Above: Grace Vonderkuhn and bandmates Dave Mcgrory (left) and Brian Bartling will play The Queen on Friday, April 14. Photo by Skylar Kley.

By JulieAnne Cross

One could be forgiven for hearing frontwoman and songwriter Grace Vonderkuhn’s surname and thinking it translates to “wonder kid.” That loose translation “sounded cool” to the 32-year-old Wilmington resident, born Grace Koon, when she first used the moniker as a solo performer.

Of the alleged ancestral name adopted for the stage, she says, “There was a ‘V’ in it, so it reminded me of Van Halen.”

Since 2016, Vonderkuhn has led and played guitar in an eponymous three-piece band with Newark-based bassist Brian Bartling and Philadelphia-based drummer Dave Mcgrory. The trio has been labeled everything from “’90s-influenced indie rock,” “lo-fi,” “glam-y” to “garage rock.”

“We went to Chicago to film an Audiotree [music discovery platform] live session. I would like to get back into touring more,” she says.

“It’s kind of fun to introduce yourself to people who maybe haven’t heard you before. For a while I maybe preferred playing out of town … I don’t want people to get tired of us.”

Back on the Scene

In 2022, the band was tapped to play NON-COMM, “the premier annual industry conference for non-commercial triple-A radio stations” that typically occurs in Philadelphia every May (although NON-COMM came to Wilmington in 2011). They shared a bill with artists such as Father John Misty, Sharon Van Etten, Spoon and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Grace Vonderkuhn performing at a past Shine A Light concert at The Queen. O&A file photo/Joe del Tufo .

While the artistic process is keeping her tethered to Delaware, the one-time hair stylist and current catering company staffer is enjoying regional opportunities and exploring another genre — electronic music — under the name Creep Bandita. 

“Hopefully, with this third album, we can do some more touring on that album cycle,” says Vonderkuhn. “We’ve really just been playing around Philly and Baltimore; nothing flashy like South by Southwest, but we’ve definitely played a lot of shows with bands that we really like.”

The band has been tapped for a three-act show on Friday, April 14, in connection with Record Store Day (April 22). The Vinyl Countdown will feature Grace Vonderkuhn, Region, and TreeWalker in the main hall at The Queen starting at 6:30 p.m. The event celebrates local music, offering a pop-up vinyl market, with tickets priced at just $13.

Melissa Forsythe, the owner of Rainbow Records in Newark, who booked Grace Vonderkuhn for The Vinyl Countdown, says Vonderkuhn has “been an integral part of the music scene for as long as I can remember.”

“This current line-up of people that Grace is playing with work so well together that the full potential of her songwriting, and their collective songwriting, shines really brightly,” Forsythe says. “They are truly a power trio.”

Vision for the Future

Fantasy gigs for the band, according to Vonderkuhn, would be opening for a group like Guided by Voices, or perhaps Alvvays, which Vonderkuhn considers to be a contemporary influence on her style. 

Building on the NON-COMM appearance, a booking at the XPoNential Festiva l —or anything on the festival circuit, whether that be Firefly or Bonnaroo — is something the band aspires to.

Reveries didn’t just inspire an album name; the term could describe Vonderkuhn’s personal playlist, too. She says her Spotify listener data (which users can request through the app’s “Wrapped” function) concluded that one of her most-played artists of 2022 was Julee Cruise, an ethereal dream-pop style singer featured on the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

“I haven’t been listening to any heavy-hitting hard rock, just relaxing and dreaming,” she says.

The respect level the band receives is no dream.

Says Forsythe: “I book a lot of shows in the area and usually my first thought is, ‘I wonder if Grace can play this event.”

“When people ask me what Delaware artists they should check out, I always say Grace Vonderkuhn. But by the amount of people that come out to see them play, I think my assessment of how good they are is spot on. They kill it 110% of the time.”