It’s the Christmas season, and for Grant Kwiecinski, the electronic music artist and performer known as GRiZ, the holidays are not only the most wonderful time of the year. They’re also the busiest.
The Southfield-bred saxophone-playing electro-funk musician is smack dab in the middle of his 12 Days of GRiZmas charity initiative, which brings together just under two weeks of Detroit-based community events, concerts and holiday cheer. Since its inception, GRiZmas — now in its ninth year — has raised more than $500,000 for local charities.
A full 100% of proceeds from GRiZmas sales — including concert tickets, merch items and good old-fashioned donations — benefit Seven Mile Music, the University of Michigan project that brings music education programs to students in Detroit.
It’s the allocation of those funds that is most meaningful to Kwiecinski and his team, to make sure they’re put to good use and to know that what they’re doing is actually making an impact with students on the ground who need it.
“Raising money is cool,” says Kwiecinski, “but what is the money doing, how is it actually functioning in the community, and how does it actually touch people? That’s the most important part about it.”
This year’s GRiZmas events kicked off Tuesday with the opening of the GRiZmas pop-up store in Capitol Park, at the corner of Grand River Avenue and, as luck would have it, Griswold Street.
The store, located in the former Detroit Institute of Music Education building, carries GRiZ-branded T-shirts, tote bags, hoodies, blankets, bucket hats, jerseys, beanies, candles, mugs, joggers and more — think tie-dye, and lots of it — and even a special GRiZ blend holiday coffee roast, a collaboration with Detroit’s Coffeehaus. Prices range from $10-$100.
Each of the drive’s 12 days, GRiZmas features a different marquee event: There was a painting class on Wednesday, a karaoke night on Thursday and the coming days include ice skating, dodgeball and yoga activities. It all leads up to GRiZ’s two headlining concerts, Dec. 9 and 10 at the Masonic Temple.
What started in 2014 as a hometown holiday concert with a kitschy name has blossomed into a full-blown extravaganza, but Kwiecinski and his team say their goal is to keep the GRiZmas spirit alive, not just during the holidays but all year-round.
“The biggest hope here is that what we are doing here can inspire other people to do just a little bit more,” says the 29-year-old who, although he now resides in Denver, makes Detroit his home every year during GRiZmas.
By the time GRiZmas grew into a full fundraiser series in 2015, Kwiecinski had big plans for what it could become.
“I wanted to change the world, but you can’t,” says Kwiecinski, during an interview inside his downtown store this week. “But that was a really good lesson.”
At the outset of GRiZmas, Kwiecinski naively thought he could raise money, save music in schools and ride off into the sunset as a hero. Then he was awakened to the reality of the problems within the school system, especially in Detroit Public Schools, and how music education is not at the forefront of the district’s concerns. And then there are the political issues that complicate matters further, which as a touring musician, Kwiecinski doesn’t have the time or the resources to resolve. He can only do what he can do.
He partnered with Seven Mile Music in 2016 and found a like-minded creative partnership with the student-run organization. The GRiZmas donations help fund the Brightmoor Arts Academy, Seven Mile’s summer music camp which is held free of charge for the Brightmoor community, which has an annual operating budget of about $50,000.
“We are very grateful for GRiZ,” says Sophia Lee, Seven Mile’s director of development, who says GRiZ and his team represent the organization’s largest donor base. The donated funds help provide Seven Mile with “a safety net,” she says, and allows the group “the financial freedom to pursue new things rather than scrape by with a limited budget.”
Lee says GRiZ’s community mindset and appreciation of music education “is really meaningful to us, as is having the visibility of people who appreciate GRiZ’s music, and having them be able to be connected to Seven Mile and see what we’re all about.”
Jared Berman is one of Kwiecinski’s right-hand men in the GRiZmas initiative, and he says the team is hands-on in terms of how the money is distributed, and how they can chip in beyond financial donations.
“There’s a point where their resources are tapped out, so we’ve asked them, ‘how else can we help?'” Berman says. “The issue we’re trying to help address is the lack of creative arts in schools around here. They’re doing a great job at helping, but it’s a student-run organization, so we do our best to be as conscious as we can and communicate with them throughout the year to make sure we’re not just putting dollars at it, but also energy and attention.”
Kwiecinski wouldn’t be where he is today without music education in schools.
Growing up in the Birmingham Public School District, as a fourth-grader, he first picked up an instrument, an oboe, which his mother rejected. That led him to trying out the sax, which he stuck with and eventually found his tribe.
He started messing around with music production and beat-making while in high school, and was posting songs to SoundCloud as a student at Michigan State. He took a semester off after getting offers to play live shows; he never returned and never looked back.
GRiZ released his debut album “End of the World Party” in 2011. He has since released six more studio albums, a slew of mixtapes, EPs and singles, and he has more than 1.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify. He’s played every festival under the sun, and his sax is a staple of his live show.
As a prominent artist in the electronic dance music community for more than a decade, Kwiecinski says he longs to see more artists give back.
“I’m super disappointed by my peers in my scene. I don’t see a lot of charity work happening, and I know these people are getting paid because they’re talking to Forbes magazine,” he says. “The way that y’all take care of yourselves, if you could take care of your people a little bit like that, wouldn’t this world be a better place? A lot of people that have influence and power choose to do very little good with it, and I just wish people took more responsibility to do something better.”
The fact that GRiZ gives back is part of his appeal, says fan Kaitlin Adamek, who was checking out a hockey jersey at the opening of the store on Tuesday.
“This is the best part, this is everything to me, this part of Christmas and December for me is the best part of the year,” she says. “It’s the whole… everything; everything just goes back to the kids of Detroit and to me, that’s a lot. I love this man.”
Same goes for fan Megan Satawa. “GRiZ is my absolute favorite artist,” she says. “I just love his music, I love his message, I love what he does for the community, being from here. It has never been easier to support an artist, ever.”
Berman says to GRiZ’s fans, GRiZmas is a calendar highlight. “People remember this as a milestone for their year,” he says. “This is a holiday.”
For his part, Kwiecinski says he isn’t chasing clout or looking for a badge of do-goodery; to him, the dollar figure raised doesn’t mean anything if it’s not helping the students who need it.
But playing Santa Claus does have its perks.
“I love coming back to the city and being able to be this beacon of joy for a bunch of people. It’s so much bigger than our contribution,” he says.
“People come, they walk into the store, they grab a T-shirt, and they bring this expectation of happiness with them. And then they’re filled with this good thing, like this singular beacon coming in, getting charged up, and then leaving. Then the way that they impact everyone else around them? Dude,” he says. “That’s so f—ing cool.”
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[email protected]
Twitter: @grahamorama
For a full schedule of events, ticketing info and more, visit 12daysofgrizmas.com.
Dec. 3: Charity Dodgeball Tournament at Durfee Elementary School, 2425 Tuxedo St., Detroit
Dec. 4: Community Yoga in the Fountain Ballroom at Masonic Temple
Dec. 5: Charity Jam with GRiZ & Friends at El Club (featuring ProbCause, Chrishira Perrier, Kevin Donahue, Chris Anderson, Josh Fairman, Ian Finkelstein, and special guests)
Dec. 6: Community Ice Skating at Campus Martius
Dec. 7: Local Mic Night at Willis Show Bar, 4156 3rd Ave., Detroit
Dec. 8: Roller Skating at Bonaventure, 24505 Halsted Rd., Farmington Hills
Dec. 9: GRiZMAS Night 1 at Masonic Temple
Dec. 10: GRiZMAS Night 2 at Masonic Temple

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