In conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Folklife Festival, the Calumet band Gratiot Lake Road and Marquette’s own Krebs Cycle will be performing on Saturday, Jan. 19 in the Peter White Lounge of the UC.
Gratiot Lake Road is a four-piece group that plays folk songs attuned to the vibrations of northern Michigan said Ben Jensen, who plays guitar and banjo and contributes vocals in the band.
“Geography plays a large part in inspiring the songs,” Jensen said. “The towns, forests, Lake Superior and all these other natural features shape our experiences. We’ve spent hours upon hours driving, hiking and exploring the Upper Peninsula and those experiences shape the songs.”
The group began writing songs together when Jensen met his wife, Emaleigh, while studying at Michigan Tech in the fall of 2006.
Emaleigh, who had been writing songs since high school and had experience as a solo performer in the area, played a song for Jensen on the last day of the semester, and Gratiot Lake Road grew from there.
“She showed me one of her songs, ‘Horace Greeley,’ and I played a little riff on the guitar to it,” Jensen said. “We liked the sound and Emaleigh started showing me the new songs she was writing for me to write guitar parts.”
The two recorded some demos for their Myspace page and played their first gig at the Bridge House in Houghton nine months later.
Since then, the group has expanded and often performs as a four-piece, with Emaleigh singing and playing banjo and autoharp. The group features Matthew Radue on guitar, percussion, piano and chord organ, as well as Tony Laux on bass.
While the subject matter of their particular brand of art remains tied to their surroundings, the stories that they share through song has also seen some changes, Jensen said.
“A long, cloudy winter, making mistakes, being embarrassed, leaving and never coming back, ghost stories and exhaustion are also some of the themes of our music,” Jensen said. “Lately the songs have been about death and how inevitably we’ll all be nothing but quirky stories told to our children or grandchildren.”
The group has performed in Marquette before, Jensen said, and remains a very special place to the band.
“The story of Gratiot Lake Road wouldn’t be complete without mentioned our good friend Troy Graham, who kept booking us shows in Marquette with bands like The Chanteymen, Mary Mugford, Kerry Yost and Windmill Music,” Jensen said.
The group will be stopping in Marquette again this year, as well as touring to Virginia and back, Jensen said.
“We’ve got a pile of new songs that we can’t wait to share with everyone – maybe a new record by the end of the year.”
The concert is also a part of the Beaumier Coffee House Series, which features mostly local musicians and regional acts. For Jeff Krebs, who plays guitar and handles lead vocals for The Krebs Cycle, the music of the U.P. is in his blood.
“Some of the traditional fiddle tunes we play sound like they could have been played at a camp out in the woods 75 years ago, and likely were,” Krebs said. “We’re less a band than a trio of neighbors playing music we love for the best reason: it’s fun.”
The Krebs Cycle, which plays mostly traditional folk, country and bluegrass tunes, features Doug Kitchel on the banjo and Brent Graves on mandolin and vocals. The trio will be opening for Gratiot Lake Road.
The show begins at 7 p.m. and admission is free, although donations are encouraged. For more information, email Dan Truckey at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (906) 227-3212.