Music Over Michigan: From Detroit Funk to Grand Rapids Punk

Updated: Jul 8

Keeping the legacy of the iconic body of Michigan-based music alive is taken up by two Michigan natives and music veterans in the new radio show, Songs From The Trail.


Out there in Lake Michigan, you will find a little chunk of land known as Beaver Island. The place is small in size but huge in music. Thanks to two locals who had an idea during the lockdown and the island’s radio station WVBI, music from the great state of Michigan is being broadcast all over the world, and this show is gaining popularity at a record-breaking speed, with fans in NYC and as far off as Australia.


I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with the hosts of the show, Steve Girbach, and Jackson Smith who are no strangers to the music scene. Both being musicians themselves and missing the stage, they came up with the idea to have a show that showcased music with ties to Michigan. After WVBI aired the recording of what they thought would be a demo in February, the show was a hit. That initial demo show became the first installment of Song From The Trail and from there the floodgates opened.


Before the lockdown, aside from playing with his band, Steve had been involved in another successful collaboration, the Manchester Underground Music and Art Series, a monthly gathering to promote and enjoy local live music. His co-host Jackson Smith grew up submerged in the Detroit music scene and has since joined forces with a multitude of artists on various albums.


Any music lover is likely familiar with the Detroit scene. Some of the biggest music icons in history hail from the area. Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Bob Seger, Iggy Pop, and of course Jackson’s father Fred (Sonic) Smith of the influential Detroit rock band MC5 are all legends, but Steve and Jackson wanted to focus on some of the lesser-known artists of the area and that is exactly what they have done.


Michigan is a virtual treasure trove of music, and it's not just from Detroit. As a listener, I have added a stack of new albums to my collection because of Songs From The Trail.


Steve says they “have not even scratched the surface”.


“It’s more than we ever imagined'', added Jackson.


“We recently got involved with The Michigan Music Alliance, which opened up my world to all these amazing bands I had no idea about. Great songs, great bands, great musicians with large followings and I was like, how did I not know about these people?”

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A Very Special Performance | Live From Harlem, Dinosaur BBQ | Photo by Marla Mase

A live show at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem, New York with a few fans of the show, Abigail Doyle, David Rubin a Michigan native, and the show's biggest fan, Grammy nominated recording artist Jesse Paris Smith. Also pictured is True Groove executive and artist Marla Mase with guest Tomás Doncker of True Groove Records. Doncker discussed and performed his cover of Patti & Fred Smith’s iconic song “People Have The Power." Accompanying him that evening was Jackson Smith himself using his mother’s guitar.



Now that things are opening back up, Jackson will be hitting the road again but the radio show will go on. Jackson plans to take “the studio” on the road with him with the help of Cleanfeed, a collaboration tool for live audio and recording right from your browser.


Upcoming interviews include Professor Amy Porter from The University of Michigan who is an amazing flutist, Detroit punk legend Ricky Rat of the Trash Brats, R&B Pop vocalist Serena Ray, and hip-hop artist Rick Chyme, both from Grand Rapids are also on the list.


Jackson will be joining his mom and punk rock legend Patti Smith on the road as soon as Covid restrictions allow. Another WVBI special event is also in the cards. Jackson’s country-western band with his friend Zachariah Malachi (Zachariah Malachi and the Hillbilly Executives) will be having their triumphant return to the island and playing at the Circle M Restaurant and Bar on Old Church Crest Road on August 13th and 14th. Their first set of the Friday the 13th show will be broadcast on WVBI live from Circle M.


Songs From The Trail airs Saturdays at 7 pm eastern time on WVBI.net or 100.1 on the FM dial if you happen to be a local or a lucky visitor of the island.


The inside scoop reveals an additional show for Steve and Jackson may be in the works with Michigan Public Radio so keep tuning in to hear more details and find out about a few more surprises along with a lot more amazing Michigan-based music on Songs From The Trail.






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