Q&A with Alexander Steward, the new organizer of the Lunch Beats concert series: ‘Music brings joy’

There’s a good chance fans of downtown Farmington are already familiar with Alexander Steward. Maybe you’ve seen him working the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market, which he’s done since 2015. Or perhaps you’re familiar with Swing Farmington, the swing dancing group Steward’s been organizing and DJing since 2010 — although on hiatus since COVID-19 arrived, Steward hopes to soon revive the long-running event. Venturing further out, Steward also runs Ann Arbor’s Westside Farmers’ Market, which has become known as much for its vendors as the musicians Steward books to play each week.

This is all to say that Alexander Steward is a man of many hats. His latest cap to don brings him back to downtown Farmington as the new organizer for Lunch Beats in Riley Park, a weekly concert series that begins at noon each Wednesday throughout the summer. Kyle Chase kicks things off on Wednesday, June 8, and Bob Skon closes things out on Wednesday, Aug. 24. The family-friendly event features free live music, food vendors, and appearances from local businesses.

Steward’s been tasked with bringing an exciting new energy to the concert series and has a wealth of experience — and connections — to do so. And given his enthusiasm for supporting the region’s rich music scene, it will be no surprise when he does just that.

We spoke with Alexander Steward late last month to get an idea of the shape of things to come. 

Metromode: Let’s start at the top. What is the Lunch Beats concert series?

Alexander Steward: Really the idea around it is people can come bring their lunch, come experience a little live music during the middle of their week, and just take a break from whatever's going on. It’s about being able to enjoy the great outdoors and be able to hear some great local artists play for them for an hour. It definitely has more of a coffee shop vibe to it, in the sense that it's a little bit more low key. But it's a lot of fun, just a little reprieve from the rest of your day. Music brings joy to a lot of people.

Metromode: What do you have planned this year?

Alexander: We’re going to have some different musicians come in, bringing some different styles. And we’ll bring in a little familiarity with some of the folks that have played at the Farmington Farmers Market, musicians that are really popular that I've seen over the years. But we’ll bring some freshness to it, too, in trying to have different styles, different folks playing different songs; some are playing more original songs, some are gonna play some covers. You're gonna get a lot of different things with Lunch Beats. We're also trying to reach more people and connect with more people, bringing in some younger musicians and also some folks who have more experience performing.

Metromode: Tell us about this year’s lineup. What can we look forward to?

Alexander: Chris DuPont is one of the ones I'm really excited about. That was a really big and exciting thing for me because Chris has headlined The Ark in Ann Arbor. He’s played around and he's pretty well known, he’s been on the radio with 107.1 FM and I know WDET has mentioned him before on Culture Shift. And I really, really enjoy Chris’s music. I've seen him play a lot over the years and so I'm really excited to bring him in; he's a little bit of a known name in the area and he's traveled and toured around the Midwest. Lilly MacPhee is another one who I know travels and has done tours and different things. Heart Cruise is one that I think a lot of folks are going to really enjoy. They have a little bit more of a rock and roll type of feel to them, they’re a lot of fun. 

All the musicians just bring something different to the table. I mean, that's one of the things I really like about our lineup is they all have their own individual things that they do. Great original songs, great covers, and they all just seem to understand the audience. Supporting musicians who are looking for places to play is part of the joy of this for me. When you meet great musicians, they're glad when other people appreciate what they’re doing, they’re glad to have the opportunity to be exposed to different areas of town. And that might open up more doors and more opportunities to play even more, whether it's at a restaurant or a coffee shop, or a concert series, or a private event or anything like that. There's a lot of great styles and different perspectives and different types of musicians.

Metromode: What goes into making a concert series like Lunch Beats a success?

Alexander: Oh, that's a good question. I think first and foremost, you have to have good music. I think if you don't have a good musician or a good band playing then the rest of the experience is not going to be as enjoyable. I think, too, with an outdoor music show, it’s about having the right setting for it. The Walter Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park — I’ve done a lot of events there running Swing Farmington and working with the farmers market and it is an incredible venue. I think it's very underrated. I think a lot of folks living in other communities don't realize how amazing our pavilion is compared to a lot of other places. So it’s about having a great venue, having great musicians, and then it’s the people being excited to listen to live music. That’s the other thing. The people there are enjoying themselves. That's what matters most: people being able to connect with each other through music and just being able to have a reprieve from whatever's going on today, whether it's going to an evening concert or a lunchtime concert. It’s about being able to have that connection and community and sharing that love of music together.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.