Upon Closer Listening: Intimate new music venue Listening Room offers completely new experience

Up until now, Grand Rapids’ growing and thriving music scene hasn’t offered music lovers a place where close, careful listening takes center stage.

Listening Room changes that. 

Located in the brand-new Studio Park entertainment district at 123 Ionia Ave. SW, along Oakes Street SW in downtown Grand Rapids, the 200-person-capacity music venue makes sound paramount. 

Completely seated for every show, the intimate, comfortable concert environment will encourage audience members to sit back, relax and soak in the music.

“Listening Room has got a Sinatra vibe to it, with booths along the walls for larger groups of attendees,” said Quinn Mathews, Listening Room General Manager and Talent Buyer. “There’s a bar with servers. Nice bourbon, beer, wine. But when those houselights go down and stage lights go up, you shut up and listen for the next two hours.”

The venue plans to be active with live music as often as 20 nights per month. So rather than celebrate with a grand opening event, Mathews wants to launch right into the large slate of shows he has planned for the space.

“I didn’t want to just open with one big show as a grand opening,” he said. “I wanted to open by announcing 30 shows coming up, which we did.”

The already expansive schedule of concerts starts with Mexo-Americana duo David Wax Museum on Nov. 6, followed by singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones on Nov. 7, and two nights with Pedro The Lion frontman David Bazan, Nov. 8-9. 

Last month, Listening Room hosted a handful of soft opening concerts so Mathews and his staff could dial in all the details, from the audio to the stage and seating. Those shows included a benefit for Heartside Ministry featuring Michigan artist and The Voice finalist Joshua Davis, as well as performances from other area artists.

“We have such an amazing music scene here in Grand Rapids on many levels,” Mathews said. “For starters, we have incredible musicians that call Grand Rapids home. Some are full-time touring musicians that travel the country and come home to GR, some are musicians that live here and play locally.”

He added that he wanted Listening Room to serve as a place where all talent could get the attention it deserves, from rising local bands to internationally acclaimed stars.

“We have an incredible community here and I was lucky to be manager at eclectic music station WYCE 88.1-FM for a couple years, and I was around so many music fans that appreciate so many different styles of music,” Mathews said. “Listening Room is designed to be a place to go to take in the art of music, to let go of your day for a few hours and appreciate the work that goes into creating a song, no matter what style of song it is. 

“Listening Room doesn’t mean quiet acoustic music at all times; it means quiet audience at all times.”

The venue already plans to host several local music events, including the monthly Songtellers Stories & Songs series, originally hosted by GR singer/songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma at Creston Brewery. 

“I spent 10 years down in Nashville before moving here,” Mathews said of his days as a musician. 

“Writers’ rounds are in every bar on every corner, every night. It’s how you get out to test new material or tell stories about any of your original material. I’m glad Nick started this series. I’m sure there will be a lot of this kind of thing in Listening Room and it’s going to be fun to have a monthly Stories & Song vibe with a wide variety of local and regional musicians.”

Modeling Listening Room’s active schedule of shows after similar venues like The Ark in Ann Arbor and City Winery in Chicago, Mathews hopes to have musicians in the room at least four nights a week, if not seven. 

Most shows at Listening Room will open at 6 or 6:30 p.m., with music starting between 7:30 and 8 p.m. 

“We did some interviews with music fans and it seemed like people were asking for some earlier shows for a couple reasons,” Mathews said. “One may be they want to be done and go home. Or, two, they can leave this show and head right over to Founders or The Intersection or The Pyramid Scheme to catch a late show. I like both of those ideas.”

For a full schedule of Listening Room events — including a two-evening run from GR’s own The Verve Pipe, Nov. 29 – 30, and a two-set performance from Michigan singer-songwriter Laith Al-Saadi, Nov. 6 — visit listeningroomgr.com.

Listening Room
123 Ionia Ave. SW,
Grand Rapids