Before writing this article, we at City Pulse asked our readers a question: What is your favorite place for live music in the Greater Lansing Area? We got the usual answers like Mac’s, the Robin Theatre and other Lansing staples. But we also got responses pointing out Lansing’s obvious shortcomings, namely the area’s lack of heavy-weight, 1,000 seat venue like those in Detroit and Grand Rapids.
“I think Lansing is a tough market because it’s so close to Grand Rapids and Detroit that it falls into a lot of radius issues,” Nate Dorough, co-founder of Fusion Shows, said. “If someone is playing one of those markets they don’t usually play Lansing too,” adding that Lansing is often “left to fight for the scraps” from the two markets.
Dorough said it’s even hard to attract the interest of MSU students. Even if there was a venue in East Lansing, he said it would have to deal with about a five-month period of minimal attendance while students are away for the summer and on various breaks.
And real estate prices in East Lansing are “outrageous,” said Dorough, forcing venues into Lansing, to which Dorough aptly pointed out, “If it’s not within walking distance from campus it might as well be on Mars.”
Lansing used to have the Civic Center, a massive concert hall that once hosted Buddy Holly, but since many Lansing venues closed up in the mid 90s, the area has been left without a central venue to host big names. But Dorough is hopeful, saying the scene in Lansing is “about as stable as it’s ever been.”
“Mac’s Bar is the cockroach that will never die,” said Dorough, affectionately. “The Avenue seems to be going well, and Dylan Rogers is doing a great job with a different kind of programming at the Robin Theatre,” adding that both the Loft and the Green Door are soldiering on.
While Lansing might not attract top 40 pop artists, it offers crowds a laundry list of intimate and unique venues unlike anything in mid Michigan. Here’s City Pulse’s list of the best live music venues Lansing has to offer.
With flier-covered walls from bands that have come and gone, Mac’s Bar is the venue that will never die. Located just past 127 on East Michigan Avenue, the loveable underdog of a dive bar is effectively genre-less, hosting local hiphop artists like Jahshua Smith & the Race Card to nationally touring hardcore bands like Trash Talk. The venue even hosts comedy every Monday night. And with a relatively small capacity, Mac’s creates an incredibly intimate, albeit downtrodden, show experience making it a favorite for local musicians.
The Avenue has existed in Lansing in one form or another for over a decade. Once operating as a café, the Avenue, 2021 E. Michigan Ave., has transformed into a venue to be reckoned with in the last five years. Establishing itself by providing a space for local music to thrive, the Avenue hosts the yearly GTG Fest, and shows from Lansing-locals like Desmond Jones, Conspicuous Bystanders, and Scary Women, making it an Eastside staple.
On the rare occasion that a massively famous band stops in the area, it plays the Loft, Lansing’s biggest yet still midsized venue. During any given week the spacious second-floor space usually hosts a national touring act or two, recently billing shows by Turnstile, the Werks and Every Time I Die. The Loft sits in the Stadium District at 414 E. Michigan Ave., within walking distance of all downtown attractions.
The Robin Theatre
Housed in a century-old historic structure in REO Town, the Robin Theatre exudes a vaudeville vibe unlike any other venue in Lansing. While many rooms in town cater to the mainstream, the Robin Theatre isn’t afraid to host genres that don’t often get the credit they deserve, citing jazz, folk and R&B as their mainstays. The venue also serves as the home field for co-owner Dylan Rogers’ musical outfit the Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle. Besides music, the Robin Theatre offers a variety of entertainment. Performances by the Comedy Coven and the Broad Underground Film Series are staples in the theatre’s schedule.The Green Door
Making its mark as a blues bar, the Green Door has taken on more of an eclectic vibe of late. While the blues make a come back every Wednesday night, the bar also hosts Scratch Pilots every Tuesday when hip-hop heads and M.C.s swarm the bar to spin vinyl and spit bars. On weekends, the Green Door attracts some of Lansing’s best cover bands like the 80s obsessed, tracksuit-wearing Starfarm and hair metal fanatics Glamhammer. The bar is also known for attracting some of MSU’s finest jazz musicians for the occasional pickup jazz and funk set. Located at 2005 E Michigan Ave., the Green Door sits in the heart of the east side.
The Record Lounge
Once a staple of the East Lansing community, the Record Lounge now resides in REO Town at 1132 S. Washington Ave. After making a fluid transition to its new space, the Record Lounge hasn’t missed a beat in scheduling monthly shows in their tiny storefront space. The record shelves and old receivers are moved aside to make way for P.A.s, amps, and mics to provide a space for the best names in local music. The Record Lounge will continue booking shows in spring.
The Pump House Concerts
The Pump House hosts folk and Americana shows in its converted 1930s WPA water pumping station. Located on 368 Orchard St. in East Lansing, the venue attracts both local bluegrass musicians and national acts alike.