Ann Arbor, Michigan — A few weeks ago, a dreary Ann Arbor forecast spurred Sonic Lunch event planners into bringing their outdoor concert series indoors with Ann Arbor’s very own Mayer Hawthorne.
The Sonic Lunch series features local and national acts, and, up until that day, has always been outside at noon on Thursdays on the corner of Liberty and Division Streets in Ann Arbor.
Mayer Hawthorne, who’s now known for his neo-soul sound, up until about seven years ago, used to be known around Ann Arbor as Andrew Cohen, a graduate from Ann Arbor Huron High School and the University of Michigan. He’s since gone on to perform on late-night talk shows, go on world tours and sign a label deal with Universal Republic Records.
“We made the decision at 4:30 the night before,” says Matthew Altruda, local radio host forTree Town Sound and organizer for Sonic Lunch. “We had to move Mayer Hawthorne from outside to inside Michigan Theater on a 12-hour notice.”
After Sonic Lunch announced the venue-swap on Twitter and Facebook, the news spread quickly. “One of my buddies joked with me that Sonic Lunch took over Twitter for three hours,” adds Altruda.
By 10 a.m. the day of the show, a sparsely umbrella’d line had already formed outside Michigan Theater. Shoulder-tap polling yielded several “I’m not on my lunch” and “I drove in for this” replies.
By noon, the theater was nearly at its 1,700 seat capacity, and event organizers began requesting that the demographically way-more-amorphous-than-usual crowd hunker into their respective rows as to make room for what was most likely people really on their lunch.
“We had a vision five-and-a-half years ago,” announced Tim Marshall, president of the Bank of Ann Arbor, Sonic Lunch’s main sponsor. “I don’t think we ever imagined a turnout like today’s.”
Marshall, I learn from Altruda, is the man with the plan, and would rather connect with Ann Arbor by throwing awesome concerts than by spending money on commercials. Other sponsors include 107one, an Ann Arbor radio station, and Perich Advertising and Design.
Before the set even began, the theater’s crowd was on its feet. “I’m glad I didn’t have to tell you guys to stand up,” Hawthorne called out to the crowd. “Lunchtime is party time where I come from.”
Mayer Hawthorne and his four piece back-up band, The County, tore through a 75-minute set. Fans were treated to tracks from Hawthorne’s latest album, “How Do You Do,” and from his debut album, “A Strange Arrangement”.
The atmosphere was electric. Between songs, Hawthorne tossed broken-heart shaped guitar picks into a sea of outstretched hands. At one point, your correspondent’s camera was drop-kicked by a jiving shoulder-hoisted toddler.
Sonic Lunches have heretofore featured ambling sandwich-handed crowds perched on park benches and walls with varying degrees of interest in the day’s act. Hawthorne’s show, however, was much less a lunch and much more a bona fide concert.
“Mayer’s family, grandparents, neighbors, school teachers all were there,” says Altruda. “There were people from five-years-old to 80.”
Following the show, attendees dispersed into the streets of Ann Arbor with hands cupped over brow, disoriented by the dissonance of the caliber of the show they’d just seen, and the fact that it wasn’t even 2pm on a Thursday afternoon.
“The show embodied everything we try to do with Sonic Lunch — which is to make an event that anyone in the community can come to on their lunch break, forget stresses and see great live music.”