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New venues invigorate the Detroit metro area

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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The new year will bringing new places to see and hear music in the metro area.

And not just Little Caesars Arena, which is expected to host its first concert during the summer.

The end of 2016 saw three small venues open their doors -- the long-awaited Flagstar Strand Theatre in Pontiac, the re-opened Emerald Theatre in Mount Clemens and the Parliament Room in Ferndale's Otus Supply restaurant. It's the busiest cluster of fresh rooms in quite some times, and it speaks to a continuing, and even increasing, demand for live music and entertainment.

"I think that it means people are really looking for more," says Scott Guy, a Detroit area music business veteran who is booking and curating music for Otus Supply. Seeing the openings and closings of all different styles of music-based venues, whether it's the 7th House in Pontiac years ago or electronic clubs downtown (Detroit), people love to go see live music, and they really like it when the places are new."

The key, according to Joe Choma of Detroit's Grand Circus Media, is that these new venues complement each other -- and the general market -- more than they compete.

"As a whole venues have to be careful about oversaturating the market with too many shows. It's a big market, but we're not New York, Chicago, L.A." Choma explains. "Each of these kind of represents different themes. They each have their own kind of emphasis. They're not going after the same audience."


That doesn't mean they aren't going for different crowds within their own programming, of course. The 900-seat Strand, for instance, rolled out an eclectic initial schedule that runs a gamut from the Russian National Ballet Theatre -- whose "Swan Lake" formally opens the theater on Jan. 23 -- to jazz artists such as David Sanborn and Gerald Albright, "American Idol" alumnus Phillip Phillips and international fare like the Festival of South African Dance and the Martial Artists and Acrobats of Tianjin.

"We want to book everything -- music, theater, comedy, whatever can think of that's entertainment," says Strand CEO Bill Lee, who's targeting more than 150 performances per year for the venue. "We want to make this an exciting performing arts center that's a real destination for people and a reason to come to Pontiac."

Lee is confident a number of assets will help the Strand succeed, including a population of 2.3 million people living within 20 minutes of the venue, ample parking (including valet), Slow's Barbeque as part of the building on Saginaw Street and more eateries opening nearby in the coming year. The Strand will also house art exhibitions, film series and other programs, as well as performances by Pontiac public school student.

"We're big enough we can still get the sexy, national touring artists," Lee says." We're going to book an eclectic array of artists and create an experience of seeing a show so that people will say, 'It's at the Strand? Let's go.'"


Out in Mount Clemens, meanwhile, Royal Oak-based developer and restaurateur John Hanna saw a void as well. The 88-year old Emerald had fallen on hard times since it closed in 2014; In particular a flood necessitated major repairs and renovations throughout the building, including the main 1,800-capacity auditorium and the second-level Rock Room as well as a new marquee.

The Emerald reopened with a benefit concert on Dec. 16 and hosted a New Year's Eve show, but Hanna says he plans to take a "slow and easy" path moving forward.

"It's not so much about, 'Hey, we're going to do 15 shows our first quarter' or anything like that," Hannah explains. "We want to take our time and work out any mistakes we might make. We want to be here in a positive way for years down the road. So for us, a slow build and gradual build makes a lot of sense."

Like the Strand, however, Hanna hopes to make the Emerald a diverse room to serve its own substantial community.

"There's nothing like it nearby, that's for sure," he says. "It needs to be a chameleon and it needs to draw a different base and different types of people and events -- music acts, of course, comedy shows, private gatherings, all the things you can think, of in a venue like that. I think you're going to see some good things come over the next three to four years."


Otus Supply has a somewhat more specific agenda in the completely refurbished Oakland Community Service Center. The Parliament Room, which can hold 200-300 people depending on the room's configuration, will focus on rock "jam" bands, folk, bluegrass, New Orleans funk and brass bands and general American roots music, all genres music supervisor Guy feels have been "underserved" in the metro area.

"There's really not one place you can go and hear those genre, consistently," he explains. There's a lot of the catch-all kind of places that have a punk band one night, indie rock another night, they might throw in a bluesy type act, but there's not a commitment to the kind of music we're going to be offering, so now it has a home."

The Parliament Room opened Dec. 17 with a show by Michigan favorites the Verve Pipe, and its 2017 lineup includes New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band, Fruition, Moon Hooch, Dead AGain and Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys. And Grand Circus' Choma says there are enough artists and acts to make the booking concept work.

"We've been waiting 10 years to have more of an exclusive venue to book these types of shows," he says. "People for years have been asking us for years, 'Are you going to get a room you can put these (acts) in regularly?' People have been waiting for this, for sure."

The Parliament Room, which was tested by more than a dozen local bands before it opened, will also feature DJs, special music events -- Matthew Smith of Outrageous Cherry and many other bands recently played a rare solo acoustic show -- and even art exhibits and independent film screenings. "The programming will go beyond just music," says Guy, and the Parliament Room, like the restaurant, will be open until 2 a.m. every night to make it as much a hang as a destination for performances.

"If people are nice enough to patronize us and come see a show, we're not trying to kick them out as soon as the band leaves the stage," Guy says. "We're trying to welcome people into our home, so to speak. We want to create a whole different culture that maybe people haven't seen around here."

If You Go:

* Flagstar Strand Theatre, 12 N. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Next show: The Russian National Ballet Theatre, Jan. 23. Call 248-221-5238 or visit flagstarstrandtheatrepontiac.com.

* Emerald Theatre, N. Walnut St. Mount Clemens. Next show: TBA. Call 586-630-0120 or visit theemeraldtheatre.com.

* The Parliament Room in Otus Supply, 345 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale. Next show: Rebirth Brass Band, Jan. 16. Call 248-291-6160 or visit otussupply.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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