If Jeff Haas is a cocktail pianist, he mixes a heady cocktail. The Traverse City-based pianist and composer has been swirling the music of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other jazz legends with his own original compositions, along with fresh takes on the Great American Songbook, at two jam-packed summer gigs in northwest Michigan all summer.
When The Pyramid Scheme opened its doors in April 2011, the atmosphere its co-owners had in mind was clear. They wanted employees who cared about their establishment, their neighborhood and, above all, the music. If they had that, everything else would fall in to place.
When he’s out and about in Kalamazoo, little kids will sometimes see Richard Bowser, his portly stature and flossy white hair and beard, and think: Santa Claus. And Bowser, a man with a sense of humor and fun, will engage them. “Have you been good?” he’ll say. If it’s summer, he lets them know he’s on vacation from the North Pole. But Bowser is, in real life, a cultural Santa Claus for the region.
After being lead into the spotlight by stagehands, Brian Wilson sat down at his piano and immediately let his fans at the Fox Theatre know he was happy to be in the Motor City. Good vibrations filled the room. It was a jovial start to what became a night of over 30 songs from Wilson’s long repertoire of intricate pop songs.
A thriving music scene not only requires an amazing mix of talented musicians, it also needs a collection of solid venues to provide the stage and atmosphere. And while what follows is by no means a comprehensive list of West Michigan’s assorted music spots, it’s definitely a mix of the ones you should have on your radar – if you don’t already.
When Joshua Davis appeared on the season-eight premiere of “The Voice,", the viewing audience that one evening was a 13.97 million viewers — a far cry from his previous string of intimate gigs. “Last time I went to East Lansing I played (SCENE) Metrospace — there were maybe thirty people there,” recalled Davis. “Now I’m playing Wharton Center and over half of the tickets sold already,” he said.
A few years ago, the Martin Prosperity Institute released a study measuring the country’s most active music scenes. As one would expect, cities like Nashville, New York and Los Angeles claimed the top spots. But there was one little blurb that caught the attention West Michigan locals: “Other smaller metros that do better than expected are Kalamazoo, Michigan (the former home of the Gibson guitar factory, founded in 1902, and the site of some major classical music festivals) at 8th overall...”
Battle Creek may not have been the hub of the alt-rock universe in the mid-1980s, but that’s not to say the Cereal City didn’t produce a handful of worthwhile bands, and one of the very best was the Sinatras. Featuring Ron Casebeer on guitar and vocals, Karl Knack on bass and vocals, and Scott Stevens on drums, the Sinatras could be concisely described as a loud pop band, not quite punk but sharp enough to pass in dim light, and possessing plenty of sharp, hooky tunes in a variety of styles.
The Midwest has been a cradle for some of emo music’s most influential and hardworking bands. Even as some of the emo/math rock/hardcore-centric venues in the area came and went (i.e. The DAAC, Skeletones), the sound has undeniably stuck.
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