Motown to Rock: Small Music Venues of Metro Detroit

By: Scott Davis | February 10, 2015

If there is one thing Detroit knows, it is music. From the birth of Motown music to the creation of techno sounds, the Motor City also can be considered a mini Music City (we’ll still let you claim the title, Nashville). Several artists hailing from Michigan have made it into the national spotlight, and have put their stamp all over music in countless genres: Motown, rock, hip-hop, rap, rhythm and blues, country, techno and many others. But as any musician knows, getting national airplay for a song doesn’t just happen overnight.

Surely, you’ve heard the stories. Everybody has a different situation, but for many artists, they had to come up playing in local bars and venues. Some may play free shows just to get heard and live off of tips from a jar. The truth is that there is so much an aspiring artist must prove and so many roadblocks in the way. Success takes a ton of determination and hard work.

Every musician must start somewhere, right? Metro Detroit is full of small, yet intimate venues often featuring local artists. Attending one of these events is usually quite inexpensive and a lot of fun. Maybe, just maybe, one of the small-time acts you witness singing blows up and hits it big. You could say that you saw them live or were a fan long before any big time record label signed them. That is always a good feeling.

Some places worth considering:

Ann Arbor

The Ark, 316 S. Main St., provides live music and shows more than 300 nights a year! The term “intimate” is thrown around a lot in small venues like this, but The Ark really means it—of the 400 seats in the club, not a single one is more than 50 feet away from the stage. It is a nonprofit organization that often brings in artists in the folk, roots, bluegrass, alternative rock and world music genre. The Ark quite frequently hosts artists from southeast Michigan, as well as all over the state.

Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., is almost literally a hop, skip and jump away from The Ark (a little less than a quarter mile away). No surprise that Ann Arbor has small music venues within walking distance of each other. The Blind Pig has a steady balance of local artists, as well as occasionally larger acts, but a lot of history has been made here. The Blind Pig just brings to life Ann Arbor culture. The one time I went here the building was packed from front to back and it was a blast! Check out the schedule.

Detroit

Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, 20510 Livernois, is Detroit’s oldest jazz club in continuous operation. It is well known for its Art Deco design and furnishing—including a distinctive piano-shaped bar, painted to resemble a keyboard. Some major jazz acts such as Art Tatum and Dave Brubeck have performed here in the past. Its setting is quite intimate, seating only 99. In 1986 it was designated as a historical landmark. While Baker often brings in national acts, it also celebrates Detroit with such acts as “313 the Live Experience.”

The Huma Room at HopCat Detroit, 4265 Woodward Ave., often features artists from the Metro Detroit area, and the great mitten state. Surely you’ve heard of HopCat by now, but with more than 100 beers on tap and great music throughout the week, it is definitely worth checking out. Check out the calendar for upcoming music and events.

Also try: Cliff Bell’sI-Rock Nightclub or TV Lounge (more intimate setting on weeknights, more of a nightclub on the weekends).

Ferndale

The Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., is a music venue and pool hall. It often brings in local Metro Detroit acts, as well as some from around the country. There are events multiple times a week and it is one of Ferndale’s thriving music venues. If you and your significant other enjoy live music, head to The Loving Touch on Valentine’s Day for the MPV Vinyl Release Show with The Erers and Those Hounds.

Hamtramck

Small’s, 10339 Conant, has been voted “Best Sound and Lights,” by Metro Times and “Best Live Music Bar,” by MetroMix, amongst other awards. It is a bar and rock venue all in one and often has local talent perform, as well as national. It also plays one of the hosts for The Hamtramck Music Festival, which takes place Thursday, March 5 through Sunday, March 8. Small’s also has comedy performers, narrative story performers and more.

The aforementioned places are just a few of literally hundreds of live music venues in Metro Detroit. Just head to any downtown area or city and chances are there is a lounge, bar or hall in close vicinity to you. Again, you may discover the next big thing!