Davin Brainard is a painter and musician who turned DIY promoter during the heyday of Zoot’s coffeehouse. He’s also the manager of the Record Collector in Livonia, which has ample room for the occasional in-store performance.
"Zoot’s was really important to me personally," Brainard says. "Especially as far as showing me that I could just go and do this."
While Brainard says a venue has yet to open up to replace all the inspiring charm of Zoot’s, the Gold Dollar is a safe bet for something different. He and his Time Stereo label cohorts book some local bands and have given Detroit the chance to experience Japanese bands such as MSBR, Melt Banana and Zeni Geva.
Super Bad Ass Productions
Rich Rice is a waiter in the Detroit area who has spent enough time as a party person to become a party engineer. His Super Bad Ass Productions has been around for about two years, favoring multimedia experience with art exhibits, fashion shows, bands, performance art and anything else that looks appetizing enough. He books most of his shows at the Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arbor.
"I try to provide a sexier, high energy kind of showcase for artists and musicians," Rice says. "I do shows at other venues, but I do shows at the Nectarine because it’s this large kind of ’80s gay cocaine club with all the fancy lights. I like to keep the shows as big as I can without compromising the content."
Rice isn’t kidding when he says Super Bad Ass has brought in scads of local talent including: Xian Penn’s Liquid Silver, Camilo Pardo, local bands like Aurora, Miss Bliss, Ebeling Hughes and Detroit’s most-stalked darlings, Stun Gun, a band Rice was instrumental in pulling together. Go figure?
Writer’s Voice-YMCA Arts Center
M.L. Liebler has been supporting DIY efforts and putting on shows that mix up various art forms for years, such as the "Rock ‘n’ Read" program in 1987 where poets shared the bill with local bands at Alvin’s. Liebler is the director of the Writer’s Voice and the YMCA Arts Center, which has brought in poets that are household names such as Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka. Offering a venue to organizations like the NMS is a small part of the scope of his work, but an important one.
"The New Music Society was the first organization to ask us about using our space," Liebler says. "I went to Warren’s store to hang a poster one day, and he said they were looking for a place in the city to do programming. He told me what his needs were and the kind of place he was looking for. And I said we have an arts center, and I don’t mind if you use that for your kind of programming there. And I said let’s do it."
Liebler has managed to not only promote artists himself – as an agent of the YMCA – but also to serve as a resource and collaborator for other promoters.
Plenty of DIY promoters turn to the revived and redefined Gold Dollar for a venue that is in sympathy with their cause. The owner, Neil Yee, is a musician with a full-time day job who still finds time to book shows at the Dollar, which is only open when there’s a live show.
"I’m always trying to hear something new," says Yee. "It’s pretty hard when you’re trying to book three or four nights a week. I’m still not making money, which is why we have no sign.
"I try to do things for the New Music Society, because I know they don’t make any money. We’re into things that might not go over very well anywhere else. But I enjoy taking the risk. When we first opened, we were doing theater. I’d like to do more than just bands. We’ve avoided the pool table and jukebox, since I look at this as a venue and not a bar."
Music journalist and noise aficionado Greg Baise has Detroit and the country of New Zealand covered. Granted, he’s moved from working at record stores to taking care of business at the Book Beat in Oak Park. But basking daily in the presence of Destroy All Monsters guitarist Cary Loren couldn’t hurt, could it?
Baise says his love for a few musicians from New Zealand helped kick-start his enduring interest in booking live shows.
"I had a friend who had been putting on shows in Ann Arbor," he says. "He was mostly working along the lines of experimental music/experimental theater. One day, someone called him up and asked if he’d be interested in putting on a show for these two guys from New Zealand, Peter Jefferies and Alastair Galbraith. He wasn’t that interested. Of course, I was. For me it was a no-brainer; I don’t think I even asked them how much they wanted. They played at Union Street in August 1993, and it was the best show I ever did."
Ben Bracken works at Encore Records in Ann Arbor and he plays with the experimental band Remote Viewing Ensemble. He started booking all-ages punk shows in Mt. Pleasant where he was studying art at Central Michigan University. Eventually, Bracken’s musical interests expanded into experimental forms of music.
"As my interests changed, my shows changed," Bracken says. "I started booking some free-jazz shows. I met the New Music Society guys by coming down to their shows, and they all work at record stores, too. I’ve only lived in Ann Arbor for a few months, but we’re already working on a few new things. It’s really important to let people know that there is great stuff out there that the local radio station isn’t playing."
Lee Berry might be an exception to the DIY rule, insofar as Prism Productions in Ann Arbor has become such a commercial success. But for Berry, booking is and always has been a labor of love. His involvement with music still has its roots in early memories of getting acquainted with rock, blues and jazz.
"After graduation in 1978, I spent a summer traveling Europe," he recalls. "When I returned to Ann Arbor, a friend, Neil Scott, and I began a new project devoted to presenting events, festivals, and helping our talented friends who needed help recording, marketing or just direction.
"Out of a basement office on Division St., we presented numerous shows. The first was the English band Gong at the Second Chance, where the Nectarine Ballroom is today. We also helped with a great many recording projects, including singer-songwriter Dick Siegel’s Snap, which still does pretty well today."E-mail comments to [email protected]