My guess is that many of you reading this article have been to the State Theater, the downtown Kalamazoo landmark that began life in 1927 as one of hundreds of dramatic “movie palaces” across the country designed by architect John Eberson. Perhaps you’re a long-time Kalamazoo resident with fond memories of attending movies in the ornate theater with the Spanish ambience and the clouds that moved overhead across the star-studded sky. Or maybe you’re one of the thousands who’ve had the good fortune to be in the seats when, in its second incarnation as a music and entertainment venue, the State hosted some of the top performers of the day, including Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, B. B. King, and countless other musical acts, comedians, stage performances, and special events. And if you’re reading this as a KVBA member, then I just KNOW that you’ve been to at least SOME of the outstanding blues shows that filled the State during the years that it hosted the Bud/WRKR Blues Series. All the best-known names in classic and contemporary blues, from Koko Taylor to Tab Benoit to Samantha Fish (to name only a very few) have played the State Theater stage, a record few venues anywhere can match.
So, I know you know about the State. But how much do you really know about this historic building (now the only still-operating Eberson-designed movie theater left in Michigan; a second, the Capitol Theater, still exists in Flint), and about the plans afoot for making the Kalamazoo State Theater a destination for top-of-the line performances with “New York style” sound and presentation? Owner Roger Hinman, new executive director Stephanie Hinman, talent buyer and production manager Jacob Wargo, and venue manager Tom Kiebach have big and exciting plans for taking the State to the next level and beyond.
The last regularly scheduled film played on the State’s silver screen in 1982, and the landmark building was headed for destruction when Roger Hinman, president and CEO of the Hinman Company, purchased it in 1985. Determined to save the beautiful space, Hinman explored a number of avenues for preserving the theater and giving it new life. An initial plan to continue screening movies with upgraded projection equipment proved unsuccessful, and the State began its life as a performance venue. Over the years, acts as diverse as comedians George Carlin and Jeff Dunham; bands including The Violent Femmes, the Tubes, and Deep Purple; singers like KD Lang, Joan Armatrading, Todd Rundgren, and Tom Waits; and the aforementioned endless list of blues performers have taken the stage at the State. It’s an amazing wealth of riches for a town the size of Kalamazoo; and yet, the State has struggled, and continues to struggle to stay in existence. Making ends meet has always been the bottom line, and that’s where Stephanie Hinman, Jacob Wargo, and Tom Kiebach intend to turn things around.
When taking a tour of the State Theater recently, one of the first things one notices is the new look in the auditorium itself. The production area that used to occupy a block of seats square in the middle of the main floor has been redesigned and moved to the back of the room. This not only opens up new seating, including expanded seating area for guests in wheelchairs and mobility assistance devices, but is part of a dramatic upgrade in sound quality. “We laser-scoped the entire theater to measure and evaluate the sound,” says Jacob Wargo. “Then we ran the results through a computer program that allows us to design the ideal sound effects for every seat in the house. We are using a whole new sound system, including all new speakers. We’re working with the science of sound, with the goal of creating the best possible experience for our audience.”
Wargo, who hails from Cleveland and has toured around the world working with audio and stage crews for top-flight musicians and bands such as Ann Margret, Widespread Panic, and Maroon 5, originally came to Kalamazoo as a sound engineer for Green Sky Bluegrass. “I met a girl, and I stayed,” says Wargo, who joined the State Theater team in June of 2014. He’s clearly excited about the new direction the theater is taking. “It’s going to be a multi-level experience,” he says of upcoming shows at the State. “We want to dazzle you. With the new sound and lighting, the upgraded amenities, and the intensive staging, we’re going to be presenting a bigger, fuller performance. We want people leaving the shows filled with excitement and enthusiasm.”
One thing that’s a given in a building that’s been around as long as the State is the constant need for maintenance, and recent months have seen a lot of time, effort and money put into sprucing up the grand old structure. The “green rooms” on the upper and lower levels have received new paint, carpet, and furniture; long-standing damage to walls and ceilings has been repaired; intensive cleaning has taken place; and—oh yeah—the clouds will soon be floating by above again. When the State Theater was designed in the 1920’s, it was intended to be an immersive experience just to walk into the building, and the goal is to return to as much as possible of that former glory.
