Beautifully maintained historic homes have always drawn tourists to Marshall, but the community is fast-becoming a destination for the blues.
On Feb. 2-3, the community is hosting its eighth annual Ice, Wine, Beer and Blues Fest. The majority of the entertainment takes place at the Franke Center for the Arts and in the city’s downtown area, according to Patty Williams, the center’s executive director.
The 270-seat Franke Center offers an intimate setting for audiences to enjoy the music while also sipping on a glass of beer or wine. As part of a major renovation in 2015, the 120-seat Downstage Club in the auditorium’s lower level was created to offer an even more up-close experience with performers, William said.
“It’s more of a club feel with a bar down there as well,” Williams said. “There’s not a bad seat in the house. We are kind of known as a blues venue and the blues shows sell out. I think people like that ‘live’ feel.”
The Downstage Club will serve as the backdrop for a 5 p.m. performance on Feb. 3 by the Big Boss Band. The Jake Kershaw Band takes the main stage at 7 p.m., followed by the headliner, Harper and Midwest Kind. To complement the entertainment, a beer, wine and BBQ dinner is available for purchase.
Kershaw, 17, is a Marshall native. When not performing, he is focused on finishing out his senior year at Marshall High School, where he plays in the school’s marching band.
While Kershaw and other musicians who have performed at the Franke Center are aware of the venue, Williams said it remains a well-kept secret – something she and her four-person part-time staff are trying to change.
“At every show, we ask for a show of hands to see who hasn’t been here before and a fair number of hands go up,” she said. “We have a limited budget, so we’re not able to do a lot of advertising. For us, it’s a matter of trying to reach people to let them know that we’re a ‘go-to’ destination for live, quality entertainment.”
The majority of patrons come from Battle Creek and Marshall, although people also come from Grand Rapids, northern Indiana and the Chicago and Detroit areas.
The Franke Center was established after the building went through a series of occupants. Following a Methodist church’s move out of the structure in the 1970s, it became the Marshall Civic Center and its occupants included the Marshall Civic Players, the oldest amateur theatrical organization in Michigan. In 1998, the building was in need of major renovations, but a bond proposal to finance the work failed by a very close vote, causing city leaders to consider the demolition or sale of the building.
A group of community members stepped in to form a nonprofit, enabling them to purchase the building and make the necessary improvements. In 2004, the Joyce and Lucy Franke Center for the Arts became a reality.
Since that time, Williams said the center has undergone a major renovation project designed to increase its appeal to both performers and audiences.
While the Franke Center is the focal point of the festival on Saturday, Marshall’s downtown area will take center stage on Friday with wine and beer tastings from 6-10 p.m. at downtown business locations. Individuals 21 and older can purchase a wristband for $25 to receive 10 wine/beer 2 oz. tastings and sample heavy appetizers.
Joe Caron, a volunteer in charge of choosing the wine selections, said he is making sure that there is a good variety from different regions around the world along with some wines that people have not tried before.
One-of-a-kind pottery goblets created by local artist Romelle Frey will be available for $10 each for those who want to sip their beer and wine in style against a backdrop of comic-book themed ice sculptures created under the steady hand of John Merucci.
Williams said the festival offers a unique way to beat the winter blues while supporting the blues.
“We encourage everyone to come out and give us a try,” she said.
Ice, Wine, Beer & Blues
Franke Center for the Arts
214 E. Mansion St., Marshall
Feb. 2-3, $26