One year ago — before the pandemic — West Michigan not only cheered a tour stop by mandolin whiz Chris Thile but mourned the unexpected death of musician Eric Soules. Local Spins revisits both.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With its ‘Rewind’ series, Local Spins occasionally looks back at pre-pandemic concerts and music news. Today, we revisit the headlines and ‘the way we were’ one year ago, in late February 2020.
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MANDOLIN HERO CHRIS THILE SHARES STORIES, MESMERIZING MUSICIANSHIP IN GR
The 39-year-old musician — known for his work with Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers, as well as hosting the radio show, “Live From Here” — performed a career-spanning set and shared stories behind his songs while stomping and writhing around a single microphone as part of the sold-out Acoustic Cafe Folk Series concert.
Under soft stage lights alone with a mandolin, Thile offered up selections such as “Balboa,” unfurling a wistful and upbeat aura with sweeping rhythms that Thile marched along to.
A certain highlight of the evening came with “Elephant in the Room,” a witty, politically poised song filled with twists and turns. Thile performed theatrically and navigated each musical turn with enthusiasm that rippled out into the crowd.
The musician paused several times throughout the evening to compliment the venue, the audience and the city. “Your town is crushing it. I’m inspired,” Thile exclaimed from the stage.
Midway through the set, Thile set sights on his Nickel Creek catalog with “You Don’t Know What’s Going On.” The song’s intense refrain and string of angsty lyrics was propelled by rapid strums and energy. Other highlights of the night included delicate covers of Bach and traditional folk songs.
And during “Rabbit in the Log,” the crowd got involved with a call and response lyric during the choruses.
The audience also got involved near the end of the set when Thile took song suggestions, garnering shouts that landed from all sides of the room. Thile ended up performing the tragically beautiful “The Lighthouse’s Tale,” from Nickel Creek’s self-titled record.
Toward the end of the evening, Thile performed “Failure Isn’t Forever,” an uplifting song that showcased his voice and melodic sense.
Overall, Thile’s performance proved to be engaging, his songwriting sensational and his mandolin playing mesmerizing — making for a remarkable night of entertainment. – Enrique Olmos
PHOTO GALLERY: Chris Thile at St. Cecilia Music Center
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
TRIBUTES POUR IN FOR BELOVED ‘BADASS’ LOWELL BASSIST ERIC SOULES
Well-known West Michigan bassist Eric Soules of Lowell — who toured with Nathan Kalish, Al & The Black Cats, DangerVille and other bands — passed away at home unexpectedly on Feb. 24, 2020, sparking heartfelt tributes from friends and fellow musicians.
Praised for being a “badass” bassist, a “force of nature” and having a big heart, Soules, 35, was a graduate of Lowell High School and first made a big splash with fellow Lowell musicians in the rockabilly band Al & The Black Cats. The old-school rockers recorded albums and became a big hit overseas, touring Europe regularly and playing major rockabilly festivals.
Soules later left the group, eventually hooking up with Grand Rapids-area singer-songwriter and alt-country/Americana artist Nathan Kalish.
He toured the country relentlessly with Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers, telling Local Spins in a 2015 interview:
“It’s not as grueling when you’re playing with someone you work well with. We started doing the honky-tonk thing and it developed into a more deliberate thing – writing songs together and arranging stuff. It’s been a pretty life-changing experience this last year,” he said.
“I feel like we’ve all grown as musicians, like a lot, and there’s a lot of rewards you don’t really think about because you’re having a good time.”
Kalish told Local Spins that they performed at “damn near every dive and honky-tonk from Maine to California” for more than three years and “were the closest thing to two broke hobos.”
Soules, he said, “played like a man playing for his next meal, his next beer and his next floor to sleep on.
“He developed the stage show that combined the humor of John Belushi, the voice of Roy Orbison and the passion of Bruce Springsteen — all that with the punk rock idealism that he was not a star or better than anyone else,” added Kalish. (At the time, family members said a cause of death hadn’t yet been determined.)
“He was a force of nature in all respects: unpredictable, destructive yet beautiful, and one of a kind. The first time we hit the road together, we didn’t even have enough money for the tolls when we hit Chicago. We did a few shows and decided to never go home.
“Other players would come and go in that time, but we stuck together as chosen brothers. Eric fell in love every night, and everyone fell in love with him every night, and there are many sad people scattered across the planet that are missing him.”
Soules is survived by his mother, Christi Soules (Scott Raimer); his sister, Erin (Ondray) Rudegeair; his daughters, Madeline Jayne and Eloise Nadine; his nieces and nephews, Annie, Logan, Lucas and Lexi; and his loving girlfriend, Colleen Pelz. He was preceded in death by his father, Ronald Soules; grandparents, Donald and Mary Verwys and Dean and Gladys McLeod; and his aunt, Amy Luna.
News of Soules’ death spread quickly on social media, with friends and fellow musicians posting remembrances and tributes on Facebook:
• BRAD VANDERJAGT – “There’s a big hole in my heart today after hearing of Eric’s passing. Long live Al & the Blacks Cats and much love to Eric’s family. Lowell Punx and Skins forever. Hope you’re giving them all something to rock ‘n’ roll about.”
• CHRIS HEITZMAN – “As soon as I met Eric Soules, we became fast friends. He had one of the biggest hearts in the world and to say he played the shit out of that bass would be putting it mildly. If you ever saw him play, you know what I mean.”
• KAREN ANNE – “I met Eric a couple days into my first tour with Nate. I was so nervous. He left big shoes to fill, being the bass-playing Lastcaller. He showed me slap tricks, gave me my first pedal tuner and the bass case I still use today. When the stresses of being on the road got almost too much to handle, he was always there via message to tell me the stress is temporary, I’ll be fine. It’s all worth it. I’m so grateful he was in my life for a bit. I hope to someday be half the badass bass player he was.”
• HANNAH STOUT – “I will keep you in my heart forever and I will never forget your incredible talents and amazing personality. We’ve been rockin’ since middle school, my friend, and I have so many fond memories with you.”
• ROBERT WILLIAM SCHELLENBERG III – “Another great West Michigan musician and friend taken too soon. Eric Soules, you always made open mic night at O’Toole’s special when you came through. I will miss you, brother.”
• JACE BALEREN – “Eric was a good guy. This past winter, he was telling me about his kid seeing snow for the first time. And now my prayers go out to them, and hope his kid is in good hands. It was so sudden but I will always cherish the smiles, the laughter a friend could offer.”
• MATT GOLDPAUGH – “Seriously gonna miss this dude. Eric Soules, you were an old and beautiful soul. You set the bar so high with singing and bass playing, that I had to step up my game.”
• JIM RODERY – “My fondest memories of him all involve working out music in the practice room. Oh, and our nine-hour road trip to get his 39 Gretsch bass.”
• JUSTIN STOVER – “Eric was a good guy, incredible musician and songwriter. He and Nathan played at my wedding. Did several shows with him. One of the prettiest voices I’ve heard.”
VIDEO: Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers w/ Eric Soules (2015)
VIDEO: Al & The Black Cats w/ Eric Soules in the Netherlands (2006)
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