Regular attendees at the WRKR/Bud Blues Series will notice a couple of other changes in future shows at the State. The large open area in front of the stage, which used to accommodate music fans who wanted to dance or just get down front close to the music, is now dedicated to regular seating. Stephanie Hinman explains that the change was necessary to comply with fire safety rules, and that while some patrons may be disappointed at losing the open area, “We have to listen to the fire marshal,” if shows are to continue.
Another change is the switch from open, or festival, seating, to reserved seating for upcoming shows. “We’re rewarding the folks who get their tickets early,” says Wargo. “It’s an incentive for people to make their plans to attend a show, and plan an evening around it.”
That last comment speaks to another of the State Theater’s crew’s visions for the theater, which is for it to become a vital presence in the community. “This is a real treasure we have here,” Stephanie Hinman says. “It can draw people not only from around Michigan but from surrounding states as well to attend the kind of shows we’re having, and they’ll bring their dollars with them. Not only will theater-goers be spending money in our community, but they’ll be spreading awareness of the area and all we have to offer.”
A quick look at the State Theater’s website gives an idea of the kind of events that the Hinmans, Wargo, Keibach and the rest of the team hope will bring in the crowds and spread the excitement. Mike Love and The Beach Boys are scheduled for December 17, while hometown boy turned country star Frankie Ballard will bring his annual Christmas concert to town on December 20. The Bob and Tom Show will delight comedy fans on December 31, Jason Isbell with special guest Damien Jurado will appear February 13, to be followed by the popular Beatles’ tribute show 1964 the next day.
And big news for all you blues fans out there: perennial favorite Tab Benoit will share a bill with Samantha Fish and Mike Zito on March 6. Even better, the Out of Favor Boys, who have a long and fun-filled history with Tab, will be opening the show. A lot of blues lovers have already purchased their tickets for this show, so don’t wait too late to get yours, or you may be out of luck!
The Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association and the State Theater have a history going back several years, with the State being one of the primary venues for live blues in the area, as well as a sponsor for the annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival ( the 22nd is scheduled for July 9, 10 and 11, 2015). Be sure to follow the developments as the State heads into the future!
Great Food and Fine Drink On Tap As Well
“We want to create a space that’s warm in winter, cool in the summer, clean and comfortable at all times, and welcoming all year round.” Sound like any place you know?
That’s Sean Smith, co-owner (with wife Amy Smith) of the Old Dog Tavern, describing the couple’s vision for the popular Kalamazoo gathering spot that opened in 2010 in the old Star Paper Building at 402 E. Kalamazoo Avenue. Sean and Amy, with the help of general manager Satch Huizenga, who joined the staff late last summer, have big plans for the space that originally housed one of many manufacturing businesses connected to the once-thriving paper industry in the area.
“We’re in a new phase,” says Satch. “We’re ready to take a growth step, building on the basic restaurant and bar format and moving into a full-blown music venue and entertainment destination. We’re working out the complex logistics, but we’re making sure we get it right. We’d rather do one thing well than a whole lot of things halfway.”
From renovating the 100+ -year-old building and expanding the food and drink offerings, to creating a large outdoor beer garden space featuring a stage, covered deck, and lots of room to mill about and dance, Satch and the Smiths are a team that is clearly excited about the future of the Old Dog.
For Star Paper, a paper-distribution company, location was everything, and the building was built in the late 19th century around the trains. To this day, trains still occasionally rumble down the tracks right beside the building, temporarily interrupting music and conversation and adding an undeniable ambience to the scene. The interior of the building still retains features of its days as an industrial site, including an enormous pulley mounted on the ceiling and, secreted behind a wall, the first working elevator in Kalamazoo.
Long-term area residents will remember the spot at 402 Kalamazoo Avenue as the Kraftbrau, a local brewpub that closed its doors in November, 2007. The closing of the Kraftbrau, which featured specialty beers and eclectic music offerings, left a hole in the local scene that the Smiths stepped in to fill in 2010. They began by continuing the basic theme of live music and refreshments, taking it further by adding a full bar and menu.
