Music Spotlight: The Crane Wives

Music Spotlight:  The Crane Wives
The Crane Wives - Awesome Mitten
The Crane Wives performing during ArtPrize 2012. Photo by Ryan Gajewski.

The objective of this monthly article is simple:  spotlight a local Michigan band then tell readers where they can catch one of the band’s shows.  This cannot merely be a show review because, as I was told by the powers-that-be, “no one likes to read about what already happened.” The format may change a bit from month-to-month, so bear with me.

The Crane Wives are a band from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  They play folk rock that appeals to listeners who usually avoid the genre.  They’ve had a few things written about them detailing their origins and vouching for their up-and-coming status.  They’ve won a few awards.[1] They spent this past summer playing every Michigan summer music festival you’ve never heard of.  They’ve had Colin Meloy of indie music group The Decemberists take a picture with their album Safe Ship, Harbored—what might seem to be a laying on of hands from the Patron Saint of Loquacious Indie Music.  They have built a following in what is fast becoming “the old fashioned way”—by word of mouth and great live shows.

Why should you care?  The Crane Wives might be the most-hyped band in Grand Rapids right now.  On the surface, this may not sound like a big deal, but as those in attendance at the CD release party for the band’s second album, The Fool In Her Wedding Gown, can tell you, it certainly feels like they could be the next big thing.  Grand Rapids venue, The Intersection, packed in over one thousand fans for their CD release, and the feeling in the air was electric.  Copies of the CD, along with t-shirts and other merchandise, sold impressive numbers.  The show—the band’s first in Grand Rapids in months—was filled with Grand Rapidians eager to show the band what they’d been missing in their hometown, and the band responded by treating the crowd to one of their best performances.

The Crane Wives Live

Describing The Crane Wives music would involve some mention of the following:  Emilee, Kate, and Dan’s great three-part harmonies, Dan and Ben’s solid, inventive rhythm section, Tom’s finely plucked banjo, and the fact that they somehow make folk music danceable.  What makes a great Crane Wives show, however, is not just their musicianship, but their stage banter as well, that can be charming and downright funny[2]. The show is peppered with covers that the band makes their own, concertgoers break out into spontaneous dancing[3], the sing-alongs bring to mind that Dashboard Confessional unplugged concert on MTV in the early-2000s, and every once in a while, Tom breaks his banjo.  Even if you have seen The Crane Wives in the past, the new material spices up their already enthralling live show.

No Sophomore Slump

Released in September, The Crane Wives second album, The Fool In Her Wedding Gown does what any fan wants a band’s sophomore album to do:  shows maturity in songwriting and musicianship without overhauling what made people love them in the first place.  The album sports some of The Crane Wives best songs to date.  “Easier,” a song that’s been around a while and won an ArtPrize award, is the most instantly relatable song lyrically and the catchiest tune in the band’s repertoire.  “The Glacier House” bounces along, propelled by a ukulele, which adds a nice flavor to the song without pushing it into the “twee” category.  “Back to the Ground” is a great mid-tempo number with a back-and-forth chorus between Emilee and Kate and a breakdown complete with guest piano by Emilee’s brother, Chris Petersmark.  The album closer, “How to Rest,” could be called a folk rock power ballad if there ever was such a thing, and I mean that in the best way possible.  The album still has its missteps.  “Show Your Fangs” is notable only for its banjo riff and kills the pace of the album, and “Steady, Steady” pales in comparison to the songs that come before and after it.  With a band still this young, however, these slight imperfections can be easily overlooked.

The Part Where I Tell You Where to See Them in Concert

After a summer spent outdoors, The Crane Wives will devote the upcoming fall to rocking out the friendly confines of clubs and bars all across Michigan and its neighboring states.  The new album has a sense of urgency that’s spilled over into the band’s live show: the energy is higher than ever before, making for a more enthralling concert.  Be sure to check out the band and spread the word.  See them here:

Oct 12 Bell’s Beer Garden / Eccentric Cafe -Kalamazoo, MI

Oct 13 New Holland Brewing Company – Holland, MI

Oct 19 Farmington Civic Theater – Farmington Hills, MI

Oct 26 Watermark 920 – Muskegon, MI

Oct 27 The Mitten Bar – Ludington, MI

Nov 02 Subkirke – South Bend, IN

Nov 09 Village Idiot – Maumee, OH

Nov 10 Mahalls – Cleveland, OH

Nov 17 Billy’s Lounge w/ Dragon Wagon – Grand Rapids, MI

Nov 20 The Ark – Ann Arbor, MI

[1] As banjoneer Tom Gunnels misleadingly told me, “Did you hear?  We won ArtPrize.” Not true, although to be fair, they did win the St. Cecelia’s ArtPrize contest in the folk/rock category.

[2] I remember distinctly one show at The Crooked Rooster where, after the end of the song “Counting Sheep” where band members are singing about the sounds bells make, Kate announced to Dan that she “liked his dong,” before realizing what this might mean to the audience.

[3] A complaint I’ve often read of hipsters is that they do not dance at concerts.  Seeing them in action at Crane Wives’ shows raises the question, “Should we be complaining that hipsters don’t dance?”

Jake Cagle is still owed a thank you card for participating in The Crane Wives Kickstarter for their first album.  Scribbling “Thank you” illegibly on a bar napkin does not count, Tom.

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Jake Cagle is a contributing writer for The Awesome Mitten. Born in Adrian, Michigan, he has been a longtime resident of Grand Rapids. He graduated from Grand Valley State University. Jake's work has also been featured on The Rapidian, MittenBrew.com, Visit Detroit Blog, and Pure Michigan's blog, as well as his personal website, jacobcagle.com.