On a High Note … The Local Impact of Live Entertainment
Almost any night of the week, you’d be pressed to not find some type of live music in the Lansing area. In the summertime, live entertainment ramps up with open-mic nights, concerts in the park, Music in the Mansion at Turner Dodge House in Lansing, Old Town General Store concerts inthe Courtyard and the East Lansing Summer Concert Series.
And that’s just the beginning.
Local venues like Mac’s Bar, the Green Door and the Avenue feature live music nearly every night, and they’re all within walking distance of each other. Further down Michigan Avenue, you can head on over to the Nuthouse, The Exchange or The Loft to catch a live show. Old Town’s got you covered, too, with Unicorn Lounge, the UrbanBeat Event Center and Zoobies. In REO Town, there’s a listening room at the Robin Theatre, weekly music at Blue Owl Coffee and live in-store performances at the Record Lounge.
For many Greater Lansing residents, summer calendars are filled with local festivals. Mighty Uke Day takes over Old Town in May, Lansing Beerfest in June, and Common Ground Music Festival and the Three Stacks Music Festival in REO Town in July. The new Lansing Eastside Folklike Festival, Lansing JazzFest and Sundried Music Festival in Mason all take place in August. September brings Michigan BluesFest to Old Town and the PRIME Music Festival to downtown Lansing.
MiEntertainment Group Marketing Director Jenna Meyer spoke about the Lansing live entertainment company. According to Meyer, the group was formed in 2017 after the dissolution of Meridian Entertainment Group and separation of former business partners Kevin Meyer and Brad Coombs. The three-employee company produced live events – ranging from multiple-day music festivals to corporate events – for over 30 years.
In town, MiEntertainment Group is responsible for the Common Ground Music Festival, PRIME Music Festival, Silver Bells in the City entertainment, the MLK Commission and more.
The Common Ground Music Festival has become a staple for many Lansing residents given its longstanding history in its familiar location. Meyer attributes its longevity to the festival’s adaptability in the ever-evolving industry.
“From economic declines and the loss of disposable income for many of our customers to competing with big businesses in nearby markets like Grand Rapids and Detroit,” said Meyer, “we are always prepared for change.”
Next summer, Common Ground is celebrating its 20th anniversary of bringing world-class talent to Lansing. While the initial audience is aging out, the festival continues to contribute economically.
Over the last 19 years, Common Ground has contributed roughly $70 million in economic impact and kept entertainment dollars in the tri-county region, according to Meyer.
“Events like Common Ground and PRIME have also established very positive reputations in the industry as being excellent festivals to play,” Meyer said. “We pride ourselves in having great relationships with agents and managers around the world that give Lansing opportunities to have international pop stars like Halsey and country superstars Tim McGraw and Toby Keith – to name a few.”
Working closely with several community partners including Lansing Catholic Central High School, St. Gerard Catholic Church, Epicenter of Worship, Boy Scout Troop 121 and Breadhouse Youth Group, Common Ground also donates over $5,000 worth of tickets to charity auctions.
For many Lansing residents, the entertainment scene improves the quality of life.
“Concerts and live entertainment are vital to creating a sense of place in a community,” said Tania Howard, who hosts weekly open-mic nights, and books Friday night concerts at Blue Owl Coffee in REO Town. “They not only increase the number of dollars that are flowing locally, which positively affects local businesses, the people who work for them and the city as a whole through increased tax revenue; but also increase the number of people who actually want to live and stay there.”
Local musician Alex Mendenall has performed all over the state and at local gigs including Old Town Lansing’s Festival of the Moon and Sun, where he credits the arts as an invaluable resource.
“When you have a city where people know they can just walk around and stumble into a great bar with a band … I think it makes a huge difference,” Mendenall said. “It increases the amount of locals walking around and spending money in their city. It raises awareness so that other people from other cities come by to spend their money in your city. All of which makes the cycle spin faster.”
Graphic designer Maurica James works at the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which also hosts Lansing concerts. Along with the positive impact economically, James believes live music increases the morale of the community.
“The more pride you have means more dollars spent improving everything in the community, from roads to creative placemaking to livening the cultural scene,” James said.
For Lansing Brewing Company (LBC) Sales and Marketing Manager Keri Brown, live music adds to the burgeoning beer scene. Hosting live shows Friday and Saturday evenings and outdoor summer patio performances, the business largest crowds include local favorites Starfarm and Steppin’ In It. LBC also include music as part of the Winter Warrior Patio Party, 517 Party and Brewtoberfest.
“Music truly brings life to these parties by bringing everyone together in a shared interest,” Brown said. “It can also give new customers the opportunity to visit our business and the downtown Lansing Stadium District that may not have otherwise sought us out.”
Though Lansing does have many outlets of live entertainment, some consider it lacking when compared to bigger cities in the state.
Competing with two larger music markets, Lansing’s tertiary market goes up against Grand Rapids and Detroit frequently. Nate Dorough, co-founder, president and lead talent buyer of Fusion Shows, also aims at bringing and keeping live music in Lansing.
Founded in 2008, Fusion Shows has held over 2,700 performances across the state, many in Lansing at Mac’s Bar and The Loft. According to Dorough, Lansing is in a strange position in comparison to the resurgence of downtown Detroit and the strength of the Grand Rapids art community.
“It’s kind of put Lansing in this position,” Dorough said. “Stuck in the middle of a lot of other bigger concert markets.”
The small staff of Fusion Shows is dedicated to nurturing a supportive, creative and welcoming scene of musicians and fans.
“I think the one place we really do take pride in making an impact is that we definitely try to be placebuilders,” Dorough said. “We want Lansing to be a place where people want to stay. Just creating things to do is a very important part of that.”
In order to keep a creative community alive and sustainable in Lansing, support is necessary, according to Dorough. “You have to support it,” Dorough said. “And its got to be a consistent effort.”
“Support the show and show up, and bring a friend. Support the things that you can attend,” he added. “If you can’t make it to a show on Saturday, tell some friends about it and say, ‘Hey, I can’t make it to this, but you should.’ It’s really important.”
Elderly Instruments creative strategist, local business owner, musician, and arts enthusiast Ty Forquer also believes live entertainment is an important part of keeping people here.
“If the social scene feels dead, a young professional may start looking for opportunities in another city,” Forquer said. “But if they’re going out at night and on the weekends and really enjoying the culture, they might think about settling in, which is a long-term benefit to the city.”
For local musician Chip Herbert, that was exactly the case. In 2012, he moved from Muskegon to Lansing and began working at Marshall Music Co. He started looking for open mics and quickly found a network of friends, many seasoned musicians, and a sense of home.
“I have learned so much from these people because of their willingness to keep the scene alive as well as their willingness to mentor a young musician who shares an interest,” Herbert said.
With local organizations continuing to invest in the arts and bringing new festivals like PRIME and the Eastside Folklife, the importance of live entertainment in a community is evident. Just as local businesses rely on customers, a thriving live entertainment scene requires support. That support presents benefits for local venues, record stores, restaurants, coffee shops, promoters, and the local community’s morale and economy.