Jen Sygit, East Lansing's Songbird
Jen Sygit is one of the most liked and best known folk / Americana musicians in the greater East Lansing area. As was the case for many of her peers, music was an early part of her life, starting with voice lessons in the first grade and an ability to pick up an instrument and start playing it with no instruction. Unlike the experience of many other musicians, however, there were no musicians in her household growing up. “Nobody in my family played an instrument, but there was music on the stereo all the time,” Sygit explains. “My father would have music playing from morning to night on the weekends.”
After playing trombone in junior high, participating in musical theater, fronting several bands in high school (including one named Omni, after a band member’s car), and attending the prestigious Allstate and International programs at Interlochen Fine Art Camps, Sygit moved to East Lansing in 1999 to attend MSU. She has called the area home ever since. While performing at Blues Jams and Open Mics, Sygit fell in with other successful musicians such as Joshua Davis (Steppin In It), Mike Lynch, Ray Aleshire (Those Delta Rhythm Kings) and Dominic Suchyta (who now lives in Nashville and plays bass for Jack White’s band). They helped guide her development and provided learning opportunities. She enjoyed the area’s music scene enough to cancel an interview for a ‘real’ job with an ad agency, deciding to remain and stay engaged. “The people are great, the living is cheap and there's always a flux of new people to the area because of MSU and the Capital. It's also a very central location for traveling around the state performing,” says Sygit.
Sygit released her first album Here to There in 2003, worked at Elderly Instruments, and moved to a full time music career shortly thereafter. She has hosted the Open Mic at Dagwood’s since 2003, and now hosts East Lansing’s downtown Open Mic, which proved to be a big hit this past summer and will continue into 2015. Along the way, Sygit was part of founding Stella, a Michigan super group that recorded their first CD with Dave Marsh, the founder of Creem Magazine, in New York City. Other projects of Sygit’s include Lincoln County Process, a long running duo with Sam Corbin, and the Hopening Quartet. Sygit has scored for, had songs placed in, and performed in several feature length movies, including the recently released Buffalo, filmed in Lansing. She also continues to host her radio show, Eclecticana. The show airs 1-3pm Fridays and 5-7pm Saturdays on 89.7fm WLNZ in the Lansing area, and can be streamed online here.
Next year will bring a new album for Sygit, a stint as a guest judge for the finale of the Blue Owl Songwriting Contest in Reo Town, and the opportunity to pose as the subject of a photo series by local area photographer Jessica Cowles called Storytellers. The series will feature photographs of local songwriters enacting a scene/lyric from one of their songs and will be shown at area galleries in 2015.
Making a living as a musician is not easy. Sygit reflected on how the scene has changed in East Lansing in the past 15 years, indicating, “Unfortunately I think there are less venues hiring live musicians since I moved to the area and pay has dropped. Trends have also moved away from live music and more towards the club scene. It is so important now more than ever to support live music and to show the local bars and coffee houses that music is still valued here!” But East Lansing is a bright spot in Mid Michigan, believes Sygit. “I think the municipality of East Lansing and it's amazing event coordinators at City Hall have been and continue to be a shining example of welcoming and incorporating music into public events."
Sygit can be followed on Instagram and Twitter: @Sygvicious, and on Facebook here.
Photo courtesy Steve Galli, used with permission.
Smitty Smith is ELi's Managing Editor, and hosts the popular Pump House Concerts music series in East Lansing, where Jen Sygit has performed in the past.
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