The folk-rock band’s longtime banjoist played his final show with the group at Founders on New Year’s Eve and is pursuing a new musical project dubbed Great Lakes Natives.
Tom Gunnels, longtime banjo player for The Crane Wives, has left the popular Grand Rapids folk-rock band.
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Gunnels – who is pursuing a new musical project called Great Lakes Natives as a well as a new nonprofit group – played his final show with The Crane Wives on New Year’s Eve at Founders Brewing Co., with a jam-packed, capacity crowd cheering the band in another triumphant performance.
“Tom is a dear friend and has been since I was 14, so I’m very much looking forward to continuing our friendship outside of the band,” said drummer Dan Rickabus. “He is also passionately working on his own project, Great Lake Natives, which I am excited to listen to and support, and I’m proud of him for what he’s doing.”
Rickabus said it was apropos that Gunnels’ final show with The Crane Wives came at Founders.
“We started our band there, so even though we didn’t get to announce it on stage, it feels like a good ending note,” he said. “He (Gunnels) played beautifully, and he was incredibly pumped to play on the same stage as Possessed By Paul James, who is one of his musical heroes.”
Gunnels said he’s learned “an incredible amount” during his time in The Crane Wives.
“I don’t know if this is the right time for me to pursue my own project, but it certainly feels that way,” said Gunnels, noting that he’s involved in a start-up non-profit called Sonder Farms which aims to be a “self-sustaining, community-centered organization created to directly impact and create positive cultural change for healthier lives, livelihood and the environment” through aquaponics, apiary farming and more on acreage west of Grand Rapids.
PURSUING HIS OWN SOLO PROJECT WITH THE CRANE WIVES MOVING ON AS FOUR-PIECE
“Musically, I am slowly recording my own solo project called Great Lake Natives in which I hope to build into a collaborative recording project with other Michigan musicians to benefit water conservation. The music is densely layered folk/electronic and some people have likened it to Sufjan Stevens or Iron & Wine.”
The Crane Wives posted the “sad news” on its Facebook page on Saturday telling fans that they’d had a “wonderful ride” with Gunnels in “living our collective dreams. … Please show Tom all the love and support you can as he goes through this transition. Thank you so much for your understanding, and for lifting us up and keeping us going. We love you.”
The Crane Wives – Rickabus, Gunnels, singer-guitarists Emilee Petersmark and Kate Pillsbury, and bassist Ben Zito – formed in 2010 and have released two acclaimed albums, “Safe Ship, Harbored” and “The Fool in Her Wedding Gown” – in the folk-rock, folk-pop and Americana vein. The band’s popularity has soared during that time period with West Michigan shows often selling out; last year, they ventured out west for their first tour to Colorado.
Rickabus said the band plans to continue as a quartet and will head back into the recording studio later this year to hammer out its next album.
“The Cranes are planning to work hard this month in rehearsing new material and finding our new direction as a four-piece,” he said. “We plan to go into the studio in March with Ian Gorman at La Luna studios (in Kalamazoo) to make an album and we have some very special friends helping us out.”
As for Gunnels, he doesn’t plan on performing “for a while. While I get a lot of enjoyment out of performing, I don’t know if the anxiety that comes with it makes it worthwhile to me, at least at this moment with where I am in my life.
“I have grown a lot as a musician and as a person, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today if it weren’t for the band. I have met an incredible amount of people who have supported us along the way and I am eternally grateful for all of those who have come to our shows, told a friend about us, or helped us in any way, big or small, along the way.”
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