The regional state of music is strong.
It might seem a bit unusual, but the story of music in this area in 2022 starts with National acts. More than any year in recent memory, Bay City, Saginaw & Midland stages were graced with name brand entertainment, former chart toppers and Grammy winners.
The summer months, in particular, were chock-full of rock, country and classics.
Ken Shelton’s tour de force of Country shows has now consistently filled Wenonah and Auburn Parks with acts like Travis Tritt, Chris Cagle, Jared Nieman and Jelly Roll. These shows also often offer opening slots which allow local acts like Waylon Hanel and The Family Tradition Band to get exposure to a wider audience.
The Labadie Auto Group sponsored a reincarnation of the former Pig Gig in the form of the Labadie Rib Fest. The week featured several nights of music, with acts ranging from Warrant to the Guess Who to Uncle Kracker. The festival brought back a lot of memories and is a welcome return to the calendar.
The Dow Events Center hosted some top shelf acts, like Billy Strings, Ghost, Greta Van Fleet and Mercy Me. Similarly, Midland Center for the Arts presented numerous shows with top national acts like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and a brilliant forum for original artists to perform at their newly refurbished Pendulum Lounge.
Another highlight for the year was radio staples Five For Fighting and The Verve Pipe putting on one of the most compelling shows yet at the renovated Band Shell in Wenonah Park.
Speaking of shows at the new Band Shell, many people that were there will tell you that the Paul McCartney Birthday Tribute concert put on by Andy Reed, Donny Brown and a cast of local all-stars was the best of all of them.
The State Theater continues its strong schedule for the music buff, with events like Jeff Poirier’s Band Roulette and Broken Skyline - the incredible bluegrass tribute to Tom Petty. The Queen Tribute, originally scheduled outside at the park, accidentally became one of the most exclusive and talked about shows of the year when it had to be moved inside due to rain.
The Vault has also now clearly forged an identity as the best big rock club in the area in some time. The acts they bring in lean heavier like George Lynch and Jackyl, or the excellent Van Halen tribute Completely Unchained. They have also hosted the REVIEW Music Awards for the last two years and provide an excellent stage for the area’s best performers to show their stuff.
Purveyors of live local music have likely noticed a shift in the scene. While there are some stalwart venues that continue to host music several nights a week, such as Whites Bar, Bemo’s, Scotty’s Sandbar, The Willew, The 702 and Ryder’s Grill that will let you plug in and turn it up, there are far more that are looking for the atmosphere that comes from acoustic music, piano or the economics that come with solo and duo acts. Place’s like Mode’s Tavern, Jake’s Corner Lounge, Riverfront Grille and Bay Port Inn are giving up and coming acts and veterans alike a good place to play.
While there are a few venues which still feature traditional cover bands, you are just as likely to hear original music and very likely see some fresh faces that are new to you. While The Rock Show and The Sinclairs are still filling rooms and dance floors, new acts like Loud Thoughts, The Euclid Motel, Forrest Green, Afterthought and Winaschnitzel are forging their own way, most often through their own original songs. Multi-band bills are now more common than one band filling an entire four hour night.
All of this focus on live music should not take away from the strong batch of recordings with local roots that came out in 2022.
Headlining the bunch is Larry McCray’s opus, Blues Without You. With the title track, a nod to his long time promoter Paul Koch, and other standouts like “Down To The Bottom,” and “No More Crying,” McCray proves he is in the top tier of blues musicians. The guitar playing is what we have come to expect, the vocals are strong and the songs offer a variety of takes on the blues form. Produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, it is a must have in your music collection.
The aforementioned Loud Thoughts and Euclid Motel had EP releases, with Nomad and Meet The Motel, respectively.
Rick Gellise’s album Covers, Collabs & 12 Strings is a masterpiece consisting of songs inspired by the jangle and twang of 60’s pop and surf rock. “Twelvis,” as they call him, serves up some real earworms like a cover of the lost classic “Abba” or his own songs like “Michelle” and “Can’t Stop Thinking Of You.”
Sara Schingeck’s release, “Album Of Hope,” may be the most accurately titled release of the year. If you prefer your music with a positive message and enjoy good singing, songwriting and production, check out tracks like In This Moment, Can You Feel It or You Are Loved.
Local duo Hollow Head is now touring in support of their initial release, “A Spark Of Madness.” It’s an evocative mood setter, with songs like “If I Linger” and “Seasons” making this a pair to watch going forward.
Rosco Selley’s F.O.R Collective released another stellar set, “Americana Motel.” This offers a different side from the last F.O.R. project, which was far funkier. True to the name, this effort offers great musicianship and well-crafted songs. “Soaring,” “Better Off” and “Let It Wash Away” are all excellent examples of this work.
Originating from Up North, Lori & The Darlings have become an area regular. The EP Gratitude Side B is a follow up to their first release (cleverly, Gratitude Side A). If you want a feel for the music of this band, check out the lead single, “Lucky” and its accompanying video.
Speaking of videos, 2022 continued the trend of local artists producing videos to support their work. If you have not checked out Matthew de Heus’ video for “(You’re The) Milky Way,” Marsupial Creampie’s “Kofi Kingston” or Lora Dale’s “Pieces,” now would be a good time. It’s a welcome burst of creativity and helps these acts further express their vision for their art.
It feels like we are experiencing a Renaissance of sorts in this area, with the arts and music leading the way. At the very least it seems like we have overcome the pall that Covid cast over our ability to gather and enjoy the talents of the full range of artists who entertain us. It’s crucial, as these events end up being the center of so many memories.
2023 has a hard act to follow.