The Modern Exchange in Southgate has a perceptible personality disorder: it's a performance space, vintage clothing shop, art gallery, coffee shop and record store. But for owner Doug "Doogs" Blair, 48, the raison d'être is simple: the music.
"I have a real passion for helping out independent musicians, and my goal was to create a place where I can play a part in developing local bands," Blair says.
Blair and his family have always had music in their lives. His three children played in several bands over the years, and he and his wife accompanied their kid's band, Madison Greene, on a cross-country tour. When Blair realized that there was a shortage of venues that were willing to book independent and often underage artists, he set up shop and opened the Modern Exchange in April 2005.
Blair first fell in love with the building, which was home to the now defunct vintage store Penny Pinchers. He later fell in love with what be believes is an underrepresented music scene. Blair's vision was to create an environment where he could bring it all together. To make it work, Blair devised a simple show formula that seems to be working very well. Blair's 29-year-old son, Mike, handles the booking and tries to include one out-of-town band on every bill, along with the local acts. Musicians from the area as close as Ferndale or Ypsilanti, or as far as Grand Rapids or Muskegon are starting to glom on. Amazingly, the venue books approximately nine shows a week, which means the Modern Exchange hosts nearly 50 different bands a week.
Farewell Flight, an indie rock band from Pennsylvania, recently played the Modern Exchange. Drummer Marc Prokopchak says, "The show was fantastic. It was a Monday night and there were well over 100 kids there in our experience that's very strong attendance for a Monday night show, especially one where the bill consisted of all relatively small touring bands and only one local act."
He's right. The shows are all-ages (sorry, they don't serve alcohol) and the venue can easily accommodate up to 350 people.
And though the reliance on an underage crowd might leave one to assume that this is a rinky-dink operation, nothing could be further from the truth. It was important for Blair to give a professional look and feel to the music space, so he turned to local musicians and sound engineers to help him design and build the sound system, lighting and stage area. According to Blair, a lot of bands come back to his venue because they look good and sound good on his stage.
In a town where young bands are left out of the Hamtramck-Detroit music circuit because of drinking laws, the Modern Exchange offers an important alternative. It's one of the few places for DIY bands to have their music heard. Word of mouth, from patrons and musicians alike, has been positive. Blair also credits the musical diversity of the bands they book for drawing people to his venue. On any given night you can catch everything from hardcore to acoustic.
"Touring bands sometimes have a hard time finding a place to play on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night when they're coming through town," Blair says. "This is a place where they can come."
Though the performance space is most important to Blair, he knows that the vintage clothing and vinyl selection is what brings some of his patrons in. Blair recently hired Tony Moran, lead singer of local rock band Friends of Dennis Wilson, to revamp the clothing store. (Moran's aunt and uncle are Keith and Nancy Hay, former owners of vintage-rock apparel store the Cat's Meow he's got his hands on some goods.) Blair's other son, Brian, is working on expanding the inventory in the record department.
Emily Brandana, 22, of Lincoln Park said, "I go there to shop and you can find some pretty good deals if you dig vintage. I love what they've done to the place and I like that it brings something cool and trendy to the area."
Adding ambience to the performance space, its walls serve as an ad hoc art gallery. Blair frequently rotates the art, and will display and sell a local artist's pieces for free.
Blair is proud of the unique atmosphere he and his family have created at the Modern Exchange: he's just glad he can keep the kids boogying.
The Modern Exchange hosts an all-day all-ages show on Saturday, March 25. Featured bands are Otto Vector, Without Warning and Belmont. At 12219 Dix-Toledo, Southgate; 734-284-2547 or visit themodernexchange.com for complete schedule information.Jacquie Trost is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]