Mark Lavengood has come a long way.
The multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/bandleader first rose to fame playing resonator guitar for the award-winning, Michigan-based Americana outfit Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys.
In 2010, he released his solo debut, From Dust To Steel, an LP of entirely his own bluegrass originals. He then followed that up with 2014’s No Part of Nothin’ and has since assembled his own group of West Michigan-based pickers with the Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza! Now something of an ambassador for GR’s roots music scene, Lavengood will return this month with his third LP, We’ve Come Along.
“I’ve played everywhere with Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, and people know me from there, but the Bluegrass Bonanza as a band is still kind of starting,” Lavengood said. “So we wanted to put out a solid release and have these new songs and different arrangements.”
Before going bluegrass, Lavengood, 32, started out as a sixth grade percussionist. He soon taught himself to play the drums, before later moving on to the guitar, ukulele, congas and ultimately the Dobro resonator guitar.
“I remember the first time I saw Joe Wilson (of Lansing’s Steppin’ In It) play a Dobro at Meijer Gardens in 2005,” Lavengood said. “It just blew my mind. The sound captivated me and a year-and-a half later, I ended up learning how to play it. Now I’m making a living at it and elevating the stature of it throughout the Midwest.”
After graduating from Alma College in 2007, Lavengood started working at Founders Brewing Company. There he earned the nickname Huggy Bear — as he’s affectionately now known by his friends, fans and colleagues in the roots music community.
“That’s where I started playing music and that’s how I started to perform with my first band,” Lavengood said of Founders and his first foray into bluegrass with the band winter/sessions.
“We were just a bunch of young kids really wanting to play this acoustic music,” Lavengood said. “I was pretty skeptical to embrace (bluegrass) at first, largely because I couldn’t play it all that well. And also the association that it gets of being back-country. … So it took a little bit for it to sink into my bones, but persistence kept up, and now it’s what I’m most known for: playing the Dobro and just generally having a positive vibe onstage.”
In 2015, Lavengood briefly relocated to Nashville with the other members of Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys before finding himself drawn back to his family and home here in GR. Now splitting his time between GR, Nashville and the road, Lavengood is constantly working. Whether touring, working on the new Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys album (due out later this year), or collaborating with his John Prine Tribute band, Prine Time, and the Michigan-based Earthwork Music Collective, Lavengood always has his busy hands in one project or another.
Needless to say, he took his time creating We’ve Come Along, spending more than a year recording the album before completing it.
Along the way, Lavengood also became a father for the first time. His son, Louis Allen, has proven to be an unexpected source of inspiration for his music, and he’s included two compositions in honor of him on We’ve Come Along.
“You can look at it from the human species and civilization itself, like representing growth or evolution,” Lavengood said of his album’s title. “The implications, of course, being that we’ve come along, but not necessarily for the better or worse. Yet here we are nonetheless, still kicking it.”
Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza!
We’ve Come Along album release show wsg. Trout Steak Revival, Railway Gamblers
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758
May 13, 8 p.m., $12
Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza! + Seth Bernard Dual Album Release
wsg. The Lil Smokies
Bell’s Eccentric Café, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo, bellsbeer.com, (269) 382-2332
May 25, 8 p.m., $10
Learn more about the artist at Mark Lavengood's website.