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Twenty-one and up bars limit live music in East Lansing

February 8, 2018
Pictured is Harper's Restaurant and Brew Pub on Feb. 6, 2018 at 131 Albert Ave, East Lansing.
Pictured is Harper's Restaurant and Brew Pub on Feb. 6, 2018 at 131 Albert Ave, East Lansing. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Red Hot Chili Peppers played at Dooley’s in East Lansing in Nov. of 1987. Dooley’s closed in 1996 and sat where Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub currently resides. It had a host of musical acts throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s including U2 and The Ramones. Rick’s American Cafe hosted hundreds of concerts in the 1990s. 

Present day, however, sees fewer live shows at East Lansing bars.

“I see a lot of towns, I’d like to think I’ve been to the 'Lansing, Michigan' in every state ... and I’ve been to the 'Lansing, Michigans' in England and Germany ... This Midwest college town definitely punches above its weight,” Scotty Bell said. 

Bell, a Lansing native, is a talent buyer for Fusion Shows, an independent concert promotion company based in REO-Town, Lansing. 

“I think Lansing could definitely use a competitive venue in East Lansing," Bell said.

Bell is a talent buyer for Mac’s Bar, which is located just west of East Lansing, on Michigan Avenue in Lansing Township. Bell brings in touring talent from across the country in a variety of genres. Mac’s is an 18 and up bar, which is where the bar differs from East Lansing bars.

“For metal we’ve had Mastodon ... for hip-hop, Macklemore played there for 50 people, and nobody cared. Now he’s gone on to do great things. Lil B (The Based God) has played there,” Bell said. “The reason we promote to kids in East Lansing is because we know they can’t do anything if they aren’t 21.” 

In East Lansing, the options for live music have dwindled through the years. Crunchy’s, a bar and restaurant located on West Grand River Avenue in East Lansing, offers live music on Wednesdays. The entrance requirement is 21 and up after 9 p.m. Dublin Square Irish Pub also hosts live music on the occasion, but entrance is also 21 and up. 

“We play a decent amount of shows around the co-op scene. Our last show was Sunday at Orion,” environmental engineering senior Michael Keenan said. “We’re talking about getting a gig at Mac’s Bar, but that hasn’t happened yet.” 

Keenan plays guitar in the four person alternative rock band called Midnight Reef. He is also a member of Hedrick co-op, which is affiliated with the MSU Student Housing Cooperative. 

According to the MSU SHC website, “The MSU Student Housing Cooperative owns 14 houses in East Lansing and 1 house in Lansing, all of which are entirely member-owned and democratically operated”. 

“The co-op house party scene that the bands play around, I think that’s a really unique scene to be honest. I don’t think it’s always been around,” Keenan said. “Twenty years ago, I’ve heard from other people, there really weren’t bands and DJ’s at every co-op party. So it’s a pretty unique thing and it would be hard to replicate at an actual Harpers or a Rick’s.” 

GRiZ, an electronic dance artist/saxophonist, played at these co-ops during his time as a MSU student. 

“They’re fun enough, I’d say, there totally is a lack of variety in music,” Keenan said about East Lansing's bars. “I find it really annoying when a DJ will start a new song and then after one verse or chorus, immediately switch to a new song and keep doing that over and over again all night.”  

The current East Lansing bar scene has not always been the status quo. Dooley’s, which was open from 1973-96, hosted a plethora of up and coming bands for its time. 

Rick’s American Cafe, staying true to its sign, which reads “live music” on the left side, did in fact, have live music throughout the 1990’s. The Counting Crows played at Rick’s in Nov. 1993, with Rick’s hosting two to three shows per week in 1993.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played at Rick's in April 2008. The last band to perform at Rick's was LexiconDon in July, 2011. 

“It’s the same stuff everywhere, it’s very repetitive. It’s like my least favorite part of the bars, definitely. It’s always the same stuff every night, there’s no difference between each bar,” computer science senior Brett Dziedzic, who is a member of the Bowie co-op. “One of the things that really drew me into the co-ops, just the scene. It changes the whole atmosphere of a party ... Having live music is definitely a big positive.” 

The minimum amount of travel to see a live show is Lansing, with venues including Mac's Bar  and The Loft. Many students travel to bigger venues in Detroit and Grand Rapids. 

“Locally, I’ve been to Mac’s the most out of any place in Lansing,” Dziedzic said. “If it’s a bigger show, Detroit, sometimes Grand Rapids but usually downtown Detroit. There’s a lot of small Venues there, El Club, The Majestic, Magic Sick, places like that.” 

With the drinking age set at 21 years old, it severely limits the amount of students who have access to nightlife. It is not uncommon to see 18 and up bars in other college towns. 

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“There’s a lot of artists out there, especially cool college artists, who would play in East Lansing proper, but they're not going to step into a 21-plus venue because they're cutting out a big chunk of their market,” Bell said. “Lansing is a discovery market, where artists are beginning to get fans in college and grow with them. If you can’t do that, then you’re stuck with the 21 and up age limit, you might as well play in Chicago or Grand Rapids.” 


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