Ten o’clock on a Tuesday rolls around and, after some mic checks and level adjustments, Dagwood’s Tavern and Grill begins its weekly transformation from a standard-issue burger and brew joint to a fixture of local acoustic music. Their open mic night begins every week with Jen Sygit, a staple of Lansing folk music. Sygit begins the open mic night with three songs of her own, showcasing her folksy, soulful singing and guitar playing before turning the stage over to whoever put their name down first and changing from performer to cheerleader.
As other performers finish, Sygit cheers along and acts like the biggest fan to everyone that plays. Lansing resident Jonathen Davis, who has attended Dagwood’s open mic night, said that Sygit is one of the best singer song writers in the Lansing area.
“Jen’s one of the more played on the radio folk singers in the area, and she’s probably more popular than most local acts,” Davis said. Davis said that he believes Sygit’s presence has helped the growth of the Lansing area music scene quite a bit.[jen ]
“The fact that she comes to a bar and shares her music every week is phenomenal. She’s a real asset to the greater Lansing area music scene. She converts this sports bar into a completely different scene. She’s amazing.”
Sygit began hosting the open mic night almost five years ago, when a co-worker who was also a bartender at Dagwood’s asked her if she would. After doing the show for so long, she said that she sometimes feels like a den mother to some of the performers.
“I just turned 30 last month, so now, 21, 22 starts sounding young,” Sygit said. “It’s almost 10 years ago. Or younger, we have people who aren’t even 21 come in and play. You definitely feel your age a little more, and I do feel like they ask me for advice and stuff.”
John “Griff” Griffin often plays at Dagwood’s too. He said that Sygit brings an important element to the mic night, and that her presence helps to attract more experienced performers. “She brings a sense of stability to the scene,” Griffin said. “Because of Jen, you have more than just the local college kids playing here. They still come, and they love it, but, because of her presence, you wind up with more experienced musicians that come because they’re her friends.”
Her regular gig hosting at Dagwood’s is far from the only project on Sygit’s plate. She has 9 different performance dates scheduled for March alone —- both by herself and, on occasion with her backing band, Spare Change. She covers most of the lower Michigan area with occasional trips to other states. She’s recently finished her third record, which she says has a different feel from her first two albums.
After working at music store Elderly Instruments Sygit said she became interested in old time bluegrass, Americana and folk roots music. She said that it was that style that inspired her first two albums but for her third she has gone in a more folk rock direction
“It sort of goes back to my original roots, before I started recording,” said Sygit. “Back when I was a youngster, in high school and the first couple years of college, I was into punk, and the band I was in when I moved to Lansing, in 99, the first band I was in in Lansing was a blues rock band, actually. I almost feel like the rock end of things is more what I grew up with and what I started doing.” [davis2]
Sygit said that the shift in style may have also been influenced by the music she was listening to at the time.
“I think it was just an organic process,” Sygit said. “I definitely didn’t have any intention of the album ending up that way. In fact one of the songs we ended up recording started out as a finger style song and just kind of morphed into more of a rocking tune. I don’t know what happens. I’m listening to some records that are a little more rocking than what I’ve listened to in previous years. I guess maybe that’s changed, so that’s possibly influenced my change.”
The album was recorded in both Alma and Lansing. The recordings in Alma took place in Sygit’s fiddle player’s house over two days, and the rest was finished in Lansing. Sygit said that one of the aspects of her new album that she likes the most is the way in which it was recorded.[joshpic ]
“I’m really proud of the new record,” Sygit said. “I feel like I’ve grown. I’m especially enthusiastic about the fact that we recorded it as live as possible. Basically we sat in the living room and played it. Pretty much what you hear is people sitting in a room and playing it the way it is. Very little over-dubbing.”
Sygit said that this lack of dubbing is what she’s most proud of in her new record, with overdubbing occurring on less than five percent of the overall record.
“I definitely think there’s something you can’t achieve unless you’re playing at the same time,” Sygit said. “There’s a certain vibe, if you want to call it. A group energy that you don’t get when you do it separately. You can still make something sound really great, but it’s that energy that I’m looking for and that energy that I’m happy with.”
Sygit also keeps busy with a new side project, a band named Stella.
“It’s myself, Tahmineh Gueramy, my fiddle player and Jo Serrapere, who’s another kind of well-renowned song writer,” Sygit said. “She’s played on Prairie Home Companion and all that good stuff. We’re going to record an album in the spring.”
The planned album is a mixture of music written by Serrapere and Sygit. The producer of the album was involved with Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions, an album composed of music by Pete Seeger, a renowned folk musician.
“We’re recording an album in the spring in New York with some kind of big deal people, I don’t even know they’re names. It’s another exciting project, but it’s hard to focus on both at the same time, like, I’ve got to get the solo album and then I can sort of face to deal with the spring recordings.”
Although her interests continue to expand, and side projects continue to mount, she still plays her music and cheers on other musicians in a cramped bar once a week.
Jen Sygit is at Dagwood’s Tavern and Grill every Tuesday, hosting the open mic night from 10 pm to 1 am. Her website is at http://www.jensygit.com/.