By Elizabeth Vensas
Collegiate Staff Writer
Last Friday, November fourth, proved to be a chilly night for those walking the streets of Eastown. But with a quick turn into Billy’s the atmosphere instantly changed into one full of warmth and high energy. On Friday night, the Jules Creative Writing Club hosted a Benefit for The Literacy Center of West Michigan at Billy’s Lounge in Eastown.
“We started planning [the benefit] about a year ago,” said Andy Dean, President of the Jules Creative Writing Club. “At first we wanted to get more members and put our name out there, but then we decided it would be great to make it into a benefit.”
Dean and other members of the Jules Creative Writing Club then spent the next year diligently working to bring the event together. “We devised a plan, made the phone calls, worked on promotion, called radio stations, handed out flyers and had artists promote the event,” said Dean.
The evening started out with David Cope, GRCC Professor, Grand Rapids Poet Laureate, and accomplished Poetic Author. Unfortunately the bar atmosphere of Billy’s did not do Cope’s performance justice. “Poetry in a bookstore is a lot better than poetry in a bar,” jested Cope after his performance.
Despite the noise David Cope still managed to give a moving performance as devoted fans intently watched. With a classic beat-poet style he recited poems from his books, including “Twenty Below” and “The Rhododendron.”
“He has a voice deeper than anyone can describe,” exclaimed Paul Spitzer, Alumni Representative of Jules Creative Writing Club and event organizer. “He did amazing, there is a reason David Cope is the Poet Laureate for Grand Rapids.”
Poet and Composer Smith Pettis directly followed Cope’s performance providing a new beat of rhythmic energy that started to amp up the crowd. Pettis’ set included several of the poems from his book, “Poetic Soul Volume 2.”
Pettis provided a necessary energy that snapped the crowd to attention. With a smooth melodic voice, Pettis spoke of civil rights, drugs, his own history, and the Virginia tech massacre. His poems were supported by a soulful and jazzy soundtrack that he had composed.
“Music and poetry go together,” said Pettis. “They live together side by side. It can show the poetry in motion, even in a louder crowd.”
“The last poem he read had such strong emotion attached with it,” said Jaime Gallagher, benefit attendee. She went on to discuss how Pettis’ “Junky on a Buss” provided descriptive scenery that could easily be visualized with eyes closed.
A short break between the poets and the musical groups provided patrons time to view the live artwork of Lauren Garnett. Garnett painted an oil on canvas, abstract composition while the poets and musicians performed.
Garnett said she has been painting since she was a little girl, and that she loves to work to music. “I usually paint to bluegrass, but I can’t wait to see how my art looks listening to other types of music,” said Garnett.
Following the poetry reading, the hip-hop trio, Convotronics took the stage causing an immediate surge of excitement. Die-hard fans of the group filled the open floor in front of the stage, and danced in sync with the groups fast paced rhythms.
Convotronics consists of three emcees, Cory Harris (4nzix), Josh Norris (Agylyty), and Julius Hayes (Jous82). All three members of the group provided a great stage presence, with the assistance of Convotronics affiliate, DJ Dean Martian.
“They were able to bounce rhymes back and forth from each other so easily,” said Lianna Gildersleeve, GRCC student and Benefit Attendee. “The whole group was outstanding.”
The Group performed tracks from their debut CD and provided the crowd with plenty of dance music with songs like “We rock the mic.”
Convotronics was able to illuminate the stage with their mix of tight beats over electronic backdrops, and truly intelligent lyrics by all members of the group.
“When you put us together it’s like magic,” said Hayes. “We can be incredibly dysfunctional, but when we get together to drop a track and it’s like the stars align.”
Hayes was happy to be participating in the benefit, saying that, “It’s a great cause, we wanted to do everything to help.” He also went on to discuss how excited he was for the show. “It’s another chance to meet new people, poets and artists,” said Hayes.
The final act for the night was The Diggity, a seven-piece jam-band who came from northern Indiana to support The Literacy Center of West Michigan. The performance by The Diggity incorperated elements of funk, rock, rap, jam, and electronic style. Although only six members were able to come, they still provided enough funky beats and jams to keep people on the dance floor.
The Diggity had an intimate stage presence that allowed them to connect to the audience. They were able to amp up the crowd at certain moments of the show and slow their tempo to a relaxed tone at others, all while keeping the crowds attention.
A truly exciting part of the show was when the Convotronics jumped on the stage to collaborate with The Diggity, providing another interesting spin on this groups already diverse performance.
“We love to collaborate with other groups,” said members of The Diggity after their performance.
This show at Billy’s was The Diggity’s first trip to Grand Rapids. They have played at a venue in Kalamazoo a couple of times and were excited to come to Grand Rapids.
“We only heard good things [about Grand Rapids],” said Diggity Guitarist, Jake Leshenik. “Michigan people are so open-minded. We love to play to their crowds.”
Leshenik also fully supported the cause of promoting literacy. He said, “It‘s always more than worthwhile to do these types of shows, its good to be part of a bigger picture.”
The Diggity held the crowd together till the bar closed at 2 in the morning. “We feel great,” said Alex Bales and Kevin aka “70’s,” of The Diggity. “It went very smooth.”
A raffle during the night also provided patrons with a chance to go home with several artists CDs and books, as well as the painting done by Garnett. Artists also signed what was given to the raffle winners.
Donations made throughout the benefit will go to support The Literacy Center of West Michigan. The Literacy Center of West Michigan are committed to helping West Michigan residents reach their literacy potential, opening the door to a lifetime of opportunity.
This being the first year of the benefit, the Jules Creative Writing Club drew a moderately sized crowd of GRCC students and other interested parties. They plan to continue helping the Literacy Center of West Michigan by making this benefit an annual event.
“Next year we plan on making it bigger and better,” said Dean. “We want a bigger venue with more acts.”
The Jules Creative Writing Club meets biweekly on Fridays from 2 to 5 pm. The next meeting is on November 11th.