Dig that Vaudeville Beat: The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle
You know that any person that gives an interview on their rooftop is going to tell an interesting story. Dylan Rogers, front man and mouthpiece to The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle (LUVS), is far from an exception. Dylan’s passion for his music, his town, and the diverse group of musicians he happily calls friends is felt through his energetic enthusiasm while telling the story of a unique troupe of musicians who specialize in the zany, offbeat, and ultimately fun experience that is a LUVS production.
Rogers was born and raised primarily in Lansing, but has a taste of what the country has to offer after having moved from state to state on account of his father’s job requirements. He’s always considered Lansing his home base and remained in the area for college, graduating from Michigan State University a couple of years ago. His teenage and early adulthood music repertoire consisted of playing in “folksy-psychedelic-weird bands.”
As anyone who has reached that certain age has experienced, Rogers began to see his music buddies move away, in search of those elusive greener pastures. “I stuck around Lansing; got a job and a house and got married,” he says, “I needed to keep playing music, so I started a one man band.” Consisting of a Samsonite suitcase outfitted with a tambourine and kick drum pedal, a harmonica wrap, a ukulele or mandolin, and “the few limbs he was graced with,” Rogers took his passion and his act to the streets.
“I got tired of playing with myself,” Rogers jokes. He and his wife Jeana-Dee had just moved into a 19th
century loft in Old Town when he started to feel a new inspiration. “I thought a lot about old Lansing and the kind of music culture that was happening at the time. It inspired me to start playing roots and Americana music.” And, to avoid only playing with himself, Rogers posted ads in craigslist that describe the unique project he was beginning to dream up.
What’s in a name?
He began to hear from a wide assortment of musicians and eventually was able to form what was to be the first incarnation of The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle; a name that needs some explanation.
“I really do love this city and its history; I wanted to represent the Rust Belt feeling of Lansing. Unionized is a callout to the working class, proletariat folks of this blue-collar town. Vaudeville should be in quotation marks, since we don’t have a monkey that plays the violin or a dog that jumps through hoops.”
The vaudeville element is something LUVS is developing more and more. Props, gimmicks, canned shout-outs, audience callbacks, snazzy vintage costumes, choreography and the occasional unicorn suit help make the performance engaging and fun for the audience. “We’re tapping into a modernized essence of vaudeville; doing our own brand of Lansing’s own blue-collar gritty Americana. We write music that is fun and danceable to stimulate the audience.”
Songs like the “Hypnotist’s Rig” evoke that old-timey feel of sideshow, soapbox shtick. The song is an audience favorite and an act that depends on the night. The song gets going with a sort of lullaby bass beat and Rogers takes an object of some sort, most recently a flask, and announces that it’s got hypnotizing powers and induces a feeling of euphoria. It’s euphoria for sale and whoever buys it gets to go under the spell. As Rogers’ hypnotist persona takes over, he starts in singing dance commands to the person under the spell. “One of the cool things about the music we’re doing is when you’re having fun performing shows, the feeling is infectious to your audience.”
By Lansing, for Lansing
For Rogers, LUVS is Lansing. “We have a diverse group of musicians and singers that are their own little cross section of what I think Lansing is about. There’s the factory worker, the unemployed job seeker, the student, the African immigrant, the typical business person; I’ve been laid-off myself and am working in Flint.”
The troupe recently played a welcome back show at Mac’s after experiencing some transition. Overall, it’s been a positive transition as they start to write songs together, make songs better, and get new people on board. Rogers is hopeful for a January gig. In the meantime, they’re honing their talents and dreaming up new and better shtick. Without revealing too much, Lansing can look forward to some combination of a cake, white tuxedo, and megaphone in the near future.
“I want to play music that I’d stop, listen, and watch if I were not in the band; something that’s interesting enough that we get people to say ‘hey, this is fun’ and get them dancing.” The resurgence of all things kitschy, burlesque, and vintage is something that’s obviously complemented their success and inspired some collaboration. “No one is doing the same act and that’s part of the beauty of this movement; we’re looking forward to teaming up with some great local acts and create a totally unique experience.”
Rogers is busy scheming up a speakeasy themed show that will highlight the diversity in Lansing. He envisions an entry-by-password, abandoned warehouse, community building show with 5 or 6 groups playing into the night. He’s gotten creative with the type of shows they’re playing because “Lansing is a great place to be playing music, but there aren’t a lot of unique venues. You don’t want to be playing the same place twice in a month.”
Until the shows are scheduled, Rogers directs those interested in learning more about the LUVS sound to their Bandcamp page
, which currently features 7 of their songs available for a free download. Their evolving Facebook page
is the best place to get information on upcoming shows or collaborations. In addition to planning future shows, LUVS is in the process of recording a full-length album of the songs they feature in their stage line-up. Lansing can look forward to its release in the next couple of months.
Rogers’ response to the skeptic who might be thinking ‘why would I want to go see a bunch of weird kids play weird music?’: “Come see us live! We’re playing places that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get into. We want to show people what’s happening in Lansing, and our homegrown, zany, gypsy-jazz gives you a fun flavor of what this city has to offer.”
Veronica Gracia-Wing is a regular writer for Capital Gains.
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle plays at the Loft in downtown Lansing
Photos © Dave Trumpie