout at Sandy Point Beach House
Photos by Anna Sink
PHOTO GALLERY: Djangophonique, Via & The Playboys at Grand Rapids Art Museum
Photos by Kendra Petersen-Kamp