This week’s concert recap focuses on three shows in particular that celebrated the talents — new and experienced — of West Michigan artists. Plus view images of Raul Midon, Fatoumata Diawara and more.
Call it “A Tale of Three Cities” … and three bands.
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There were the sold-out, homecoming concerts by two immensely popular West Michigan artists — The Crane Wives and Billy Strings (with stepdad, Terry Barber) — in Grand Rapids and Ionia, proving the mettle of these high-caliber acts and giving hometown fans a chance to embrace their musicianship in intimate fashion.
And then there was the jam-packed debut of a brand new, teen rock band, Five Strand Fusion (a project spearheaded by Dave Palmer and Tom Wall), at Grand Haven’s Third Coast Recording Co. — a private concert for relatives, friends and “super fans” that showed off the potential of these young musicians.
Check out recaps of the shows — including special fan reviews of Billy Strings’ Ionia concert — below.
It was just part of another music-filled weekend in West Michigan, one that also included Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara playing two incredible, vibrant shows at Listening Room, guitarist Raul Midon firing up the Acoustic Cafe Folk Series at St. Cecilia Music Center, bluegrass hero Dave Bruzza returning to Kalamazoo with his Unsafe at Any Speed project, and We Were Promised Jetpacks pumping up a capacity crowd at The Pyramid Scheme.
THE CRANE WIVES AT LISTENING ROOM (Friday)
So much gratitude.
From the time The Crane Wives took the stage until they played their final note on Friday, the folk-rock band’s Listening Room debut was all about thanking fans and all of those who’ve supported the popular West Michigan group over the past decade.
The band – Emilee Petersmark, Kate Pillsbury, Dan Rickabus and Ben Zito – certainly didn’t disappoint the sold-out crowd which cheered classic tunes from the band’s first album through fresh material set to appear on their next recording later this year.
And a mid-show acoustic duo set featuring the stellar vocals and harmonies of Pillsbury and Petersmark — hearkening back to the genesis of The Crane Wives at a Chinese restaurant many years ago — just confirmed the immense talent and complementary voices of this band of friends.
In introducing some songs there were also heartfelt revelations about dealing with depression and mental health issues, and encouraging those battling similar problems to seek help and counseling.
The group even showed gratitude for young opening indie-rock/pop band Political Lizard, exhibiting the mentoring, “look out for these talented kids in the future” sort of attitude that comes from a respected, veteran band eager to pass the torch to another set of musicians.
Of course, there’s plenty more to come from these Crane Wives, and judging by the new material they unfurled during Friday’s fan-pleasing affair, their next album is likely to be every bit as rewarding and energizing as anything they’ve produced during their first decade. – John Sinkevics
PHOTO GALLERY: The Crane Waves, Political Lizard at Listening Room
Photos by Anna Sink
BILLY STRINGS & TERRY BARBER AT IONIA THEATRE (Saturday)
“Family Strings,” indeed. From “These Memories of You” that launched the first set to “Wild Bill Jones” that closed out the encore, it was a night to remember in Ionia.
Because Billy Strings (aka Ionia native William Apostol) set up his limited “Family Strings” tour across Michigan with his stepdad/mentor Terry Barber as a way for home-state fans to experience his acoustic bluegrass charm in intimate fashion, we asked some of those fans to give us their reviews of Saturday night’s homecoming show at Ionia Theatre. And scroll down for the full set list.
Zack Volkers – “It was absolutely incredible. I had never been through Ionia before, but you could feel the pain in the way he sings about his hometown reflected in the decrepit store-fronts surrounding the theater. Once inside, the energy in there had to have reflected the atmosphere of the town before all the blue-collar jobs up and left: joy, jubilance and hope. And all of those feelings were amplified the second Billy took the stage with his dad for two full sets of a trip down flat-picking memory lane.”
Ed Atanasoff – “The crowd was electric but very drunk. The show really did have a homecoming vibe. Many were yelling, ‘We love you, Billy,’ at which time Billy’s very young niece proclaimed, “I love you uncle Billy.” So cool. Seeing both Billy and his father on stage together makes it easy to see where Billy gets his playing style. Those two are like a couple hummingbirds playing in unison — so fast, but so in control of every move.
It is clear they have played together since Billy was very young. Billy commented about being unable to find any published recordings for many of the songs his dad taught him over the years. Why? Because these songs were just handed down over generations — deep, soulful songs with meaning that were played for pleasure not profit. The place was packed with the crowd around the block before the doors opened. Great show! So glad I scored tickets.”
Mike Worthington – “Great show. I thought the crowd behaved extremely well. Glad I went to the show.”
Tracie Simons – “Incredible show.”
FIVE STRAND FUSION AT THIRD COAST RECORDING (Saturday)
It was a night showcasing the potential of a young, new West Michigan rock band.
Families, friends and “super fans” got a treat Saturday night in Grand Haven as Third Coast Recording Co. hosted a special reveal event for up-and-coming teen band, Five Strand Fusion. The rock group, in its first public appearance, showed off its musical performance chops for a packed house which got a first glance at the band that’s set to play several public concerts later this year, including a major event this fall.
Assembled by musician and mentor David Palmer (who called this project “the best thing I’ve ever done”), the talented teens entertained the packed studio room with a set full of popular songs, selected so the band could show off its varied musical styles and personalities. From Santana to Sublime (as well as a finale of original songs written by members of the band), the crowd gave loads of encouragement to the young band, including more than one standing ovation.
Tom Wall, guitarist and lead vocalist for West Michigan alt-funk jam band Cosmic Knot, serves as band director for Five Strand Fusion, which rehearses weekly at Third Coast. Wall said he was thrilled by the debut performance, not to mention the fantastic feedback from the supportive crowd.
“It was awesome to see,” Wall said. “I am happy the kids did what they did. They far exceeded my expectations. They’ve got so much soul — still putting in the hard work as we are going along, but we’ve got the music, and that’s the most important part. They are the best group of kids I know, I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Avery Jorgensen, guitarist and band member of Five String Fusion, said while he was nervous at first, he was very excited the evening went so well for the debut of the group, which also features lead singer Skylar Mayton, guitarist Nick Robert, bassist Tristan Kemp and drummer Kaylee Smutez.
“This has been a lot of hard work, but it is so much fun,” Jorgensen said. “As we get more chances to play, we will get even better as we go. I can’t wait to see what happens next.” – Matt Marn
PHOTO GALLERY: Five Strand Fusion at Third Coast Recording (Saturday)
Photos by John Sinkevics
PHOTO GALLERY: Fatoumata Diawara at Listening Room (Thursday)
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek