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Rachael Davis 'Not just about the music' in northern Michigan

Rachael Davis sits on the porch steps of her childhood home in Cadillac. When she was growing up, Davis says she and her friends held talent shows in the yard instead of lemonade stands.
Draya Raby
/
WCMU
Rachael Davis sits on the porch steps of her childhood home in Cadillac. When she was growing up, Davis says she and her friends held talent shows in the yard instead of lemonade stands.

The music community in northern Michigan is huge, according to Cadillac’s own Rachael Davis.

Davis grew up in Cadillac, after moving here from Chicago when she was 6 years old. As the daughter of two musicians, Davis grew up surrounded by a community created through music.

“My parents used to host a monthly music jam when I was growing up,” says Davis. “It was called Music Sundays and people would come from Traverse (City), Grand Rapids, people who were part of the musical festival community would come here one Sunday a month and it was just like this little seat of traditional music here in Wexford County.”

Northern Michigan is home to many music festivals that Davis says have cultivated the musical community in the area. Much of the “traditional music” is Americana, consisting of themes and sounds inspired by traditions and history.

“It’s kind of inexplicable,” says Davis. “There’s all these traditional Americana music, swing music, blues and that’s just what I’m aware of in our musical community.”

The side entrance to the Bunce’s porch is decorated with windchimes, courtesy of her father. This is the first taste of music guests get as they approach the Bunce house.
Draya Raby
/
WCMU
The side entrance to the Bunce’s porch is decorated with windchimes, courtesy of her father. This is the first taste of music guests get as they approach the Bunce house.

Something Davis notes about this Americana style of music is how it encourages people to play together.

“You can have three fiddles, three guitars, a couple banjos — as many people as fit in the room basically,” Davis says.

According to Davis, the guests at Music Sundays were mostly people they had met while playing at festivals as Lake Effect, the Bunce family band. The band’s songs were geared towards kids, as her mother wrote them during her time as an elementary school music teacher.

“My experience was being a little kind under a big tent that somebody put up with 20 people in a big circle all jamming,” Davis said. “That just draws that kind of people and then you meet people and you’re like ‘Hey, we have a music jam on, you know, the third Sunday of every month, you should come by.’ So that’s kind of how it was cultivated to begin with.”

According to Davis, one of the “more recognizable characters” that frequented the Bunce House Music Sunday, is Billy Strings — a popular bluegrass musician from Ionia, Michigan.

As a child, the community cultivated by Davis’s parents during their time at Michigan State University was the core of their musical community and experience.

The family even continued to attend a one-day music festival near Manistee.

“It’s tiny and it’s in this little township park in Brethren, but it’s been going on for maybe almost 50 years now,” said Davis.

The Appalachian Mountains, and the southeastern states, are considered the birthplace of Americana music, but Davis has found what she calls “little springs of traditional music” in other areas, too.

In Boston, Davis cultivated a songwriting based musical community. In Maine, she experienced the old-time musicians living in the wilderness. While in the Upper Peninsula, Davis discovered a “pocket” of traditional Celtic music.

“What’s unique about this area (northern Michigan) is that it’s so concentrated,” says Davis. “There’s so many quality musicians that come from here, then go out and become a name that everybody knows.”

In the summers, Davis says she mostly plays Michigan venues despite living in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Something thats different about it is the support of the community,” she says. “Also, it’s not just about music, it’s also about activism — musicians around here are educators, small town politicians or they do some kind of environmental activism or something.”

Davis thinks the awareness and appreciation for nature that shines in northern Michigan music comes from our proximity to the Great Lakes. “It’s specific to this area because that’s something that defines us, I guess,” says Davis.

Even the voices of the region’s music sound “specifically rural and natural” to Davis.

“It’s got a kind of poetic romance to it, like sitting on the porch and playing fiddle with the sun setting behind the cornfields,” Davis says. “It definitely is a lifestyle.”

This sign sits above the mailbox of the Bunce house, welcoming guests to the lifestyle within.
Draya Raby
/
WCMU
This sign sits above the mailbox of the Bunce house, welcoming guests to the lifestyle within.

According to Davis, “the activity” growing up was playing instruments. “We were exposed to it, it was accessible, it was encouraged, and it was also, pretty much taught as a core value,” she says.

Davis says the musical lifestyle is being carried on through her own family. After meeting her husband at Blissfest — a music festival in Petoskey — and with both of them making music for a living, there is music everywhere.

“It’s like the same things as it was when I was growing up,” Davis said.

Davis says it’s a mystery how Michigan gained its vast musical community.

“It’s just a beautiful natural place that creative people are drawn to and inspired by,” she says.

Davis will be performing with her band at the Coyote Crossing Resort’s live music event on Saturday, June 22 — the third event of the summer series.

Draya Raby is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Cadillac News.
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