Stoffer Plaza – Behind the Bohm
By SYLVIA BENAVIDEZ
Albion’s Farmer’s Market started the season with great music, fun, food, and familiar faces last Wednesday. Hosted by Walk the Beat in Albion, familiar music groups will play at the market from May 19 to Sept. 29, with music starting at 5:30 p.m.
The sound of children laughing and running through the plaza could be heard as they eagerly waited for cotton candy at Joni’s Cakes. Last summer’s pandemic slowed the flow of people. But with government health officials reporting over half of Michigan being vaccinated within the week, hopes are that people will feel safer coming outside to the farmer’s market.
“It feels very nice to return to normal. It’s a beautiful day out. And so, it’s really nice to see all kinds of people supporting local businesses and hear great music,”
That was said by Albionite, Ian Lee. In the past, he had only spent a little time at the farmer’s market. “I plan on changing that this summer,” he said.
Vendors were happy to be back, too. Esham Family Farms was back with their homemade lotions and soon fresh crops. Joni Carr, Concord, at her vending booth, sells cakes, cupcakes and cotton candy. “I do other desserts. The pies seem popular. That’s one of the reasons I came out again. Everybody seemed to like it, such a nice atmosphere. Everybody is relaxing,” Carr said.
Madison Davis grew up in Albion and is a Build Albion Fellow. Wednesday was her first venture at being a vendor, and she is selling cupcakes with a summer theme and summer fruit flavors, strawberry, lemon, etc. “I love to bake. It’s something I enjoy. I actually work at the bakery (Foundry Bakery & Deli in Albion) as well over the summer. I figured I turn my hobby into a little bit of money, give back to the community and spend time in the community I love being in. I have been here thousands of times at the market with my family. It went really well despite the rain. My sales went really well.”
Clifford Harris, Coach Ronnie L. Parker, and Ben Wade were the first familiar faces performing at Stoffer Plaza. Anne Wade was on tap to perform for the night but was a bit under the weather and performed a couple of songs. Her father, Ben Wade, was there to support her but stepped in with Parker and Harris. “She wasn’t up to do a full set, so Coach decided to do a solo act, and then everything else is just us sitting in with Coach kinda playing around. None of this was rehearsed. The last song we did I never played before,” he said.
Parker is a known musical fixture in Albion since 1978 and frequently plays at the Albion Farmer’s Market and other stages in Albion. He had one word for being back on stage, “Great,” he said. As he was putting away his equipment, he shared,
“It’s been a long year. This is the first time I have been out basically playing.”
He made good use of the unexpected time the pandemic created for him. “I did a lot of practicing, working out different ideas, wrote a couple of songs that we are going to debut one of these days once we get the whole band back together. It’s been trying, but it’s been good. It’s been productive. I love playing bass and making music.”
Originally from Kalamazoo, Parker started his musical career in his late 20s. He had a day job, football and wrestling coaching, and family responsibilities. But once he retired in 2013, music became his full-time passion. “Missed the train as far as getting out there at my prime, but I had other responsibilities which I enjoyed. I enjoyed coaching for 24 years, working in the school systems and Starr Commonwealth, raising kids,” he said.
Speak to any of the familiar musicians in town, and they will speak of Parker’s skill as a musician and improviser and that he could easily travel across country, but that is not his style. “I am not a big town person. I love the small town. I can leave my house at 9:55 in the morning and have a dentist appointment at 10 o’clock and won’t be late for my dentist appointment.” He says he is introverted. “Albion helps me keep that chill.”
If an opportunity came to play out on the road, he would take advantage of it. If it doesn’t, he’s perfectly fine with that too. “I just like playin’. I just like what we’re doin’ here.
The music scene in Albion has picked up tremendously since last the last five years,
I used to travel to Kalamazoo, Jackson, Lansing, all these different places just to get a chance to play, but now I don’t have to go anywhere. Every week there is something musically happening here in Albion.”
One of those places he advises to enjoy music and learn from listening is the Albion’s Farmer’s Market. “Come out and enjoy the vendors. It’s really laid back. I looked at the calendar, and all the acts that Cliff has booked are going to be a tremendous lineup; Emma Guzman is an up-and-coming artist. She is folk and Americana.”
Albion Farmer’s Market operates every Wednesday from 4-7:30 p.m. through the end of September.
Photos by Sylvia Benavidez except as noted. Photos and story copyright, The Recorder.
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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