Positivity and togetherness were the foremost emotions surrounding the weekend of music.
The feelings of family, community, and belonging are palpable at Lamplight Music Festival. They are felt in your gut while drinking coffee with new and old friends in the early afternoon and beer from a keg in a shed later the same evening. They are heard in the conversations with artists, volunteers, and attendees young and old, before and after sets, or the day after, in the living room of a different house. They are small groups racing from house to house. They are the new friendships and experiences made possible only by the circumstances of the time and place. They are extended at the door of every home, and realized in the little unanticipated and unreplicable moments which manage to bring everyone snuggled into these spaces to a glowing smile. They are selflessly exchanged for nothing in return but enjoyment with every song.
It was clear that every song was enjoyed that weekend. Every setlist, and every song by extension, belongs to those who bore witness. We felt lucky to catch some of those moments. Below are some highlights from our staff of the rest of the weekend. Watch out for interviews with Aramis, Paul Cherry, Lando Chill, and more to come.
The Moth’s Story Hour
There’s no eloquent way to put it; I didn’t know what to expect from the Story Hour on Saturday. Every now and then I’ve caught the Moth program on NPR, I’ve heard the announcements for live story slams in Metro Detroit with Patti Wheeler, and I’ve always wondered what that would be like. Part of me wondered if it’d be like the Drunken Retort at Stella’s, but spoken word performances lend themselves to heavier topics and lines that hit you like an atomic bomb. When I hear the Moth on the radio, it seems to sound more playful, with more diverse stories, a different kind of energy. And it was; the scene of walking into the back of the house, a sea of mostly older folk (the set was at 1pm, I imagine most of the younger crowd was sleeping off the opening night yet, or working the day shift) all sitting, listening to stories about tumultuous, catholic, cuban families, befriending drag queens, and trying to help out a homeless mechanic. At times there would be a pause between words, or between speakers. It felt like those pauses should have felt awkward, or strange, but if anything, there was something meditative in the silence of thirty or so people. Something real.
Some technical difficulties on the production side of things reduced DJ Monk’s role in the performance and cut Aramis’ setlist short but did not hinder his delivery. A true master of his craft, Aramis packs his songs with creative and weird references proving his wordsmith abilities and nerd knowledge. His ability to gauge a half empty room and get audience participation from a crowd who were sitting on the floor for a previous performance was impressive. He even premiered a new track called “Pride” focused around a Dragon Ball Z sample, which should be up for free download on his website soon.
Saturday evening at Sage House featured Paul Cherry, a Plymouth, Michigan native, and his band. Their sound is largely influenced by jazz and swing, composed of mellow and methodic drum and bongo beats with the occasional sprinkling of chimes. The group opened with “Hello again,” a lullaby-like ode to loneliness and organized itself into a sort of instrumental conversation around the arrival of their fourth song. It was an impressive conversation, deep eye contact being the only way the band—and anyone in the room—visually communicated. If there was any falter in this conversation—which Cherry claimed there was after the show—it went unnoticed.
Shuffling down the cold, soggy street to Bird house, the striking sound of an amplified harp could be heard. It was Timbre, prepped to tell her stories amongst the smells of perfume and whiskey. The three-piece’s set was propelled by ideas of hope, post-election resistance, and concluded, strangely, by an interpretation of George MacDonald’s “The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris.” It’s a whimsical tale of a girl who sees the moon for the first time after being raised in darkness. The Nashville-based group tells their stories with bounding drumbeats, savory violin harmonies, and, of course, the foundation of the harp, played gently and sometimes furiously by vocalist Timbre. She sent chills through the packed room with leaping vocals and bittersweet lyrics: “We are standing in the sun and there is nothing light can’t touch.” After their final song, someone near the front answered with “damn.” That was followed by more affirming “damn”s, and applause from the rest of the audience.
Breathe Owl Breathe
Playful like a child’s laugh, yet coordinated with years of experience, Breathe Owl Breathe probably had more fun playing their songs than anyone else all weekend. The nonstop smile on Micah Middaugh’s face and his inability to stand still, matched with the unbreakable focus of the drummer/backup vocalist/keyboard player keeping the beat and playing two different keyboards, all the while singing sweet harmonies, left me in awe of the fact that I can hardly chew gum and walk down the street without tripping up. Their rare mix of playfulness and awe-striking proficiency proved for a great
I get the feeling I still don’t know exactly how much of a super-group this really is. When the sextet of Dutcher Snedeker (Keys/Synths), Brad Fritcher (Trumpet), Caleb Elzinga (Sax), Olin Clark (Guitar), Joe Vasquez (Bass), and Jordan Otto (Drums), takes the stage, magic happens. Not having been trained as a jazz musician, I feel like I might have missed some of the intricacies of their performance, but regardless, these guys are all killer musicians in their own rights and together their groove was undeniably funky fresh. I think everyone was floored when after the first song Dutcher announced, “yeah, we’ve only been playing together since the beginning of the summer.”
The Sunday Session-“The Law and Responsible Creative Collaboration”
Things like this never get the time or audience they deserve.There were four speakers; Dr. Michelle Johnson, professor of African-American studies at WMU, Seth Bernard of Earthwork Music, and Sam Woldenberg and Ben Cohen of the band Heavy Color. The panel was moderated by lawyer Joe Voss. I was expecting a talk that would discuss how to avoid a Violent Femmes-esque fate, with Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie hating each other over a Wendy’s commercial. What it became, however, was a discussion around the project Ben and Sam are working on; a multicultural music collaboration between themselves and several communities within the Congo. The work between a couple white, midwest American artists and those communities brings to mind several thoughts in the context of ethics; concerns of cultural imperialism, exploitation of a complex and politically fractured nation, and racism.
The conversation devolved into Ben and Sam defending what they were doing with the collaboration. Watching their self-defense became a bit uncomfortable, although they seem genuinely dedicated to pursuing a truly fair and mutually beneficial solution. Like Dr. Johnson I was skeptical of their project. It felt weird to have a single woman of color (who, as it seemed, had not been debriefed on Heavy Color’s collaboration project) on a panel with four white men to discuss what a fair deal between two white American artists and whole communities of Congolese people looked like. Fault could be placed on the organizers of the panel, but I think the topic and case example were just too complex to be worked out in an hour, between parties that weren’t queued in on the intricacies of the project. However, it’s an interesting story to us. Keep an eye out for our upcoming work exploring the questions being raised around this project and a look into how Ben and Sam got wrapped up in this.
Not much more needs to be said about a frontman who spends more time introducing his band, which included his father in law, than himself. Rich with orchestral layers, his set reached peak emotional impact as he was nearly brought to tears singing the lines: “If I have to die far away as a phantasm, I want to die in a burst of enthusiasm.” His music resonates in a space I didn’t know I had within me.
Tom Hymn’s Tangerine Dream
A packed “stage” faced a room full of friends and family as everyone prepared for the last set of the weekend. Tom Hymn and his backing entourage played a set full of juicy moments – soft and sweet, rowdy and lush, like a dream ending too early. His family traveled out from Iowa in support, an incredible show of loyalty only family can provide. No doubt it was an experience worth their efforts. The entire weekend felt almost too good to be true, and this set was the epitome the truism “all good things must come to an end.”
Photo by Ian Pokriefka
Article contributions from Riley Collins, John Akers, and Schyler Perkins