Front Row: Anthony Norkus documents the raw energy of GR’s music scene

20 Monroe Live (11 Ottawa Ave NW, Grand Rapids) brings in A-list stars, but it also regularly brings in local artists as openers. Here is just a sample of those homegrown musicians — as seen through the lens of Anthony Norkus. 

At a slender 6’7” tall, local photographer Anthony “Tony” Norkus is hard to miss — especially since he’s often at the front of the stage, Canon camera in hand, at concerts across West Michigan.

From local bands to the biggest music stars in the world, Norkus has captured countless vibrant, energetic shots from the “photo pit” since his start in 2011. Today, the Grand Rapids native is one of the area’s busiest concert photogs. Luckily for him, he enjoys his work.

“A favorite show was shooting the Pixies at 20 Monroe last year,” Norkus said. “They’re one of my all-time favorites and I never thought I’d get the chance to shoot them live, especially in my hometown. Same goes for the Descendents.”

Of course, it was his love of music that drew him toward the stage. Unfortunately for Norkus, he was far from a guitar hero, so he pursued the next best option.

“I always wanted to be in a band but had no musical talent,” Norkus said. “I figured by taking photos of bands, I could be close to them and the action without actually having to sing or play an instrument.”

Since 2011, he has worked with local music website Local Spins, shooting hundreds of concerts. This led to an opportunity with 20 Monroe Live in February 2017, where he has kept busy working as a house photographer. Last year, 20 Monroe hosted 154 events (24 were sold-out shows).

“I feel very lucky to have a venue like 20 Monroe in Grand Rapids,” Norkus said. “It brings a lot of amazing shows here that’d normally skip over us and I’d have to travel to Detroit or Chicago to see them play. Like Jack White, it still blows my mind that he came to Grand Rapids.”

As for local bands Norkus shot over the years, he said a couple stick out as the best.

“It’s hard to nail down one,” he said. “I’ve seen Mustard Plug dozens of times, but shooting them never gets old. They always have lots of energy and put on a great show. Jesse Ray is great too — he’s so intense live.”

And for those who don’t frequent concerts too often, keep an eye out and you might run into Norkus working on his other passion: snapping candid shots on old-school film.

“I love street photography,” he said. “I can spend hours walking around downtown GR looking for interesting people to shoot — especially on weekend nights.”