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After 4 Decades Multi-Talented Steve Damstra Continues Musical Legacy

After 4 Decades Multi-Talented Steve Damstra Continues Musical Legacy

Written by Kim Rush



Since 1975, guitarist and singer Steve Damstra has served as a member of some of Grand Rapids’ most popular and memorable bands, including Horsefeather, Dirk Rivers, and Natchez Trace.

Currently he is the leader of yet another of our most beloved groups, namely The Trace. Steve’s continuous involvement with West Michigan’s best quality and most well-loved groups is no coincidence, as he has been recognized as one of our best local musicians for many years.  Because of his high standards, enormous talent, and his stable and easy-going personality, Steve has proven to be invaluable with every band which he has belonged to. Dirk Rivers drummer and vocalist, Dick Vogel, submits that: “Steve was always an easy guy to get along with, and I had a lot of fun on the road with him.”

Steve has always worked tirelessly and unselfishly to assure that his bands were performing at the highest possible level of musicianship. Bob Vogel, who also played with Steve in Dirk Rivers, sums it up this way: “Steve is a very good friend and a great musician. He was very easy going and we got along fine.”

Bill VanEss, who played drums with Steve in a Christian rock band called Driven, insists that “Steve is an excellent guitar player and great singer, a true professional musician. He was always striving for perfection.”

Although his role as the person in charge of The Trace is a relatively new one for Steve, it is a position that is overdue and suits him perfectly. Possessing over four decades of musical experience, there is virtually no limit as to what he will accomplish in the future.  Furthermore, his musical versatility is displayed by mastering both six and twelve string acoustic and electric guitars, the five-string banjo and the mandolin.

As Horsefeather bandmate Mark Swanson suggests, “for as long as I have known Steve, his articulate guitar playing and silky smooth voice have made him the envy of other musicians in town. He can play both electric and acoustic guitar and was in various types of bands since the early 1970s. Steve has helped make the music scene in Grand Rapids what it is today. He’s a big part of it.”

John Andrews, who also played with Steve in Horsefeather:  “Steve is my oldest friend whom I have kept in contact with, and there will always be a close connection between us. Steve has very high standards concerning how his music is performed, and he always strives to be excellent.”

Even though Steve is totally confident in his new role with The Trace, he remains modest and retains a sensible perspective:  “I don’t consider myself to be a great leader. I don’t have the personality for that. I’m certainly the farthest thing from being a dictator. I want everyone to have plenty of input and to be happy with the decisions that we all make together.”

Steve recalls that Horsefeather’s decisions were arrived at by group consensus. “It wasn’t someone’s band, it was our band. Nobody was the leader of that band. Horsefeather was cool. We were all brothers. We apply this same format with The Trace.”

Some of his other bands were dissimilar to Horsefeather in this regard. But Steve remained composed and humble in those situations. He stayed focused on his contribution to the group’s musical presentation as a sideman, rather than attempting to be the main attraction in these settings, and as a result, he and his bands succeeded.

Steve has always insisted on maintaining regular practice schedules, as well. “All the bands that I played with were exceptional because we were well rehearsed.”




Steve’s Artistic Family

Steven Craig Damstra was born in Grand Rapids on November 7, 1955. He has always been very involved with art. Even as a child, he was able to draw very well, especially animals. “My Dad had books about learning how to draw and he was a fairly good artist himself, as was my brother David. I used to copy the animals from those books.”


Steve‘s Early Guitars, Lessons and Influences

“I don’t recall being into music much as a little boy. However, there were certain songs that I really liked. Actually, it wasn’t until February 23, 1964, while watching The Ed Sullivan Show on our family’s black and white TV, that I began my musical journey. Beatles performances were broadcasted three Sundays in a row on this show. I remember seeing a close up shot of John Lennon singing ‘Twist and Shout,’ and thinking: this is exactly what I want to do!”

“I was nine years old at that time and began asking my parents for a guitar. We had some really ‘groovy’ neighbors living next door to us, Terry and Judy Stull. Terry had an Elvis haircut with pork chop sideburns. My sister used to babysit for them and he would pay her by giving her record albums by pop bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful and Sonny and Cher. Mr. Stull gave me my first guitar. It was a dark brown, sunburst color with a square neck on it. Thinking back now, I wonder if it was actually a ‘lap’ slide guitar because of the shape of the neck. It was incredibly hard to play! He also gave me a guitar lesson book. I learned how to play chords from this book. I can recall practicing ‘Down in the Valley’ from this same book.”

