By Rob Peterson
The Mill at Vicksburg team is creating a new initiative called The Mill Music Residency, which it announced at a live concert event in September.
Like its Prairie Ronde Artist Residency, the music residency is aimed at attracting solo musicians and bands through a stipend and by providing living space for the artists for up to two months. To support the program, founder Chris Moore will be reconstructing an apartment, recording studio with instruments, and a performance venue, all located in the Dancers building at 107 South Main. This space most recently housed the Home Again resale store before its expansion to the former Family Dollar space on Prairie Street.
“Many artists from around the country have been part of the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency and left a little part of themselves in Vicksburg,” said John Kern, director of the program. This has included several art installations at the Mill and in gallery spaces downtown.
Like the artist residency, musicians who take part will showcase the work they created for the Vicksburg community in the form of a public performance. These concerts may one day be held at one of the 5 planned performance stages at The Mill. For now, they have created a temporary venue at the Dancers building.
“We worked with the Village to make sure that the space is safe,” said Ryan Collins of Frederick Construction. “A reinforced structure, emergency lights, and smoke detectors were among the requirements to get our occupancy permit for the desired 220-person private event.
That occupancy number was nearly reached at the concert where the new program was announced. Seattle-area band The Moondoggies were the headliner that evening, just one night after they opened for The Head and the Heart in Grand Rapids.
“Right between Grand Rapids and Chicago is Vicksburg,” said Moore, demonstrating Vicksburg’s proximity to both cities by using his hand to represent a map of Michigan. “We were a convenient stop for The Moondoggies on their way between these two cities.”
Vicksburg residents were treated to a concert that early fall evening with opening act Kevin Large, a folk singer who is also from the Seattle area. His original folk songs and authentic vocals were an excellent match to the unfinished, raw space which was primarily lit by string lights and the illuminated historic beer signs lining the walls.
The Moondoggies, a band NPR calls a roots-rock group that “exudes a Neil Young-style 70’s vibe,” took the stage shortly after. Their songs showcase a danceable beat and infectious vocal harmonies. A testament to the crowd’s appreciation was the growing number of people dancing; by the end of the concert, those dancing outnumbered those who weren’t. It was more reminiscent of the 1980’s Kalamazoo venue Club Soda than a former resale shop.
One suspects that a band like the Moondoggies could someday headline its own concert series. It’s possible, the creators of The Mill Music Residency Program say, that by attracting talent we could see bands here that will one day make it big.
You never know, says Kern, “It only takes one performance to get that big break artists dream of.”