TRAVERSE CITY — Music has been a lifelong obsession for Chris Michels.
“I got my start in music when my elementary school music teacher told my parents I was loud and disruptive in class, and he thought they should buy me a guitar,” said the Traverse City singer and musician.
“I soon was jamming with friends, and from then on, have been involved in as much music as I can squeeze into my life.”
That happens to be a lot of music, with the Chris Michels Band and its rotating cast of players playing a host of northern Michigan venues and festivals throughout August and September.
Michels plays VI Grill in Suttons Bay tonight and Saturday, followed by a Main Stage performance at Farmfest in Johannesburg on Sunday. He’ll also play Monday morning on the small “Feedbag Café” stage at Farmfest with Dede & the Dreamers.
“These festivals are always unique experiences,” said Michels, who’s played Farmfest previously with Dede & The Dreamers and Turbo Pup.
“The grounds are vast and fun to explore. The stage is gorgeous. I love jamming late at night at the bar there, too. Also, a lot of the people there you see all summer long at other fests.”
With a jam-band approach and music that’s undeniably funky, Michels has released several varied recordings over the years, including 2015’s “Giants” 2017’s jazz-funk EP, “Pretty/Funky,” 2018’s singer-songwriter release, “Pretty Blue,” and a 2019 live album. He’s currently wrapping up work on a new studio album with a release date set to be announced in the near future.
As for his live performances, Michels has leaned on a host of different musicians for various shows, including Traverse City players Alex Riesenbeck, Stu Ford, Chris Burgess, Jimmy Olson and others.
“I am really the only true member of the band. It is a Trent Reznor situation where I record albums alone or mostly alone, and I hire my friends to play in my band on a show-by-show basis,” he said.
“Chris Michels Band is a jam band. We stretch out if possible. Keys or genre could change during a song, but hopefully it’s done musically and with jazz know-how, lyrical hooks and professionalism. We are taking the music seriously even when we are risk-taking or adding humor. I enjoy the art of it all.”
He also lives and breathes that art.
“Chris Michels Band is more than a band to me. It’s what I do when I wake up. It’s my art and my butter and bread. It will last as long as I do,” said Michels, who also performs in the “digital folk” band BoomaTwang.
“I want it all musically. I want the heart of a May Erlewine song in the body of a Vulfpeck song with Mitch Mitchell on drums.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue to perform across northern Michigan while expanding his fan base and touring area.
“Even though the tourists can be aggravating, the demand for live music in bars and restaurants around here really gives great opportunity for people to perform,” he said. “There is a lot of amazing talent up here.”
Michels also plays West Bay Beach in Traverse City on Aug. 15, Petoskey’s Festival by the Bay on Aug. 17 with BoomaTwang, Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville on Aug. 23, and Workshop Brewing back in Traverse City on Sept. 6.