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Michigan's Fusion Shows celebrates 10 years of making music
Though he’s been in the music business for about 16 years, Nate Dorough readily acknowledges he has “no musical talent whatsoever.”
“My dad and brother can play guitar — really well,” says Dorough, 38. “I tried and tried when I was a kid, and I couldn’t make the connection.”
He has nevertheless managed to make a strong connection in the music business.
Dorough’s Fusion Shows, an independent promotion firm, marks its 10th anniversary this week with a show Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac. The bash celebrates a run of more than 2,500 shows all over Michigan, as well as a two-year (and counting) partnership with The Crofoot Presents that’s brought Dorough and Fusion into events such as the annual Mo Pop festival on the Detroit Riverfront and venues such as the Masonic Temple and others.
He may not play an instrument, but Dorough is clearly a player in a field he calls his “addiction.”
“My instruments are spreadsheets and Facebook to book and market a show,” he explains from his office in Lansing, where Fusion maintains a staff of six in addition to concert workers. “When people are at a show and screaming the words back at the artists, that’s a real special feeling to me. I had something to do with that happening. Any opportunity I get to do that is special to me.”
Dorough was “a late starter” to music. He didn’t attend his first concert — Third Eye Blind at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor — until he was attending the University of Michigan, where he planned to study architecture or civil engineering. It took him a little while longer to get a bead on the music world, but when Dorough tapped into the independent and underground rock scene, he found an unexpected calling.
“I went to Saint Andrews (Hall) and Clutch Cargo’s as much as I could and really immersed myself in that,” Dorough recalls. “I’ve got this addictive personality. I used to collect baseball cards obsessively, concert bootleg CDs. When Napster came along I was the guy who had every album super-organized on my computer. So (music) slowly moved from being my fun hobby and addiction to being my career and addiction.”
The lightbulb moment for Dorough came after he transferred from U-M to Baker College to get a general business degree. As a resident assistant he put on a free concert by the band Red 57 in the lobby of one of the dorms “and half the campus showed up.”
Returning to his native Hartland Township after graduation, he formed the Livingston Underground, a collective of bands that staged shows and other events, often in alternative venues, around Livingston County with Dorough producing.
“I could see there was an economy to it,” Dorough says now. “You do a show with 300 kids at $10 apiece and play for the hall and with 50 or 60 percent going to the band, there’s still some money left over. That paid for the events where only 12 people showed up, but I could see you could make a living doing it.”
Dorough started Fusion Shows at the beginning of 2008 with Irving Ronk, another independent promoter primarily in Lansing (the pair parted ways two years ago). Together they began working with larger acts such as Danny Brown, Bastille, AWOLnation, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Rise Against and others made inroads into the Detroit area and Grand Rapids,
“We did Dashboard Confessional back in 2010 at the Crofoot, for the 10th anniversary of the ‘Swiss Army Romance’ album,” Dorough remembers, “and the sing-alongs were so loud. I remember standing on the side of the stage getting chills, it was so cool.” He’s particularly proud of helping to produce Flint Eastwood’s concert last spring in the lobby of Detroit’s Fisher Building, and of helping the Grand Rapids act La Dispute grow into an international touring act.
“The Fusion Shows Team has a long-term perspective, tremendous work ethic, and deep understanding of the Michigan music community,” says Dan McGowan, managing partner of The Crofoot Presents “Bringing Fusion shows into our company has strengthened our outreach to artists and given us a deep bench of creative and production talent to tap.
“Nate is intensely focused, thoughtful, and impeccably organized, he is a force to reckon with and a leader in the Michigan music scene.”
As Fusion turns 10, Dorough has his eyes on the company’s next decade, and beyond. Still booking 200-300 shows a year, he hopes to add “two or three more larger-scale, festivallike events in the next year or two,” some in conjunction with The Crofoot Presents.
“Blair and Dan (McGowen) have a vision of really pushing the envelope and really upping the game in Detroit, which is exciting,” says Dorough, who resides in Hartland Township with wife Teresa, a dance instructor, and their 2-year-old daughter.
“It feels like it’s been longer than 10 years doing this. It has been a long time, really, all my adult life. But it still feels good. It has a newness because every show is different. It’s great to have a job like that, y’know?”
• If You Go: Fusion Shows 10th Birthday featuring Twin Peaks, Pup, the Flatliners and more, is Jan. 13 (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) at The Crofoot, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 day of show. Proceeds go to the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit for LGBTQ youth. Call 248-858-9333 or visit thecrofoot.com.
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