With popular offerings like the Sunday night Bloody Mary bar, a roster of unique drinks such as the ”I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” cocktail, and tasty food selections created by local chef Eric Boodt (formerly of the Oakwood Bistro), the Old Dog quickly developed a reputation for its food and drink. The regular menu that offers items like three variations on the standard Michigan pasty, pizzas, and sandwiches is supplemented by daily specials such as creative versions of risotto and mac-and-cheese as well as items like maple-glazed salmon.
Fans of live music can nearly always find something to enjoy at the Old Dog, which features music nearly every night of the week. You can start the week with the Sunday night blues jam, hosted by a different local blues band each week. Bands like Seventh Son, The Cats in the Dog, Crossroads the Resurrection, and Gator Blues start the night out with a full set of the best of the blues, and then invite visiting artists to the stage to create an evening of sound and adventure. With the recent closing of the 411 Club, ending the eight-year run of its widely attended Thursday night blues jam, the Sunday night jam at the Old Dog is becoming ever more popular with musicians and fans alike.
Follow up the Sunday blues with Happy Hour Monday (happy hour prices all day!), and then on Tuesday check out boogie-woogie piano favorite Tom Duffield at 5:00 pm, followed by Open Mic Night with Branden Mann. Wednesday promises late-night happy hour, and the live music is back on Thursday and continues right through the weekend. A wonderful variety of performers is listed every week, including local singer-songwriters, duo acts like the Duffield-Caron Project (Tom Duffield appearing every Saturday with singer Lorraine Caron), musical educators BenJammin’ and AnaLisa, and bands whose styles cover the waterfront from the sweet, old-time roots-music songs of the Hired Hands to the flat-out uproarious swing sound of the Real Fantastics. And this doesn’t begin to include the special events such as Frank Zappa’s birthday party scheduled for December 21 or the GLAMA (Great Lakes Acoustic Music Association) open jam session on December 29. You need to keep an eye on the Old Dog’s event calendar to keep up with the every-changing list of entertainment, or you’ll miss something!
One thing you notice when you enter the Old Dog is its eye-catching decor, which includes a variety of works by local artists, historical items and unusual features like the moose head on the wall, and artifacts and signs from vanished venues like Club Soda, the Whistle Stop, and the Kraftbrau. What you don’t notice on the front of the building is a sign for the Old Dog, but plans are in the works, not just for a physical sign out front, but for the continuing development of a musical signature for the entire complex. “We’re putting improvements into the sound system, listening to our patrons, and looking at who we book for upcoming musical events,” says Satch. “We’re going for a broad-based appeal that is always offering something new and exciting. It’s work, but it’s worth it—we’re on our way!”
by Lynn Headapohl
The November 22 Jim Shaneberger Band show at Bennucci’s Chicago Oven and Grill in Kalamazoo proved why this versatile, dynamic, three piece band became the winner that will represent Kalamazoo in Memphis for the 2015 International Blues Challenge. (See related article.) This truly entertaining outfit brought out Kalamazoo’s many blues supporters hungry for a rollicking night of blues, dancing, and out-and-out fun. I don’t think they were disappointed. The crowd was entertained with two long rousing sets that brought the house down.
This powerful trio led by Jim Shaneberger on Franken Fender guitar and vocals opened up with the funky jump beat blues tune “One More Chance” from their recent CD “Work In Progress”. That was followed by 3 more, each one bringing out a different shade of Jim’s fine vocals. With the rhythmic moves of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jim used his guitar talent tastefully and skillfully, never over- or under-playing. On the title tune of the new CD, his virtuosity shone through with strong leads accented by lightning-fast licks that could be likened to the butterfly flutter of Carlos Santana. From the funky groove of “You Belong To Me”, to the soft expressive leads of “You Better Leave My Girl Alone”, this group demonstrated how its gigging experience has sharpened its performance to next level.
