In most of life’s venues, dressing up in solid-color Adidas jump suits, donning a pair of cheesy sunglasses and rocking out to 80s music is completely unacceptable behavior. Unless, of course, you’re actually in the 80s.
But you’re not.
You’re in the 10s… or something like that.
If you’re in central Michigan, however, there is one caveat to the rule. You could just be enjoying one of the region’s most popular tickets, Starfarm. Decked out in fabulously hideous clothing from a period in style most would rather be forgotten, the musical group performs the hits that won’t ever be. I myself have been known to hit the dance floor while screaming the chorus of many a Journey song expertly rendered by the local group.
For more than a decade, the core group of instrumentalists has built quite the following in mid-Michigan. Dana Mirate (drums), Sean Mirate (keyboards), Ryan Tarrant (bass) and “Slammin’ Danny” (guitar) have been together since 2001. And though the role of lead singer has had its instabilities, the group has hit solid ground through the vibrant vocals of Whitney Spotts for the past three years.
Having been members of the Lansing community for so long – all currently live in the greater Lansing area and most have been residents for more than 10 years – Starfarm has seen many changes in the city throughout the years.
If you ask Dana Mirate about the changes in the music scene specifically, he’ll quickly launch into a comparison of the past decade to the early 90s when he first arrived in East Lansing. As a music major at MSU, Dana was involved in the music scene from the word go.
“Everywhere you went, there were a lot of bars and clubs where you could play,” he recalls. “More people were writing original music and you could actually play that at bars. You could be an all-original band and play just one cover.”
Ryan Tarrant, though, is quick to point out that most all of Starfarm’s members still work on original music on the side, writing and recording songs. They just lament the loss of many quality establishments willing to push original bands.
But if you are looking for some original acts, they suggest checking out Mac’s Bar on East Michigan Avenue. They also identify The Green Door, Rick’s American Café, Lou & Harry’s Sports Bar, Dublin Square, Harper’s and The Exchange as decent places to catch live music in the area. Both agree that none of those, however, have a good house sound system or a good sound technician that really knows the space and how to make a band sounds good.
Which is why Dana makes me promise to mention Starfarm’s sound guy, John Miller, who is, “worth his weight in gold.”
For them, it’s something that Lansing is still in need of, even though they see a lot of positive changes happening downtown.
“The downtown has gone through a lot of changes,” says Ryan. “There didn’t used to be anything down there just six or seven years ago. When the Capital closed down, when the state workers weren’t there, they just rolled up the sidewalks and every single thing was closed. But now you can go down there and there are cool places to eat, there’s a lot of different bars to go to and you can get a lot of different vibes. “
“I like it,” adds Dana.
Take, for example, the outdoor Octoberfest music festival that downtown bars banded together to put on last Fall. Starfarm was ready to rock out Washington Street in a giant block party, if only Mother Nature had cooperated. The skies would not stop pouring rain and the temperatures dropped, making it unlikely to pull off the show.
“It was a shame,” says Dana. “It could have been very cool.”
One event that they did manage to pull off this year, however, was a rocking 80s party fundraiser for REACH Art Studio Center, put on by the Capital Area Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. You may remember hearing about it from our own Anika Fassia, who attended with some friends who came to town from Chicago to see what Lansing was all about.
“They go all-out decorating it,” Dana says, noting that it was the second time Starfarm had played the fundraiser and that they already had been booked for next year. “It’s top notch. I’d recommend it. It includes food, all these great party favors, candy from the 80s. You mingle with some pretty important people and, I think it’s cool.”
“And it’s fun,” chimes in Ryan, repeating the mantra of this very blog. “There’s a lot of really cool people, a lot of young professionals, who want to come out and have a good time for a charity.”
After talking to the pair for some time, it becomes obvious that, yes, Lansing has a long way to go. It’s tough to make a living as a musician in the area, getting paid little to nothing for years of tuition, practice and investments into equipment. Working a day job while being gone every single weekend performing is difficult, especially for those in the band with kids.
But there is still plenty to celebrate and use as a springboard into the future.
“There’s some great stuff that you can see for free even sometimes like at the Wharton Center,” agrees Ryan.
“I remember once when Branford Marsalis was at the Creole Gallery down here and they just went out and did a show,” continues Ryan. “One of the top jazz musicians in the entire country just kind of on the down-low went in and did a show. You’re just walking down the street and you’re like, ‘Is that Marsalis playing here? That’s pretty cool’”
“Rodney Whitaker teaches jazz at MSU and is one of the most sought after bass players for jazz,” says Dana, chiming in. “And he brings in these cats. He brings in Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis. And that’s here. You won’t see that in Iowa. You’ll see it in Chicago, but you’ll pay a lot of money.
“I’ll tell you right now, every city you go to sucks to the people who are there all the time. There’s a level of suckiness in every single city; but it’s what you make of it. It’s about the community and the effort you put into it.”