Live music in Lansing creates opportunity for local bands

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Looking to listen to a local blues band, or maybe a classic rock cover band? Downtown Lansing offers a variety of shows and events to suit every music lover’s needs.

The city of Lansing has been pushing “Alive After Five,” an initiative to get residents of Lansing downtown after business hours. The growing nightlife is partly due to the expanding music scene.

One of the larger music venues in downtown Lansing, The Loft, has many opportunities for up and coming bands to put themselves out in the music scene.

The Homegrown Throwdown, a battle of the bands competition put on by The Loft for 14 years running, was one of the first big milestones for local band Vandalay. They were winners of the Homegrown Throwdown in 2014 and played to their first sold out crowd. Coming onto the music scene in 2012, Vandalay was a four-piece band, but now consists of duo Jake Greenwood and Ben Warner.

Greenwood said that Vandalay has in played venues from the House of Blues in Chicago to Common Ground Music Festival in Lansing. This year, they are set to play Beerfest at the Ballpark at the Cooley Law School Stadium in downtown Lansing.

However, Vandalay had not always played these venues. During their college years, they started out playing house parties and any other show they could pick up. Luckily, Lansing has a great atmosphere to do this.

Chris Doerr, drummer of The Jonestown Crows, said that there has always been a large underground music scene in Lansing.

“There is always a lot of bands, always places to play, and always people who want to come out and watch,” Doerr said.

Professor at University of Southern California and expert in music industry analysis Chris Sampson said that all successful music scenes have a great sense of community among the musicians. They team up to produce events, play in each other’s bands, and share space in recording and rehearsal studios.

“If there are a lack of venues to play, they create opportunities through house parties, local festivals and other events. Audiences see this cooperative scene happening and want to be a part of it creating a loyal, local fan base,” Sampson said.

The Jonestown Crows, 2015 winners of the Homegrown Throwdown, are a six-piece group that consider themselves a mix of gothic country, blues, punk and rock. They have played events such as Old Town OktoberFest, Art & Craft BeerFest in Reo Town, and Lansing Beer Fest in Reo Town. Doerr said that there are a lot of bars and venues to play at in downtown Lansing; a lot tend to go by genre.

Colleen Kelley, employee at The Avenue Cafe on East Michigan Avenue and North Fairview Avenue, said that they typically cater to punk metal or rockabilly bands, but they are open to all genres.

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The Green Door Blues Bar & Grill caters to all genres including Blues, classic rock, and Bluegrass. Photo by Emily Lovasz.

In addition to The Avenue Cafe, bands can look to play at Mac’s Bar on the corner of East Michigan Avenue and Charles Street, The Green Door Blues Bar & Grill on the corner of East Michigan Avenue and North Clemens Avenue, and Unicorn Tavern in Old Town, which caters to classic rock and blues cover bands. Reo Town also has annual events year-round.

Kelley said that she has seen the music scene expand within the past few years, and while there is a lot to offer in terms of events downtown, she would to see it expand even more.

Michigan State University student Austin Lintz said he feels disconnected from the scene in downtown Lansing. Lintz said he only goes to bars in East Lansing because they are close to Michigan State and are easy to get to.

“I would love to do stuff in Lansing, I just don’t really know anything about it and I don’t think it is very well advertised,” Lintz said. “If there is more of a connection between the two cities, that would be awesome.”

Doerr also said that is one thing the Lansing music scene lacks. A majority of students don’t really visit Lansing. Bridging the gap between the two could create even more opportunities for bands to put themselves out there.

Sierra Denae is a native of Lansing and an alternative rock singer who participated in the Homegrown Throwdown this year. Denae said that people who aren’t musicians don’t seem to know about the venues and bars that have live shows.

“It (Alive after Five) makes me excited. Trying to make a career here, it’s hard because nobody really wants to take in new artists, but if they are trying to promote nightlife, it could be a great opportunity,” Denae said.

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A map of local bars and music venues in downtown Lansing, Old Town, and Reo Town. They offer a variety of live music and entertainment that contributes to the night life and growing music scene in Lansing. Map by Google Maps. Graphic by Emily Lovasz.

Sam Cummins, Lansing resident and bartender at Mac’s Bar, said that there is a strong local following and support for local groups in Lansing.

This following comes from promotion and creating connections with other bands and people in the community. A large part of expanding the music scene is going out and supporting other bands.