Michiana musicians offer a peek behind the scenes

For many, summer in Michiana is synonymous with outdoor festivals, sunshine and enjoying a cold drink at one of the many breweries and wineries across the region. Add in some live music and you have a thriving entertainment scene. With genres of music covering everything from bluegrass, soul, rock, country and jazz, there is something out there for everyone, so strap on your dancing shoes and get ready to jam with some of the coolest bands the Midwest has to offer.

Elephant Rescue

Photo by Timothy Ritter

If something out of the ordinary is what your ears are craving this summer, the group Elephant Rescue, with its tuba notes and funky beats, may be right for you.

ER consists of lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Dale, of Niles, Michigan and brothers tubist Chad Miller, of Crown Point, Indiana and percussionist Cory Miller, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Founded in 2009, the band describes themselves as “swamp funk” with a mixture of rock, folk and blues.

“We just want to provide music that, even if you don’t dance, you can get down in your seat,” Dave says. “It’s not sit-still music.”

ER’s music has a strong New Orleans and southern influence, which Dave says he came across after becoming bored of the electric blues music he heard over and over again at venues he played in Chicago.

“I went to New Orleans, and it was just like going to Mecca,” Dave says. “One of the things I really absorbed was this funky, swampy sound that I really wanted to replicate.”

At first glance, the group’s New Orleans funk may seem out of place in the Michiana area. However, the group says the band has been well received in the area.

“I think people like it. It’s different,” Chad says. “It creates a sort of different vibe for the area.”

Often, the band will improvise to make their music easier to dance to, which makes their sound more digestible to those who are not familiar with New Orleans music.

“We learned our craft, and we are trying to essentially reach out to the audience and draw them into something that is not familiar,” Dave says.

Dave believes that Michiana audiences have been drawn to ER due to the fact that the band members truly love playing music with each other. Cory and Chad feel this is especially true as brothers and call each other their favorite people to play with in the world.

“If you are sincere in what you, people will see that respond to it,” Cory says. “It engages them and they get up to dance.”

Though the band loves exposing Michiana audiences to new music, Dave, Cory and Chad agree that the best part of primarily playing the Michiana area is that it allows them to explore their music in close proximity to their home. This allows them to spend more time with family and friends, while also playing at great venues and building up a fan base.

For all their talk about energizing the music scene and getting people to get out of their comfort zones, the band members really just love to be at home with their families, especially Cory, who recently became a father.

“We’re not trying to be rockstars,” Dave says. “We are just trying to play music that we love.”

Deep Fried Pickle Project

Photo by Timothy Ritter

Looking at a pile of cookie tins, guitar strings and cigar boxes, one wouldn’t normally think those things could combine to make working instruments. However, these unassuming everyday items are what make the music for Michiana favorite band Deep Fried Pickle Project.

DFPP is a jug-style band that performs original music with homemade instruments. The band consists of Alan Selvidge, of Coloma, Daniel Boone Daniel, an Arizona transplant to Coloma, Michigan, and Charlie King, of Battle Creek, Michigan. Daniel and Alan have been performing together as DFPP since 2002, and Charlie joined the band five years ago.

Jug music originates from southern bands in the 1920s that played homemade instruments made out of common items like washboards or cake pans. A jug band usually has a jug to keep the bass.

“There’s this misconception that jug bands are hee-haw, hillbilly bands,” Alan says. “Jug music can be anything.”

In addition to homemade instruments, DFPP considers comedy to be an essential part of the band’s routine.

“I met Daniel when he was still playing with another jug band, and I felt it was a bit too sterile of a jug band,” Alan says. “We needed more comedy in our routines.”

From there, Alan convinced Daniel to try out novelty music and covering popular songs, but making them comedic using jug instruments. It is this formula of music — novelty and comedy — that DFPP still employs today.

Being goofy and not taking themselves too seriously is part of what makes jug music fun and appealing, Daniel says.

This comedic spirit not only affects the way they play jokes on each other on stage, but it also played a part in how DFPP got its unique name.

Just as Daniel and Alan were about to perform their first set ever in Riverside, Michigan, the announcer asked the nameless duo what they called themselves.

