Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys’ resonator guitar whiz was reared on rock but has embraced the beauty of the Dobro and bluegrass music. He hosts a special Bruce Springsteen Tribute on Thursday night in Casnovia.
Picture a Comstock Park High School wrestler, pumping himself up before meets with the eardrum-rattling, bone-crunching heavy metal fury of Slipknot and Korn – the same scholar-athlete who also played football, baseball and percussion, and immersed himself in the music of ska/punk/reggae outfits like Sublime and the funk/alt-rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
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Now picture that same fellow several years later, reveling in the acoustic glory of the resonator guitar, aka Dobro, and the beauty of rootsy modern bluegrass.
Mark Lavengood may have changed course musically as a solo artist and key member of the up-and-coming Michigan bluegrass band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, but he brings the same intensity and fired-up attitude to his live acoustic performances as he did when he was an adrenaline-pumping athlete and metal-head.
“I love playing the Dobro, that’s my heart and passion,” says Lavengood, a multi-instrumentalist who also plays acoustic guitar and drums. “The timbre of it is what originally drew me to it.”
Introduced to acoustic music by former bandmates in the group The Winter Sessions, Lavengood also found inspiration in the playing of internationally renowned Dobro great Jerry Douglas and Michigan musicians such as Drew “Capt. Midnight” Howard and Joe Wilson.
“Seeing those guys, that blew my mind,” he says of seeing Howard and Wilson perform with Lansing’s Steppin’ In It. “The more I got into it, the more I realized there’s not a lot of Dobro players and if you’re trying to make a niche for yourself in music, like hey, ‘There you go. Why don’t you give it a try?’ ”
And so, he did, eventually joining Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys in 2010 and solidifying the lineup of the fast-rising Michigan bluegrass outfit that’s toured nationally and released a pair of highly praised studio albums, 2010’s “A Different Tune,” and 2012’s “Release Your Shrouds.”
But Lavengood also is getting his feet wet as a solo artist and songwriter. He released a 7-inch self-titled vinyl EP earlier this year, with plans for recording an album of “reso-phonic bluegrass-oriented tunes” in Kalamazoo come January, before The Flatbellys head out west for another tour. He hopes to tour behind his solo CD next summer “as a band under my own name.”
On Wednesday, he played an original song, “Brenda Lee,” on Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) with help from Fauxgrass mandolinist Jason Wheeler. You can listen to a full podcast of the show here and watch a video of the duo’s performance below.
The pairing of the two musicians comes as Lavengood organizes an unusual, star-studded benefit concert at a tavern that’s owned by his mother. The Bruce Springsteen Tribute tonight (Thursday) at the Half Moon Bar & Grill off M-37 in Casnovia, about 20 miles north of Grand Rapids, will feature performances by Lavengood & Thunder Road (a family band), Fauxgrass, The Crane Wives, Drew Nelson, Jen Sygit, Ralston Bowles and Nicholas James Thomasma.
A SPRINGSTEEN TRIBUTE FOR A WORTHY CAUSE
The featured artists will play three favorite Springsteen songs plus one original tune as part of their sets, beginning at 7 tonight (Thursday). Although admission is free, donations will be encouraged to support three women’s centers in Grand Rapids: The YWCA Women at Risk International and Safe Haven. (Catch a snippet of Lavengood, Wheeler and Bowles improvising a little tribute to Bruce Sprinsteen in a video below.)
Lavengood, who now makes his home in Ann Arbor along with the rest of the Flatbellys, chose to pay tribute to
Springsteen because it’s his mother’s favorite artist, though he noted the superstar rocker has been inspired by the same seminal folk icons as many of the acoustic musicians on Thursday night’s bill.
“He’s a classic American songwriter influenced by a lot of the same Americana roots heroes that I have, like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie,” says the ever-upbeat Lavengood, aka “Huggy Bear.”
Lavengood – who grew up with music ranging from Springsteen to Black Sabbath, not to mention a guitar-shredding dad – started on percussion in middle school, picked up guitar during his senior year of high school, then joined the Alma College Percussion Ensemble while studying Spanish and business. Eventually, he “started to explore acoustic instruments” while playing with The Winter Sessions.
The hard-touring Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, part of the Earthwork Music collective, have been his primary focus the past three years, with the distinctive bluegrass band quickly growing in popularity across the region while playing hundreds of shows.
LINDSAY LOU & THE FLATBELLYS: NO BETTER GROUP OF PEOPLE TO WORK WITH
“The great thing about being full-time with Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys is you couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be working with and traveling with and collaborating with and creating with,” he gushes. “We’ve got a lot of different influences and desires and passions with not only our music in our lives but our outside-of-music life, too, and we’re all really supportive of each other to pursue these things.”
After Thursday’s benefit, Lavengood rejoins The Flatbellys for a 9:30 p.m. Friday show at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, followed by a 5 p.m. Saturday performance at Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids to kick off Founders’ 10th annual Harvest Party. (Honky Suckle, 7 p.m., Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy, 9 p.m., and The Appleseed Collective, 11 p.m., are also on the bill.)
Wheeler and Fauxgrass, meanwhile, play the opening concert of the 2013-14 MAJIC Concert Series at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 250 Commerce Ave. SW. Details online here.
Email John Sinkevics at email@example.com.
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