The Light Launcher
“It’s the great adventure that we all must take
To head out blind without knowing the way
To find some love and give it too
To live a life designed by you”
- Mihali (From the song "Maplewood")
Those with the ability to think deeper, feel more and express themselves creatively are often labeled as “artists." On the other hand, those that can do things faster, more accurately or with greater physical force we call them “athletes." I’ve spent my life riding the line between these two seemingly different worlds. Society has built an invisible wall dividing them, but ever since I can remember I’ve had one foot in athletics and the other in the arts.
The first time I met New Jersey born artist Mihali Savoulidis was in a green room a few years ago. He was on a mini solo run through the northeast and the promoter reached out to see if I wanted to jump on the bill as an opener. Being a big fan of Mihali’s music I replied, “Absolutely!”
I walked into the green room, a small cabin tucked behind an outdoor stage and found him relaxing on a leather couch. The green room is a very important place for touring artists, its a safe zone where they can feel protected and peaceful. Performing night after night and having to be “on” constantly is exhausting I’m sure. The green room is a chance to get some much needed solitude while you’re on the road. So whenever I’m an opening act I’m very sensitive to that and make sure that I just pop in to say hello briefly and then let them do their thing.
That was my plan on this night, I was just going to introduce myself, shake his hand and then head out to sound check. I was going to stay out of Mihali’s way and let him do his thing. But as soon as I closed the door behind me he sprung up from the couch shining his big iconic smile and greeted me with a monster hug. I’d known the guy for less than five seconds and it was immediately obvious to me why people come out in droves to see this guy perform - he’s got IT.
Mihali is a vibe. That’s the best way I can describe him and his art. Turquoise rings on his tattooed hands, bright patchwork pants, Nike high tops and long hair flowing out from under his hat. Some people just have an energy that surrounds them and his is big, powerful and positive. His presence and the way that he carries himself makes you feel good and comfortable. He has a warmth that’s genuine and its obvious that he really cares about people.
I feel that in his music, especially his lyrics. I am a lyric guy, that’s what I pay attention to and what stands out to me when I listen to music. Growing up listening to Bob Dylan, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt & Hank Williams trained me to absorb the story in songs because that’s where the meat was. The stories I find in Mihali’s songs are thoughtful, but almost always positive - even the songs that are addressing dark topics have a strong dose of optimism. I can tell through his lyrics that he’s aware that people are listening and perhaps looking to his music for that sense of hope and good. He wants to be a light and share it with as many people as possible.
“You can't fall victim to the gloom
Your time is more than you assume
It's time to make a brand new road
Relax and let the present roll
When life feels heavier than air
Without a reason to repair
You'll find a strength you never knew
And wake up the love inside of you"
The months leading up to the show I’d been devouring his music, especially his new solo album “Effection”, and was so excited to tell him all about how much I loved it. It was a huge honor to kick off the show for him and I wanted to be very clear how grateful I was for the opportunity. But before I could do that he caught me totally off guard. He started the whole conversation by saying, “I grew up playing lacrosse and loved watching you. This is so cool that we get to play a show together!” I wasn’t expecting this at all. I had no idea he had some lacrosse roots.
We sat down and spent the first twenty minutes or so talking about lacrosse, our love for the game and his history with stick stringing. It turns out that when he was 16 years old he had a job as a stick stringer at a local shop in New Jersey. He has a passion for the craft of stringing. It was during this same time that he happened to be writing the first batch of songs that would soon become jam band anthems and launch his group Twiddle onto the national scene. It was very cool to connect with him on this level and establish a solid footing based on a past life we both shared. We seamlessly transitioned from there into talking about our kids and then eventually landing on music. But it was here that the idea for a Mihali inspired stick was born.
This is a testament to the power of lacrosse in my opinion. If Mihali and I had both grown up playing soccer or baseball instead of lacrosse would we have talked about it for twenty minutes? The game has a communal vibe baked into it and a culture that to me is more similar to sports like surfing and snowboarding than the traditional team sports.
After I finished my set I settled in side stage and watched Mihali do his thing. He was loose in the best possible way. On this particular night his show was a one man looping session. He was giving the fans exactly what they wanted…a great mix of classic Twiddle tunes, a showcase of his new solo material and some reggae spirted covers. People danced all night long and when he’d let it rip on guitar the place would go bonkers. I could tell that he knew how to control the emotions of the evening, he knew when to get big and when to break it down. He was in the drivers seat and all of us felt so happy to be along for the journey.
After the show we sat at a picnic table and I had the opportunity to pick his brain on his creative process and his experience playing places like Bonaroo and Red Rocks. Eventually his crew had the Sprinter loaded up and the night came to a close. I thanked him again for letting me be a part of the show and we said farewell. As I was throwing my guitar into the back of my truck I noticed that I had a couple new sticks back there so I ran them over so he could give them to his kids. A couple days later he sent a picture of them running around the living room with the sticks - it was really cool to see. I love seeing the next generation enjoying the game.
A few months later I was fortunate to get added to another run of shows - this time I was opening for his full band. They were out touring on the “Effection” record, which is my personal favorite, so it was so fun to see that album played in the full band format on multiple nights. The band was absolutely on fire and I knew every word off that album so I was just absolutely loving it. Also on the bill for this run was snowboarding Dew Tour legend Luke Mitrani another example of a person that’s riding that line between art and sport.
At the end of my opening sets Mihali would come out and join for a few songs. Which is really rare for a headliner so I really appreciated that. He has an obvious love for music, but a real gift for collaboration.
As soon as he’d come out on stage the room would get fired up and hearing him play on my songs was such a cool experience. I never told him the keys or changes at all, he just played along and killed it. I remember leaning over to him on stage the second night and asking him if it’s cool if we played one of my new songs he’d never heard. He lit up and said excitedly “YES DUDE! Let’s do it - I’m here for it - I’m a good listener."
This small moment gave me another glimpse into the type of person that Mihali is. He was so excited for an adventure into the unknown and was ready to use his ability to lift my song up. Whenever he would talk about these shows he would refer to them as “our” shows when we knew damn well that he was the headliner and people were there to see Mihali. But to him it was about the total package and the team. Maybe that is something that being around lacrosse culture instilled in him back in those early days in Jersey?
We finished the shows and once again found ourselves in another green room, this time a sweaty club in Saratoga. I thanked him again for the experience and told him that I wanted to collaborate on the lacrosse side of things and build a stick together for fun. I was telling him about some of the fun stuff we are doing at Powell and what we are going after in the future.
I decided to surprise Mihali with a fun complete stick inspired by his vibe and art direction. I wanted to capture the bright colors found on the Effection cover, his guitar and his cabinet. I reached out to Wade Decker, whose marble dyes are some of my favorites and gave him the color scheme I was going after. He sent us back some dyed heads and I put them in the hands of our in house stringer Max, who just so happens to be a from New Jersey (seemed fitting). We went after the bright colors that represent Mihali’s fashion sense, his music and the positive light he's throwing out into the world.
Introducing the Jamflowman - an extremely limited edition signature complete stick inspired by the music of my friend Mihali.
He has some shows coming up in May at the Capital Theatre and the Brooklyn Bowl. If you’re in the area and want to come out to support a fellow lacrosse guy and take spiritual sonic bath - get on out and groove with him!