Moving from New York to the midwest, there was a bit of culture shock. Gone were the days of hopping on a train and catching a set within the hour. In Michigan, where the highway can suddenly and inexplicably become illuminated by a meteor, it takes a moderate drive to catch the acts that you care about.
Detroit is a powerhouse in the midwest, a musical hub second only to Chicago. There seems to be music on every corner, and new venues continue to pop up in an area where, only a few years ago, there was nothing at all. From massive bands like Green Day to indie favorites like Modern Baseball and Cloud Nothings, and even on-the-cusp bands you might have never heard of make sure to make a stop in the Motor City on their trek across the country, packing fans from across Michigan into spaces that, from the outside, look like holes in the wall.
There are venues of all shapes and sizes within the city limits, so let’s take a look at the few that consistently deliver with quality acts and an unforgettable experience.
5. The Fillmore
Located on a stretch of Woodward that also features another theater and two sports stadiums, the Fillmore finds itself right in the heart of Detroit’s downtown. There are three levels of seating, which makes it the perfect space for a punk rock show with general admission standing room on the lower level (see above), as well as comedy or a speaking event, with chairs filling the floor area. Built in 1925, the gorgeous 2,000 capacity club has a truly old-fashioned “theater” vibe to it, and in the last year has hosted SZA, St. Vincent, and many more.
4. Majestic Theatre
Originally a movie theater, the Majestic is a cavernous standing-room-only space hidden behind a glorious art deco facade only a few blocks away from true downtown. Part of the Majestic Theatre Center, which also features the minuscule venue the Majestic Cafe, a bowling alley, and a pizza place, The Theater was closed for ten years in the ’70s, and re-opened in its current state in 1984. With a capacity of just over 1,500, I’ve caught a few phenomenal shows there. In the coming months, Brockhampton is slated to take over the iconic venue for a pair of shows.
3. Magic Stick
Also a part of the Majestic Theatre Center, the Magic Stick was once the go-to venue for indie artists. However, it rebranded in as an almost exclusively EDM venue called Populux, before returning to its roots just fifteen months later in mid-2016. This one has a dingy dive bar vibe to it, complete with a sticky floor and cheap drinks, but that’s just part of its charm. Since it reopened, the Magic Stick has become the location of choice for punk-leaning and hardcore bands.
2. St. Andrew’s Hall
Formerly the meeting place for the Saint Andrew’s Society of Detroit, this 1,000-cap room feels like it is half that size. A standalone brick building just a few blocks from Greektown, the Hall famously hosted many legendary 90s alt-rock acts from Nirvana to R.E.M. to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and continues to showcase up-and-coming artists on the cusp of breaking through to the masses. Often, St. Andrew’s Hall will take on punk-leaning acts with a following slightly larger than those who would play at the Magic Stick. (Unrelated, the bathrooms are notably very clean here.)
1. El Club
After the temporary rebranding of the Magic Stick, all-ages venue El Club became the place to be to catch indie acts as they came through Michigan. A little removed from the “hustle & bustle” of downtown Detroit, El Club is, essentially, a professionally-run DIY space, promoting all-ages shows in refurbished warehouse space with a graffiti and street art streaking the walls. However, this place has a state-of-the-art sound and light system and a full bar. The spacious fenced-in smoking patio is more like a backyard, making it a perfect spot to catch your breath after a band doesn’t stop strumming. Not to mention that the venue’s location in Mexicantown puts it within walking distance of some delicious authentic restaurants!
The city of Detroit is on the come-up, the city’s vibrant arts scene contributing greatly to its ongoing revitalization. And the music within the city limits is continuing to grow, with no signs of slowing.