“At that moment, I looked behind the stage, and at the bar was a sign that said, ‘deep fried pickles, three for a $1.25,’” Daniel said. “We were like, ‘that’s it. We’re the Deep Fried Pickle Project.’”

Though the band plays many bar venues, they consider themselves a family-friendly band. In 2012, DFPP released “Green and Bumpy,” its first children’s album. They also conduct workshops to teach both children and adults how to create jug instruments.

These family-friendly workshops typically take place at music festivals, which the members all agree are the best venues to play.

“It’s just more fun,” Charlie says. “You get to meet so many other people and bands at festivals.”

The band has performed at big music festivals like Wakarusa and Lollapalooza, and as far away as Maryland and Kentucky. Despite this, they still feel proud to perform in the Michiana area.

“It’s home,” Daniel says. “You gotta be able to play in your home.”

This summer, you can catch DFPP playing at bars around the Michiana area or at various festivals including the “Live at the Lake” series at Navy Pier in Chicago, July 2; the BandShell Series in St. Joseph, Michigan, July 5, Millennium Park Family Fun Fest, July 7; Ribfest in Avon, Michigan, July 16; Rhythm on the Riverfest in South Haven, Michigan, July 22 and at Hoxeyville Music Festival in Wellston, Michigan, Aug. 18 to 20.

With such a busy schedule, the band says that it is their love of for their audiences and each other that keeps them going.

“Ultimately, it’s the love of the jug,” Charlie says.

Van Dyke Review

Photo by Timothy Ritter

Nothing beats kicking back at a summer festival, singing along to favorite songs with a cold drink in hand. Those who love to hum those

old time tunes will love a jam session with the Van Dyke Review.

VDR is a 1960s and ‘70s cover band originating from Niles. The band consists of father/son duo John and Dave Van Dyke, Wayne Kurtiz and Kurt “Bo” Martin.

John and Dave founded the band in 1999. Bo has been with the band for 10 years, and Wayne has been with them for seven.

Though the band has dabbled in other genres such as jazz, blues, country and even some original music, they primarily cover ‘60s and ‘70s rock and soul music.

“I’ve always liked music that was made before I was born, so we’ve kind of become an oldies band,” Dave says. “But we have a pretty good variety.”

Family is important to the band, Dave says. This is particularly true due to Dave and John’s familial connection.

“My dad taught me to play when I was 13 or 14,” Dave says. “Some guys go fishing with their dad, some guys watch sports. I play in a rock and roll band with mine. It’s just what we do.”

John says he is grateful for Dave and VDR because it lets him lead a life that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

“Overall, it’s really great,” John says. “It’s been a wonderful thing for me to play in a band. It probably wouldn’t happen without [Dave].”

Because the band has been operating for nearly two decades, they have played many venues, some reaching as far as the Florida Keys. However, their primary playing base is in Michiana.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any place in Michiana where we haven’t played music,” Dave says. “I stopped counting years ago, but we are into the thousands of gigs.”

Because they have played so many gigs, VDR is well known and respected in the artist circuit. Other bands had nothing but good things to say about Dave and the crew, likely because Dave is the kind of person who is willing to take out his guitar and play duet with you, no matter where you are.

Dave says his favorite venues to play are ones that are outdoor and family-friendly as opposed to bars, because his wife and 15-year-old son can attend.

However, no matter what venue they are playing, VDR’s main goal is to make sure the audience is having a good time.

“I want [the audience] to feed off of us and always want more music,” Dave says. “If someone wants to hear “Brown-eyed Girl,” even though we are really sick of that song, you bet we will play it again.”

You can sing along with VDR this summer playing bars and parks around the Michiana area and at St. Joseph’s 4th of July concert with Southwestern Michigan Symphony Orchestra at Shadowland Pavilion.

Andrew Fisher Quartet

Photo by Timothy Ritter

The smooth soulful sounds of the Andrew Fisher Quartet take listeners back to the days of motown and jazz legends like B. B. King and Otis Retting — talent often found in big cities — but if you ask the lead singer, there is no shortage of entertainment in Michiana.

“The amazing thing about this area is that there are a lot of good musicians that are around here,” says vocalist and founder of the group Andrew Fisher. “We wanted to present music in a way that this community could be proud of.”

