10 Musicians To Watch In 2023

Music is a massive part of West Michigan's culture and identity.

We have a wealth of bands who firmly plant themselves in the local community and build a loyal fanbase, DJs who love to curate an unforgettable experience, and a few musicians who aim for the stars and end up traveling the world.

Now that venues and recording studios are back open and eager to make music happen, we're seeing a big wave of local artists putting out new work and playing more shows.

To help you find some of this incredible West Michigan music and join the community, we've once again gathered 10 bands and solo artists who deserve the spotlight and have big things in the works. Enjoy, and spread the word if you like what you hear!

Kanin Wren 

Hometown: Lansing

Genre: Americana, Pop

Recommended If You Like: Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo

With a top tier tribute show to the biggest star in the world right now, Kanin Wren has sold out shows all across the state. Adding the “Taylor Swift Experience” to her live appearances earlier this year, the teen singer/songwriter has only just graduated high school, and started her next chapter as an artist. First she’ll embark on a tour that stretches from Michigan to Ohio and Maryland, and then she plans to record her debut record early next year. She has started sharing from her massive catalog of original songs, releasing a new single each month, and has a long list of big name collaborators already working with her.


Hometown: Grandville

Genre: Indie-rock, pop-rock

Recommended If You Like: Parquet Courts, Weathers

Priding themselves on making every show feel like a permanent summer vacation, Pretoria has a feel good sound that has only continued to grow over the last four years. Formed by four friends – guitarist Matthew Pavlock, drummer/vocalist Ben DeWitt, lead vocalist/bassist Rob Gullet and guitarist Joshua Bilisko – at Grandville High School, the band blends nostalgic college rock vibes, with a modern, hook-centered songcraft. Don’t miss the release of their debut album, Where Will The Night Take Us, due out Sept. 8, ahead of a planned tour later this fall.

Sarena Rae 

Hometown: Grand Rapids/Grandville

Genre: R&B, Soul

Recommended If You Like: Jazmine Sullivan, Summer Walker

Music surrounds every aspect of Sarena Rae’s life. From performing and recording her own solo work, to fronting Best of the West-winning cover band Brena, to founding the educational musical revue Music That Raised Us!, she has become involved with every aspect of the local music scene. A producer for the Michigan Chapter of the International Musicians League, and a board member of the Grand Rapids Media Center, she’s constantly working to help lift up other voices, while her own simply soars, onstage and off, with plans to play Earthwork Harvest Gathering Sept. 17, and showcase her Christmas album live later this year.

Headband Henny

Hometown: Kalamazoo

Genre: Hip-hop, alternative R&B

Recommended If You Like: Childish Gambino, Anderson.Paak

Still new to the scene, Ugandan rapper/singer Headband Henny, aka Henry Parwoth, has already become a hit at college house parties around Kalamazoo. Rapping with a chill, often old-school flow, his sound has only continued to evolve in the last two years, as he has most recently morphed his solo act into a live alternative hip-hop project with friends and fellow Kzoo musicians Noah Shankool on keys, Adam Cortes Ferrie on bass, Ryan Fluke on drums, and Brandon Marsh on guitar. The group has given Henny’s dynamic lyricism an undeniably dance-y bounce, and will help him continue to push past any new boundaries.

The Rebel Eves 

Hometown: Kalamazoo

Genre: Americana, Folk-pop

Recommended If You Like: The Highwomen, Joseph

Proving that there’s true strength in numbers, The Rebel Eves came together out of the pure joy of connection and creativity. Made up of co-lead vocalists Katie Pederson, Grace Theisen and Jillian Linklater, who have each made their own way as award-winning solo artists, the group has roots stretching from Michigan to Nashville, and intend to reach far beyond with a short tour surrounding their Sounds of the Zoo festival performance on Sept. 30. Their shared voices unite in gorgeous harmony on their lead single, “Heaven Without You,” released earlier this year, proving the sky’s the limit for this incredibly talented trio.

Sage Castleberry 

Hometown: Battle Creek/Kalamazoo

Genre: Pop-country, pop-rock

Recommended If You Like: Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan

Sage Castleberry picked up the guitar at just 10 years old, and has spent years playing with friends and family, including his father, drummer Tim Castleberry. He released his debut single, “I Kinda Like It” last year, and his debut EP, “Leave With Me Together,” earlier this year, with the title track taking inspiration from the tragically romantic story of his grandmother and grandfather passing away only hours apart due to complications from COVID-19. With Castleberry’s rich voice leading the way, the heartbreaking track goes deep into life, love, and loss, clearly establishing him as a powerful, soulful songwriter, and a performer not to be missed.

Empress Eyes 

Hometown: Grand Rapids

Genre: Indie, shoegaze

Recommended If You Like: Phoebe Bridgers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Originally envisioned as a solo project, Empress Eyes released her solo debut album, Sitting In My Room, last fall. Nominated for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and best Pop/Rock Album, at this year’s Jammie Awards, the hauntingly beautiful record made an immediate impact. Now expanded into a four-piece band, her songs take on a new life, embracing listeners, and guiding them through a journey of authentic self-reflection. Look out for the band’s new single, “Stay Dead,” going live online later this month. 

Jaz Bolar 

Hometown: Battle Creek

Genre: Rap, hip-hop

Recommended If You Like: Nas, J. Cole

A member of Battle Creek’s BLVCKSHEEP, a Black-owned collective and record label, Jermaine Williams, aka Jaz Bolar, has been in the game for over a decade. Having first started writing music in the sixth grade, he has grown and matured over the years, with a community-minded message, centered on unifying and taking action. He’s released a number of projects, most recently the first visual album in West Michigan entitled FINITY, as well as the new single “Curses & Blessings,” and has opened for artists like Eric Bellinger, Payroll Giovanni, and others, while building up his strong live show. 

Soular Spice 

Hometown: Kalamazoo

Genre: Bass, House

Recommended If You Like: LP Giobbi, Rezz

Playing regularly in Chicago and Detroit, Kalamazoo DJ Soular Spice has mostly secret shows and unannounced sets as far out as Texas lined up for this fall, but her epic mixes and performances have already become the stuff of legend. Taking the stage at area electronic music events like the Big Bubble Rave at GLC Live at 20 Monroe earlier this year, and the Great Lakes Flow retreat in Lapeer, her interplanetary grooves, and pulse pounding tempos have her ready to take off any time now.

Pocket Watch

Hometown: Grand Rapids

Genre: Jazz fusion, funk

Recommended If You Like: Lake Street Dive, Hiatus Kaiyote

Just now celebrating their one year anniversary as a band, Pocket Watch has made quick time getting a loyal fan base in the local scene. Regularly performing at Turnstiles every Sunday for their weekly Jazz Jam, the six-piece outfit has members with experience from Berklee and MSU, as well as other area bands like Whorled, Cosmic Knot, Squatch, Minor Element, and The Verve Pipe. They will take the stage at Founders Sept. 16, before beginning work on their first album, with plans to release that sometime this winter.