On a vast estate of wooded property in Rothbury, Mich., the annual Electric Forest Festival, held June 25-28, once again illuminated the rural stomping grounds and tall pines with grandiose light displays – creating a haven for hippies and ravers partaking in the psychedelic experience. One of the many totems held by the fest goers read: “F***k Real Life” – a punchy way of letting you know the forest is meant to be an alternate, sometimes hazy, dimension.
A thriving music scene not only requires an amazing mix of talented musicians, it also needs a collection of solid venues to provide the stage and atmosphere. And while what follows is by no means a comprehensive list of West Michigan’s assorted music spots, it’s definitely a mix of the ones you should have on your radar – if you don’t already.
When Joshua Davis appeared on the season-eight premiere of “The Voice,", the viewing audience that one evening was a 13.97 million viewers — a far cry from his previous string of intimate gigs. “Last time I went to East Lansing I played (SCENE) Metrospace — there were maybe thirty people there,” recalled Davis. “Now I’m playing Wharton Center and over half of the tickets sold already,” he said.
A few years ago, the Martin Prosperity Institute released a study measuring the country’s most active music scenes. As one would expect, cities like Nashville, New York and Los Angeles claimed the top spots. But there was one little blurb that caught the attention West Michigan locals: “Other smaller metros that do better than expected are Kalamazoo, Michigan (the former home of the Gibson guitar factory, founded in 1902, and the site of some major classical music festivals) at 8th overall...”
Battle Creek may not have been the hub of the alt-rock universe in the mid-1980s, but that’s not to say the Cereal City didn’t produce a handful of worthwhile bands, and one of the very best was the Sinatras. Featuring Ron Casebeer on guitar and vocals, Karl Knack on bass and vocals, and Scott Stevens on drums, the Sinatras could be concisely described as a loud pop band, not quite punk but sharp enough to pass in dim light, and possessing plenty of sharp, hooky tunes in a variety of styles.
Even though the members of Gaslight Anthem proudly wear their hearts on their tattooed sleeves via the band’s gritty and honest punk-fueled songs – offstage they’re not the sappiest bunch of dudes. “You’re probably talking to the most sentimental guy in the band,” said drummer Benny Horowitz, while discussing the band’s upcoming 10-year anniversary.
Singer/songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka actor Will Oldham) is one man with two names and his own sense of reality. Oldham, 45, has learned to merge his own world with ours on record, stage and screen. July 16 he delivers his mythical musical vision at Bell’s Brewery.
New Pornographers leader/songwriter A.C. Newman vividly remembers the last time his band was supposed to play in Grand Rapids. It was fall 2010 and the critically-adored indie-rock group had just released its Together LP. The band was scheduled to perform at Calvin College until protests came over the band’s name. Ultimately the show was cancelled.
Crooked Doors, the sophomore release from Atlanta-based rock connossieurs Royal Thunder, has been making quite a stir in the hard rock scene. Garnering the band comparisons to Led Zeppelin and being labeled a major step forward in their musical evolution, this album is sure to pique the interest of many; but to judge them based on their studio recordings alone wouldn't be fair. According to guitarist Josh Weaver, where they really find themselves at home is not the studio, but on stage.
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