June 20 2007 12:00 AM
The Scott Holt Band performs at the first Blues on the Square concert June 14. (E.J. Jocque/City Pulse)

Roy came for the music, but Becky was more interested in checking up on her neighbors.

“These things always bring out the best in Lansing, so I get caught up with the local yokels,” she said, chuckling. {mosimage}

Leather-clad biker types, sandal wearing dads and sons, mop-headed teens and a scattering of suits wandered the block throughout the evening, checking out a smattering of vending booths and taking in the tunes. In all, there appeared to be 300 to 400 folks out for the night.

“There's a lot more people than I thought there would be,” Becky said.

“But it's not as crowded as it could be,” Roy added.

After about 40 minutes of stage preparations, Scott Holt and the band from Tennessee tore into the first of two sets of upbeat blues, playing a mix of by-the-book 12-bar numbers and contemporary takes that resembled something more like southern rock or modern country.

Bill Malone, a member of the Capital Area Blues Society's board, was manning a booth. Malone's organization helped sign the national talent lined up throughout the summer for the series' first year. If Holt's electrified stomp isn't your thing, Malone said not to worry: The series will cover the spectrum, including acoustic, Louisiana Cajun and old-time southern Delta blues. Although happy with the turnout, Malone said he would like to see more people attend the series in the coming weeks.

Approaching the block's north end, Holt and Co. were drowned out by a customized vehicle from Skory Auto Sound blaring mainstream heavy metal anthems. The distracting smells of barbeque from a food vendor didn't help their case either.

Patios at nearby bars The Firm, Brannigan Brothers and Tavern on the Square were packed for the evening with well-dressed 20 to 30-somethings laughing and sometimes glancing toward the stage.

Taking a rest on his bicycle in the middle of the street, Mark Telfor watched as Holt and his two band mates played.

“I just came down to support this side of town,” Telfor said. “Hopefully they'll come later and support our festival,” the Lansing resident said.

Telfor's antique shop, Telly's Treasures, 1137 S. Washington Ave., is one of the sponsors of the REO Town Music Festival, which will be held this year for the second time over Labor Day weekend.

While most were content to sit or stand at the concert, some were dancing in the street. As Holt and the band ripped through a loyal rendition of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” Margot Mikan and Terry Johnson, a pair of West Coast swing enthusiasts from Haslett and Grand Ledge, respectively, danced on the sidewalk together. The two headed downtown for the evening because they couldn't resist the prospect of stepping to some live music. The two plan to return for future events in the series, but they do have a one suggestion — add a dance floor.

“It's difficult to dance on cement,” Johnson said.

The goal for the series, which is sponsored by Lansing's Principal Shopping District and 94.9 WMMQ, is to keep downtown workers in town after business hours and to bring people into the city who normally wouldn't come there, said Kevin Green, the PSD's executive director.

 “It met, if not exceeded, our expectations," Green said Friday of the concert.

Green gave an official estimate as 600 attendees coming from all different backgrounds and areas of mid-Michigan, including Grand Ledge, Ionia and Olivet.

“Normally any one of those people wouldn't have been downtown on a Thursday night,” he said.

Green said he would like to see as many as 2,000 people attend the series by the end of the summer. Blues on the Mall, a similar Citadel Broadcasting-sponsored series in downtown Grand Rapids in its 15th year, draws about 8,000 people, Green said.

Mayor Virg Bernero agreed that the mixed crowd was a testament to the event's success. Sporting shorts and a short-sleeved, floral print shirt, the mayor walked among the crowd, shaking hands and talking with people Thursday.

Before the evening's entertainment got started, Bernero told the slowly growing

crowd that Lansing could join Madison, Wis., and Indianapolis as state capitals with vibrant downtowns serving more than just the city itself.

“We believe that downtown Lansing will be downtown to mid-Michigan,” Bernero said.

Like Green, Bernero also found many people making their first trip to downtown Lansing in years, which he said means the concerts are already working.

“We want to be the entertainment district to mid-Michigan, and we think we're on our way,” Bernero said.


Blues on the Square


through Aug. 9

(except for July 5 and 12)

200 block of North

Washington Square

Downtown Lansing

6 p.m. - 10 p.m.