A half-dozen of Michigan’s leading singer-songwriters delivered masterful performances Thursday night in a pristine Grand Rapids setting. (Photos, video)
Singer-songwriters have never sounded quite like this.
For the first time ever, St. Cecilia Music Center’s stunning Royce Auditorium resonated for an entire evening with the strains of Michigan folk, Americana and alt-country artists unfolding musical tales in casual yet high-caliber fashion.
The debut of the Local Spins Live Contemporary Folk Series at the historic Grand Rapids auditorium left many of the 300 or so in attendance glowing about the opportunity to hear – really hear – six of the state’s most bracing singer-songwriters in such a pristine, listening-room setting usually reserved for national jazz artists and chamber orchestras.
Highlights abounded amid the evening’s two sets: multi-instrumentalist Karisa Wilson thumping it up impressively on a stand-up bass on “No Words,” Ralston Bowles cleverly improvising on the funny and crowd-pleasing “I, Love, You,” Petoskey’s Michelle Chenard introducing herself to a Grand Rapids audience with powerful vocals on the poignant “Willing” from the “Sacrifice and Honor” documentary, Lux Land’s soaring voice exuding a charming and doleful country sheen while accompanying herself on guitar and banjo, Michael Crittenden balancing the outdoorsiness of a Troll for Trout tune with a touching ode to past love on the yet-to-be-released solo piece, “Starbucks,” Lucas Wilson’s soulfully raspy rendering of every cut-to-the-core song he sang, even getting some harmony help from Karisa Wilson at one point.
Audience member and audio engineer Peter Fox, of Grand Rapids Stone House Recording, may have said it best after the show when he told me the acoustic sound quality of Royce Auditorium was impeccable, putting Thursday night’s performers in an environment unlike any other. The performers themselves gushed about playing an exquisite, distraction-free and spacious venue that isn’t a noisy bar, restaurant or nightclub.
“It achieved exactly what we were hoping for: showcasing great local musicians in a fabulous listening space. You could indeed hear a pin drop during that concert,” noted SCMC Executive Director Cathy Holbrook, adding there were lots of “new faces” in the auditorium crowd. “In fact, Karisa said at one point it was so quiet, it kind of freaked her out!”
And as a bonus, Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Kelsey Rottiers, who recently released her second album, “Bear Hope,” entertained the troops afterwards during an upbeat post-concert reception in St. Cecilia’s second-floor ballroom.
As one of the night’s hosts, it was gratifying to see the Local Spins Live series unfold the way it did, earning high marks from attendees and performers. That bodes well for the next two concerts in the series – Feb. 21 with The Crane Wives and Delilah DeWylde & the Lost Boys and March 28 with Seth Bernard and May Erlewine with The Fauxgrass Quartet – not to mention prospects for expanding it to spotlight even more local and regional talent, a seemingly boundless pool these days.
Get tickets for the other two shows online here and check out photos and video from the opening night singer-songwriter salvo below.