Success Stories

Young band finds great success

Left to right: Ben Zito, Emilee Petersmark, Dan Rickabus, Kate Pillsbury, Tom Gunnels

The Crane Wives got their start like most other young bands, playing open mic nights and distributing their demos. Formed in late August 2010, they now play shows two to three nights a week throughout Michigan, Chicago and Ohio.

The indie-folk band consists of five Grand Valley alumni: Emilee Petersmark and Kate Pillsbury who play acoustic guitars and produce vocals; Dan Rickabus, drums and vocals; Ben Zito, bass guitar; and Tom Gunnels, banjo.

Their innovative blend of three-part vocal harmonies and electric instrumentation have drawn audiences to their live performances and CD “Safe Ship, Harbored,” which has won, among other awards, the 2011 WYCE Album of the Year. The band is working on recording a second CD.

Most fans wonder about the origins of their unique band name. Group members said their inspiration came from a Japanese folk tale they discovered after listening to “The Crane Wife” by the band The Decemberists. “The tale is one of true love and self sacrifice, and we found that it fit very well with the songs we were writing,” said Rickabus.

The band members shared their reflections on the role Grand Valley has played in their success.

“I met so many incredible people that not only taught me so much, but also helped and inspired me to create, and I’m immensely grateful for that,” said Rickabus.

“The Crane Wives would never have happened if it weren’t for all of us going to Grand Valley,” said Gunnels.

Pillsbury said pursuing a writing major at Grand Valley taught her how to create a message that can inspire and evoke strong emotions. “After having taken so many writing classes in such a talented department, I’ve learned a lot about writing for an audience,” said Pillsbury.

Petersmark also notes that her knowledge in advertising and public relations has helped to push the band’s branding efforts.

The Crane Wives said they have some very exciting plans ahead of them including shows at major music festivals and their second album. “There’s so much on the horizon I honestly cannot express my excitement for our upcoming journey,” Gunnels said.

To find out more about the Crane Wives visit: or

by Jessica Hines

This story was filed with the tags: Arts, Careers, Communications, Music, Undergraduate Alumni, Writing