Thursday, 24 October 2013 14:52

Sinks Spins on Music: Music to Benefit Music; St. Cecilia's Fresh Folk series

Written by  John Sinkevics
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Ask any musician: Passing down rich music traditions ensures that eager new generations of players will continue to be inspired to greatness – or, at the very least, find joy in jams and making musical noise. I hear it from emerging West Michigan artists every week, about a father who left his acoustic guitar out for his young son to explore, a grandma whose singing in the church choir induced family members to follow her example, a jazz devotee who filled his home with instruments and the recorded classics of iconic masters for kids to soak in.

On the flip side, there's all that untapped potential of youngsters without mentors like these, without access to instruments and resources that could turn them into passionate musicians. That's where Bill Worst has stepped in. Over the past seven years, the co-owner of Hudsonville's The Pinnacle Center event facility has raised a staggering $225,000 to buy instruments and support materials for music programs at Grand Rapids-area schools through his Music to Benefit Music nonprofit organization.

Every November, MTBM hosts an annual fund-raising dinner, auction and concert at The Pinnacle Center starring a touring national roots or Americana-styled act, with Phil Keaggy, Will Hoge and Paul Thorn among past performers. This year, the bluesy Americana duo of Peter Karp and Sue Foley will perform at the Nov. 2 "Readin', Writin' and Rhyth-ma-tic" event – and hundreds of students in area schools hit hard by music program budget cuts will benefit. (Tickets, which include dinner and the concert, are $62.50; details online at

"I thought maybe I could do something to try to figure out how to put instruments in schools and help them buy the more expensive ones the kids can't afford," said Worst, a diehard music fan who started his massive collection of records and CDs way back in the fifth grade. He also hosted a concert series featuring the likes of Dr. John, Emmylou Harris and John Hiatt at The Pinnacle Center for a few years starting in 2001.

"I have a loyal group of friends that come every year and spend money."

Much of it gets spent bidding on merchandise and services donated by businesses to the cause – airline tickets, audiophile gear, cameras, chef-prepared dinners. But it's all centered around the music, with engaging performances in a high-tech venue by top-notch musicians who warmly embrace the cause. Worst and his wife, Donna, spend weeks every year researching and consulting with friends on booking just the right act. "People tell me every year, 'That was the best you ever had. You're never going to top that entertainment,' " Worst said. "And then the next year, they say it again."

When St. Cecilia Music Center staged its first Fresh Folk contemporary folk series last spring, executive director Cathy Holbrook wasn't sure what to expect. It was the first time the center's historic Royce Auditorium had ever hosted a music series outside of the jazz and classical realm.

But the acoustically pristine, "unplugged" shows – a far cry from the usual nightclub clamor – proved to be a smash for attentive audiences as well as performers such as Seth & May and The Crane Wives. Although the concerts didn't sell out, organizers realized they had created something special by tapping a new St. Cecilia audience, so they're doing it again and hoping word spreads about the one-of-a-kind performances.

"I've heard nothing but wonderful things about the space and can't wait to throw my voice around in there," said singer-songwriter Rachael Davis, who'll open the 2013-14 Fresh Folk series on Nov. 7 with her bass-playing husband, Dominic John Davis. The Michiganders, who moved to Nashville last year so Dominic could play and tour with Jack White, will perform their Americana-hued folk as a duo, with Grand Rapids' own Troll for Trout opening.

"The audiences keep growing, as does the interest for this type of music," said Rachael, who collaborates with other Nashville writers, recently registered her own Pine River Publishing company and is working on a new recording due out in summer 2014. Dominic does session work and "pick-up projects," in addition to touring with White.

The diverse Fresh Folk series continues with a singer-songwriter night on Jan. 9, featuring Drew Nelson, Jimmie Stagger, May Erlewine, Jen Sygit, Josh Rose and Mark Sala, and on April 10 with Potato Moon and The Northern Skies. Tickets are $20 adults, $10 students; details online at


The Without You, Part I

It's been a long time since Grand Rapids audiences have heard from Bowery. Once they get wind of the lush and edgy, pop-hued indie-rock of The Without You (recorded at Joel Ferguson's Planet Sunday studios), chances are they'll clamor for the upcoming Part II – which guitarist-singer Phill Kulas describes as more "risky" than this eight-track affair. There's no denying the infectious, can't-get-it-out-of-your-cranium hooks, from the more mainstream "Everything Starts to End" to the dreamy power of "Collapse." With new singer Heather Palaszek aboard, Bowery (also featuring bassist Todd VanTongeren, drummer Scott Hickok and Ferguson) has hit the re-start button with authority.

Bowery's CD-release show is Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in The Stache at The Intersection, with The Company We Keep, Child Bite and Between Brains. Tickets are $5-$12 advance, $7-$14 day of show.

Gifts or Creatures
Yesteryear Western Darkness

This Lansing roots duo hits the bullseye with the title of its sophomore CD. Brandon and Bethany Foote unfurl 11 tracks of folklore-driven Americana that kick up dusty images of tumbleweeds and Western sunsets, saddling up with evocative, whispery harmonies, twangy guitars and a laid-back cinematic milieu with help from Earthwork Music pals Seth Bernard, Ian Gorman, Drew Howard and others. It adds to Gifts or Creatures' reputation as a Michigan act with something to say and a singular way of saying it.

Steve Talaga
June Balloon

Much-revered Grand Rapid jazz pianist Steve Talaga says this project with bassist Tom Lockwood and drummer Andy Szumowski was "nothing but fun." It's easy to see why. There's a jaunty, devil-may-care vibe at work in many of the 13 tracks that are at once easygoing yet complex in their progressive jazz tack. Recorded as mostly first and second takes at Cornerstone University (by Randy Miller and Jacob Maguire), there's an improvisational freshness that spotlights the trio's immense instrumental talent.

Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at, spotlighting artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM.

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