Two-and-a-half years after last gracing a stage, the folk-rock band plays a much-anticipated show Saturday at Studio Park. What can fans expect? The back story and more at Local Spins.
When The Crane Wives – one of West Michigan’s most popular and beloved bands over the past decade – played Grand Rapids’ Listening Room in February 2020, few fans would ever have guessed it would be 2-1/2 years before the folk-rock foursome would perform on stage again.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
But the COVID-19 pandemic, band members’ “ongoing health struggles and healing journeys” and various “personal life shifts and quests” dramatically altered their trajectory, leading to a lengthy hiatus as a full band.
On Saturday, that protracted break officially comes to an end when The Crane Wives play the Listening Room’s Listening Lawn series at Studio Park in downtown Grand Rapids, a long-awaited, coming-out party eagerly anticipated by fans who’ve snapped up hundreds of tickets for the outdoor show.
Opening the 7 p.m. show will be another Michigan icon, singer-songwriter Seth Bernard and his all-star band.
All of the concert’s premium seats have sold out, with some general admission $15 standing room tickets remaining. Find those online here.
The return of The Crane Wives – who will also play Hoxeyville Music Festival in Wellston later this month and Earthwork Harvest Gathering outside Lake City in September – shapes up as an emotional homecoming for Grand Rapids band members Emilee Petersmark, Kate Pillsbury, Dan Rickabus and Ben Zito.
So, Local Spins asked them to put into words just what it means to revisit their music in front of a live audience again, and what took them so long to get back to this point.
Hence, the Local Spins Q&A with details about other shows they have planned and some new music, too.
Local Spins: What stood out for you about the last public performance by The Crane Wives at Listening Room at the end of February 2020?
Dan Rickabus: It was an unforgettable show! Over the hiatus, I’ve been so grateful that the vibe was so special and magical at the last show we played together. We were surrounded by community, and supported so well by the staff and crew. We felt like we were on fire musically, and in a room like that, you can really listen to each other and feel the songs. We captured that show, and produced it as a live album. It feels fitting to reunite at Studio Park (where Listening Room is housed) once again.
Kate Pillsbury: That show was really special because it was a new venue, cultivated by Quinn Mathews, who is a musician himself and really knows what a performance space needs. It is a small room, so everyone that comes to a concert is coming specifically to hear the music, which made for a pin-drop-silent audience throughout the performance. Their closeness to the stage really created an intimacy that is harder to get in a bigger room. The energy in the room was electric. Perhaps most special was having all of our life partners there with us. It meant a lot at the moment to have them there, but during the early months of the pandemic, wondering if we would be able to perform again, I took some solace in knowing the last performance ended on such a high note with so many loved ones in the audience.
Emilee Petersmark: In hindsight, I feel so grateful that our last show before lockdown was a hometown show, the kind of soul-filling gig that makes you want to keep playing. It was a high note to pause on for the past two years, and it sets a high bar for jumping back in.
Local Spins: What are the reasons that The Crane Wives haven’t performed in so long — COVID, just taking a break, working on other projects?
Emilee Petersmark: All three. The ongoing pandemic has made us cautious of taking on extra risk, especially considering how many members of our community are medically vulnerable to COVID. It was a big factor in our decision not to perform for the past two years. However, during the interim we found ourselves exploring new jobs and hobbies, expanding our skill sets and trying to create joy in the spaces we normally saved for the Crane Wives. The break also gave us opportunities to work on new projects with different people. I used part of the break to work up some solo material and have been piecing a record together with Ben Zito in his studio. I know Dan has also been working on a side-project with Seth Bernard and Michael Dause, remotely recording a full-length record.
Dan Rickabus: Between some ongoing health struggles and healing journeys with the band mates, and two of us having high-risk, immunocompromised partners, we’ve had to be especially careful and strategic with gatherings during the pandemic. That condition coalesced with a number of other personal life shifts and quests. We’ve each gone through so much over the last few years. It has been quite a journey! I’m so grateful to say that it feels like our friendships are deeper than ever.
