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Lamp Light Music Festival turns on Grand Rapids to the house concert phenomenon

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By Erica Horoky

Photos by Erica Horoky
A crowd gathers inside an Eastown home for opener The Soil and the Sun.

On the first weekend of November, five Eastown homes came alive when musicians and hundreds of fans packed into living rooms for one of the most intimate music festivals Grand Rapids has to offer.

Anyone wondering how the Grand Rapids music scene is holding up should look no further than this year’s Lamp Light Music Festival. Presented by Do-It-Together Grand Rapids (DIT-GR), founded by John Hanson, 28, and sponsored by a host of local businesses, Lamp Light is arguably the best example of the city’s thriving and evolving music scene.

Sigsbee and Benjamin streets bustled with locals from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3 for the second year of the music festival, which featured 35 bands, workshops, local art, fresh food, and an overwhelming sense of hospitality.

According to Lamp Light’s Coordinator Dan Climie, only eight pre-sale tickets were sold last year. Compare that to this year and it’s very apparent that Lamp Light has gained massive momentum: 100 tickets sold out the pre-sale and 700 wristbands were sold over the weekend.

A testament to what the festival provides, most fans that attended last year’s festival returned this year, bringing along friends and family to share the experience with. Along with that, Hanson attributed the growth to the work of their videographers, PR team, and the inclusion of larger bands.

Photos by Erica Horoky
The Neighborhood House dons a mustache for the opening of the festival.

It’s no surprise that house shows are gaining a following. It’s not often that you can be in the same living room as your favorite artists such as The Soil and the Sun, Frontier Ruckus, Jamaican Queens, or Breathe Owl Breathe. The intimate environment encouraged conversations between the audience and band members between songs, and it wasn’t unusual for the entire living room to fill with sound as the audience sang along. After the bands finished their set you could find them mingling in the crowd, helping themselves to some chips and salsa in the kitchen, or performing with their friends.

None of this would be possible without the hospitality (and patience) of the house owners, and Lamp Light definitely didn’t lack in that aspect.

Lindsay Sanderson, 23, is no stranger to hosting touring bands at her home, The House of Pancakes.

“I’m getting used to the volume of people coming through. I love it. I love having strangers in my house”, said Sanderson.

However, nothing compared to the hundreds of people she opened her doors for during Lamp Light.

“I think more and more people are getting involved versus sitting at home and not supporting the local music scene. I’ve only lived here for two years, but I’ve noticed a growth,” Sanderson said. “It’s a lot of good people coming out. They’re enthusiastic and wanting to get involved.”

For Rachel McKay, 23, this was her second year of hosting shows at her home, The Hen House, for the festival. Considering the cause, opening her doors for the crowds of strangers was a decision that came naturally for McKay.

“The thought of having hundreds of people in my house at any other time is nerve wracking”, she said, “but for Lamp Light, it’s this incredibly close knit network that has been working on this and giving birth to it over the years. I was supported. Our house was supported in every possible way.”

Photos by Erica Horoky
Guitarist for Frontier Ruckus cries out during Lamp Light Music Festival.

Lamp Light featured lovely homes filled with welcoming faces, hot cider in mason jars, and musicians performing for audiences that turned out in such great numbers that there was little floor-space left. It was everything that Hanson had envisioned and more. Still, there is work to do and planning is already underway for next year’s festival.

Hanson has a clear vision for Lamp Light’s legacy- if nothing else, he’d like to see it inspire other people, both from Grand Rapids and neighboring cities, to create similar festivals.

“This should just inspire other towns to work together and make awesome music happen,” Hanson said.  “I would love to see Lamp Light inspire other leaders to create vessels for people to plug in to. If you can envision it, there are hands and bodies that want to help you and want this to happen.”