Everything’s coming up live music in downtown Farmington these days

Everything’s coming up live music in downtown Farmington these days.


Yes, throughout the summer, you can head to Farmington’s Sundquist Pavilion for Lunch Beats on Wednesday at noon; Family Fun in Riley Park on select Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.; and Rhythms in Riley Park nearly every Friday, from 7-9 p.m.


Tom Birchler, who emcees and runs both Lunch Beats (now in its second year) and Rhythms, went from performing in Riley Park – with his band, Paisley Fogg – to taking Rhythms’ reins in 2014.




“The first year I did it, … Riley Park, at that time, was under construction,” said Birchler. “The compass in the middle, the paver paths, the steps leading down into the park – they were in the midst of doing all that construction that summer, so my first year, we were down on Grand River, in the gazebo across from the high-rise senior living space.”


Back then, Birchler only emceed, and bands would bring their own sound system – so the series only sounded as good as each artist’s equipment.

Rhythms in Riley Park. Photo by David Lewinski.


But Birchler wanted the series to have consistently good production quality, so when it was time to draw up a proposal for the following year, Birchler offered to supply and oversee the sound equipment at each Rhythmz show (which is where you’ll usually spot him every Friday night).


“I just put on another one of my hats,” said Birchler. “My roadie hat, my sound mixer hat. It was nice because I was able to get a better quality of sound every week. … And it was easier for the bands to just show up with their guitars and amps and stuff. It allows them to work cheaper, too. So it’s worked well, and the budget for the talent goes further than it otherwise might.”


Birchler’s next tweak involved the lighting for Rhythms.


“By August, I noticed, you could hardly see the band as it got later because it was too dark,” said Birchler. “There was a little overhead lighting in the pavilion, but it wasn’t enough, so I decided I’d bring in some lighting, too, to make it even more professional. So I added that service to the contract the next year.”

Rhythms in Riley Park. Photo by David Lewinski.


But Birchler still wasn’t done making improvements. “The year after that, I noticed that a lot of people came out a half hour before the show started when there was nothing happening on stage,” he said. “So I thought, why don’t we have an opening act? Maybe someone with an acoustic guitar. Some warm-up entertainment. And with that, we went from one and a half hours to hours. Two hours for the price of none.” (Rhythms is funded by various sponsorship partners and the DDA.)


Birchler thought the 25-minute opening slot in a professional stage environment, with a large, built-in audience, would be a great opportunity for both young up-and-comers and older musicians looking for a new outlet.


“It’s been very well-received,” Birchler said of the addition of an opening act. “ … And having the headliner start at 7:30 instead of 7 gives people a little more time to get there. Plus, it’s a little cooler. Early on, we had some brutally hot summers, and there’s only shade in part of the park. … These are all things I brought to it as a way to make (Rhythms) a better experience, and make it a little different.”




Meanwhile, those who work in downtown Farmington, or find themselves nearby on Wednesdays at noon, can also enjoy live music with their lunch, courtesy of Lunch Beats.


“That was Kate Knight’s idea,” Birchler said, referring to the Farmington DDA’s Executive Director. “She saw a Sonic Lunch show in Ann Arbor, and she thought we should try and do something like that here. … The key is getting workers to come down here for lunch. It’s been going pretty well so far. Some retirees, some younger people – there’s been a good mix. And all the daycare kids come over, too.”


Finally, Family Fun in Riley Park is marking its 13th season, and it’s funded by sponsors, the DDA, and the Friends of the Library.


The Farmington Branch Library’s own Maria Showich-Gallup (also known as “Miss Maria”) is the series’ director. “Each year, I try to bring in a big name performer, like Jim Gill,” said Showich-Gallup. “This year, it is Ralph’s World (July 10th), and this will be his second time coming.”

Rhythms in Riley Park. Photo by David Lewinski.


Though music often plays a starring role in Family Fun events, the entertainment on offer can vary.


“I do try to mix (things) up with a magician, or some other type of act,” said Showich-Gallup. “This year, we also have a circus group who performed for us before (Cirque Amongus, August 21) and is really amazing.”



The stalwart Rhythms series mixes things up, too, featuring seven returning performers this year and five brand new acts (like Chicago-based The Right Now, which received an adoring crowd reception at their June 14th show).


“Groups like Billy Mack and the Juke Joint Johnnies – if I didn’t bring them back, people would have my head,” said Birchler. (Billy Mack fills Rhythm’s slot on July 26th this year.) “In a lot of ways, they’re the perfect band. They play family friendly material, but (Mack) has a style that’s identifiable. … He’s a tremendous front man. He’s hardly on stage at all. He spends most of the time out in the audience. People love him, and he’s just a great entertainer. He’s going to be here every year until he hangs it up.”


Other returnees are the Beatles tribute band Dig a Phony, while among this year’s newbies are the Ann Arbor band Chirp, and the Skye Island Band, whose show will happen during the Farmington Founders Festival.


“Since the festival will now be in Shiawassee Park, that opens up Riley Park for a twelfth concert, so it’s kind of a freebie,” said Birchler. “ … We’ve never had a real modern jazz type group, so I put that in for that week and sponsored the concert myself. I figured that after producing this for six years, it was time to give back a little bit.”


Birchler likes to feature bands that do both covers and compelling original work, but there’s another common thread.


“If you can’t sing, you’re not going to get on my stage,” said Birchler. “ … I want performers who can sing, who have a sense of stagecraft, and who do all that extra stuff to entertain the audience and engage them. I’m always looking for that quality. … I could do twelve weeks of tribute bands or classic rock bands, but then it would be nothing special. That would just be a band you could see in any bar on any Friday night.”


The most recent addition to the Rhythms series is a local painter, Chris Reed, who works on a canvas in front of the crowd while a band performs.

Rhythms in Riley Park. Photo by David Lewinski.


Birchler hatched the idea to integrate Reed into Rhythms after watching a visual artist work alongside a high school orchestra at a concert. “I thought it was a cool idea, to mix visual arts with the performing arts,” said Birchler, who’d met Reed when he was out painting during Farmington’s Harvest Moon Festival.


But anyone who’s been to a Rhythms show knows that some of the biggest stars are always the kids who dance and jump and twirl in the space between the band and the crowd.


“The bands like that, too,” said Birchler. “And our audiences are very good. They’re appreciative, they listen, they applaud. … I’ve played a lot of different places with my own band, so I know from experience that when you go to Riley Park, the crowd really listens to you. And bands appreciate that.”

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