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Sweaty basements, sticky-floored bars, and underground venues with ever-changing and elusive code names are no longer the only places to catch emerging experimental music in Grand Rapids. This Friday the Market returns to the Avenue for the Arts on South Division with some extraordinary musical performances. Entertainment will span the duration of the event as well as interdimensional space-time. The stage in the 106 Division lot will be presided over with empress-like grace and rage by the incomparable Sarah Jean Anderson, guiding us through an evening of unique performances by Sun Room, Darkly, DJ Heritage Chill, and Matt Dandois.
Though this will be the first Grand Rapids performance for Matt Dandois and Sun Room, it will be sound engineer Austin Kane’s fifth year on the Avenue. Kane says “This year's musical lineup is shaping up to be the most unique and interesting yet!” He’s right. Everyone has been working hard to ensure that the musical performances reflect the diversity of people, art, and interaction at the Avenue for the Arts First Friday: The Market events. The humans scheduled to make noises at you this Friday are just as eclectic and weird (let’s say “interesting”) as the music they perform. The Avenue took to social media to ask our audience what they want to know about these people. After a healthy heap of eye rolls and long sighs, a list of fairly intelligible questions was compiled and delivered via paper airplanes (or in one case cootie-catcher).
The night will open with Sun Room, a new solo project for Dustin Mensinger of the Howlers and formerly of psych rock power-house Haunted Leather. Mensinger will be backed by former bandmate and fellow solo artist Shane Tripp. The music combines elements of folk, blues, and psychedelia. Mensinger has received international attention for his involvement in previous acts, but what sticks in his memory is a single person who loved his music in a way that made a lasting impression. “I toured with Haunted Leather when I was very broke. It was tough to deal with van troubles and barely having money to eat. It felt a lot like freedom when we got back on the road. We were all very excited to continue and played a show in a living room where a dude drove hours to come see us specifically. It was really flattering and, for me, really made the tour totally worth it.”
Joshua Weible will be performing as Darkly, an electronic/experimental act infused with enchanting vocal melodies, murky synths, and samples. If you’ve been to many house shows in the last year then you’ve probably seen Josh perform with local art-rock group, CARE who recently released the album UNENJOY on cassette. Weible describes the beginnings of this project as being much like therapy in a time of solitude and melancholy. He says, “It really helped me a lot with my emotions when I would produce something, like all of the sappy emotions I would feel before creating something would be gone and I'd feel really good, so I'd say that was definitely the most influential experience so far.”
As is only natural for many of us in our early years, Weible did a lot of experimenting… with musical instruments. It wasn’t until he laid eyes for the first time on a synthesizer (a microkorg) that Joshua had found his passion. “It was almost too much for me to fathom, but I learned how to use it and started with that and just kept buying and selling different instruments until I found the tools that worked best for me and what I wanted to make.”
Tom Engelsman is fresh Grand Rapids DJ Heritage Chill and part of the creative force behind Scintillate, a curated semi-monthly dance party held in town which features disco, house, techno, & new wave; inspired by dance culture in Detroit and elsewhere. Tom was one of those people who always took over the stereo at parties. It was when he started to notice that people didn’t only “not mind”, but really enjoyed his selections, that inspiration came to him. He kept a journal for years collecting new music he came across. “I started playing around with DJ software and would (attempt to) DJ at parties and such using my laptop and a collection of rudimentary equipment.”
Tom firmly believes that “Good dance parties held on a regular basis help build stronger and more open communities” and is truly excited to watch the attendees gather in dance while the sun sets on the Avenue. “In general, seeing the community coming together over a shared love of music has to be a great thing for everybody, right?”
Matt Dandois is a recent Grand Rapids transplant and co-founder of the Detroit based Rocksteady Disco record label. Matt specializes in spinning house, disco, techno, and any other music that compels you to dance. He maintains his love of music through DJing while he trains as a psychiatry resident.
Over memorial day weekend Matt played a few shows around Detroit during the Movement Electronic Music Festival. “There were a ton of people out and I had a blast. After that I went to an after-party called 'Excursions.' It was the friendliest, most diverse dance party I've ever been to. The DJs played some off the wall afro-techno-house with a ton of rolling conga drums while people break-danced all night long.” Riding on that energy, Dandois is excited for his first performance in Grand Rapids.
Some have described performances at the Avenue as an outdoor house show. Like a house show, the Avenue tries to create an accessible community space that breaks down some of the barriers of traditional venues. This role is vital to the Avenue because, as Matt Dandois puts it, “Open, involving shows are the best kind in the world. If an artist, show, or music can connect people who wouldn't have otherwise it's truly a rare and beautiful thing. A great show can make friends, open up musical tastes, create artistic relationships, and grow people as emotional individuals.”
Given the spectrum of performances to ingest and interact with, we’re counting on Sarah Jean Anderson, local comedienne, most famous for her performance as the mentally-challenged ferret enthusiast Rita in the Super Happy Funtime Burlesque Show, to guide us through it all. Sarah's humor tends to be obnoxious, vulgar, witty, and sincere all at the same time. A woman of many characters and voices, Sarah is also a member of the two-piece band The Chinese People, author of the It's Adventure Time comic series, and the perfect raging ring leader for this local variety show.
“I’ve always had these awesome opportunities in Grand Rapids, as long as I’ve been here, and been creating art and music and performing. I don't believe when people say that they have to move away to Chicago or New York or whatever to find opportunities because there is so much to do here and there always has been. I love our art community. It is larger than anyone knows because there are still artists who don't know how very easy it is to get involved with something meaningful like Ave for the Arts. I tell everyone about what you do, and I'm lucky to have grown up here, where our artists join together and (GASP!) actually get along, most of the time.” Is Sarah the hero Grand Rapids deserves or just the one we need right now?
For Anderson, a successful show looks like “Happy people and a filthy disgusting dance floor. Also, if you're covered with something at the end ... blood or pbr or sweat.” Sarah also likes shows where she can smell the person singing to her and once peed herself while receiving a standing ovation. Though the Avenue strongly recommends you keep all fluids to yourself, they invite you to come find a new community and maybe something meaningful waiting for you to discover. Try to smell the musicians all you want you magnificent weirdos.
The Avenue for the Arts is a neighborhood title for the South Division commercial corridor. We are residential, commercial and nonprofit groups working together in a creative community. We are residents in Heartside, and active participants in shaping change in our neighborhood. In 2005, we chose the Avenue for the Arts as a title to represent our commercial corridor and the projects and events that we create. Because the Avenue is powered by volunteers, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Learning Lab participant Benjamin Davey for his contribution to this piece. Benjamin is Label Coordinator and Media Specialist at Hot Capicola Records, host of Vinyl Thursdays at Harmony Brewing Company, and a generally pretty alright dude.