Kalamazoo has a vibrant music scene with artists of various genres from all walks of life. But the power of these performers may be overlooked in the area’s smaller venues, which are sometimes filled with loud bar patrons, and by larger venues that tend to feature touring acts.
To combat this problem, musician Ashley Daneman wants to bring the Kalamazoo area’s high-caliber artists a big-city-style concert experience where all eyes and ears will be on them.
The concert series, called Authenticity, will be both collaborative and cross-genre, bringing artists of all kinds together in front of 50-seat audiences at the Jazz and Creative Institute/Kalamazoo Piano Co., 310 N. Rose St.
The series was to begin this month, but with the uncertainty of COVID-19 restrictions Daneman is holding off on announcing performance dates.
“I think the idea came in stages,” Daneman says. “I was in school in New York, and some of the places that we would play there were called listening rooms. People go, and that’s what they do. There’s no food, there’s no drink, you just sit and you take in what the artistry is. I wanted to create that type of space for people here.”
Listening room experience
While listening-room-style spaces do exist in Kalamazoo, these are generally larger auditoriums that feature national touring artists from out of town, Daneman says.
“I was feeling like, well, what about us? We live here. We’re not chopped liver,” she says.
As a professional musician who performs in and around Kalamazoo and other parts of western Michigan, Daneman craved an intimate venue.
“Because 100 percent I don’t believe that my music is meant to be background music,” Daneman says. “And those are most of the performing opportunities here in Kalamazoo for the people who live here, and I just wanted to change that.
“The opportunities to work here are not the same as they are in a big city. Obviously, I can’t make a music town, but this helps give significance and purpose to people who do choose to spend their lives here, even though they’re highly trained, highly skilled musicians.”
Daneman moved to Kalamazoo three and a half years ago for family reasons and began formulating her idea for Authenticity about a year ago. The project is funded in part by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
“This is for Kalamazoo, by Kalamazoo. (Artists) have to live here or within 30 miles of here to participate, because this is the community I want to impact,” Daneman says.
Through an application process, 12 individual artists or groups from various music genres will be selected, and Daneman will curate them into double bills, or shows with two performances. The hodgepodge of genres will become 12 double-billed concerts.
“I was always fascinated with this idea of juxtaposition of genre,” Daneman says. “This was really to create the perfect concert that we want to see.”
Her hope is that Authenticity will largely be a collaborative experience. During each Saturday night show, both musical acts will play 35 minutes each of their best work. Then the two acts will come together to perform an original collaborative piece that they rehearsed during the weeks prior to the show.
“My goal is for people to create relationships with each other that transcend a lot of the cultural and societal barriers that we typically will experience, because playing music is powerful enough to do that,” Daneman says.
The Last Gasp Collective is one of the groups that will participate. Jay Jackson, founder of the Kalamazoo group, came across Authenticity on Instagram. After watching one of Daneman’s videos, he was sold.
His group of nine to 10 musicians fuses hip-hop, jazz and soul, among other genres. They tend to tour within West Michigan in the winter months and to festivals across the state in the summer. Jackson is looking forward to experiencing a totally
“To be able to play in an atmosphere where the crowd is solely focused on you, where you can hear a pin drop almost, it challenges your artistry,” Jackson says. “It makes you really focus on how you capture a crowd, how you portray your art in front of an audience that is actually giving you 100 percent of their attention.”
It can be easy to lose that focus when performing in a venue where people can barely hear you or don’t care about your performance, Jackson says.
“Hopefully we’re gonna get to a stage where people are paying to come see us. They’re not there to drink,” Jackson says.
Involving small businesses
The Authenticity collaborations will extend to Kalamazoo’s small-business community.
“Two or three local businesses or organizations will be part of the concert event with us,” Daneman says. “They’re going to be either tabling or selling their wares or talking about what they do and connecting really intimately.”
These businesses aren’t unlike vendors at a music festival, Daneman says. She hopes that their presence will help ameliorate some conflicts that exist between artists and businesses.
“I’ve always felt that link between businesses and performing artists was either missing or kind of messed up because musicians sometimes are paid poorly by business owners,” Daneman says.
With Authenticity, Daneman also hopes that the community will keep a closer eye on the talent in Kalamazoo that is sometimes ignored.
“I think Kalamazoo, per person, per capita, has so many highly trained, talented musical people,” she says. “I feel that they are largely overlooked by the presenting organizations. They’re largely playing in bars and restaurants or they have to produce their own concerts in churches and stuff, and that’s fine. But the power of the creation that’s happening in this city is not being paid attention to. I know we’re not New York or Chicago or Nashville or L.A., but this is relevant and this is our community.”