“At age eleven I got a new guitar from my parents for Christmas. It was a very cheap Kay guitar and was ‘nothing to write home about.’ However, it was ten times better than the square-necked guitar. I sat in my bedroom and strummed chords and sang some of the current songs that were on the radio in 1968 like ‘Green Tambourine,’ ‘Bend Me, Shape Me,’ and lots of songs by the Beatles.”

“I believe it was the following year that I received my first real guitar for Christmas. It was a Japanese-made Epiphone, and it was 100 times better than the Kay! Around this time I started taking guitar lessons at Carl’s Guitar Studio on Fulton, near Diamond. My teacher was Jeff Boughner. He was the guitarist with The Soulbenders at that time. They became a huge influence on me. I used to go to see them play. Jeff was a great guy and would always acknowledge me when I showed up. The guitar lessons with Jeff only lasted about three months, though. Jeff died in 2007.”

“During the following year I got my first electric guitar. It wasn’t a name brand. It was a Kapa ‘Continental,’ but it played great and had a good sound. I also had an Epiphone amplifier that was made in Kalamazoo at the Gibson factory. I’d give anything to still own that amp. It had two channels so I could plug both a microphone and a guitar into it.”

“Year after year I was building my musical arsenal with Christmas presents. The following year my present was an original ‘Fuzz Face’ guitar pedal, but that was not what I actually wanted. My parents let me return it and get what I actually wanted: a Vox Cry Baby wah-wah pedal. I still own it to this day and I can tell you, there are no other wah-wah pedals that sound as good as they do.”


Steve’s First Bands

“While I was in fifth grade, my friend John Andrews and I started a band. I couldn’t play guitar very well yet, but John had been playing guitar for years. We went to the music store and bought me a tambourine. We even wrote a couple of songs together. One of the songs was called ‘Fever.’ I remember that John and I used to call girls on the phone and sing to them back then.

John Andrews:  “Steve and I met in the 4th grade and we both were mesmerized by The Beatles and started learning to play guitar. We used to trade information over the phone about various songs…. what finger goes where for each chord, etc. By the time we were in junior high school we had a band called The People’s Choice and we were ‘rockin’ down’…. at least for eighth graders. Our rock band went through some changes and finally broke up due to my attempt to mix high school sports with music.”

Steve and his friend John Andrews












Steve Damstra with his Epiphone guitar; and his lifelong friend, John Andrews

Steve: “By seventh grade we had our first real band going with John and I on guitar, and Rob Heltzel on drums. We didn’t have a bass player. We were called The Stonewall Jacksons. My dad recorded us playing at some job we got.”

“I had another friend in school named Ralph Barnaby. He played drums like Keith Moon from The Who. Rob was O.K. at keeping a beat, but Ralph was a monster on the drums, in my opinion. So Rob was out, and Ralph was in. Then John started playing bass. We had another friend, Steve Limber, who joined us playing the Vox Jaguar organ. Incidentally, Steve  Limber was a cousin of Aris Hampers. Aris was in Phlegethon with my old guitar teacher Jeff Boughner at that time, so we went to hear them practice.”

“We also bought some Electro-Voice SRO speakers from them. I was playing through a Fender Bassman amplifier and put one of these speakers in my Bassman cabinet. Somehow I ‘daisy- chained’ the Bassman and my Epiphone amp together….it must have been pretty loud. I think the name of our band at that time was ‘Justus.’ We played at school dances and for a couple of Battle of the Bands, but we didn’t win, though.”

“Somewhere we met a guy named Greg Knowles. He became our manager. Greg was a musical wizard. He used to show us the parts to play for our songs. He also got us a few jobs. Greg went on to become a major music producer in New York and provided production work for the Grammy awards for a while. We kept this band going in various forms until around the tenth grade, while I was attending Ottawa Hills High School.”

“In 1972, John Andrews and I started a new band. Actually it was an acoustic duo called Cades Cove. We used to play in a bar called The Gun Room at Miracle Lanes bowling alley at 3700 Plainfield. The drinking age was 18 at that time but I was only 17. We played there every Sunday for a while. A female singer named Luann Lanham eventually joined us, and then we played at The Intersection on Wealthy S.E. and a few other school gigs before disbanding in 1973.”