The smooth growl of Robert Pace’s five-stringed Warwick Dolphin and the measured, hard-hitting licks of drummer Karl Schantz provided a steady backbeat that enhanced this power trio’s full sound throughout the night. The group showed its versatility with full renditions of timeless soul music, from the Temptations to Teddy Pendergrass. Bassist Pace showcased his beautifully soulful vocals on Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”. The crowd was also treated to a crazy medley mix of dance tunes that smoothly moved from blues to R&B to rock and back to R&B that kept the dance floor jumping throughout the evening. In the various R & B offerings, Pace and Drummer Schantz augmented the sound of the trio by providing smooth dynamic vocal backups, giving the band the full sound of a unit twice the size.
The high point of the night for this writer was Shaneberger‘s lyrical slide work on “If the River was Whiskey” and on the original song, “Drinkin’ Muddy Water”. This was true roots blues at its finest. At the heart of this evening of performance, we were given a modern look into a rocking, bluesy soulful unit that wants to take the roots of this music and bring it into the future, creating original songs that blend this heritage to move into the future.
Throughout the night, whether they were performing originals from their CD or covers like “Little Wing” and “Purple Rain”, they were totally committed to entertaining the folks who came to see them and have a great time. Try and get out and support them. You won’t be disappointed. They will be back in the area Friday, January 9th at the Union Cabaret and Grille in downtown Kalamazoo before they leave for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this January. They are very excited to represent Kalamazoo at the International Blues Challenge and to quote their manager, “We WILL win!”
Well, guys, know that the Kalamazoo Blues Community will support you!
For more information on the band go to its website: www.jimshanebergerband.com.
Memphis, TN (December 10, 2014) – The Blues Foundation is pleased to announce the nominations for its annual Blues Music Awards, which the international organization will present at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, May 7, 2015. The Blues Music Awards are universally recognized as the highest accolade afforded blues music performers. The annual Blues Music Awards ceremony is the premier event for blues professionals, musicians, and fans from all over the world. The focus of this celebration is to honor this rich cultural tradition by recognizing the past year’s superior achievements in blues performance, songwriting, and recording.
Leading with six nominations each are Elvin Bishop, John Németh and Sugar Ray Norcia. Veteran slide guitarist Bishop must be doing something right as his Can’t Even Do Wrong Right CD and its humorous title track secured three nominations and propelled him to additional artist, entertainer and band nominations. John Németh continued his hot hand, or should we say voice, this year’s Memphis Grease release with The Bo-Keys garnered about every album and artist nomination possible. Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and their Living Tear To Tear album also received song and album recognition and they also added artist, band and instrumentalist recognition. Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush, Janiva Magness, The Mannish Boys and newcomer Jarekus Singletoneach received three nominations.
The complete list of 36th Blues Music Award nominees can be found at www.blues.org.
Tickets for the Award show are now on sale at www.blues.org. A ballot will be soon be sent to all Blues Foundation members as they have the privilege of deciding which nominees will actually take home the Blues Music Award in May. Of course, anyone can join and become a member at blues.org!
Every year, the Blues Music Awards ceremony itself proves to be one of the best shows of the year. After all, almost every nominee not only attends, but also performs – creating a lineup comprised of the best of the best in blues all in one evening. A complete nominee list, as well as membership, voting, ticket and host hotel information can be found at The Blues Foundation’s website-www.blues.org. For more information, call 901.527.2583.
Major funding is provided by ArtsMemphis and the Tennessee Arts Commission. The 36th Blues Music Awards are also sponsored by AutoZone, BMI, Catfood Records, First Tennessee Foundation, Jontaar Creative Studios, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Sony/Legacy.
The Blues Foundation is Memphis-based, but world-renown as THE organization dedicated to preserving our blues music history, celebrating recording and performance excellence, supporting blues education and ensuring the future of this uniquely American art form. Founded in 1980, The Blues Foundation has 4000 individual members and 200 affiliated local blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Its signature honors and events–the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame, International Blues Challenge and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards–make it the international center of blues music. For more information, log onto www.blues.org.
The Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge Prepare to Head to Memphis
Hunt & Gator Take Solo-Duo Prize; Jim Shaneberger Band is Band Category Winner
The KVBA-sponsored Blues Challenge 2014, held on September 21, 2014, was a great success, due to the support of our many members who attended and supported the participating bands. The Blues Challenge offers performers from across southwest Michigan the opportunity to compete for a spot on the stage at the International Blues Challenge (IBC), the largest annual gathering of blues musicians in the world. The 31st Annual IBC, which will be held January 20-24, 2015 in downtown Memphis, Tennessee in the Beale Street Historic District, is a phenomenal gathering of blues performers and fans, literally from all over the world. Appearing at the IBC offers performers and fans alike a chance to rub shoulders with some of the greatest up-and-coming blues acts to be heard anywhere, as well as soak up the ambience and the history of Memphis and Beale Street, arguably one of the places where the blues was born.
We can’t thank our members and bands enough for making the day truly “Blues Magic”. This year we were able to sponsor two categories: Solo-Duo and Full Band.
The day started out with Hunt and Gator, a bluesy acoustic duo comprised of Dave Hunt and Dave Allemang. Their magic blending of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals set the stage with nostalgic and true roots blues. The earthy magic in their closing number of “Georgia” demonstrated the quiet beauty that represents the blues at its heartfelt core.
Cleveland and Vandenberg opened the next set with their renditions of roots blues, with well-known local guitar player Steve Vandenberg and Seventh Son keyboardist Dave Cleveland executing a perfect pairing as a duo. Sharing their talents on numbers like “Same Old Blues” and “Why Can’t I Be Satisfied”, the guys had no trouble leaving the crowd satisfied.
This concluded the first half of the day’s blues samplings with grace and style.
The first group to play in the band category,Kev Nichols & Blue Tuesday, exploded on the stage with high energy blues originals. Kevin’s big bluesy voice was driven by his tasteful exchanges on his Fender Telecaster, with Ken Smith on the Fender Stratocaster guitar. As the set progressed, the guitarists, backed by the solid rhythm section comprised of Heather Kulaga on 6-stringed bass and Greg Sauceda on drums, supplemented the vocals throughout the heartfelt set, ending with a walk-out to the audience as Kevin performed an intense moving version of his original “Angel”.
The next group up, Kathleen and the Bridge Street Band, were fronted by the silky smooth vocals of Kathleen Walters, Lansing’s own “Queen of the Blues”. Accompanied by saxophonist Jon Gewirtz’s superb musings, they glided in and out of melodies with an inspired jazzy, blues flavor. At times, the sax was hard hitting and full as he augmented Angelo Santelli’s virtuosity on the guitar. Eric Payne held the rhythm tight, as Tim Brouhard on bass moved deftly through each tune with soulful grace and intensity. Their increasingly moving set was concluded with a heartfelt original that brought the house down.
The smoking progressive blues of the Steve Hilger Band next rocked the stage, fronted by Steve Hilger on guitar and vocals along with the soulful bluesy vocalist Deborah Richmond. The big sound of the band was exemplified by saxophonist John Gist, whose command of his instrument felt good to listen to. This Chicago-style blues outfit was rounded out by the strong lead lines of Matt Young on guitar and a jamming rhythm section consisting of Dave DeVos on Bass, Bill Roelofs on drums and the festive sound of Rob Mulligan on timbales and congas.
To close the day’s competition, The Jim Shaneberger Band, a three-piece, rockin’ Texas-style-blues band led by Jim on vocals and lead guitar brought another explosion of entertainment to the stage. His command of the instrument as he built tension and brought it down throughout the set was a treat to the heart and spirit of the blues. His performance was enhanced by the driving powerhouse Karl Schantz on drums and the hard-driving bluesy/gospel bass styling of Robert Pace.
All in all, it was an exciting day for the blues and for those who attended. The judges had their work cut out for them, as all the bands were truly winners. The talent of all the bands was phenomenal. Unfortunately only one in each category could go to the Memphis competition.
The Winners for Single/Duo:
Hunt and Gator
The Winners for Band:
The Jim Shaneberger Band
Watch this space for upcoming announcements of performances by the KVBA entrants to the IBC, and be sure to come out to support them and all the other great live music acts we have in southwest Michigan!
Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds to Appear at Marshall’s Franke Center for the Arts, November 22, 2014 at 8 p.m.
Free acoustic Blues in the Down Stage Banquet Room at 7:00 pm with local performers Doug Beckman and Alvin Lautzenheizer
The Franke Center for the Arts gets ready for acclaimed blues band, Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds. Released in February 2014, on Ruf Records, Goin’ To The Delta invites you to ride shotgun with Kim Simmonds on a musical road trip through his spiritual homeland. “When I started the band back in 1965,” says Savoy Brown’s iconic front man and guitarist, “The concept was to be a British version of a Chicago blues band. Now, here we are in 2014, and once again, the music on this recording echoes the blues sounds of Chicago.”
Goin’ To The Delta is the sound of a band with the wind in their sails. Following 2011’s acclaimed Voodoo Moon and last year’s whip-cracking live set, Songs From The Road, Savoy Brown are in a swagger, and you can hear the momentum on these 12 love letters to American blues. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Kim applies his own unmistakable thumbprint to the classic blues shapes, from upbeat Windy City bouncers like “Laura Lee” and “Nuthin’ Like The Blues” to the weeping slow “Just A Dream” and the stinging instrumental, “Cobra.”
“The band’s style has evolved in many directions, whilst always keeping the blues as its root,” says Kim of the Savoy Brown. “Now we’ve come full circle. The songs and playing on this album are straightforward in focus and as basic as blues should be.”
Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown celebrate 49 years of continuous touring and recording with their new release, “Goin’ To The Delta.” Reaching #5 on the Billboard Blues Charts, #2 on the New York Roots Report and #1 Seller on Amazon in three blues categories, “Goin’ To The Delta” shows the band in peak performance and creativity, in complete command but still pushing to find even higher ground. The great lakes and surrounding area is always a favorite stop for Kim and this show is sure to deliver a blistering and sublime performance.
Savoy brown was one of the first racially mixed blues bands and that along with the Paul Butterfield blues band, helped “break down” the racial barriers in the music world.
Seventies platinum rockers, Foghat (of “Slow Ride” & “Fool for the City” fame) got their start as members of Savoy Brown (three of the four original Foghat members spent three years with Savoy Brown before leaving to form Foghat in 1970). Kim Simmonds along with rock & roll hall of famers, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, helped export American blues back to the USA in the sixties forever changing the blues and pop rock sounds.
Savoy Brown was the opening act for rock & roll hall of famer’s Cream’s (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) very first London gig in 1967. Savoy Brown was John Lee Hooker’s backing band for his 1967 tour in the U.K. Kim Simmonds has jammed with many of the blues greats such as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charles Brown & Jimi Hendrix. Savoy Brown has performed over 5,000 concerts and has been the headlining act in such legendary concert venues including Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore East and West and recorded a live album in 1972 in New York City’s famed Central Park. Superstar acts Kiss and AC/DC have been the opening acts for Savoy Brown and that Savoy Brown has performed concerts on the same bill with rock icons as Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac & Eric Clapton.
Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown have released 35 albums and ex-members of Savoy Brown have also been members of other notable rock and blues acts like Feetwood Mac, Robert Cray Band, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, U.F.O., Chicken Shack, Ten Years After and Foghat. Blues legend, Little Milton, has recorded Savoy Brown original songs and so has platinum rock acts Great White and Rare Earth. Kim Simmonds has been inducted into Hollywood’s rock walk of fame joining the likes of Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Kiss and other rock music greats!
Festivities begin at 7 p.m. with free acoustic Blues in the Down Stage Banquet Room. Performers include Doug Beckman and Alvin Lautzenheiser. Beer, wine, sodas and refreshments are available.
Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 at the door and can be purchased by calling the box office at 269-781-0001, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and one-hour prior to curtain.
Tickets also available online at www.frankecenterforthearts.org.
Student tickets are half price.
