By Hannah Brenner
Lansing Township News Staff Reporter
“Mac’s isn’t the nicest bar in the world, but all of the stickers give it a story,” said Jake Lawrence. He, among many other concert-goers in the Lansing area, regularly attends Mac’s Bar at 2700 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing Township to see live music. It’s listed on Google as a “veteran music venue for underground rockers” and lives up to the description. Band stickers and fliers cover the walls. In some places, murals have taken over giant areas of the walls. The place has character, and it takes only a quick look around to recognize the history and the stories these walls could tell.
On first impression, Mac’s comes across as another greasy dive bar. Few would guess that famous acts such as Taylor Swift, Macklemore, Mastodon, Agent Orange, and Gaslight Anthem have played here. Most of the current shows are organized by Fusion Shows, an independent music promotion company based in Lansing. It’s hard to tell when some elements were added to the decor. The cube lights on the ceiling are a newer addition, but appear to be an original feature. The nondescript brown box on the wall is, in fact, a smoke eater from before the smoking ban.
“It’s not a good dive bar unless you have the middle finger picture of Johnny Cash,” said Fusion Shows assistant talent buyer Scott Bell. He’s spent countless hours in Mac’s Bar as a fan, as well as a behind-the-scenes employee. That Johnny Cash picture, shown above, is proudly displayed underneath the Mac’s sign. A few rogue band stickers have made their way onto the picture, but will be taken down soon. The staff of Mac’s Bar will scrape them off if they are on something “important,” like a mirror. Walls, however, do not fall under the “important” category.
Even the outside of the bathrooms are covered in stickers and graffiti. Bell noted that the girl’s bathroom mirror, above, is getting to the point where it needs attention. Bartender Craig Doepker said he has gone in with a razor blade and scraped them off on many occasions. “I’ve had to erase my name quite a few times in here, good and bad,” said Bell. “There’s a lot of Craig love.”
Still, the ladies’ bathroom is better than the men’s. The men’s room has more lewd humor and inappropriate drawings. Dominic Dickinson, from the band Affiance of Cleveland, said the stickers make, “One hell of a target in the urinal.”
Doepker has been working at Mac’s for eight years. The band stickers have crossed the bar and covered his machines. In his job he values, “The friends and weird people you meet and seeing bands go from small bands to watching these kids grow up,” said Doepker.
Though he has only been an official employee of Mac’s for eight years, he has been around a long time. “When it started being a venue in the 1990s, I was in a band and the ultimate goal for us was to play Mac’s Bar, so to work here and see kids with that same excitement is cool,” said Dopeker.
There are some places where stickers will not attach to the walls because of the smoke and grime accumulation. The stickers were simply replaced with writing, graffiti, and paintings. These range from scrawled sharpie to sizeable murals, and come from local artists that do DJ sets with live painting. Music enthusiast Devon Kirby appreciates the graffiti. “It’s an outlet for the culture that’s been cultivated there,” said Kirby. “They represent a lineage of show-goers and artists.”
The walls next to the stage used to be plywood. Now they are large pieces of black plywood because audience members were punching holes in it during shows. “The first hardcore kid that jumped up and hit it broke his hand, so kids don’t do that anymore,” said Bell.
Lawrence said he has run into the plywood plenty of times at shows but, “The plywood stage is the worst to run into.”
Justin DeBliek and Justin Morrow of Ice Nine Kills, a metalcore band from Boston, are shown above soundchecking at Mac’s on Feb. 11, 2016. Affiance, another metal band from Cleveland opened for them the same day. Member Dennis Dverdik said that he prefers cleaner, newer venues. He doesn’t think the stickers serve much of a purpose. “I would say it’s good advertisement, but there’s so many of them it looks like graffiti.”
Is it good advertisement? Michigan State University Advertising Associate Professor Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, Ph.D. says it is … to some extent. “Given all the clutter, it’s hard for a single band’s message to break through,” said Quilliam. “It’s reaching people at the point where they are interested and providing awareness. It’s probably not enough on its own, but it’s a good addition.”
The wall with the oldest stickers is squarely in front of the door. Some of these stickers have been there for over 20 years. Bands that have played here have left their mark. Bell says he thinks that is the main reason the stickers find their way to the walls. “It says to touring bands that we were here. It’s a subtle recognition of accomplishment,” said Bell. “When I’m on the road seeing another band’s sticker is cool, like my buds were here. Especially because touring can be lonely.”
Going to see live music in Mac’s Bar is an experience. It offers not only up and coming acts, but a unique environment that makes every show feel special and intimate. Doepker summed it up saying, “The place has experienced things. It gives bands a sense of why it has been here rather than some weird pristine venue that bands just come play and and there’s no feeling of being hugged by the music.”