John Andrews recalls: “Steve and I tried to put another band together. This time it was influenced by the first acoustic version of Natchez Trace. Steve and I created a duo called Cades Cove, and we did, or attempted to do the ‘folky,’ ‘country-ish’ music that was becoming popular in the early 70s. Eventually we added a keyboard player, but this band was also short-lived.”

Steve Damstra:  “John and I continued together, however, and while playing a noon gig at Grand Rapids Community College we were approached by a guy named Kevin Reardon. He told us that he had just played piano on Natchez Trace’s record (a 45 r.p.m. ‘single’ featuring I Miss Mississippi and Old 55.) He told us that he wanted to join our band. We hired him and played a few gigs like the noon concerts at The Calder and what turned out to be my first performance at Festival of the Arts in 1973 or 1974. Kevin was also a friend of the late WLAV disc jockey, Doc Donovan, whom we all befriended. Kevin also introduced me to a guy named Ken Nowicki who would later become the drummer for my bands, Horsefeather and Foxfire. “

“During this same time, I was attending Kendall School of Design. I graduated with a three year program degree in 1975. I was always really good at art, a natural artist. At Kendall, I met numerous artists that were also gifted musicians, and realized that being an artist and a musician often go hand- in- hand.”

“My parents spent a fortune for me to get this diploma at Kendall School of Design. Then when I graduated I went on the road with Horesefeather!”

“Ed Kettle got me a couple of paying jobs where I could use my artistic talent and training. I created logos for both P.A. City and Farrow’s Music. I also have done some freelance artwork and sold some of my pencil drawings of animals.”

FB Scan 3

A drawing of Elvis Presley by Steve Damstra  (c. 1987)





In 1975 I was still a close friend of John Andrews.  He had started a band with a guy I didn’t know named Mark Swanson. It wasn’t long before I became a member of this band, known as Horsefeather. We started with John Andrews, Mark Swanson, Dave Lubenow and myself, with Ken Nowicki running the sound. We played songs by Michael Murphy, America, traditional bluegrass and country, as well as plenty of original compositions. We called our music ‘progressive country,’ but we played everything from bluegrass to rock, including some Jethro Tull!”

“We succeeded in West Michigan. We played at lots of festivals and local bars. We were on the road quite often. We performed at the Muskegon Correctional Facility at least twice. We toured Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and all over Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. We also backed up Pure Prairie League (featuring Vince Gill, at that time) at Fruenthal Theater in Muskegon.”

While I was in this band  I experienced a period of significant growth on the guitar. I learned by watching Timmy Johnson play with a string bender.  He used to play with local favorites Ronnie Fray and Larry Ballard.  I had Timmy install one on my guitar, and learned to play parts that sounded like a pedal steel guitar.  A good example of this is “The Kinda Lady” from the Horsefeather album:”

08 The Kinda Lady

During 1979, Rick Danko (bass player and vocalist with The Band) and blues harmonica player Paul Butterfield teamed up for a tour of the United States. One of their stops was at the Great Northern Music Hall on South Division, near Burton. It used to be the 4 Star Theater. Horsefeather was hired to open for Danko and Butterfield, and ended up playing for well over an hour because Danko and Butterfield were late showing up.

Horsefeather was also scheduled to play for a concert for Poco, one of the early country rock bands which preceded The Eagles. Posters for this show were printed, but the concert was cancelled at the last minute.

HF 2


















Horsefeather;  front row: Kenny Nowicki and Steve Damstra.  back row: Mark Swanson, Dave Lubenow and John Andrews


In 1978, Horsefeather recorded a complete album of original songs. “We were one of a few local groups whose music was aired regularly on WLAV- FM. During the 1978 Christmas season, our album was the top selling record for over two weeks at Believe in Music record stores.”

“My father was the manager of Horsefeather. He set up a corporation for us and he paid for the costs of the album. It took us four days of six hour sessions per day, with ten additional hours spent mixing the tracks. There were a lot of first takes that were used on this LP! Craig King was the recording engineer. The album was done at River City Studios. Doc Donovan, a DJ from WLAV, wrote the liner notes.”

“Our band had a huge following and to this day, I still have more people remember me from this group than any other I’ve been in. My involvement with Horsefeather lasted from 1975 to late 1980. At that time Ken Nowicki and I left to join Foxfire.”












