Vuela Grito: Picardo celebrates 25 years as an international artist

Picardo explained to me the meaning behind the name of his recent show, Vuela Grito. “It means to yell or scream loudly, from deep within your soul,… from a kind of spiritual place”

That’s not a real surprise if you already know him. Much about Picardo’s body of work suggests a certain sensitivity, or a sense of self-awareness in regards to the existential forces in nature, and within our own lives. Picardo’s passionate visual narratives are openly apparent in his use of vibrant colors, bold and seductive lines and shading, and sensual shapes. His sense of humility, and a genuine interest in meaningfully connecting on a deeper level with the viewer, serves as a perfect balance to temper his vision into something so readily appealing to so many people.

The show was held at the Goei Center in southwest Grand Rapids. Several notable speakers from the community came and spoke about how Picardo has dedicated so much of his time building relationships within the hispanic communities in Grand Rapids and Holland over the last two decades. They spoke of how much his work and his contributions to art, music, and dance meant to those in the community.

A brief slide show of Picardo’s work was presented. Dance presentations were made; An avant garde solo performance by Laura Armenta was conducted to some luxurious sounding classical music (yes, I should know the piece, but I don’t!). A gentleman gave some demonstrations of traditional mexican dance, doing a hat dance, and then breaking out two machetes and utilizing them (which made the photographers go insane!). A family of 6 performers conducted some brilliant traditional african drumming and story telling.

Music was played by a local latin band between sections of the show, which kept everything flowing seamlessly as the next segment was being setup. The night culminated with a rare spoken word and drum performance by Picardo and select friends.

As I packed up and said goodbyes, I was struck by how perfectly assembled and flawless the whole event seemed. The 3 hours that I spent there felt as if only 45 minutes could have passed. The food, the people, the colors, the music… it all went by in such a furious and flowing  blur of responsive emotions and expressions of joy that it was almost overwhelming…. which for me, kind of describes the visual word that Picardo has constructed for us.

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An Irregular Heartbeat: The Artists & History of Heartside Gallery & Studio


An Irregular Heartbeat: The Artists & History of Heartside Gallery & Studio is a new book recently released to showcase the diversity and culture from a wide range of artists working throughout the last 20 years at Heartside Gallery in downtown Grand Rapids MI.

If you aren’t familiar with Heartside Gallery, it is an all-inclusive, volunteer supported, community resource and asset ran by Heartside Ministries. They help people in the neighborhood heal themselves through art… help people to discover real value within themselves by means of creative expression, and to constructively build upon difficult, even sometimes traumatic life experiences.

“Heartside Gallery and Studio offers the downtown Grand Rapids Heartside community a supportive and safe environment to create self-taught and intuitive art. Our artists come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some have experienced the disadvantages and hardships of homelessness. Others suffer from various emotional, physical or mental disabilities.”–

I recently attended the book signing party for the book, An Irregular Heartbeat: The Artists & History of Heartside Gallery & Studio, which featured the design work of Lydia VanHoven and photography by Michael Cook. Many of the artists featured in the book were on hand to meet the public, discuss their experiences at Heartside, and sign autographs.

Mayor George Heartwell (who was a longtime pastor for Heartside Ministries) was on hand to dedicate the book, gave a great impromptu speech. Michael and Lydia were presented with portraits as a sign of appreciation for their hard work in making the book a reality. The arts coordinator Sarah Scott also spoke briefly about the last few years at Heartside Gallery before having a gigantic tropical plant bestowed upon her by some of the featured artists.IMG_7280

Art by many of the artists, in a surprising umber of different media, was hung prominently throughout the gallery. Photographs of some of the artists featured in the book were also on display. In addition to tons of great food supplied from local businesses, copies of the book, as well as screen-printed t-shirts were available.

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originally published in the

The Wallace Collective released their self-titled EP in May 2013.

