The West Michigan singer and pianist returns to her hometown of Ionia this week for a special “Purple Concert” and music video shoot to help commemorate deceased loved ones.
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Caitlin Cusack is sitting on her front porch, wrapped in a cardigan with tea in hand while the rain plays percussive rhythms on the rooftop.
She’s just returned home from a morning trip to Ionia, her hometown and the focus of her next musical project. Cusack recently announced her “You Carry Me Project,” an interactive music video series and concert to commemorate the lives of deceased loved ones.
After the loss of her parents (her father in 2016 and mother in 2019) Cusack found music to be a cathartic process, allowing her a creative space to grieve and heal.
“I think grief is such a complicated thing for everybody,” Cusack says. “And that no one knows how to handle it when it happens because no one can prepare you for loss. And I think this music could give people a tool to do that.
“I hope that it will wrap people up in a hug if they need it, or give them a safe space to cry or to happily remember the times they had with their loved ones.”
The project will culminate with the Purple Concert and a music video shoot, presented by Ionia Community Awareness (ICA) at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 20) at Watt Auditorium, 438 Union St., in Ionia. The all-ages event will feature a performance by Cusack, with accompaniment by the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Ionia Vocal Music program.
Attendees are encouraged to wear purple attire and will have the opportunity to appear in the final music video. A donation of $10 is suggested, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the ICA. Get more details here.
The multimedia project welcomes the public to submit names and photos of lost loved ones to be memorialized in the video series. Memorials can be submitted at caitlincusackmusic.com.
It was important for Cusack to honor her parents with the project. They played an integral role in fostering her love of the arts, particularly her mother, Mary, who taught music at Ionia Public Schools. Cusack spent time retracing her parents’ footsteps and the video will include scenes filmed in the third-floor band classroom where her mother taught.
“Going back to mom’s classroom was pretty crazy, because I haven’t been there in years,” Cusack says. “Some of the old instruments are still there, like these old marimbas. A rainstick made by one of her students. It was really beautiful.
“It didn’t hit me until filming the final song that day, and I started crying. I just thought about how excited she would be if she could have been there to see this in person.”
Cusack’s own home in Grand Rapids could be mistaken for a music classroom. Instruments comprise about half the furniture. An entire baby grand piano claims a bit of prime real estate. There’s also a harp.
Cusack began writing music regularly after a traumatic brain injury. Finding comfort in the craft of songwriting, she documented her healing journey with beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyricism. Her debut record, “Quiet My Mind,” is an autobiographical window to love, loss, grief and hope as they are experienced in real time.
Going back to where her story began has been a nostalgic experience, Cusack says. The community of Ionia has been largely supportive and encouraging.
“I’m a different person than I was when I lived there. I’ve learned so much, I’ve traveled the world. And to come home and feel so supported is really amazing,” says Cusack.
“The people there are so warm and kind and so many of them knew and loved my parents. And that extends to me. And I feel wrapped and embraced by them, which is an amazing feeling.”
VIDEO: Caitlin Cusack, “Waiting” (Live at Midtown)
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