Is West Michigan Becoming A Bluegrass Mecca?
Following Ionia County's Billy Strings Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album, another West Michigan group has won accolades.
West Michigan's Full Cord Named Best Band At Telluride Festival
Full Cord, whose members hail from both Grand Rapids and Grand Haven, took the top band honors at this past weekend's Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The Festival is one of the leading bluegrass competitions in the country and past winners include The Dixie Chicks (now just The Chicks), who went on to a massive career in Country music.
Full Cord features Eric Langejans on guitar, Todd Kirchner on bass, Brian Oberlin on mandolin, Grant Flick on fiddle, Katie Kirchner on vocals, and Gabe Hirshfeld on banjo.
Oberlin told Bluegrass Today that the win was overwhelming:
“Having heard so many of musical heroes from that stage, I humbly realized that my career has brought me there, and I played and sang as best as my heart could render. It’s an honor and privilege to know that the Telluride crowd will hear Full Cord’s music in 2023.”
The band won $750 and a spot on the lineup for next year's Festival for their efforts.
The band has been together for fifteen years, playing at local and national venues known for bluegrass. They are known for mixing other genres like pop, rock, and jazz into a bluegrass mode. They recently signed a contract to record for the Dark Shadows label.
The local bluegrass music scene has flourished, with Billy 'Billy Strings' Apostal (originally from Muir in Ionia County) becoming a nationally renowned performer. He not only won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy in 2021, he has recently performed at the shrine of Country Music, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
He is currently on a tour of mostly sold out shows and festivals this summer, and will swing back into his home state with stops in Saginaw and Kalamazoo in November.
Between Full Cord and Strings, the West Michigan bluegrass scene is red hot.
One other local band emerging from the GR to keep an eye is Whorled, which features 19 year old Keana Venema on fiddle.
Greensky Bluegrass from Kalamazoo is also currently out on a big summer tour, and continues to expand their audiences beyond West Michigan.
Local bands have been able to use huge bluegrass events like the Hoxeyville Festival (this year August 18-21) to get up on the same stages as national legends to earn recognition and broaden their followings.
Nationally touring bluegrass acts like Bela Fleck and Old Crow Medicine Show have always done well at local venues like Meijer Gardens and the Intersection and that has translated into audiences showing up for local events, so hopefully West Michigan will continue to be huge player in the bluegrass scene for years to come.
As for Full Cord, you can catch them on Friday July 3 as part of the Manistee National Forest Festival. They will take to the stage at the Summer Sunset Series at 352 W. Forest Trail Road in Free Soil. Showtime is at 5pm.