G-Sync: Lamp Light a Gain

When the 3rd annual Lamp Light Music Festival returns back to the host homes nestled deep in Grand Rapids' Eastown neighborhood this weekend, the team that created it will have changed drastically. Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen muses on the power of a well-organized music festival to create harmonious connections in our community, one home at a time.
When the 3rd annual Lamp Light Music Festival returns back to the host homes nestled deep in Grand Rapids' Eastown neighborhood this weekend, the team that created it will have changed drastically.
For starters, Lamp Light is hoping to avoid the same fate that befell BrekFest, the Do-It-Together, Grand Rapids-produced neighborhood music event that was to debut in May 2014 but never happened due to an anonymous phone call that came in 24 hours before the doors opened by a caller who slandered the organizer's intent and forced them to shut down.
After numerous attempts by the DIT Grand Rapids organizers and people rallying to be supportive of their efforts (including members of Rapid Growth's team and Lamp Light's Dan Climie), we were not able to solve this problem in time. Not only was money lost by that team of volunteer organizers who had contracted many of the acts to stop in Grand Rapids, but our city's reputation was tarnished as well. We were seen as judging an action before it even happened, and the unfortunate situation prompted one poster on Facebook to say that he had visions of Spielberg's future crime thriller Minority Report.
Lamp Light knew that if it were to survive and avoid the same mistakes, it would need a slightly modified game plan -- so they went to work to make sure they would avoid such pratfalls.
For starters, this is an all-ages show where people are encouraged to bring a favorite beverage to sip as they listen to these micro-sets (averaging just about an hour in most cases), and organizers will be carding each entrant to distinguish who should be imbibing and who should not. As to smoking, most folks do not like smoke in their homes, so each home has a smoking area designated.
Realizing that the festival will be under a new lens of scrutiny in light of the BrekFest incident, the organizers went to the area's immediate neighbors, offering them tickets via a hand-delivered note from the home's tenants. Festival planners have been mindful about what Lamp Light is and where it is located, not just offering free tickets to neighbors but also creating imaginative facades for the host homes that add a festive element to the neighborhood. Even the landlords (where it applies) have been invited to participate as well, as the Eastown Neighborhood Association voted to grant them their blessing. They recognize the seriousness of these organizers.
Personally, I believe that the arts are often held to a higher standard based on an unfair bias that we somehow are all free spirits completely unconcerned about safety. We have proven this to be false, from Avenue for the Arts' Jenn Schaub to my studio's annual event, occasions where we all create policies to ensure the safety and success of our patrons.
Lamp Light makes it abundantly clear they are responsible folks (now topping in at around 40 total volunteers). Not only are they alerting their neighbors, but they've constructed a safety policy document with the aid of their lawyer and the advice of an experienced ArtPrize and GRAM events planner to formalize the roles and duties of volunteers in case of an emergency.
They've also used design thinking to change the way they'll label the venues this year. In the past it was either an address (which thankfully is still intact for the map-challenged folks) or it was the stellar vision of artist and illustrator Nick Nortier's idea to affix a descriptive face to each home to activate the imagination and the thrill of discovery around the art of music. This year, the festival adds new guidance features based on symbols that are woven beautifully throughout the event landscape, both physical and digital. In a region committed to design, this is good stuff that is sure to be emulated by others seeking a DIY feel for their event. (DGRI, after seeing the faces on the homes last year, went to work in bringing Nortier into their group of volunteers.)
The symbols will be posted on rough-hews sticks posted along the Eastown streets, as well as used on the website and posters. This embracing of a low-tech, analog design aesthetic is also a nod to a time when we were without constant connection to information and had to figure it out one step at a time. Or maybe this is a reminder that the organizers want us to put our phones away so that we can simply be in the moment and take it all in.
At the end of the day, Lamp Light is a music festival that showcases our talent and proves to the visiting artists what we can produce here. When it closes on Sunday, Nov. 9, more than 45 acts will have performed, some for the very first time in our region. I'm looking forward to a rare moment in local music history when well-known musician's Bruce and Becca Ling's daughter Micah performs at the festival. This "next-gen" layer to the festival adds a great element to the weekend festivities.
And what Lamp Light has going for it is a team of millennials who understands the role of music to transform a place from being seen as stodgy and grey into something vibrant with life and welcoming. Lamp Light Festival is a stunning reinvention of the long-practiced tradition of the house party -- an event where people gather with others who share a passion for music and enjoy the presentation within the intimate and unique setting of a home. This long tradition of welcoming and showcasing traveling musicians within the home has been, for much of history, an experience solely for the wealthy, privileged, or connected, but not so at Lamp Light.
Lamp Light will continue to benefit our region in many ways for years to come. First, as Lamp Light is not held in a bar, park or arena stage but within a home setting where intimacy of the music and access is the key, they offer many patrons of this music event a first-time experience within a Grand Rapids neighborhood. This unique event unlocks new pathways within the imagination of the attendee and provides an opportunity for the city to foster connection across neighborhoods, professions, and affinity groups.
Secondly, the visiting musical acts, many of whom are emerging artists in their respective genres of music, break bread with our neighbors as well as sleep in area homes. In this way, the festival offers visitors a relaxing platform from which they can begin to create beautifully rich connections to our region.
Third, the festival exposes all comers to a rich and diverse smattering of current music. Lamp Light's acts are diverse in that they are from here and not here; it is music that is singer/songwriter-based but can also be experimental. It can be hip-hop or electro-pop. It is also a place to debut new things, like Ghost Heart's brand new release, which they will debut it in its entirety, track for track, just like it is on the album.
I'm supporting Lamp Light simply because I care about the proliferation and preservation of our culture and I'm proud that the spirit of collaboration, innovation and talent is intact in Grand Rapids. When we fail to recognize the energy or get behind the music, then we run the risk of thinking this stuff just somehow happens all on its own. Rightfully so: if the organizers have done their job correctly, then this weekend your focus, should you wish to attend, will be all about the music.
But the benefit to our region is what happens after the event ends each year, as these musical acts begin to share their unique Lamp Light experiences via their oral stories, photographic and video content, and even the occasional live audio recording tied directly to this event.
Let us not forget that the health and vitality of many cities has been tied to musical trends, from Detroit's Motown to Seattle's grunge sound of the 1990s. In everything that they do, Lamp Light provides an immeasurable benefit for the present and future city of Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids is a city with a lot of talented musicians, yet our creative treasures remain unknown to so many outside of our region. Lamp Light creates an opportunity for locals to mingle with emerging talent from within the world of music; doing so within the setting of a house concert creates the perfect catalyst for something remarkable to begin here. Make a donation to Lamp Light here.
The Future Needs All of Us.
Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor
Visit this week's golden mix of G-Sync Events: Let's Do This!
Editor's Note: This year's Lamp Light Festival event is produced by a long list of curators including John Hanson, Dan Climie, Austin Kane (main sound technician), Kevin Fein, and Zachary Tomaszewski. Other departments include Volunteer Relations: Danielle Dunn; Artist Relations: Alex DiFiglia; Designers: Design/Printed Media, NO Label - Brian Hedrick, Max Vanderforest, Steven Tillstrom, Michael Krauss; Physical Design: Nick Nortier.
Photos this week are courtesy of Lamp Light and visiting 2013 Nashville photographer Laura Partain, and Tommy Allen.
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