2021 Entrepreneurial Awards

Prescription for the Blues: Root Doctor Ready to Return to Stage

Freddie Cunningham is ready to retake the stage as the frontman of the popular Lansing band Root Doctor.

The connection between a musician and the audience is a cyclical one. Both the performer and those in attendance are driven from the electricity and energy the other provides.

That symbiotic relationship has been in short supply over the past year; however, with the easing of pandemic restrictions comes the hope that live music with a live audience will no longer be a rare commodity.

Freddie Cunningham, for one, is ready to retake the stage as the frontman of the popular Lansing band Root Doctor.

“The live audience is the driving force behind the music. The more they are enjoying it, the more I enjoy them enjoying it. One feeds the other,” said the singer. “Little by little we’re getting calls. We got a couple of calls this week, so we’re getting back into the swing of things a little bit. All of them are outside, and that’s what we’re shooting for. We’re not looking for anything inside yet.”

Root Doctor’s first audition came in June 1989, earning the band a regular weekend slot at the former Tango’s supper club in the Knapp’s Centre in downtown Lansing.

“It was kind of a cabaret-type atmosphere. My brother played Thursday nights, and our band played Friday and Saturday nights,” Cunningham said. “It was good while it lasted, however many years that lasted. We met a lot of people. If you talk to people who know anything about Lansing music, they can tell you that Tango’s was a hot spot.”

In its ongoing three-plus-decade run, Root Doctor has not only gained a large fanbase, but it has earned numerous local awards and accolades for the band’s fusion of blues, jazz and pop.

“There are a lot of people in Lansing who like music and like us. I’m just really proud I’ve been able to do what I’ve been doing for 30-odd years,” Cunningham said.

Still, the past year has been a tough time for musicians. Cunningham is retired from his career at Michigan State University’s WKAR, so performing was always about the music and never the income.

“But what I feel for are the guys who are doing this for a living. It’s been hard,” he said. “By the same token, I’m not going to risk my life or your life just because I want to play.”

As the weather turns and the pandemic-related news continues to improve, hopefully this spring and summer will allow Cunningham to reconnect in-person with local music fans and recharge that musician-audience relationship.

“The best part about what I do is when the night’s over and everybody’s happy and it’s turned out the way you wanted it,” he said. “It might be a new place that we hadn’t been to before where there are people who haven’t heard this music before. At the end of the night, everybody is comfortable. You’re tired, but it’s a good tired.”

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