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Eastown's Lamp Light Music Festival continues to grow community in its fourth year

This November 6-8, the festival will be held in Eastown as a celebration of local music, art and community.
Lamp Light Festival

Lamp Light Festival /Courtesy of the Eastown Community Association

Underwriting support from:
Lamp Light Festival

Lamp Light Festival /Courtesy of the Eastown Community Association

John Hanson, founder of Lamplight Festival

John Hanson, founder of Lamplight Festival /Courtesy of the Eastown Community Association

As the new Executive Director for the Eastown Community Association, I have learned quickly how tight-knit and intentional our community is. We are a group deeply rooted in connecting with our neighbors, guiding the growth and tone of our development, and purposefully creating a space that feels connected and respectful. One set of residents working towards those ends are the DIY collective behind the Lamp Light Music Festival. Interestingly enough, most Eastown natives aren’t even aware of this grassroots movement growing in their own backyard.

Lamp Light is in its fourth year of existence, and will take place November 6-8. It grew out of a true “what if” movement, when its founder and Executive Director John Hanson, a native Chicagoan and now Eastown resident of five years, dared to ask if there was a space for a new kind of music festival: one not held in a huge venue or on a large farm, but in neighbor’s homes, in their basements and in their living rooms. After the first year, another local business, Gorilla Pictures, produced a video documenting the event, resulting in doubled attendance the following year.

Lamp Light is a festival designed as a celebration of local music, art and community and is an experiment in social practice. This experiment, spearheaded by Hanson and an amazing team of volunteer professionals, has grown in three short years to a fully realized institution. Bands come from across the country to play, tickets sell out quickly and even the mayor-elect attended last year.

”People have been really inspired by it,” says Hanson, "That feeling has galvanized a group of passionate, community-focused artists to build this festival bigger and better each year.”

This year, the festival will showcase a diverse array of musicians, reflecting a conscious effort by the organizers to reach out to the full community and put together an event that’s a true representation of the spirit of Eastown, and of Grand Rapids as a whole. In addition to the musical acts, there will be workshops on singing led by Molly Bouwsma Schultz of Vox Vidorra, food systems with Levi Gardner from Urban Roots, and brewing kombucha with Emily Helmus from Bloom Ferments. Panel discussions about the state of music and the community surrounding artists will be an integral part of this year's offerings. In keeping with the all-ages policy, there will also be kids arts and crafts workshops, as well as a show from the Girls Rock! Grand Rapids group.

Walking around the festival each year, you’re as likely to run into a 19-year-old college student experiencing the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids for the first time as a lifelong resident taking in an event they’ve come to recognize as uniquely characteristic to their town.

Organizers work to ensure is a sense of unity and teamwork, collaboration and conversation. There’s no stage, and there’s no barrier between the artist and the audience in a living room. Hanson describes it as a labor of love, meant to fuel attendees body and soul with the energy generated by individuals coming together to celebrate music and expression. This is often a first exposure to Eastown or even to Grand Rapids for many musicians and attendees. They are encouraged to immerse themselves in the neighborhood, spend their weekend patronizing the local businesses and getting to know the residents. This attitude has pervaded to the point that last year neighbors joking referred to it as “Lamp Polite Festival.”

For Hanson, this isn’t a festival that is possible anywhere else. Moving here from a larger city, he realized that Grand Rapids offers unique qualities for the success of a music festival like Lamp Light.

“The infrastructure is incredible, these houses, this neighborhood, this history," he says. "It’s all so unique and has so much character and energy... Grand Rapids is unreal and it’s important to keep it that way.” He credits these factors for creating the perfect storm for a community project like this, and the sold out crowds each year agree. As the festival gains traction, it inspires more passionate individuals to also ask themselves, “what if.” In this way, Lamp Light’s mission- to inspire, to encourage and to engage- has been and continues to be more successful with each passing year.

Hanson hopes to see Lamp Light continue its effect on the Eastown community. Ideally, each year will bring the national-level conversation surrounding music to the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, making our city part of the conversation.

“We are organically building that dynamic one conversation at a time, and we are pushing each other constantly to be even better and more involved,” says Hanson. “I see that web growing bigger and stronger as a community.”

Passes for the three day event, on November 6, 7 and 8 are available for pre-sale now only at Vertigo Records on Division for $30. Passes will be $35 at the door.

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