Earthwork artist profile Vol. 9: Mark Lavengood
Respected widely within folk & bluegrass circles for his songwriting & multi-instrumentalist chops, Mark Lavengood (aka Huggy Bear) is also beloved for his contagious, joyful & enthusiastic spirit, both on stage and off. I had the chance to catch up with this ambassador of the Michigan music community on his recent reunion with Lindsay Lou, the story behind the nickname, what new projects are cooking, and the upcoming Prine Time tour, featuring an all-star band of Earthwork artists. -Chris Good
1. You're just coming off of a couple of big reunion shows with Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys. What was that experience like, sharing the stage again?Reuniting with Lindsay and the boys was a special treat, indeed. And it was just like riding a bike! I had so much fun playing those songs and jamming with the band. Their new album (which I had the honor of recording on) is sounding SO GOOD!
2. You have so many things in the works right now! Can you talk about the upcoming Prine Time tour? How did that idea come to be? Any new wrinkles for this year?
Prine Time is a John Prine Tribute Band I assembled back in 2015. The band is comprised of some of my favorite Michigan musicians (all of them being Earthwork Music artists) Seth Bernard (Airborne or Aquatic), Max Lockwood (Big Dudee Roo, May Erlewine), Michael Beauchamp-Cohen (Red Tail Ring) and Dan Rickabus (the Crane Wives). We all share a deep passion for Prine's whole catalogue! We are going to be adding a few new selections into the repertoire with this string of shows too.
3. It seems like you're really digging into the MI scene in a new way. What makes this community unique?
I am definitely feeling the deep plunge into the realm of being a career artist and having everything evolve around my Michigan community while pulling on my social networks that I've established over the last 10 years of touring the country (and internationally). I am about to officially announce my new artist agency, Bear Mark Productions as well. I've been booking bands since I first started playing gigs and it was an obvious move to bring Bear Mark Productions to fruition. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of the Michigan music scene. While there are pockets of musical communities all over the world that are kindred spirits with the Michigan music scene, what we have here in Michigan is a treasure trove of the arts, and very unique.
4. What are some things in the works or recently launched projects that you're particularly fired up about?
I just mentioned Bear Mark Productions, my new artist management/booking agency...I couldn't be more elated to be working with the artists on the roster (Johnny Irion, Seth Bernard, Gregory Stovetop, Afro Zuma, the Mark Lavengood Band, and Prine Time). I love all of these artists as humans, and as musicians alike. Their music is healing and I feel a strong sense of pride being able to be digging in deep with them all. I'm simultaneously touring and working up new music in the studio as well. This summer's gig schedule has unfolded quite nicely and I can't wait to share the new songs I've got coming along in the studio! I'll probably drop a single here by the summertime then follow that up with an EP release late summer/early fall!
5. I'm guessing many folks don't realize what you studied in college. Can you speak to how your unique background informs your artistic & entrepreneurial pursuits?
Yeah! So I studied Spanish and Int'l Business Administration at Alma College (graduated in the spring of '07). By the time I was about to graduate, I had no interest to go into corporate America, but I had just gone to this radically amazing music festival called the Earthwork Harvest Gathering and it opened up a whole slew of doors that I recognized as possible pathways to pursue in life! For the longest time, I was happy just to be playing music with friends and roughin' it on the road making all sorts of magical memories with friends and strangers. Then I realized I wanted to start saving money to buy instruments (and food), paying bills, etc...that's kind of when I started digging into music specific tutorials on building a lifelong career through music and using business and entrepreneurial mindsets for serving the community while also building a musical profile!
6. So many people respond to your obvious joy & passion for music & community. Many folks know you by the nickname, Huggy Bear...what's the story with that beloved nickname?
HUGGY BEAR! Ralston Bowles once asked me if I was seriously going to stick with that moniker on the stage...I told him I didn't really have a choice if that's what everybody is already calling me! I got the nickname when I was working at Founders Brewing Company the fall after graduating (in 2007). I went in for an interview and at the end, the kitchen manager went to shake my hand, but I just went in for the real thing. When I started work the next week, whenever he introduced me to anybody in the company, he donned me, "Huggy Bear." Now, Founders has one of the best music scene's out of any brewery's in the nation...back then I was just cutting my teeth inspired by the sounds of folk - roots - Americana styles of music (not to mention jazz, world music, Spanish rock...) and all of the greatest bands would come through Founders. I did my best to go above and beyond my deli-jobligations to makes sure they were treated like royalty. Naturally, all of the musicians got to know me as "Huggy Bear" too (and many folks still don't know me as "Mark Lavengood.") After my time at Founders and branching out into the statewide music scene with the self-proclaimed rebels of folk, winter/sessions, people throughout Michigan we're calling me "Huggy Bear." Flash forward to me joining forces with Lindsay Lou (formerly & the Flatbellys), and now I'm on the national/international circuit and they're coming up with nicknames for me in German ("Kuschelbär") and Spansih ("El Oso Abrazador")...who knows where the nickname will take me next.