The aptly named opening track “Old Tired Bastard” unleashes a cantankerous, banjo-driven ramble of a tune. Like a rusted out Chevy pickup barreling down a mountain road in a thunderstorm, the intense, and somewhat moody, minor key feel to the track testifies to the band’s appreciation of the appalachian roots music tradition as the song’s dark narrative is laid out. The splashy cymbals and overall tight percussive feel of the band on “Old Tired Bastard” is deeply complex and introspective, yet clearly reveling in a certain sense of reckless abandon.

cover The transition to “Hesitating Hands” brings the band into more delicate territory, with its bright, jangling acoustic guitars, and the vocals of Olivia Johnson. The production work in the studio, the tone of her voice, and the instrumentation is reminiscent of The Cranberries in many ways. The song also serves as a nice contrast from the opening track, and shows some promise of diversity from The Wallace Collective’s little musical bag of tricks.


The track “Like I Do” embodies a very respectable “vintage” vibe with its remarkable blend of late 50’s/early 60’s guitar work worthy of comparison to the studio musicians from Motown, Stacks Records, or Mussel Shoals Sound Studios. The duet vocals carry a very strong 1950‘s era sensibility, drenched in that intangible, iconic sound found only in early doo-wop or rock-n-roll (from when that term was dangerous!). The woody baritone of the male vocals (Kevin Fein) intermingle seamlessly with the buoyancy of the female counterpoint. Because the track is earnest in its approach, free from any trace of irony or faux-nostalgia, its honesty and pure beauty shine through brilliantly. If this song doesn’t make you believe in love again, then maybe you’d better check your pulse….



As Brandon Muske takes the lead vocals on “Long Winter”, the band again abruptly changes direction, delivering a perfectly somber and moody track rich in melancholy. His smoky, half-whisper vocals  establish a more vulnerable mood as the tremelo-saturated organ wells up from below like silty flood waters. The song feels like warm comfort on a cold and grey overcast day.

And just as “Water Veins” brings back the organic, acoustic feel to the album, with its intricate violin and banjo work backing Johnson’s beautifully executed, airy vocals, The Wallace Collective finishes off with the one thing that this EP was needing; A serious rocker with the amps turned all the way up to eleven!



“If You Really Knew Me” satisfies that itch for a full-tilt, all out jam, allowing the band to flex a little muscle. With it’s quasi-psychedelic, almost-arena-rock roar (think of “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young) the band proves that they have a dangerous side (they ain’t no sensitive, sissy-fied indie hipsters!) before they bring the whole thing crashing down in a marvelous cascade of decaying delay and feedback.

The Wallace Collective EP has a little bit of everything, yet manages to maintain a sense of cohesiveness, while wisely leaving the listener satisfied, but still wanting just a little bit more.

for more info about the Wallace Collective, vist the following:

or contact them via emil at

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“The Trials of Henry Kissinger” screening at the Bloom Collective

originally published in the Rapidian


image                                                                                                                                                      Grand Rapids infoshop The Bloom Collective (8 Jefferson SE, Grand Rapids) will host a screening of the documentary “The Trials of Henry Kissinger“.

The film is based on the book by Christopher Hitchens, and examines some of the allegations of war crimes aimed atHenry Kissinger, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the Nixon Administration. The film calls into question the actions of Kissinger in regards to U.S. foreign policy and involvement in Indochina, Bangladesh, Chile, East Timor, and Cyprus.

“The Trials of Henry Kissinger” is portrayed from the perspective that Hitchens approaches the narrative by maintaining a focus on the accusations and evidence that would potentially stand up, based on precedents like Nuremberg, in the international courts.


The screening of the film is in response to Kissinger’s visit to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids on Monday, May 6th. Requests for a statement from the office of Henry Kissinger in regards to the film, and whether he would be attending the screening, were unanswered.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger” at The Bloom Collective (8 Jefferson SE, Grand Rapids)


6pm, Tuesday May 7th, 2013

The film showing is open to the public and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

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Local Music Review: “Softer Sticks” by Chain of Lakes

originally published in the Rapidian


On Saturday, May 4th 2013, Grand Rapids MI band Chain of Lakes releases their newest album, “Softer Sticks”.

The 9 track album opens with the instrumental “Something Along Those Lines”, a brief meditation featuring a beautifully processed vocal harmony  juxtaposed against the song’s delicate phrasing on strings. A “Tom Yorke meets Nickel Creek” vibe momentarily manifests before transitioning flawlessly into “Follow”, which due to its energy is definitely the stand out track on the album.

