When former Orbit Room owner and longtime concert promoter Don Dorshimer passed away in 2013, he left behind a massive musical legacy.
Known to many as West Michigan’s “Godfather of rock,” Dorshimer ran The Orbit Room since its early days back in the late ’80s when it was called Club Eastbrook. Dorshimer transformed the venue, and the music scene in West Michigan, through his work with Belkin Productions, outdoor music venue Val-Du-Lakes, and his personal passion for putting on phenomenal live concerts across our area. A true visionary, he even helped devise plans for what has since become the new 20 Monroe Live.
So when Dorshimer died suddenly at just 56, things changed at his beloved Orbit Room. The venue legally went into the hands of his then 19-year-old son, Nicholas, who turned to his mother, Melanie Dorshimer-Lewis. Together, the family has struggled to reclaim the legendary status the venue once had as one of the pioneering locations in West Michigan’s growing music scene.
“This is an American story, because we (as a country) are going away from family-owned businesses that have been in families for generations (to companies) that have been swallowed up by not only national, but international companies,” Dorshimer-Lewis said of the changes in the concert promotion industry over the last decade.
Fighting back against such trends, the still 100-percent family-owned Orbit Room has survived. The venue has more shows booked this year than last. And although some of the biggest names remain in its history — bands like Buddy Guy, Tool and Insane Clown Posse — some of the venue’s best bookings have come more recently. Swedish heavy metal band Ghost put on an unforgettable performance there just last spring, while in 2014 a then up-and-coming Twenty One Pilots sold out the venue.
“Everybody thought since we wouldn’t do shows with LiveNation, that was going to be the end of us, and in fact it’s doing anything but that,” Dorshimer-Lewis said. “We’re getting more creative shows, more interactive shows, and just a huge variety.”
Now partnering on certain concerts with independent promoter Fusion Shows (out of Lansing), The Orbit Room has hosted a wide variety of events, including the recent Pottercon.
The venue has a full slate of even more concerts and other events planned all the way into December, including a recently announced Rise Against show on Sept. 26.
“This building is poised for a big comeback,” Dorshimer-Lewis said. “I’ve been told by several sound engineers that our sound is better than any room in the area, and our sight lines are phenomenal. That hasn’t changed. And that we would not mess with. You don’t mess with magic when you’ve got that.”
Right now, Dorshimer-Lewis said they have plans to redo the venue’s front, as well as bring in new lighting and refrigeration. Repairs are also planned for damaged tiles and balcony seating, while new furniture and artwork, including some collaborations with local artists, are set to arrive in the near future.
The venue has also worked to expand its drink selection, adding select craft beers and single-serve wines to its menu.
Currently listed at a 1,800-person capacity, The Orbit Room plans to return to a larger capacity with additional renovations.
“Our original capacity was 2,300 and there’s only small tweaks I have to make to get it back up to that,” Dorshimer-Lewis said.
Looking to dispel some rumors, Dorshimer-Lewis, who acts as The Orbit Room’s chief financial officer and treasurer, admits she did have to let some people go during these recent changes. But she did not fire everyone, and made it clear she retained as many longtime employees as possible.
Through this process of renovation, she hopes to return The Orbit Room to its former glory with an audience-centered approach.
“We don’t want people to have to pay for parking and we don’t want them to break the bank when they come out to see a show,” she said of keeping costs low for concert-goers at The Orbit Room. “Especially being a family-owned company, we don’t have to answer to shareholders to continually increase profits.
“You can only do that for so long until you eventually diminish what you’re giving back to your public. We’re more about giving the public a good product.”
The Orbit Room
2525 Lake Eastbrook SE, Grand Rapids
orbitroom.com, (616) 942-1328