The Horsefeather album cover






According to a February 20, 1981 Grand Rapids Press interview with pianist and band originator Ted Bartlett, he originally formed Foxfire with singer Joni Markus in 1979. In January of 1981 he decided to expand the band to seven members. By late February Foxfire had replaced Dirk Rivers as the house band at Paulo’s, carrying a six month contract. Paulo’s was located at 5401 South Division.

Foxfire included a number of veteran musicians with considerable ability. Despite this surplus of talent and experience, the band soon suffered from factions. After a few months, a few original members left and were replaced.

Foxfire from GR Press article

Foxfire;  left to right:  Ronn Burke, Ted Bartlett, Lin’ Nowicki, Kenny Nowicki, Joni Markus, Steve Damstra and Jimmy Aiken


Steve Damstra: “Foxfire lasted about nine months, displaying three different ‘versions’ of the band during that short time.” The original line-up was Ted Bartlett on piano, Joni Markus and Lin’ Nowicki on vocals, Jimmy Aiken on piano and flute, Steve Damstra on guitar, Kenny Nowicki on drums and Doug Klien on bass.

“Ronn Burke joined a couple of months later after Doug left the band. This was my first band with Ronn. The second line-up was Ted Bartlett on piano, Joni Markus and Patsy Stevens on vocals, Jimmy Aiken on piano and flute, Steve Damstra on guitar, Tommy Davis on drums and Ronn on bass. The first edition of the band played at ‘Paulo’s Living Room’ for maybe three months. We then became the house band at Stella’s, located in the basement of Russo’s on Bridge Street, beginning in April. We used to rehearse there during the day, and this was also where the band called it quits.”

Lin’Nowicki: “I have enjoyed watching Steve’s evolution as a guitar player over the years.  He always took his playing very seriously. He was definitely a rising star in Horsefeather. I am very proud of ‘my little brother.’ He is a true multi-media artist…and one of the best guitar players I have EVER heard. Steve is a wonderful guy.”

“When we worked together in Fox Fire, in the early 80s, my respect for his playing really took wing.  The ‘kid’ was outstanding!  His solos were the highlight of many evenings on stage. Our friendship grew back then, but he was primarily a friend with my brother.”

“It was during my brother’s horrible battle with alcohol (Steve was playing with Natchez Trace at that time), that I really came to know Steve as an ‘all-grown-up-man.’  He and many of my brother’s friends tried so many times to help Kenny. But one-by-one, all were driven off by the horrible monster of grief that attached itself to Kenny’s addiction.”

“When I think of Steve, I can’t help but think of my brother, Ken.  They were best friends, and when my brother passed, Steve stepped in to help fill his shoes in my life. “

“After Kenny died in 2006, Steve and I connected again, mostly at places where he was playing. It was as though each time I looked into his eyes…looking at his soft smile…I then felt my ‘new’ brother, Steve, as well as my brother Ken. I just naturally began to call him ‘My Brother,’ and he often calls me ‘Sis.’ “

Another Foxfire vocalist, Joni Markus, reflects: “I have so many good memories of working with Steve and all of the members of FoxFire. Those were good times! I am proud to have had the chance to work with Steve and equally proud to call him my friend. Steve’s a great person. He is a professional in every sense of the word. He’s one of the best pickers and singers I’ve ever played with. He’s easy to work with and has a great sense of humor. His style of playing totally complimented every song we played.”

“Sometimes things were tough, as there was a lot of competition between bands which were playing in Grand Rapids at that time. But Steve always kept a positive attitude and a smile on his face.”

“In addition to the great music we played, I also cherish the fun and the laughter we shared. Foxfire was a great band for us, not only because we took the music seriously, but we also enjoyed playing practical jokes on each other.”

“Of course, there’s always a song that people request, over and over. One of these songs with Firefox was the Byrd’s “Mr. Spaceman,” which was also one of my personal favorites!”

“Because we had played this song so many times, the lead vocalist of the band, Lin’ Nowicki and I decided we needed to ‘change it up’ a bit. Steve played a really nice guitar lead in that song. Lin’ and I knew it by heart.  So without anyone else knowing it, Lin’ and I stuck kazoos in our back pockets, waiting for just the right second when Steve would start playing his lead. At that exact moment, we ‘took it over’ with our dueling kazoo solos.”

