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ArtPrize Artist Profile: Pete Weatherhead's 'G Rap City' a prize to behold

With a call to remove guns from Grand Rapids, Pete Weatherhead updates his roots.
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Pete Weatherhead relaxes as he answers some important questions.

Pete Weatherhead relaxes as he answers some important questions. /Robert R. Wilkinson

Pete Weatherhead hosts an impromptu live performance of G Rap City

Pete Weatherhead hosts an impromptu live performance of G Rap City /Robert R. Wilkinson

Pete and his wife Barb

Pete and his wife Barb /Courtesy of Pete Weatherhead

Peter Weatherhead, a life-long musician and ArtPrize entrant, tends to prefer not to have the title of artist hung around his neck. He is compelled by music. It is all he thinks about day and night. Having lived on the northwest side of Grand Rapids for most of his life, Weatherhead comes from and lives by simple means. He has walked in many footsteps in his life, from farmer, to salesman, bartender and he was “unfortunately drafted into this man’s army and served my time” as a soldier in Viet Nam, though he does say of himself that he is a "museum-worthy hippie" and happy to be one. This singer/songwriter leans toward calling his style of work Americana, a blending of country-styled folk music. The body of his written music, he states, is lighthearted.

“I want you to understand what I‘m saying,” says Weatherhead.

His ArtPrize entry ‘G Rap City,’ is a folksy mix of rap styling with a core Americana sound. The gist of the song is a cry to remove the guns from the streets of the city.

“I’m not really a political guy, but I care deeply about this,” he says of the song's message. He points back to his tour of duty as a reference to the barest origins of his opinion. Having lived through the trials of war, he feels very strongly about the amount of gun violence taking place in areas like Grand Rapids. He plans on keeping ‘G Rap City’ in his repertoire for the coming year. 

Weatherhead feels he is “part of a really great idea” by being part of ArtPrize. He lauds [founder] Rick DeVos. “I think he pushed some right buttons, put his money where his idea was,” says Weatherhead. He believes that ArtPrize has paid off for Grand Rapids immensely.

“It’s fun being part of that,” he says, sitting easily in his chair. Weatherhead has worked behind the scenes and performed during all three previous installments of ArtPrize. The event still has a lot of energy, he says, and he doesn’t see it waning in the immediate future.

Weatherhead believes that to learn from a master [of whatever medium] is exponentially more helpful than to attempt to go the trek with no help in figuring out what should be done. He taught himself mostly, but he did have classes in school for writing and music theory. His goal this year is to better himself at the violin, along with other instruments such as the guitar, in order to get into a string quartet and play chamber music so that he can push himself just that little bit further.

The internet is a concern for Weatherhead. Not being teenage and tech savvy, Weatherhead buys more music now that it is on the internet than he would have in a store. Yet when it comes to internet piracy, he does have an interesting view.

“There are two levels in this business,” he explains. “The high level, the high income people [the mass marketed musicians]… they don’t like it when their music gets stolen. The low level income people, like myself, please steal it, please pass it on to your friends and have them steal it too. Then maybe someday we’ll be able to get to say, ‘Hey, quit stealing my music.’” He will, though, buy an album or song instead of taking the easy route to obtaining the music.

Weatherhead is a very prolific musician. This summer he has played at seven festivals including Wheatland and Bliss, Dune Grass and Hoxeyville. He is currently part of The Porters (an interactive children’s band) as well as The Weatherheads, his own band that plays frequently at One Trick Pony. He feels comfortable with the title of musician. Though honored that he is tagged with the title of artist for ArtPrize, deep inside, he would rather remain a musician. He recalls his first experience playing ‘G Rap City’ at St. Cecilia Music Center, his ArtPrize venue. He felt in awe that he stood on the stage where so many seasoned musicians had stood. It felt odd to him as he performed, thinking how a self-proclaimed (and overly self-deprecating at times) “hack” could have made it to such a venue.

“This is a great life. I stay up late every night, sleep late every morning,” he says of his daily routine. He is a vegan, meaning that he does not eat meat, and tries to avoid eggs and dairy. He works on his health a couple hours every day, “Then I work on my music the rest of the day.”

He has one album out, Live at One Trick Pony, with his band The Weatherheads, recorded at the local Fulton St. grill and taproom in 2010. Though he writes and performs his own material, he does perform the occasional cover tune. In his children's band, The Porters, he has modified a Frank Zappa tune, "Joe's Garage," during which he has the children in the audience shout "Turn it down!"  He tends to make the song his own, through his interpretation of the song or a difference in styling between the original and his take on the song.

When asked how much of a critic he is to his own works, he doesn’t hold back. “I’m not harsh at all; I know I suck,” he says. He points to when Bruce Springsteen said that we can’t get too full of ourselves. As long a person keeps the door open that “you might suck,” he thinks that the musician is “kinda all right … keeping in the right spirit.” He tempers the comment by adding: If a musician keeps getting work, they can’t suck too badly.

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