It’s been nine years since the idea for local outfit The Vagrant Symphony was formed on Eastern Michigan University’s campus in 2003. Chris “Chewy” Anderson, the founder, Joe O’Dell, the 12th member, Alexis King, the 13th member and Bennie Phinisee, the 14th member, are the backbone of the giant psychedelic folk band that’ll be celebrating its ninth anniversary in December.
“We wanted to call it a traveling symphony or mobile symphony, then we came across ‘vagrant,’ which was like a random thesaurus find,” Anderson said. “Vagrant’s not necessarily a term of endearment; it’s like a homeless man.”
Anderson founded The Vagrant Symphony, and over the years members have come and gone. Some have even been dubbed “honorary members” by the band. The list of past, present and honorary members of The Vagrant Symphony just recently hit 20, most of whom have been involved with other local bands, but Anderson insists that he’s extremely picky when it comes to the members that he chooses.
“We just have the ability to pull amazing talent,” he said.
Everyone who performs during a Vagrant Symphony set doesn’t play a set instrument. O’Dell usually plays guitar, though, and King frequents the drums, but she’s been playing bass a lot lately.
Anderson started as a solo artist before he put the Vagrant Symphony together.
“I was like a shaky leaf on stage,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t get through a song effectively and having a band helps, hugely. You’ve got to have backing. It’s hard to be a Bob Dylan.”
Other than Bob Dylan, The Vagrant Symphony takes inspiration from Motown music, Pink Floyd and The Doors. They try to go for a low-fi, old school sound at their shows. While they hope to release a 7-inch vinyl recording soon, The Vagrant Symphony is focusing on their live show.
Having gone on a few tours, including a brewery tour that extended to Illinois and Wisconsin, they’re back in Ypsilanti, playing shows all over the area.
“Woodruff’s is one of our favorites,” King said.
“But in terms of old-school Ypsilanti,” Anderson said, “My roots definitely lie with the Elbow Room.”
“There was this one time we played Crossroads, and he [Anderson] wanted to open up the show out front, so we had an acoustic set outside opening the show. It’s all about the shows at our shows,” King said. “Chewy is an amazing visionary. He envisions these awesome shows and gets so many people booked. People are dancing, everybody’s hugging each other and things really come together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
On Dec. 28, The Vagrant Symphony will be celebrating their ninth anniversary with a show at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Nine bands will be accompanying them, and they plan on breaking the Blind Pig’s record of most people performing on stage at once, which is currently 17.
“Our music isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is the people we’re spending our time with at the shows,” O’Dell said. “Our music is important to us, but it’s more important to get together with the bands so they can get coverage and be seen too.”
They’ll even cut their sets short to allow more time for the other bands, or to fit more acts in at a show.
“We’re all about having fun, letting loose and being yourself,” King said. “It’s about the music, it’s about the local people, it’s about the community. Just bringing people together.”
Up next for The Vagrant Symphony is another tour. This time they’ll be with Bowling Green, another local Ypsilanti band, and they plan to hit every Bowling Green in the country, including Ohio, Kentucky, Virgina and anywhere else where there’s a Bowling Green.
You can check out The Vagrant Symphony’s music and news at www.facebook.com/thevagrantsymphony and