Transgender, Gender Nondescript Musicians Highlighted In Concert

Jan 22, 2015

Kalamazoo singer-songwriter and piano player Casey Grooten
Credit Chris Killian

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum will hold a concert Friday night highlighting local transgender and gender non-specific artists called “Unified: A Kalamazoo Music Experience.” The show starts at 7 p.m. at the museum's Stryker Theater. Admission is $5.

For years, Davison Nicholas sang and played in the rock band Two Stars Burning Sun, among many other bands. The muscley and sometimes melodic music was driving and intense. 

Nicholas was drenched in the screamo music scene – touring for stints, recording albums, and playing live as often as possible. Now, Nicholas has traded in the clamor of metalcore for an acoustic guitar and evolved a lyrical delivery that was grab-you-by-the throat to one that’s quiet and contemplative. 

Kalamazoo folk musician Davison Nicholas
Credit Chris Killian

It’s been an evolution in more ways than one for Nicholas. A little over six months ago, she came out openly as a transgender woman.

Nicholas says the journey to find her real self has been hard but inspiring.

“Every time I leave the house I have to have the mantra of, ‘You’re good, you love yourself. Nothing else matters. Everything’s good,'” she says.

Nicholas says she sometimes feels vulnerable in public. There’s just no way to know how the world might treat her on a given day. That feeling extends to the stage, too— performers by definition make themselves vulnerable.

For the sake of her music – and herself – she puts herself out there, playing songs that often chronicle the long-road she’s taken to get to where she is today. 

“Without saying any words I’m saying, ‘I don’t have anything to hide.’ There’s nothing here to hide behind. I’m a lot bigger than this guitar," says Nicholas. "It’s kind of like a confrontation, an intentional confrontation. Almost like a dare. Here’s your opportunity to say something stupid if you want to.”

They never do, she says.

Chris Falk is the special events coordinator at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. He got the idea to host a concert showcasing LGBT and gender nondescript artists after seeing Nicholas perform this past summer.

It’s all about creating a safe space for emerging artists, he says. In many ways, the concert could be the just the beginning of a movement to bring more transgender and gender nondescript artists into the limelight.

“Yeah I think we are just scratching the surface, which is why this event is kind of a kickoff if you will, open your eyes to the possibility of having more events,” says Falk.

Casey Grooten is a Kalamazoo singer-songwriter and self-taught piano player who will also perform this evening. Grooten does not identify with any gender. Grooten says what matters most is the creative process and the joy and celebration of uniqueness that music provides.

“Imagination leads to creation and creation leads to wisdom, and if we don’t imagine new ways of expressing ourselves as human beings there’s not going to be any room for change and there’s not going to be any room for growth or wisdom," says Grooten. "I don’t gender identify as anything. I don’t really find a reason to put myself in that. I’m glad that I get to perform at this because I can showcase that.”

Davison Nicholas says she knows the road to full inclusion is a long one, but every journey has to have a beginning.

“It’s a maiden voyage, it’s our first thing. So we’ll see what happens," she says. "We’ve already talked about doing the next one. I think it’s going to be a success.”

The concert will also feature spoken word performances and a set by the critically acclaimed group The Accidentals, a duo from Traverse City that’s unique take on indie folk is turning heads across the nation.