Thursday, 27 September 2018 11:27

Lighting a New Path: Intimate Eastown music festival expands beyond living rooms into Wealthy Theatre

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Fiona Dickinson performing at Lamp Light 2016 Fiona Dickinson performing at Lamp Light 2016 Photo Vanessa Autumn

Each fall, just as the temperatures begin to drop here in West Michigan, one Eastown tradition has come to embrace the changing of the seasons in a truly special way. 

Now in its seventh year, the annual Lamp Light Music Festival continues to add to its legacy as one of the most intimate concert-going experiences of the year, with up-close and personal performances, workshops and a sense of community unlike anything else in our area.

“Being at Lamp Light feels like a big hug,” co-organizer Vanessa Autumn told Revue. 

Before joining on with Lamp Light’s small production staff, Autumn performed at the festival as the guitarist/vocalist for local Grand Rapids band Frankie & Myrrh. 

As a performer, she fondly recalls the special way the festival cares for its artists. Yet as an attendee, she also remembers being wowed by the sense of reverence audiences have for the immediacy of the performances, sometimes occurring just inches away, inside the comforting, personal feel of someone’s actual home.

“There is just so much magic around the environment of people being vulnerable with their creativity and vulnerable with each other,” she said of her first experience.

Launched in 2012 by co-organizer/local musician John Hanson, alongside other artists affiliated with The Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC), Lamp Light brought a simple concept to life — what would happen if several houses in one neighborhood opened their doors to hosting live music?

“We created this space, these listening rooms where artists could really feel respected and appreciated in sharing their music,” Hanson said. “We had artisans selling goods, and all kinds of local food was donated and people were cooking. (There was) just this huge, collaborative nature of the project. It illuminated all this life and energy and warm fuzzy feelings.

“It felt really new and really exciting for Grand Rapids.”

That communal warmth has allowed Lamp Light to thrive as a seasonal festival for more than six years, while embracing the beauty of fall right alongside its powerful performances.

“I think the festival would be very different if it happened in the summer,” Autumn said. “Part of the magic of it is that spark of fall and kind of the warmth that comes with people gathering at that time of year. Everyone is eating food and drinking tea and walking around in the neighborhoods and the leaves are all on fire and beautiful, and everyone is just kind of cozied up in the living rooms together.”

Taking advantage of many bands currently out on fall tours, the festival always has blended together a diverse mix of local artists with emerging regional artists from Chicago, Detroit and around the Midwest. 

This year’s lineup includes everything from acoustic singer-songwriters to hip-hop, indie rock, electronica, baroque-pop, Latin fusion and more. Performers include Grand Rapids’ own Cabildo and Turtledoves (featuring former members of beloved GR outfit The Soil and the Sun), Kalamazoo’s Last Gasp Collective, Yolonda Lavendar, Chicago’s Wooden Rings, California’s Sugar Candy Mountain, and many more.

Making a conscious decision to work on the sustainability and accessibility of the festival this year, Lamp Light organizers decided to book the Wealthy Theatre as the festival’s mainstage. Having maxed out living rooms — sometimes leaving fans out in the cold — the theater space will give acts with larger production a better place to perform, while giving audiences a bit more breathing room as well.

“There were certain limitations that came with a house show festival,” Autumn said. “Most of the house venues were only physically accessible to people who are able-bodied, so getting wheelchairs in and out of the houses was pretty difficult. 

“Also, we were always sort of limited in how (and) where we could talk about the festival since it existed in residential houses and personal privacy was an element involved,” she added. “So a lot of information was spread by word of mouth. This meant that a lot of communities likely missed out on the festival happening because that word just wasn’t reaching their ears because of personal networks. Our hope is that by hosting Lamp Light in a more public space, we’ll be able to make better efforts to make sure that more people know about these opportunities and music events happening in their city.”

While the Wealthy Theatre will act as Lamp Light’s mainstage this year, the weekend-long event will also include performances in businesses along Wealthy Street, with other events taking place inside the Wealthy Theatre Annex. 

“It just felt like a healthy step in the right direction where we could be on more of a public platform, and it could be more accessible to the general public, and not just this kind of private niche festival that you have to know somebody to get into,” Hanson said. “We want music to be accessible to our community, and to foster a culture which appreciates and shares music more prominently. So the more visibility we can get to share our mission, the better.”

Lamp Light Music Festival 2018
Wealthy Theatre
& nearby businesses
1130 Wealthy St. SE,
Grand Rapids
Nov. 2-4, $10-$40, all ages
lamplightmusicfestival.com

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