“Needless to say, it was a big surprise for everyone. The whole band broke out in laughter. It actually stopped the show! The look on Steve’s face was priceless.”












Foxfire, pictured at the entrance to Paulo’s.  front row: Ronn Burke and Joni Markus. back row: Jimmy Aikens, Ted Bartlett, Steve Damstra, Lin’ Nowicki and Kenny Nowicki

Ronn Burke had been playing with Dirk Rivers before he left to join Foxfire with pianist and flute player Jimmy Aikens. Arguably, the most important part of Ronn’s involvement with Foxfire was the musical relationship created with Steve Damstra.  When Foxfire dismantled Ronn was certain that he wanted to continue working with Steve.  Bob Vogel explains: “Dirk Rivers broke up shortly in 1981 and Ronn went with Foxfire. That band lasted about two seconds. When they broke up I asked Ronn to come back and he said that he would if we also hired Steve Damstra. We did.”

At that time Dirk Rivers included Bob on guitar, his brother Dick on drums, Ronn on bass, and Steve Damstra on guitar. All four members sang well. They ventured into country rock and ‘southern’ rock music, though Dirk Rivers had originated in 1974 as a rock band.

In December of 1981, they competed and won the local Wrangler Country Starsearch at the Alibi on Alpine, which was formerly known as the Thunderchicken. They narrowly slipped by Justin Tyme in the voting race, but the Rockabillys were also in the running. Initially, each band played for fifteen minutes (or the duration of three songs.) The four best acts played five minutes each on December 6, 1981. The regionals were held in Detroit, with Dirk Rivers placing third.

Dirk Rivers













Ronn Burke, held in the arms of Steve Damstra, Bob and Dick Vogel


Dirk Rivers was also holding down a job at Eastown Saloon on Wealthy S.E. at that time, and had bookings lined up in Cadillac, Lansing, Midland, Saginaw, and Kalamazoo.

During 1983, while they were touring Wisconsin, the band decided to change their musical format by covering current rock hits, though this experiment was very brief. A Grand Rapids Press article that was published on April 29, 1983 addressed this alteration of their style, with Bob Vogel stating that Dirk Rivers had considered trying their luck in Nashville but had decided against that move. He added that they had taken the country format “about as far as they could take it” but they had “no intention of going back, although that’s not something (they) couldn’t do.”

Steve claims that the time he spent playing guitar with Bob Vogel was another period of considerable growth with the instrument. Bob is currently the touring band leader and guitarist for Loretta Lynn. Bob Vogel recalls: “Steve and I were able to work up several twin leads and I thought our sound was great.” Dick Vogel confirms: “I thought Steve was the best guitar picker in Horsefeather. Steve complimented Bob’s lead guitar playing very nicely with his rhythm playing in Dirk Rivers. He could also kick out some tasty leads, especially in the country and country-rock vein.” In 1984 Steve and Ronn left the Vogel brothers to recreate another acoustic guitar version of Natchez Trace with Kevin Radeke. Kevin was one of the early members of the band when it was formed in the 1970s. From an August 1984 Grand Rapids Press article which celebrated this reformation of Natchez Trace, Steve suggested that they were now playing “the kind of music that we really enjoy doing.”

Steve recalls that “Kevin, Ronn and I could harmonize so tight that you could sometimes hear the overtones and it sounded like five people singing!”

Kevin Radeke, Steve Damstra and Ronn Burke 2Kevin Radeke, Steve Damstra and Ronn Burke


This trio took virtually no time to gather momentum. On 9.5.84 they performed for Celebration on the Grand.  “We were working drummer Tom Dever into the band at that time, so we played half of the show with three pieces and the second half of the show with Tom.” They were also holding down an engagement at Chilly’s on 28th Street (not the existing restaurant called Chili’s) and then moved to The Swingin’ Door in Comstock Park.

As Dever was added on drums, Ronn shifted to bass, and they began to perform classic rock while retaining some of their lighter tunes, as well. During the Natchez Trace ‘rock band’ era, they opened for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels as well as Rare Earth.

1.20.86 NT with Rare EarthNatchez Trace opened for Rare Earth on 1.20.1986

During the following year (1985) Kevin left and was replaced by John Andrews, Steve’s childhood friend and fellow member of Horsefeather. This version of Natchez Trace became a “classic oldies” band, featuring cover versions of popular bands like the Beatles, Hollies and the Grassroots.

