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Ralston Bowles

Nationally respected Americana artist Ralston Bowles’ Tuesday Evening Music Club series has made him a leading champion of West Michigan’s music scene.

Ralston Bowles has hosted the Tuesday Evening Music Club series at Meijer Gardens for the past decade.

There likely would be no Tuesday Evening Music Club at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park without Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Ralston Bowles.

Indeed, the West Michigan singer-songwriter scene wouldn’t be what it is today if not for this iconic artist and champion of regional music.

Through thick and thin, a battle with colon cancer, and the ups and downs of the always-fickle music business, Bowles not only has managed to release three highly praised and nationally acclaimed Americana studio albums (“Carwreck Conversations,” “Rally at the Texas Hotel” and “Little Miracles”) but has hosted 10 seasons of Tuesday Evening Music Club concerts at Meijer Gardens’ outdoor amphitheater.

During that impressive run, dozens of local and regional bands and solo acts have raised their profiles, furthered their careers and earned their musical stripes in front of thousands of new and old fans in a venue that Bowles describes as “the most world-class facility” that Grand Rapids has seen in a long time.

This year alone, the series — sponsored by WYCE-FM, Michigan Radio and Corporate Sound — has spotlighted a kaleidoscopic blend of music: funk (Funktion), bluegrass (Fauxgrass Quartet), folk-rock (The Crane Wives, Drew Nelson, Wallace Collective), country (Kari Lynch Band), pop (Garrett Borns, The Icicles), world music (Grupo Aye), honky-tonk (Delilah DeWylde & the Lost Boys), rock (Valentiger), blues (Blue Molly) and much more.

It’s become one of those stages where everyone aspires to play.

The Tuesday Evening Music Club shows have become weekly destinations for families and music fans.

Of course, Meijer Gardens staff and volunteers have worked hard to make the series an inviting, family-friendly affair, with upwards of 2,000 people coming through on some Tuesday nights to tour the gardens and sculpture park and listen to the music.

As Bowles puts it, serious artists who’ve paid their dues and are serious about their musical careers deserve “something more than a dark pub” to showcase their songs.

That includes Bowles, who founded the series, hosts the weekly shows, provides input into bookings and can be seen every Tuesday night hawking the CDs of bands on stage – something he’s also done regularly at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids as part of the Hat Trick Concert Series and other acoustic shows.

So as is tradition, Bowles will close the final edition of the 2012 Tuesday Evening Music Club series next week with a special “Ralston & Friends” performance that will feature the Sweet J Band along plus yet-to-be-named mystery guests with a national profile.

To give performers more time to play, the special show will start early, at 6 p.m. Tuesday. As usual, admission is free to Meijer Gardens members, with regular entry fees for everyone else ($12 adults; discounts for seniors and children).

To help preview Tuesday’s concert, the hat-sporting Bowles dropped into the studios of News Talk 1340 AM this week to discuss the series and offer up a Local Spins Live exclusive, playing a brand new song, “Norman Blake’s Guitar.”

You can listen to a podcast of the entire show here, and watch a video of his in-studio performance below. (Check out last week’s Local Spins Live guest, Juliet Bennett Rylah of The Fainting Generals here.)

Because he’s a widely respected Americana artist, Bowles’ songs have been covered by many other performers, and he’s been asked to contribute to a host of different music compilations over the years. He’s currently writing a song for a compilation tribute to legendary folk performer and dulcimer revivalist Jean Ritchie.

Not surprisingly, Bowles also has been a longstanding proponent of musical collaboration and community-building.

That includes promoting Michigan bands from the stage and even bringing artists together in the studio for 12 straight hours to see what happens musically as he did awhile back at Mackinaw Harvest Music. During that marathon one-day session engineered by Michael Crittenden, Bowles assembled singers and musicians Seth Bernard, May Erlewine, Drew Howard, Michael Van Houten, Rachael Davis and Dominic Davis to accompany him on a series of songs to create a memorable musical partnership. The “12 Hour” CD is available at Earthwork Music online here (with more about Bowles at his ReverbNation site).

It’s just one example of the region’s special musical camaraderie, and local artists’ willingness to cooperate and support worthy causes.

“We’re all helping to collaborate and make things happen,” Bowles insisted. “It’s finding ways to give. … If you write from the perspective of where you’re at, you’re going to hit people where they’re at. If you give away things of who you are and you contribute to community, community will contribute back to you. I’m a firm believer in that.”


Email: jsinkevics@gmail.com

8/26 – 9/2

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