The well-known Kalamazoo musician heads a fund-raising effort to expand the homey space for area and visiting musicians alike, a way to keep music and the arts alive.
The Go Rounds perform Saturday in Kalamazoo as part of the Arcadia Ales Riversedge music series. The bill also features South Haven’s Slim Gypsy Baggage, Kalamazoo singer-songwriter Dacia Bridges (with special guest Carolyn Koebel) and Kalamazoo soul-indie-jazz duo The Copacetiks. Details online here.
A hub for creative collaboration for 10-plus years, Graham Parsons’ home at 315 Walnut St. in Kalamazoo has provided sanctuary for musicians, taking in those who needed a place to crash as their bands passed through town as well as offering a space to write, rehearse and congregate for area musicians.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
“We usually have about five musicians living there at a time,” said Parsons, a member of The Go Rounds, who has lived in the house at three different points over the past decade. “This place has always been sort of an open door for people in transition, for creative types as well as activists to come together.”
The Walnut Street house has seen the likes of Samantha Cooper, Fiona Dickinson, all members of The Go Rounds and The Whaleshark call it home over the years, as musicians from Kansas Bible Company to Billy Strings to Luke Winslow King and other out of town acts have used it as a place to hang out and crash after area gigs.
Since purchasing the property in 2016 from his landlords, however, Parsons has set his sights on taking the existing collaborative vision of the home to another level. Via his nonprofit, The Dan Schmitt Gift of Music and Education Fund, funds are now being raised to invest in capital improvements to the 100-plus year-old property and purchase the adjacent lot — a community garden that faces the risk of being bulldozed and turned into a parking lot.
Once the fund-raising goal is met, plans call to manage and maintain the community garden and use the lot and house as a community resource and education center.
“My hope and dream is for the house to grow and remain a hub for emerging professional artists, but also for it to become a safe space for youth to engage in creative activities with the invaluable guidance of young, professional mentors,” Parsons states on the Gift of Music’s Crowdrise page, where people can donate to the campaign.
BRINGING MUSIC AND THE ARTS TO THE MASSES
The Gift of Music launched its after-school program four years ago, taking it on the road to area middle schools, where local musicians provide a “hands-on, non-classical approach to music education, letting students decide how they want to interact with music and understand what they are capable of.”
Plans call for the program to move to the house, where for a few hours after school three or four days a week, in addition to music education, students will have the opportunity to learn about sustainability and how to grow their own food.
That concept is old hat for Parsons, who grew up on a farm in Allouez, in the northernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula. Parsons has been throwing Farm Block Fest for 10 years on his family land, which, similar to the model of the Earthwork Harvest Gathering, focuses on gardening and forestry in addition to the music.
“I think what I’m trying to get across with this fund-raiser is that without tangible, physical spaces like this, people won’t have music or arts in their lives, they won’t be exposed to people who will inspire them to become artists and musicians,” he said. “With cuts to arts and music programs all over the country, people need a space to do this sort of stuff.
“I think a lot of people sort of take it for granted sometimes because music is everywhere, they think there’ll be bands no matter what, but that’s not really true. You go to a lot of towns around the country and they don’t have a music scene because no one is there fostering it.
“I think we are pretty fortunate in Michigan, there’s such a strong, interconnected scene here. We’re not about competing, just sort of expanding our reach and using one another in constructive ways to create.”
One of the instructors for the Gift of Music and a former Walnut House resident, Samantha Cooper — who has recorded with multiple Michigan artists and has her first full length solo album coming out soon — said she believes that community hubs like this one are crucial for creative collaboration and fostering passion in the arts.
“My experiences engaging with the Walnut House, among other community hubs, have influenced the way I teach,” she said.
“I’m finding that the most valuable thing I can do is just to help students get into a flow state and be creative. I’m less interested in the medium (I have creative writing, poetry and music exercises) and also less interested in tailoring the finished project. Mostly I’m just interested in helping them discover how to engage in and enjoy the creative processes.”
And as she is quick to point out, “being creative is often about just giving yourself the gift of free time.”
PHOTO GALLERY: The Walnut House
Photos by Derek Ketchum
VIDEO: The Walnut House
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC