Pink and blue light illuminates a sea of people. The shouts of a rowdy crowd buzz underneath the power of guitars, drums, and vocals. On stage, the vibe is carefree & energetic. As musicians let loose and perform, the crowd dances and grooves, enjoying every second of it. The entire building hums with the activity of bands, singers, and rappers. Three separate stages showcase talented performers, attracting audiences like magnets. No, this isn’t some incredible new concert venue. It’s West Ottawa’s North building during one special event: WO-Stock.
Every March, Cultural Technological Environmental Exchange Club (CTEE) plans one of the most anticipated and exciting events WO students will experience. During WO-Stock, over 30 local and student bands come together for a weekend packed with talent, music, and fun. And if that isn’t impressive enough, it raises the highest amount of money of any CTEE event, making it the biggest contributor to the club’s mission: visiting Cameroon, Africa to donate technology. WO-Stock accomplishes this feat in part because it is the biggest student-led music festival in the West Michigan area.
All of this considered, WO-Stock is clearly one of the most incredible opportunities for students to attend, but it’s also one of the most difficult events to coordinate. “It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Sr. Juliana Malinowski, head coordinator of WO-Stock. “There’s a lot that needs to be done with contacting bands, getting the schedule done, and getting people to help the night of.” Malinowski has been planning WO-Stock for months, and it’s become her main focus as a CTEE member. “Usually bands apply on [their] own on our website. It’s usually a first come first serve kind of deal,” she added.
Typically, bands enjoy the event and make a point to return annually. This year, groups like West Ottawa’s very own The Westside are returning to the WO-Stock stage. The band, led by Sr. Elijah Kliphuis, Jr. Zyon De Valle, and Jr. Sam Vasche consists completely of West Ottawa students.
The Westside itself is rooted in WO-Stock. In 2017, Kliphuis forgot he booked a spot in the festival and needed to scramble to find a band to join him on stage. What started off as a last minute fix became a passionate band, and they’re excited to return to the stage that started it all.
“Preparing for WO-Stock is kind of a big deal. Last year we kind of threw a bunch of stuff together last minute,” singer and guitarist Kliphuis said. But this year the band improved and grew immensely. “We got better musically. We found our niche,” he explained.
It wasn’t an overnight process like their preparations for WO-Stock 2017; this year, the band has put in time and commitment to find their sound and improve as musicians. “It took performing on the street, or at bars, or at gigs during the summer to find our sound and what we like. [It took] making demos of songs and finding what we don’t like and what we do like,” Kliphuis said. Kliphuis himself committed to playing guitar for at least three hours a day in order to improve his skills.
Through their dedication and passion, The Westside released their first LP this winter: Clouds. Unlike last year, the band will not only have a higher skill level and more preparation, they’ll also debut their catchy pop rock music.
It’s definitely an intense process to write original music along with everything else the band has taken on, but to The Westside it’s an essential part of why they pursue music. “Performing [an original song] is like the last piece of the puzzle,” Kliphuis said. However, the process in itself can be a puzzle.“Usually, I’m just sitting and writing, and as I work through it a story starts to form and you keep building off of it,” De Valle said.
Once a song is written, practicing becomes more key than ever. “We’d practice it once in the beginning, get it down and then we’d practice for a few weeks on our own parts and then come again together and jam it out,” De Valle said. One of the ways the band gets through a tough practice and makes sure to stay focused on learning new music is by going completely silent. “One of us just stops talking and the conversation dies so we’re then able to refocus on playing music,” De Valle said.
Overall, audiences can expect a change of pace from sing-along covers to fresh, original content, giving WO-Stock goers the chance to connect with them for their original sound. “It’s also nice showing people how hard you worked on a song,” Kliphuis said. “ People are going to be able to sit back and relax and going to enjoy our music hopefully. That’s the idea. They’ll go ‘oh I like that I’m going to have to check that out on Spotify and Apple Music.’ That’s the goal we’re going for,” Kliphuis said.
The Westside is just one of the talents that make WO-Stock a successful, enjoyable event. When passionate service work, skilled musicians, and excited concert-goers come together, the night is bound to be a success. This year, check out WO-Stock on March 23 and 24. You won’t only help fund CTEE’s community service, but experience marvelous talent of local performers, too.