The Franke Center for the Arts is a small, 260 seat theater located in historic downtown Marshall, MI. Unlike a night club, the show experience at The Franke Center focuses on the talent and music of the performers in an intimate setting, and is quickly becoming one of the Midwest’s premier Blues listening rooms. Make your plans now to come and “hang out” at The Franke Center for this amazing blues night on November 22, 2014! The Franke Center is located at 214 E Mansion in Marshall, Michigan. For more event information, please visit our web page atwww.frankecenterforthearts.org.
Barrelhouse Catts and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday to Play Series Opener, Sunday, December 14
With this weekend’s closing of Kalamazoo’s 411 Club, which has hosted KVBA events for more than 6 years, the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association was left seeking a new venue to stage its popular series of Sunday afternoon benefit concerts to raise funds for the upcoming year’s Kalamazoo Blues Festival. Shakespeare’s Pub, a lively
gathering place that opened its doors July 19, 2003, in the old Shakespeare’s Company building on Kalamazoo Avenue, has stepped up to fill the gap. With its large selection of craft beers, excellent food, and cheerful atmosphere, Shakespeare’s has become popular with a wide and varied audience, and is offering the large stage and spacious room on its lower level to the KVBA and the 8 bands from southwest Michigan who will donate their time to help make the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival a reality.
This year’s series will kick off with Grand Rapids blues and r & b band Barrelhouse Catts, and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday, several-time competitors at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis who hail from the Jackson area. The doors will open at 3:00 pm, and the music will start at 4:00. The charge is $6.00 at the door; or buy a season pass, available online December 1, at www.kvba.org or at the door, for $20.00 for all four shows.
The Sunday Series was initiated several years ago as a way for the KVBA to reach out to fans of the blues and live music in general to raise funds for its annual blues festival, as well as promote local and regional bands and generate excitement about the upcoming festival. From four to six shows have been held each season, with every show featuring two area bands. All charges for the door go towards the festival, and other opportunities to donate toward the festival will be offered. It’s a big party, and with Shakespeare’s providing the food and drink, it should be a great time! See you there!
2014-15 Second Sunday Series Schedule
12/14/14: Barrelhouse Catts and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday
1/11/15: Gator Blues Band and Big Boss Blues Band
2/8/15: Mojo Phoenix Blues Band and Martila Sanders and Gee-Q
3/8/14: Kathleen and the Bridge Street Band and the Marci Linn Band
A Conversation With Ralph Yingling, President of the KVBA
On Saturday, November 1, 2014, Kalamazoo’s 411 Club will close its doors, ending more than six years as a gathering spot for blues fans throughout southwest Michigan. Over those years, owner Marty Spaulding and his dedicated staff have booked an unprecedented selection of local, regional and national blues acts into the club, which also hosted numerous KVBA events and became a primary sponsor for the Kalamazoo Blues Festival. In recent weeks the announcement of the club’s plan to close has rocked the local music and entertainment scene, sparking discussions about the impact the loss of the venue will have on the future of blues music in Kalamazoo and the surrounding area. John Liberty, entertainment reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette and MLive.com, recently spoke with Ralph Yingling, KVBA President, who shared his thoughts on the topic. (This is the “longer version” that you did not see on MLive.com.)
Q: What does the closure of the 411 Club mean to the local blues scene?
A: A number of local clubs have featured blues music over the years (www.kvba.org; 7/1/14). In the 22 years since the KVBA was formed, popular blues venues such as Missias’, Wonderful’s, and the Silver Bullet have closed their doors, just as the 411 Club is doing now. Other venues that have hosted blues acts from time to time have disappeared, or simply changed their focus. Thankfully the “blues scene”—blues fans showing up to hear live music performed on area stages and in area clubs by local, regional, and national acts—continued then, just as it will continue after the 411′s closure. I look at recent articles about 12 year-old-blues guitarist Sammy Melchi from Three Rivers, Buddy Guy protégé Quinn Sullivan, as well as other up-and-coming blues artists (seen and heard at youth showcases during the International Blues Challenge), and I know that blues has a future.
Q: How important was the 411 Club to the local blues scene?
A: Again, as a generous and supportive blues patron, the 411 Club was one of the primary sponsors of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival, and provided a home for the Kalamazoo blues family. Those losses are going to be sorely felt, and the relationship will be difficult to duplicate. In the near term, the local bands that regularly gigged at The 411 Club will be competing with other bands for stage time at other venues.
