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Wednesday, May 1,2013

The Lansing-Lolla connection

Two mid-Michigan acts take the stage at national music fest

by Shawn Parker
A lot has changed since Jane’s Addiction honcho Perry Farrell gave birth to the mammoth music festival known as Lollapalooza in 1991. Long gone are the days of the fest as a traveling road show featuring up to a dozen headlining bands on a main stage and as many as 40 second-tier acts on a smaller stage. Where, at an amphitheater such as the former Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Mich. (since renamed the DTE Energy Music Theatre), you could catch emerging cutting edge artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Tool. 

In 2006, Lollapalooza transitioned into a “destination festival” in Chicago’s Grant Park with eight stages and over 120 artists each year. And so on Aug. 2, hordes of music devotees will descend on the second closest major metropolis to Lansing, desperate to see massive headliners like The Cure, The Killers and — heaven help us — Mumford & Sons. 

But perhaps even more thrilling to attendees are the scores of blog-worthy up-and-comers, all looking to make an impression and gain a few new fans, which this year include two acts with Lansing connections. While their sounds couldn’t be more different, the swelling of their fan bases is much the same.

Electronic artist GRiZ (real name, Grant Kwiencinski) is a former Michigan State University student who recently faced the reality of his growing popularity when a secret show in Lansing quickly grew out of hand.

“I wanted to have (the secret show) at Mac’s (Bar), because that’s kinda where I started — sort of as a ‘thank you’,” GRiZ said. “I should have known. It blew up in my face, but I think in a good way.”

Hundreds of fans couldn’t get inside the small club, the most agitated and immature of which resorted to throwing bottles in protest when they were denied seeing his set of pulsing, bass-laden dubstep.

“It was a free show, one-in and one-out kind of deal,” he said. “Everyone that got in had a great time. I wrote a tweet asking everyone to relax, that this isn’t an end-of-the-world show, and we don’t want the cops to show up and ruin it for everyone.”

From beyond capacity bedlam in Lansing to the sprawling Grant Park, GRiZ is suitably stoked to play Lollapalooza.

“(Lollapalooza) was the second major festival I ever went to,” he said. “My entire world was shook, seeing electronic dance music like that at a major festival. I will never forget it, and to play on that stage is absolutely amazing.”

Equally thrilled for the opportunity to play at the storied event is Davey Jones, banjo player for indie folk outfit Frontier Ruckus. Originally formed in Metro Detroit but composed almost entirely of MSU grads, the band is a fixture at local shows and on radio station WDBM-FM (88.9 The Impact) in East Lansing. Jones says his band playing Lollapalooza is particularly meaningful.

“We’re hugely influenced by ‘90s alt radio, and the bands that started (Lollapalooza),” Jones said. “We’ve played Bonnaroo and other festivals, but I think this might be the biggest. It’s very exciting to be able to do something this cool.”

Jones hopes that even though his band has a potentially barren, midday time slot, they will leave with some new fans. 

“The nice thing about playing a festival is that people can wander around and hear a lot of music that they haven’t heard before, and hopefully some people will do that with us,” Jones said.

GRiZ is just thrilled to drop the beat for what he hopes is the eager and accepting masses.

“Midwest crowds, that’s where I’m from — I love playing there,” he said. “Midwesterners get it.”

But GRiZ hints that he may be stepping back from the sound that got him where he is. He hopes to distance himself from — but not entirely abandon — that oft-maligned moment in electronic dance music called “the drop,” where the crowd is granted cathartic release in the form of a ridiculously telegraphed bass wobble and tempo change. 

“I’m moving away from that genre and production,” GRiZ said. “I really appreciate the energy it provides, but stylistically, I’m (starting to) identify more with soul and funk.”

Frontier Ruckus is on tour in support of its latest record, a sprawling double album called “Eternity of Dimming.” Jones thinks the festival is still relevant but has modest hopes for his band’s appearance.

“It’s a huge cultural attraction, attracting hundreds of thousands of people,” Jones said. “We just want to play in front of more people, and for more people to hear the music.”

“It would be great to play Lollapalooza and then come back to Chicago and have a great show (of our own),” he said.

Maybe GRiZ and Frontier Ruckus will join forces someday for some kind of massive, Lansing-fuelled, folk-tronica mash-up, complete with a banjo solo and, yes, one more drop. And maybe Trent Reznor will see it and smile; wouldn’t you know it, Nine Inch Nails is one Lollapalooza’s headliners this year. 

Maybe it hasn’t changed that much after all.

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