The jazz group has been performing together for two-and-a-half years. The quartet consists of Andrew, of Berrien Springs, Michigan, bassist Dustin Lowe, of New Buffalo, Michigan, pianist Bruce Anderson, of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and drummer Eric Oliphant of Watervliet, Michigan.

Though the group classifies itself as a jazz band, they do not stick to one single genre like people may think, Dustin says.

The group plays everything from original music to Stevie Wonder tributes to a samba version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

“We take all music and play with it and have fun with it,” Andrew says. “We are like kids with playdough when it comes to music.”

The idea to start the group came to Andrew after he came back from a stint in Florida at the end of 2014.

“For me, it got to a point where I needed to do something meaningful,” Andrew says. “Jazz, to the best of my knowledge, hadn’t really been done in this area in any significant way. It was something I knew I was good at, and everyone else way too. The thought for me was, ‘let’s bring something that the community hasn’t seen locally done.’”

AFQ’s name, which Andrew thinks makes him sound “pretentious” and “narcissistic,” was actually not chosen by him, but by Dustin, Eric and Bruce.

Originally, Andrew was really against the name, Dustin says.

“I didn’t know if I even deserved it to have a band named after me,” Andrew says. “But it’s become one of the most prideful things in my life where I can feel honored that [the band members] felt me worthy enough to name something after.”

Andrew says the mission of AFQ is to prove great music can come out of the Michiana area.

“We want people to see that we are from you. We are from this area. We are local,” Andrew says. “This is the high caliber of music you can get here.”

AFQ’s members not only feel loyalty to this area because it is their home, but because the audiences they play for are so fun and supportive, Andrew says.

“You can really see the love that they have for their own,” Andrew says. “They really support local musicians and want to hear local music.”

Even though AFQ hopes to one day expand and grow its music, the band members do not plan to forget their roots.

“It a goal of ours to hopefully be able to move to a larger area, maybe show the United States, maybe the world, what this area can produce,” Andrew says.

You can check out AFQ over the summer, as they will be playing many local venues and bars.

Dale Wicks

Photo by Timothy Ritter

No matter where in the world you are, the twang of a country song has the ability to take you back to your roots — to memories of summer nights around the fire, cruising dirt roads with an old flame by your side, or cracking open a cold one with a friend.

Dale Wicks is likely not what you would think of when you think “21st Century country singer.” Dressed in plain jeans and a flannel shirt, the soft spoken 36-year-old doesn’t don a cowboy hat or affect a twang in his voice. Instead, he strums the guitar in a way that will take any classic country music fan back to a simpler time.

Dale is an independent, solo performer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who plays many bars and wineries around the southwest Michigan area. During his live shows, he tends to sing and play the acoustic guitar, but on his recordings, he plays most instruments himself, including piano, drums, banjo, bass, mandolin, ukulele and harmonica.

Though he calls his music a “gumbo” of different genres, its roots lie primarily in country music. Dale says his music is heavily influenced by classic country artists such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.

“I just grew up [with country music]. My dad went through a big country phase,” Dale says. “I’m not so much a fan of modern country music. It’s all just so similar.”

Even though Dale identifies as a solo performer, he occasionally collaborates with bands and other artists, which he finds valuable. In particular, he enjoys working with a friend who plays the steel guitar, something Dale says adds to his music’s classic country feel. Still, by and large, Dale prefers to work alone.

“I tend to be able to work at my own pace that way,” Dale says. “It can be hard to stay in a band when everyone has a say and does things democratically, as opposed to just me, when I can do whatever I want.”

Dale took that solo ambition to become a professional musician a few years ago, though he has been playing music almost his entire life.

“I worked an office job for a number of years and when I found out I was going to be laid off, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore,” Dale says. “Instead of looking for a new job, I just booked a bunch of shows. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Since he started, Dale says he has grown and is currently very happy with where he is professionally. Sometimes, people recognize him at venues or request one of his original songs when he is performing, which he appreciates.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now for a while,” Dale says.

Dale’s current plans include recording an album and building a studio in the basement of his newly purchased home in Grand Rapids.

When he is not performing or recording, Dale loves to play and collect classic video games, something he would be happy to talk your ear off about. He also supplements his income by giving guitar and ukulele lessons.

You can catch Dale this summer playing venues around the state of Michigan.