John Andrews: “Steve and I found ourselves playing together again in the new Natchez Trace, performing what has become known as ‘classic rock.’ It’s my contention that we were the first local band to do that, but that may be debatable. I think I was in and out of Natchez Trace three times during the 80s and 90s, but Steve was always there.”

Natchez Trace embraced this rock and roll approach for a full decade, until 1995, retaining Tom Dever as their drummer during this entire period. Other personnel changes during this stage included the departure of John Andrews, with Roger Matthews (who played with Zebec in the mid 1970s) replacing him in 1988. Coincidentally, John returned in 1990 but left again in 1993 (replaced by Dave Clausen) and finally rejoined again in 1995 during the last three months of Natchez Trace’s phase as a rock band.

From 1995 to 1997, Natchez Trace once again reverted to the acoustic guitar trio arrangement. This adaptation of the band is recognized by Steve as “Natchez Trace Unplugged” and featured Ronn, Steve and guitarist/vocalist Max Morrison. On August 16, 1996, this trio served as the opening act for The Grassroots at a huge outdoor concert and pyrotechnics display in Muskegon called Skyrockin’ 96.  It was sponsored by the Pyrotechnics Guild International. Steve maintains that this was the largest audience that he has ever performed for.

Natchez Trace_ left to right Steve Damstra, Ronn Burke and  Max Morrison

Steve Damstra, Ronn Burke and Max Morrison

In 1997, Natchez Trace broke up when Steve decided to leave. They played their final show at the Rio Grande restaurant.

Steve: “I actually didn’t play for a while after I left Natchez Trace; maybe not for a year and a half. Then I played in a Christian rock band called Driven for about a year or so before I finally began doing my solo act. Mark VanderKolk played bass. He is currently with The Lazy Blue Tunas and has also played with Nobody’s Fault. Sarah Bryska sang and played guitar, as well.  We played at Bella Vista Church and other churches, primarily.”

Bill VanEss, the band’s drummer, recalls that “Driven was created by Mark Van Der Kolk around 2000. Mark asked Sarah Bryska and I if we would be interested in starting a Christian rock band to play for youth groups. Sarah knew Steve and asked him to join. I went to high school with Steve but I didn’t know him at that time. I had seen him play in a couple of different bands, Horsefeather and Natchez Trace, which were both excellent. Steve is an excellent guitar player and great singer, a true professional musician, and a very gifted photographer. He was always striving for perfection. With Steve our vocals were quite strong. We played at Festival a couple of times and at various churches for worship services as well as some special Christian events. We were together for about three years. Steve eventually began working as a solo. This began to interfere with our band’s engagements so he decided to leave the band. We were sorry to have him leave. Driven broke up after Steve left.”

Steve Damstra: “I played my solo act for about three years (2002-2005) and I believe that it made me a much stronger guitar player…on the acoustic guitar, anyway. During that time I used a harmonizer with my vocals, because I was so accustomed to having people sing harmony with me in the bands I had been in. I eventually felt comfortable enough to do away with the harmonizer and just sang and played my guitar without it.”

“I had a booking agent that helped me get jobs while I was working as a single.  I played at Calli’s on 28th Street, One Trick Pony and Old Boy’s, to name a few.”

Horsefeather reunion 2005


Horsefeather 2005: John Andrews, Jim Saltsman, Steve Damstra, Mark Swanson and Mark Svekric


In June of 2005, Horsefeather reunited to rehearse and played at a reunion concert for Festival of the Arts. “We did all original songs from our album at this concert and were seriously considering keeping the band together again. But John Andrews had a truck driving job that would not permit him to be a regular part of the band, which left us in limbo in terms of playing regularly.”

To further complicate Steve’s situation, toward the end of 2005 he was asked to join Ronn Burke and Robin Spring, who had been operating as a duet. They were working steady, so Steve chose to join them, instead of continuing with Horsefeather.

Robin possesses deep musical experience and considerable talent, so it was tempting for Steve to jump onboard with her and Ronn. Her parents and grandparents were all good musicians, and Robin has also enjoyed a long career as a top-notch singer and guitarist.

