Local musicians create community in like-minded artists
Mount Pleasant musicians make the most of small-town resources
Although Mount Pleasant lacks glamorous music venues like the DTE Energy Music Theater near Detroit and the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, that doesn't stop the community from supporting local music artists.
Local indie bands like Crystal Images and Pineapple Psychology play at Centennial Hall, while DJs and rappers like DJ Dill Pickle and Cassius Tae perform at the Wayside Central.
The Mount Pleasant community doesn't just rally around rappers, folk artists and mix masters, however. The first-ever Pleasant Town Music and Art Festival Sept. 29 invited artists of various genres to perform at the event. It featured "psychedelic bass" group Spaceship Earth, Electric Dance Music performer Ascentient and rock band the Red Wires.
The same group that organized Pleasant Town also created Centennial Nights in Fall 2017. The once-a-month event includes jam bands and electronic dance music in two separate rooms within Centennial Hall. Local artisans also showcase and sell their work at the event.
Still, after microphones are disconnected from speakers and soundboards are unplugged from power sources, the community comes out to support local artists, whether their creations are country compositions or growl-heavy hardcore projects.
Some genres appear in venues again and again -- hip-hop, indie and electronic -- but not all performance spaces are official.
Close to Home
Whitehall graduate student James Champion finds joy in helping musicians begin their success story by giving Michigan-based bands a non-intimidating place to perform: his house.
House shows, also called house concerts, are not to be mistaken for house parties, though they do take place in an individual's personal residency. Homes, apartments, or garages that function as unofficial venues gain notoriety through word-of-mouth. Tickets and cover charges are normally absent from house show performances, but many have a suggested donation to aid in compensating performers for their time and travel expenses.
Champion's home, nicknamed "The 906," can host anywhere from three to five completely different music artists on any given performance night. The unofficial venue featured trance, rap, hardcore and black metal genres at its latest show Sept. 28.
Champion said The 906 hosted shows before he and his roommates moved in this year, but it had been awhile since anyone had performed and he was excited to restore the house to a venue. However, the house still functions as a home.
“This is my house. I live here, I have valuables here, but I’m inviting strangers here,” Champion said.
Spring Lake junior Emma Leech is friends with members of local indie band Pining, a band that is no stranger to house shows. She said she shares her friends' events on Facebook, suggest their music via word-of-mouth and hypes them up at performances.
"I go out of my way to support them in any way I can because I love the sound they put out," Leech said. "I want the world to know how talented they are."
Champion understands what up-and-coming bands experience when trying to find venues that will host them, as he's a band member of Dutch Lily, a band he said creates "homemade pop singalongs." He said being able to provide a smaller space for music artists that may not be used to or intimidated by larger venues is one of the reasons he decided to start hosting.
Signs in the house ask concert-goers to smoke outside and firmly state there is a no-tolerance policy for drugs or alcohol consumption by anyone under the legal age. A table blocks the staircase leading up to the housemates' bedrooms.
Although these self-imposed regulations are scattered on posters throughout the home's interior, Champion said he doesn't want the strangers who come to his house for shows to feel like strangers and adds hearts and other doodles to the requests.
"I feel like a lot of great things happen at a house show that won't happen at a bar show or at an official venue," he said. "The people feel a little less like the band they're watching is some superhuman, famous, unapproachable, sort of alien that is creating this art."
Rhythm and Blues
Although Mount Pleasant is a town surrounded by cornfields and farms, music that originated in urban centers still thrives in the area.
New Haven senior Taraj Livesay hasn't had the chance to appear superhuman onstage yet, but that will change when he performs at Wayside Central Nov. 17. Livesay said he hasn't performed his music -- which he said varies from hip-hop, to R&B, to rock -- in front of more than 100 people and he expects his performance at Wayside Central will break his record.
"My friends and my family always show (my music) to people," Livesay said. "So there have been people I've never met who are blowing up my social media about my music, like 'So-and-so put me on -- when are you dropping more music?'"
Livesay said he works slowly at his craft because he enjoys the process. He creates music for himself at his own pace, so when people started demanding more of it, he was flattered -- and worried.
"It's a really nice feeling," Livesay said. Then, smiling, he said, "But it's also kinda scary."
Livesay said his performance at the Wayside will involve a new project he's starting to work on, but it'll be a challenge because none of the music he creates sounds the same.
"I try to make it different on purpose," he said. "But when you try to make a project, you can't just make every song sound entirely new because you're going to confuse an audience, so it'll be a minute before I (begin creating) anything."
Mount Clemens senior Dontae Sumpter has lived with Livesay since their freshman year at CMU and has watched his friend grow in his craft. Sumpter said his support for Livesay comes in the form of being a sounding board for the artist's ideas.
"I let him bounce ideas off of me and offer positive criticism on how he could improve on certain things here and there," Sumpter said. "He’s got a really great sound and I’m sure that there’s a track of his out there for everyone."
Although Livesay has experienced a deluge of support from his family and friends, he said others in the music-making community don't have that same luxury. He said students and people in the Mount Pleasant community need to have faith in and support their friends who they know create music.
"Say, they have a friend who raps or makes music. Instead of doubting them before hearing anything or ignoring events (where they're performing), go and see them," Livesay said. "You know, if one day you want to see a concert, go to where you know students are performing."
Electronic music has gained popularity in the past decade and is becoming more prolific with college students. DJs, once confined to clubs, are now regularly performing at house parties and tailgates.
Battle Creek senior Peter Brady -- also known by his stage name, DJ Pedro Peso -- shares Livesay's sentiment on the local music community. He said he knows he won't play to the musical needs of every concert-goer in the room, but he hopes there will soon be a culture shift where anyone is able to let loose and enjoy a set.
“As a DJ, there’s a lot of pressure," Brady said. "It’s hard to understand the amount of time and practice it takes. People who play music are the same way. (DJing is) not necessarily an instrument, but it takes skill.”
Saginaw junior Evan Jordan said he's attended the shows of his friends who DJ at the Wayside Central, house shows and Encore, the Nightclub. He said his support for friends who create music comes in the form of purchasing their projects.
"Overall I think creating music is a great thing and the idea of students using what little free time they have to create something is awesome," he said. "I do my best to get the word out through word out via word of mouth and inviting my (other) friends to shows."
Brady said the DJ community in Mount Pleasant is strong, but hard to break into. He showed interest in mixing in high school, but really began his career as a DJ his freshman year in Barnes Hall, mixing and producing out of a setup consisting of a sound board Brady attached to two small Bose speakers and a 20-year-old subwoofer he placed inside a dresser drawer.
“Starting as a freshman, it was hard," he said. "You see a lot of DJs already playing at the club. They’re doing all these things. Eventually, you stick with it, you get that first shot, it’s worth it.”
Brady's first shot came when he was invited to play at Moore Media Records' Droptober event in 2016. Since then, Brady has played at the Wayside Central, house parties, bars and various music festivals, including the Breakaway music festival in Grand Rapids.
Regarding his perspective on success, Brady said he doesn't know if he'll ever feel fulfilled with the scope of his reach as a performer.
"Success to me is if you have the ability to be a kind and caring person and also make people happy with what you're doing. Especially if you love what you're doing." he said. "That, to me, is being successful. If you're making the world a better place and enjoying every moment of it."