The second-year, five-day virtual festival hosted by Michigan Music Alliance drew thousands of viewers and $10,00-plus in donations to aid Michigan musicians. Browse photos at Local Spins.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERIES
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
West Michigan singer-songwriter Loren Johnson called it “honestly magical.”
Northern Michigan’s Caroline Barlow described it as “a dream come true.”
More than 200 Michigan artists – live-streaming their sets from stages, living rooms and studios from across the state – created virtual enchantment during the five-day Spread the Music Festival, which wrapped up Sunday night with a home-grown set by The Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark.
Hosted for the second year by the Michigan Music Alliance, the online festival drew thousands of viewers from across the globe and raised more than $10,200 in donations for the Michigan Artist Relief Fund, which assists musicians in need.
Elle Lively, the alliance’s executive director, noted that more donations and grant funds are expected to further bolster the fund in coming weeks. Starting May 1, musicians seeking financial support can start applying for grants from that fund.
Despite occasional technical glitches, the ambitious undertaking showcased Michigan’s prodigious musical talent. Solo artists and bands performed from a multitude of Michigan locations, including Listening Room in Grand Rapids, Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake, 20 Front Street in Lake Orion and Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey. The Michigan Music Alliance Facebook page alone reached more than 77,000 people during the festival, with 40,000-plus additional viewers tuning in on artist and venue pages.
“My heart is so full, being in this room with not only amazing musicians but my friends and community members,” Johnson said on Sunday night during the Listening Room session, which also featured Mark Lavengood, Emilee Petersmark, Stovepipe Stover, Hannah Laine and Ben Traverse.
“For a lot of us, the Listening Room was one of the last stages we played (before the pandemic shutdown). To have the vaccine rollout coming and to be able to mingle a little more, to have this stage be the first stage we play on the way back up is really full circle and beautiful. It’s honestly magical.”
Delivering a lovely set of originals that aptly displayed her velvety voice, Johnson was joined at one point Sunday night by Petersmark, of folk-rock’s The Crane Wives, who added soulful harmonies to elevate the performance to a collaborative high.
NUMEROUS FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS FROM ACROSS THE STATE
Other highlights from the five-day festival:
• Performing from home on Sunday, Vander Ark closed out the festival with solo material and favorites from The Verve Pipe, bantering endearingly between songs about online comments and the complexities of live-streaming.
• Sunday night’s standout set may have belonged to Petersmark, who bypassed Crane Wives songs to boldly unleash a set of angsty solo material, stealing the show with her fiery voice.
• Lavengood expressed his usually jovial nature with banter between songs while shredding on acoustic guitar at Listening Room. He pressed on through gear malfunctions when a microphone fell from his guitar and hit the floor. Lavengood raised his guitar to the vocal mic and concluded the set like an old-timey troubadour with good spirits.
• Interrupted by sound issues affecting the live-stream feed, seven Michigan songwriters powered through anyway with oft-poignant and vocally powerful sets at Spring Lake’s Seven Steps Up on Saturday night, including Nicholas James Thomasma, Megan Dooley, Nathan Walton (with Colin McCorkle), Sandra Effert, Carrie McFerrin, Max Lockwood (with Eric O’Daly) and Kaitlin Rose. Some viewers online may have experienced a high-pitched whistling at times, but inside the pristine listening room, the energy and enthusiasm of the performers playing a bona fide stage for the first time in a year was palpable.
• Streaming from the MVP Sportsplex in Grand Rapids, Jack Droppers & The Best Intentions’ late-night Saturday performance was dripping with rock ‘n’ roll passion, perhaps fueled by pent-up energy from not having played a live show in such a long time. The multiple-camera setup added to the show’s watchability. The band, by the way, officially releases a new single, “Welcome to the Party,” on April 9.
• Friday night’s songwriter-in-the-round session at 20 Front Street – with Jill Jack, Kat Steih, Tom Alter and Mike Ward – showed off plenty of insightful and compelling songcraft, not to mention the venue’s fetching aura.
• Following the 20 Front Street live-stream, The Accidentals’ headlining Friday night set – which attracted nearly 5,000 views on Facebook – proved to be one of the standout shows of the entire five-day festival, performance-wise, sound-wise and charm-wise. The same night, the Traverse City band also debuted a new music video for “Night Train.”
• Thursday night’s live-stream from Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Arts Center, presented by Blissfest Music Organization, showcased the depth of northern Michigan’s musical talent, with Charlie Millard, Elizabeth Landry, Robin Lee Barry, Bruce Smith, Sean Miller, Caroline Barlow and Holly Keller-Thompson performing. Some striking harmonies proved to be a high point: Miller joined by Barlow to sing a rendition of John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings” and Keller-Thompson joining Barlow for an inspiring take on Alison Krauss’ “The Lucky One.” All of it was enhanced by fine camera work and professional sound production.
“I’m just so stoked to have the opportunity to be here,” Barlow remarked. “It’s a dream come true.”
For many Michigan musicians, that dream has been possible due to the support of the Michigan Music Alliance, which has stepped up to assist them after the pandemic derailed their tours and income. Fans can donate to its relief fund online here.
The week’s festival performances – especially at some of the concert venues long closed by COVID – also revived the dream of in-person, live performances in 2021.
“I feel optimistic about this year,” said Quinn Mathews, general manager and talent buyer for downtown Grand Rapids’ Listening Room.
“To start having this kind of stuff combined with weekend dinner shows, it at least feels good having people in here and music. If we start with this and continue to build, we’ll be in good shape.”
Check out highlights from Day 1 (Wednesday) of the festival here: Lokella, Political Lizard, Jessi Phillips alluring focal point of Spread the Music’s opening night
Miss some of the action? Watch festival performances via videos on the Michigan Music Alliance Facebook page.
PHOTO GALLERY: Spread the Music Festival at Listening Room (Sunday)
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
Photos by John Sinkevics and Nicholas James Thomasma