In 1984, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing started the annual tradition of Silver Bells in the City. Back then, the event was just the placement of 2,500 lights around the Washington Square Mall and a community sing led by then Mayor Terry McKane.
It was not a particularly popular event at first, but it quickly caught on, growing substantially in size over the coming years.
Now, the event has grown to include the lighting of the State Tree, a community sing led by the Steiner Chorale, ice sculptures, fireworks behind the Capitol, live performers and an Electric Light Parade that has over 70 floats, a marching band and more. Also, the event includes the Silver Bells Village, an addition that was made in 2010. The village features a hol- iday market filled with a variety of shopping options. But among this year’s diverse series of events includes a live concert from Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers.
Kevin Meyer, one of the organizers behind Lansing’s Common Ground Music Festival, has been in charge of this year’s Silver Bells in the City’s entertainment. And he’s had a long-lasting relationship with the band.
“He’s taken care of us on the years we played for Common Ground,” Joe Hertler said. “He’s been a mentor to us for many years. Kevin went to the board for the event and mentioned us. They decided to book us.”
This year’s booking with the Silver Bells in the City is particularly close to Hertler’s heart.
He is from Lansing and is proud to call it his home.
“Lansing isn’t like Ann Arbor where’s there’s stuff going on every weekend,” he said. “When we do something like this in Lansing, lots of people are going to come in.”
And performing aside, he’s glad to be in town for Silver Bells in the City, for personal reasons, too.
“Lansing is a great city. Silver Bells in the City is a fun event, and I’ve been going for years.”
Not everyone in the group is from Lansing, however. Some of the members of the Rainbow Seekers hail from Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. The group has been playing since 2011 and met in college.
“I was invited to this stripped down acoustic music performance, a filmed show,” Hertler said. “We played in the guy’s attic, and they filmed it. The people producing it went on to become my bandmates.”
Then, they shared a joint performance at Mittenfest in Ypsilanti in 2010.
“We all booked at this festival at New Year’s. We shared a hotel room, and we just practiced in the hotel room and went through five or six of my songs,” he said.
Just a few months later, the musicians would call themselves a band. Since then, they’ve performed at the CMJ Music Marathon in Brooklyn, the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Michigan, the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and Bonnaroo Music & Artts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. To date, they have released four albums, including Pluto, their most recent. The album has received critical acclaim: Sound & Silence Magazine is currently calling the best album of the year.
The Rainbow Seekers based their name off the 1978 album of the same name by Joe Sample. Sample was a jazz fusion artist from Texas who went on to found the Jazz Crusaders. The front cover of Sample’s album The Rainbow Seekers “had him looking very dignified and stoic,” Hertler said.
“Behind him was an outline of a rainbow. I was joking, ‘If we’re ever a band, we should call ourselves the Rainbow Seekers.’ But then, that’s what it became,” he said.
While Sample is the group’s inspiration, the band does not follow in Sample’s jazz tradition. The Rainbow Seekers define their music as rock at its core, with elements of bluegrass, Americana and even some soul and funk.
For their Friday performance, Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers will be focusing mostly on playing original songs with a few acoustic covers. However, there might be some holiday music to look forward to, also.
“We might spice it up with some holiday cheer or some holiday-themed songs. It’ll be unique given the time of year,” Hertler said. They will start their performance shortly after the fireworks over the Capitol begin.
But they have a lot planned for the coming months beyond Silver Bells in the City.
At the end of the year, Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers will be performing at a 90s cover party in Kalamazoo. And next year, they’ll be traveling out west. Hertler has been preparing for these travels for more than a year.
“Really excited to go out west. It’ll be a lot of fun. We have a lot of new music. I’ve been taking the last year or so just writing,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s a couple hours in my studio; sometimes for a couple days. Just trying to work on tunes and doing lots of practice.”
However, for the band, music is about a lot more than business. ‘All work and no play,’ and all that jazz.
“We’ve been together for about six years,” Hertler said. “We’re close. It’s more of a brothership. It gets to that level of closeness. It’s a special thing. We know how to work together. We know how to pick on each other. We’re an old group of brothers that has a lot of fun playing together.”
When asked for a memorable experience during his time with the Rainbow Seekers, Hertler could not pick a single one, saying there were just too many of them.
“The experiences we have create this shared foundation. It’s just great getting to share all of them with people that you love,” he said.
Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers at Silver Bells in the City Friday, Nov. 17 8-10 p.m. Lansing Center 333 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing See Facebook Event. Joehertler.com