Washtenaw student performs at Top of the Park as sibling rivalry fades into glory
Cool, stringed chimes lulled across a gathering of evening patrons at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Dan Henig was home – onstage.
The singer-songwriter and business major at Washtenaw Community College performed a set of acoustic-pop tunes before his hometown at Top of the Park’s Grove Stage, last month.
Among the crowd, his fans, friends and family welcomed the pinnacle of a long-conflicted career come to fruition in Ann Arbor.
“I’m still trying to come to grips with this annoying kid with his guitar in the kitchen,” said Dan’s brother, Ben, 23, a computer networking major. “I remember him always showing off his latest lick, he brought practice to the kitchen. It annoyed me, but seeing him onstage, I’m actually impressed.”
According to his brother, Henig found his musical calling in the eighth grade after studying classical trumpet throughout middle school. A saxophonist himself, Ben’s ambitions were embraced by his parents, who pushed their younger son to pursue music at school as well.
“In our family, the kids are musical,” Ben said. “Since I had an instrument, the parents thought the other brother should play too. But he was never that into classical.”
Transitioning as a rock-influenced singer songwriter during high school, Henig and his brother had struggled to fit in, Ben said. Their family returned from England in 2001 following their father’s 1995 relocation with Ford Motor Company.
“During high school, he was really trying to fit in,” Ben said. “We had a hard time, but he became very outgoing with his music. He wanted to fit in – through music.”
As his work began to develop, so did a circle of fellow student musicians in support of Henig. A friend since the sixth grade, Damola Abatan, 21, studying computer sciences at Eastern Michigan University and working as dubstep DJ, Jeniuz, found that he was eager to facilitate the advancement of what he saw: a proactive, hardworking musician.
Managing social media outlets on Twitter and Facebook, Abatan designed Henig’s first website in 2009. The two musicians have since begun collaborations for a tentatively planned, shared release.
“He (Henig)’s like a hundred-percent at all times,” Abatan said. “He’s extremely motivated and willing to do anything to make it sound right even if it means just sitting in the studio – for 10 hours. I love working with him.”
Henig had been studying music academically at Columbia College in Chicago, starting in the winter of 2010. Wary of a lack of live performances amid his studies, Henig left Columbia for WCC in the fall of 2011 – taking solace in the backing of his hometown.
“I wanted to play out more,” Henig said. “Ann Arbor is closely knit and supportive. It’s a good scene, but not as big. Chicago is a bigger scene; it’s impossible to break into.”
Now finding work in Ann Arbor as a musician, Henig looks back to the support of his family and friends – instrumental in his success. He views his career as a group effort.
“My parents have been supportive but hesitant,” Henig said. “They bought me my first guitar. It’s also really cool that my friends help me promote my music.”
Motivated by a year of live performances around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Henig submitted tracks to music social media site, Sonic Bids. One month before the performance he was notified of his placement at the summer festival.
At first wary of the festival’s large scale, predicting 300 to 500 spectators, Henig was eager to expand his following and further his craft. He took the stage on June 15, pre-empting the concert with a spot on Ann Arbor’s 107.1 FM radio station.
“It’s time for me to show them I have good music,” Henig said before the show. “Hopefully they will hear it and become fans. I’ve been going to Top of the Park since I was 10, it’s a pretty big stage for me, and there’s going to be a lot of people. To entertain acoustically in an environment like that is a challenge.”
But Henig’s brother is confident. Despite their differences in musical training and influence, Ben can’t help but admit to being overtaken by his little brother’s success.
“The sibling rivalry faded over the years,” Ben said. “He became this singer-songwriter and I kept it classical. He’s now considered ‘the musician’ in the family, so we get him a guitar if he needs it.”
Ben has performed with the Ypsilanti and WCC Community Band for the past four years.