Before the show could begin, I was asked to turn off a lamp.
That might seem antithetical to the name: Lamp Light Music Festival, but this one moment captures the intimacy and comfort of a very special weekend.
Hosted in four houses along Benjamin Avenue, the festival presents a unique experience for Grand Rapids. Bands that pack The Pyramid Scheme — Fauxgrass, The Soil & The Sun, The Go Rounds — set up in living rooms, playing just feet away from the front row. Some performers are up-and-comers, others are solo artists that only hit the stage when the mood strikes. It’s a mixed bag of genre too, from folk to hip-hop to indie rock.
When I walked into the very first show (at Bird House), the room was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, but I could still see the band — and the leaves dangling from the ceiling above them. More importantly, I could still hear them perfectly. The sound was absolutely spot on, which Fauxgrass members thanked the engineer for multiple times. Despite the casual atmosphere, this is no amateur production. Now in its fifth year, Lamp Light has nailed the fundamentals.
Still, there is a certain unique freedom to the festival. In equal amounts, people had brought their own children and their own booze. At one point, I spotted a man outside on the porch, listening through the window. The crowd had a certain churn that’s characteristic of festivals, as people made their way to another show, or just to the back of the room, sitting down on a couch.
But in all this, I saw nothing but respect for the homes that make Lamp Light possible. In fact, I think part of attending a house show is admiring the home itself. It’s the personal effects that set the mood as much as anything else — the paintings, statues, lamps, ferns, mirrors, bones, flowers. When I was asked to turn off that lamp, it was to set the mood. And while lighting is a big part of every show, typically an audience member isn’t involved. But Lamp Light isn’t typical.
Later, I headed to Mulligan’s for an after party of sorts. Dreamy cold wave duo Forever Grey and electronic duo Parts took the backroom stage at first, where (just like the houses) everything was lit by lamps and string lights. Then Ross Berens and Josh Weible (aka Darkly) took the stage for DJ sets and everyone danced the night away.
I could go into much more detail, but all in all, it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
The festival carries on this weekend, with tickets at $20 a day. Tonight’s shows go until midnight, with another, entirely different (and entirely free) after party at Mulligan’s. On top of that, there are workshops — like Sprouting & Nutrition and an Arts In Michigan panel — taking place in the houses as well. Tomorrow is a similar situation, with shows starting at noon and ending at 9:30 p.m.
When I talked to Ben Davey, who organizes the videos, after parties and more, his top pick for the weekend was Heavy Color, performing at Murphy House, 4 p.m. on Sunday. He said every year they do something entirely different, and it’s always worth checking out.
Head to lamplightmusicfestival.com for more information, including the full schedule.
Fauxgrass playing at Bird House. Photo: Josh Veal.