This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.
Known for their dense arrangements and lavish live performances, Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers have become one of Michigan's best-known bands, performing at acclaimed local festivals like Electric Forest
and national festivals like South by Southwest
On Feb. 8, the hippie-pop/pyschedelic-funk-rock group will perform at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig
, but just over a week later, frontman Hertler will appear in a rare solo performance in a Feb. 17 show at The Ark
Hertler says performing solo allows him to get "reconnected" to the Rainbow Seekers' catalog and provides him with "access to parts of the song that are otherwise sometimes lost in the fray" of a wild full-band show.
"There's something about solo shows that kind of forces me to retreat back into the song," he says, adding that in the stripped-down atmosphere of a listening room like the Ark, "I can really dive into what the songs mean."
With the Rainbow Seekers, Hertler sings and plays guitar, but he's recently started to teach himself piano, and he says there's a good chance he'll play keys at the Ark, too.
"A year ago, I wouldn't have called myself a keyboardist," he says — a thought he ties in to other ideas he's been developing about mastery and professionalism.
"Maybe three or four years ago, I had this moment of being like, 'What's it mean to be a professional musician?'" Hertler says. "I don't know ... but if you call yourself a professional musician, you should probably act like one."
For Hertler, that meant developing not only more intensive practice schedules, but also an entirely new frame of mind.
"There's a moment with whatever you're doing … [where] there has to be a little mindset switch," he says.
Crucial to that switch, he adds, is the statement "I am ____." However you fill in that blank "contributes to your sense of self," Hertler says.
"To reinforce that idea that you are what you say you are, you have to do what you do," he says. "If I call myself a piano player in my head, I have
to play piano. And I have to behave as a keyboard player would, which means to play every day."
Hertler doesn't just apply that maxim to playing keyboards, but also to how he conducts himself as a musician overall.
"I think everyone needs to ask themselves, like, 'What does mastering mean to me?'" he says. "What does that look like? We all have our own ceiling. And that ceiling is pretty much infinitely high. Every hour that you put in is not wasted. It's getting a little bit closer to that nebulous ceiling. ... And whatever we do, it's important to try to push towards that and realize what that mastery means."
"Granted," Hertler insists, "I'm not a virtuoso — I'm a fumble-y, average-skilled musician."
But, he adds, "[if] you just kind of start calling yourself, silently, whatever it is you think you are, then you tend to be more apt to try to prove to your own self that you are what you say you are."
Still, Hertler says his show at the Ark will take an "off the cuff" approach, because as with other solo performances, "If I do too much planning, they don't go well." He says it all depends on the kind of "buzz" or connection he establishes with the audience, adding that live music has "always been this integral part of society and community-building."
"I'd like to think people have been sitting around drum circles for as long as humans have been humans," he says.
Tickets for Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers' Blind Pig show are available here
. Tickets for Hertler's solo show are available here
Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.
Photo courtesy of Joe Hertler.
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