If one area of importance/impact can be emphasized, it was that the 411 Club did bring in touring acts, nationally-known performers that local folks are now often going to have to travel to Grand Rapids, Chicago, or other destinations to see. As such, for those traveling national and regional blues acts, exposure in Kalamazoo is going to be more difficult. Most national acts have very particular sound, lighting, and staging requirements written into the contract with the venue, along with food and lodging. The 411 Club had those requirements built-in, as well as some unique benefits for performers (e.g., there are not very many venues that can boast of a vintage Hammond B-3 as “backline equipment”). We certainly hope that other Kalamazoo venues will see the benefit of doing that, but only time will tell.
Q: Why do you think it failed to make money?
A: I think it did make money; it just didn’t make enough money. In spite of ongoing publicity efforts by the 411 Club itself and by the KVBA, public awareness of the club’s existence may not have been all that it could have been. For some folks it was thought to be located in a hard-to-reach location. The enthusiastic word-of-mouth advertising by members and club regulars helped, but on the whole, not enough. In the weeks since the closing was announced, one of the most often-heard phrases has been, “I just found out about this place and now it is closing.”
We can speculate about many possible reasons for the 411’s closing. Because it was not in the “downtown” area, it did not fall under the umbrellas of Downtown Kalamazoo & Discover Kalamazoo, which publicize downtown venues and events. The club was only rarely a stop on the monthly Art Hop circuit, which would have provided added visibility. A further factor was the problematic music industry licensing fee: instead of paying live music royalties on a 76-seat intimate music venue, the 411 was charged for occupancy for the entire music club and its adjoining nightclub complex of nearly 565 seats. This added up to a significant financial burden for the 411 Club.
An aging demographic was a factor as well. When a generation of young fans rediscovered the blues in the 1960’s and 70’s, they had time and energy to burn, and burn it they did, flocking to clubs and festivals where many of the historical giants of the blues, including Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Luther Allison, Willie Dixon, Coco Taylor, and so many more, were at the top of their game. Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, and others picked up the torch and carried it forward. Festivals like the Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival, the Chicago Blues Festival, and hundreds more across the country sprang up and brought the blues to countless fans. The festivals and performers go on today, but those young folks of 40 years ago are less likely to make the effort to go out to a club to hear live music on a regular basis, and that translates into fewer dollars spent to help keep the clubs’ doors open. There are many reasons that could be contributing factors, but the bottom line is that blues fans and live music fans did not fill up the seats on a consistent basis. No matter how good a club is, it can’t exist indefinitely without the bottom line.
Q: The Out of Favor Boys won’t be continuing their jam session. Are there talks to find a new blues night in town?
A: The Out of Favor Boys are closing the chapter on the jam session gig and moving on to the next chapter of their life as a band. They’ve done fine work; it is not easy to run a jam session, but they made it look effortless. I have heard that talks are ongoing to continue the life of “the Thursday Blues Jam”, which got its start at Wonderful’s Funky Basement long before the 411 Club appeared. I am not sure when it will start up, but readers of these pages will be among the first to find out. Of course there are the other events already happening that I’ve alluded to already. Our website has a calendar section where fans can find out where things are happening (www.kvba.org).
Q: Do you think a new blues venue will open in town?
A: I certainly believe there are venues willing to have the very well-behaved and docile “blues crowd” fill their seats. I have no doubt that our local blues bands will continue to be competitive with the other genres and will be able to co-exist. I think that any talk of a “new blues venue” is premature at best, because we are at a metaphorical crossroads right now, and several possible directions can be taken. At the very least, I hope that one of the local music venues will adopt a “blues night” to feature local blues bands and offer a regular venue for Kalamazoo’s blues music fans. As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time Kalamazoo has lost its main blues venue, and I don’t know how it will end. But I know we’ll land on our feet and the blues will go on. The music isn’t just about bad times, it’s about good times too. And I know that there are many good times to come.
Kalamazoo Valley Blues Assoc