Kate Pillsbury: We are still cautious about the pandemic. There is a lot of messaging that the pandemic is over or that we should move on, but there are millions of immunocompromised and disabled people in our country, many of whom are close loved ones. We want to protect them, but we also want to prevent ourselves and others from getting long Covid and joining the ranks of the disabled. The Crane Wives had the ability to take a step back, so it felt right to take some time away from performing. In that space created by performing less, we each found plenty of other projects to work on. I’ll let the other band members discuss their projects. Personally, I have been doing freelance work, making ceramics at a pottery studio where I am a member, and most excitingly, working on a body of solo music. Apart from that, I’ve spent a lot of time resting and reflecting. We were on the road for years. A break was welcome, and coming back to it, we are somehow more aligned than ever in what our goals and desires are. As a younger artist, I was always plagued by a sense that time was running out, but now I think that idea is manufactured by a culture that profits off of our belief that we need to always be rushing and moving on to the next thing. Every time I let myself take a breath and slow down, I remember I’m right where I need to be. A panicked nervous system doesn’t nurture positive or decisive action.
Local Spins: What do you miss most about performing as a band?
Kate Pillsbury: I miss the energy exchange of performing live and creating the sonic backdrop of a memorable night in the minds of dozens of people. I wonder if music fans are aware of the power they hold in making a show great. The people in the audience who dance, sing, make eye contact: Those people keep the show’s energy up because they recharge our batteries while we perform.
Emilee Petersmark: I miss getting the chance to hang out with my three best friends all day. In March of 2020, we went from seeing each other almost every day to only being able to see each other through scheduled Zoom chats. It was an abrupt transition, and more than anything I miss the magic of having all four of us in a room making music. Band practice feels extra special again, and there’s something full-circle about coming back to our favorite Michigan venues and festivals this summer.
Dan Rickabus: It’s one of the great joys of my life to be on stage sharing music with the found-family that is the Crane Wives. The energy exchange between us, and how the crowd feels so much catharsis in connection to the songs, it’s something really special that we’ve been in awe of since we started over a decade ago. We’re so lucky to have such a deep-feeling, deep-listening community of fans who come to the shows ready to celebrate life. There’s no feeling like it!
Local Spins: How excited are you guys about playing the Listening Lawn series and what can fans expect from this show?
Dan Rickabus: I’ve been looking forward to this dreamy show for so long! I can’t wait to rock for the people and share the start of this new era from the band. Fans will hear a collection of old favorite jams, new songs, even newer songs, and maybe even a surprise cover. I’m also super jazzed to open the night playing in my dear brother Seth Bernard’s band. Joining us will be Sam Cooper, Jordan Hamilton and Justin Avdek. Playing shows with Seth a handful of times this summer and last summer has been a total blast and a pure joy. Seth’s music and brotherhood have shaped me as a person, so it’s always incredible to be a part of those songs hitting the air and landing in hearts.
Kate Pillsbury: We are very excited to play the Listening Lawn, especially because our buddy Seth Bernard and his band will also be playing. We have planned a 75-minute power set. We’ll play lots of old favorites, as well as a couple songs we’ve never performed before.
Emilee Petersmark: I don’t have adequate words to express the excitement I feel about getting to play the Listening Lawn series. We’ve never played the Lawn before but I’ve seen a few of my friends play – The Go Rounds, Brie Stoner. The sound is impeccable at these shows, and the outdoors setting gives us an opportunity to get loud. I’m looking forward to trying to bring the energy up and get folks out of their seats.
Local Spins: What’s the plan for additional performances this summer, fall and beyond?
Emilee Petersmark: Hoxey and Harvest are two of our favorite festivals and we’re excited to be returning this summer. We don’t have an official tour planned yet, but we’re definitely working on it. Over the pandemic we’ve seen an influx of fans from outside the Midwest and we’re going to do our best to get out there.
Dan Rickabus: We’re very excited to play Hoxeyville and Harvest Gathering. That’s all that is confirmed and public at the moment, but we are stoked and ready to get out there, travel again, and perform a lot more very soon, especially in 2023. We’re feeling charged up by our renewed excitement and will be putting our heads together to plan some big moves very soon.
Kate Pillsbury: Over the winter, we might do some duo mini-tours, but we are going to focus on booking, songwriting and recording this winter before the spring and summer seasons pick up with performing.
Local Spins: What about new music from The Crane Wives?
Kate Pillsbury: In preparation for this show, we have mostly stuck to dusting off cobwebs, but we do have a new original song to feature at the Listening Lawn show. We were in the midst of creating a full-length album when the pandemic struck, but we will likely forego working on a full-length album in favor of singles or an EP. We love the album as an art form, but it is hard to make an album pay off in a playlist world.
