From the first couple years when the punk scene was getting on its feet in Grand Rapids during the early 80‘s in the labor halls on the West Side, to the current cultural explosion of Art Prize, Pyramid Scheme and the Wealthy Theater, it can always be tracked back to a few daring people making a place at the table for the weird, the new and the misfit.
I discovered the local music community in the early 80s. At that time there was small group of people that called themselves the New Beat Club. They were putting on New Wave and Punk shows in Polish halls on the West Side of Grand Rapids. They did this because back then venues like the Intersection didn’t want anything to do with that kind of music. The bands around town at that time who were playing alternative music were Gina and the Modern Men, Nice Lawn, ADC , Top Down, at least those are a few that come to mind. Of course there was the U2 concert at Fountain Street Church I went to almost by accident and had my life changed as a result. I was in my early 20s and just coming out of Calvin College. There was a ton of cool music pouring out of England and NYC in those days that was just beginning to hit the Midwest. At those New Beat shows I always ended up right next to the stage soaking in the raw energy coming out of the amplifiers.
When a friend played the new Violent Femmes record for me I when right out and bought a $35 guitar and started making my own music as best I could. A year later I moved to NYC and then to Grad School in IL, then back to GR around ’87. In all those wanderings I always had a cheap guitar in a card board case among my very few belongings. All this time I was building my visual art career with music as a passionate hobby.
In 1993-94 as I was playing music with friends a band evolved we called Garden Party.
We began to do shows in a coffee house in Eastown called the Vineyard Cafe in the old Trolly Barn building where the Intersection was in those days. It was a church affiliated and bringing in all kinds of really good local and not so local bands. One of those bands was Marzuki, the band with Sufjan Stevens and Shannon Stephens. They were already amazing in those days and a very hard act to follow. Garden Party made a 3 song cassette tape and then quietly disbanded.
Ten years later in 2004 I went down into a basement music studio with Rick Devon (Rick had been the drummer in Garden Party) and began work on Seamless Life which was to be my first CD. It had eleven tracks ten of which were my originals. A year later our family moved to Brooklyn NY just as Rick and I finished up recording Seamless Life. Rick finished up the last details and sent it on to me and I had it mastered in NYC by Gene Paul.
After a year playing coffee houses (including the CBGBs downstairs Gallery stage) our family moved back to GR. After a few years back home I put together the Wealthy Orphans which put out A Little Piece Of The Pie in the Spring of 2011 and then Throwing Glory last November 2012. The Wealthy Orphans is a four piece with Adam Thompson playing bass and vibes, Michael Schaeffer on accordion, and Levi Gardner on drums. I sing and play guitar. Our sound wanders around between early punk sounds of Jonathan Richmond and Lou Reed to the off kilter sound of Tom Waites. Some times our music sounds like what you might hear around a gypsy campfire if the Carter Family were there too.
I will always think of myself as a visual artist first and a musician second. And I am always looking for ways that music performance and visual art can intersect wether that means projecting video behind the band, adding professional dancers on a song, singing through a victrola horn or making cool letterpress posters. I am always looking for ways to build layers and depth into our performance events beyond. I want it to be more that just getting up and playing a set of songs.
The Grand Rapids music scene has grown a lot since those early days when I was just getting out of college in 1982. I feel like many of the exciting and creative things that are happening in our city today are direct result of the daring actions of people like my old friends in the New Beat club. The kind of people that were willing to make room for new things to happen wether many people came out to see it or not. It was about creating that place to try something new and then seeing where it might want to go from there. So that makes me wonder and excited about where we might go from here. I remember stumbling out of my first experience with Trip The Light at the Wealthy Theater a few years ago completely overwhelmed. Amy Wilson’s Dancers working with the live bands in a beautifully restored historic theater had created an experience that hit on so many sensory levels all at once. It is in moments like those that I suddenly see what I always new Grand Rapids was capable of growing into.