After the strong opening, “Softer Sticks” takes on an increasingly internalized, gentler sense of self-introspection. Elements of that high, lonesome Nashville twang intertwined with lyrics more breathed than actually sang, supported by softly articulated arpeggios, all adds up to “Softer Sticks” landing somewhere on the map between Ryan Adams and Iron & Wine.

The addition of steel guitar, as well as violin, and expanding the vocals by adding a strong female voice into the mix, balances out the sound of Chain of Lakes as the band evolves from the solid foundation established on their 2011 release “Kind of Quiet“.

While still retaining their strong West Michigan roots sound, evident in the clean, crisp execution of the instrumentation, the impact of adding new members to the lineup shows itself in a new layer of sophistication that expands the band’s musical dialogue.

Founder’s Brewing Company will hosting the cd release party for “Softer Sticks”. The show will also feature the Wallace Collective, who will also be releasing their self-titled EP. The show starts at 9pm, with Strawberry Heritage in the opening slot. Admission is $5 at the door, 21 and older.

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The Banjo Gods Demand a Blood Sacrifice;The Hangdog Hearts


To see the Hangdog Hearts live in concert is to witness firsthand the raw potential of a one man band in all its unruly glory.

Born out of the frustration of not being able to keep a reliable band lineup cemented together, Austin Stirling chose to push on and evolve the sound of the Hangdog Hearts into a more stripped down, sustainable version of his musical vision.

The solid guitar and banjo work is still there. The rhythm section has transformed into kick pedals handling the bass drum, snare, cymbal, and tambourine, and manages to carry the songs better than many drummers can do with all four limbs dedicated to keeping the beat. Stirling’s fiesty, salt-of-the-earth vocals are punctuated by the addition of a 2nd microphone (possibly a Copperphone?) that he alternates into the mix, lending that classic scratchy “telephone” sound at vital points in the songs’ narratives.

Combining all of these elements, Stirling has managed to assemble a musical-mechanical beast that is a series of conflicting extremes: Insightful reflection inverts into bouts of murderous rage. Reckless self indulgence gives way to compassionate concern for others. The search for a meaningful relationship with a higher power struggles against a grim acceptance of inevitable damnation brought on by nefarious misdeeds.

The Hangdog Hearts prove that a one man band has no excuse for being thin on sound, shallow in depth, or missing horsepower in the delivery and execution. When the Hangdog Hearts play, people connect, the feel something, they get up off of their asses and dance! That’s a hell of a lot more than many “full” bands manage to ever do.

The Hangdog Hearts has a new ablum coming out in 2013, do yourself a favor and get it here 

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Lou Shields and the high science of low fidelity


I met Lou Shields at a gig at the Tip Top Deluxe in Grand Rapids, MI. Since then I have had the privilege of playing a 2nd gig with him in Chicago.

Immediately what struck a chord with me in regards to Lou’s musical approach, is that his sound is emblematic of what is at the core of “real” American music, meaning the rootsy, deep, raw music coming from the immigrants and early settlers that occupied this land. The sound is in the soil, in the air, radioactive and insinuating its way into the very atomic structure of your body.

For me, a major part of the attraction to Lou’s sound, is the driving, hypnotic quality that a lot of his tunes are built upon. A throbbing, humming, buzzing, sitar-like pulse… like some primordial mantra rising up from the depths of the collective consciousness of the American diaspora.

Another aspect of Lou Shields’ music that is notable is his combination of primitive percussion and loose sense of timing or phrasing. The harshness of the slide bottle clashing on guitar strings, a kick drum pedal pounding heartbeat rhythms on a 5 gallon bucket, broken skateboard decks stacked with rusty license plates and bolted on bottlecaps. Its the sound of an old Model T falling apart as it winds down a mountain road. A lineman’s tool belt falling off a ladder. The jailer’s keys striking the tumblers on the cell door locks.


His music embodies a certain honesty and humbleness that you only really encounter in people that never knew what it was like to have an easy life handed to them. People with dirt on their hands, worn out faces, hollow and hungry eyes, aching backbones know that sound… and so do you.

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