Emilee Petersmark: We’re definitely working on new stuff, some of which you’ll hear on Saturday. We’ve been saying, ‘We’re working on Album 5’ basically since the release of 2016’s “Foxlore,” but there’s still lots of work to do before a full-length record is ready. There may be singles in the future, though. Keep an eye on our Spotify.
Dan Rickabus: We just finished a brand new song that, if it feels right, will be debuted at the show. All I will say about recordings for now is that we are currently chopping up some fresh ingredients, seasoning the cast irons, and getting ready to cook something up.
Local Spins: What has been the best thing about this hiatus?
Dan Rickabus: The hiatus has contained multitudes of emotion. I think the best thing about it is the deep perspective that stepping away for a while brought. Now, I’m feeling like we have this newfound sense of grounding in how to do this in a way where it feels healthy, comfortable, mutually supportive and inspiring. Our recent practices have been so fun, and communication has been open and real, which is the most important part of any relationship. We’ve had a truly epic swell of support on YouTube, Spotify and social media over the last two years. It’s been mind-blowing to see people all over the world discover the music and connect to it. We’re floored. Overall, I think stepping away for a bit really helped us see this thing for what it is, a magical opportunity to share sister/brotherhood, express ourselves through the collaborative craft of art, and connect to people from all walks of life.
Kate Pillsbury: I have really appreciated the paradigm shifts that resulted from the pandemic. Being forced to take a hard look at life, to understand what I need and want, reconcile it against what my life allows for. It has been a painful couple of years, but there is healing in the pain. It has also allowed me to see my bandmates carving paths in their own lives that don’t involve me. I spent so much of my life placing my identity squarely in the band, and that wasn’t healthy for me. Now I am able to see us all as separate beings who love each other and choose to make space for each other, but also to make space for regular life, for homes and partners and careers. It is easy to romanticize life on the road as a touring musician, but we sacrificed a lot of time with our loved ones to make our lives fit our dreams. We are changing the equation; now we are working to make our dreams fit into our lives.
Emilee Petersmark: While the hiatus has definitely been challenging in certain aspects, personally I’ve found a weird kind of gratitude for the way it’s forced me to reevaluate my relationship with music and performance. It was like being given permission to rest after years of go-go-go in the gig economy, and now I see why a healthy work-life balance is so important. With time away from the road I was able to invest more in my local community, develop new friendships and professional ties here in Grand Rapids, and spend more time with my partner. I didn’t realize how much I was missing at home while we were on the road. Being unable to play with the Crane Wives also encouraged me to collaborate with other local artists, like Lokella and Brie Stoner, and offered me more space to develop my voice as a solo artist. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to explore so many new musical directions over the past two years.
Local Spins: Which artists, local and national, have you listened to the most over the past three years and who has inspired you?
Emilee Petersmark: Mitski has been a staple for the past three years. Her newest album has me by the throat, I love it. As far as inspiration goes, I’ve been incredibly inspired by Fiona Apple’s “Fetch The Bold Cutters.” The fact that she recorded it in her home allowed it to hit hard over lockdown. Hearing her dog bark in the background of a track, using pots and pans and gravel beneath sneakers as percussion, it paints a very intimate picture of the recording process for me. It reminded me that great things can still be made and shared even when you’re stuck inside your house.
Dan Rickabus: I’m always discovering new music, feeling big feelings while listening, and getting inspired by music. It’s hard to sum up such a huge experience over the last few years, so I’ll just give a short list of some tracks that have been on repeat lately: “Aquamarine” by Danger Mouse & Black Thought feat. Michael Kiwanuka, “Summer Dream” by Bonny Light Horseman, “b.e. son” by Joe Rainey, “Symphony” by Maggie Rogers, the entire new album, “A Light for Attracting Attention,” by The Smile, at least once a day.
Kate Pillsbury: I’ve listened to a lot of Michael Kiwanuka, Adrienne Lenker, Radiohead, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Kevin Morby, Kurt Vile. The honesty and simplicity of Adrienne Lenker with a guitar takes my breath away and compels me to simplify. Yet, the sonic universes of the other artists mentioned have inspired me to learn more about music production. I have enough original songs that I’ve started imagining them in different camps – a rootsy, organized project of lyric-driven songs, and a less-structured explorative project focused more on guitar delay-scapes and capturing a performance in the moment.
VIDEO: The Crane Wives, “Hollow Moon”
Copyright 2022, Spins on Music LLC