Once again the Natchez Trace name was resurrected, and this trio played their first job together in early 2006. Their performance schedule began to build steadily and promptly. They played five years in a row as the headline act for the downtown Grand Rapids 4th of July Fireworks celebration. Other high profile engagements include Celebration on the Grand, the kick-off party for Art Prize, as well as an election party for Governor Granholm. They opened for a concert with Jonathan Edwards, were the warm up act for a Joe Piscopo performance, and set the attendance record at the Lowell Showboat. They also performed twice at the Muskegon Celebration, as well as at many private parties, local bars and restaurants.

Natchez Trace

Steve Damstra, Robin Spring and Ronn  Burke

In 2010, Steve, Robin and Ronn, under the direction of Ed Kettle, decided to record a remake of the 1970s Natchez Trace recording of Ol’ 55 at River City Studios, in Grand Rapids. This session was video recorded, as well.

Steve Damstra at River City Studios 2010












Steve Damstra at River City Studio


Steve, Robin and Ronn harmonizing during one of their popular outdoor shows


The Trace

In May of 2011, Ronn left Natchez Trace. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Mark Lamm was hired to take his place. In the 1970s, Mark played with a band named Dayspring and with the duet, Martin and Lamm. Moving to California in 1981, he played bass for Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee, and recorded extensively. Mark is also an accomplished songwriter. He returned to Grand Rapids in 2010.

Steve, Robin and Mark renamed their band The Trace, and continue to keep pace with an extremely busy performing schedule, especially in the summer months. The Trace has already set attendance records for all “Concerts in the Parks” held at Grand Haven and Spring Lake.

The Trace.  Mark Lamm, Steve Damstra and Robin Spring










The Trace: Mark Lamm, Steve Damstra and Robin Spring

Steve:  “We have a CD that we released in 2011 called ‘Steppin’ Up,’ recorded live at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake. We were recently notified that our CD was nominated by WYCE for the Jammie Awards for ‘CD of the Year’ as well as the ‘Traditional CD of the Year.’ ”

“We would also like to record an album of all-original compositions when we have the time to get together as a group and do this properly. I’ve written some pretty cool stuff…lots of it while I was really depressed. “ (Steve laughed and smirked when he said this, even though he was totally serious about what he had said.)

Here’s a  video of ‘TheTrace’ performing a song that Robin and Steve wrote, called “I Am”


“Robin and I have only been with Mark for two and a half years now, but we are already rivaling the quality of vocal harmony obtained in any band I’ve been in thus far!!  The Trace is among the very best bands that I have been in.”


Sincere thanks to Bob and Dick Vogel, Lin’ Otherlyn, Bill VanEss, Joni Markus, John Andrews, Tom Dever and Mark Swanson for contributions to this article.

Steve Damstra deserves huge credit for his patience and major contributions as this article was compiled over a number of months.


FA ~ 2/9/2013-3/4/2013 ~ 12/1/2013 – 12/7/2013 ~ 12/8/2013 – 1/10/2014

9 Responses to After 4 Decades Multi-Talented Steve Damstra Continues Musical Legacy

  1. Wow, what a great article. Thorough, too. I can’t remember if Steve was with Dirk Rivers when they were the house band at Paolo’s. We shared the stage with them and they were awesome. I did, however, see Steve with the Trace and thought they were really great. Talent abides!

  2. Dave Tonning says:

    I am one of the original members of a group called Masai from Grand Rapids back in the seventies. I recognize some of the band names in here very interesting website.

  3. MJ Matheson says:

    Steve is the personification of a soul evolved sharing the significance of sweet, sweet life!

  4. Robin Spring says:

    Stevie is an authentic and true artist. Musician, photographer, fine artist, designer~ He sees, hears and feels with his heart which shines through in his amazing art, compassionate nature and gentle spirit. To know him is to love him.

  5. John Janssens says:

    Steve is such a great musician and such a great guy as well. My daughters want to see him as much as I do not only for his immense talent but also for the great hugs he gives. He is such a nice guy both off and on the stage and really takes the time to thank his fans.

  6. Dick Beatty says:

    Well done Kim,I heard all of those bands I think,all good bands.

  7. aubrey says:

    This article was amazing… I love my dad Steve damstra so much he is so talented and always amazes me! I hope to make a difference in music the way he did one day!!

  8. Glenn J says:

    A great read on a great musician.

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