Feedback from guitar amps, heavy bass drums, and shouting – both from the band and fans – fills the air. A mosh pit forms. It’s exactly what the more ambitious concert attendees have been patiently waiting for all night, and what everyone has been expecting.
This is a Wednesday night at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids’ newest concert venue.
Hollywood Undead, a band that originally found success on MySpace with its explicit hard rock, is playing a near-sold out show to about 2,000 raucous crowd members. Two weeks prior, Demetri Martin, a comedian known for his soft-spoken, subtle observational comedy, played a similarly sized crowd.
This is the dichotomy of 20 Monroe Live. Since opening at the beginning of February 2017, the show lineup has mirrored the cultural identity of its host city. “It’s about diversity with the shows. That’s what we’re trying for,” said Greg Gilmore, CEO of the Gilmore Collection, the ownership group behind 20 Monroe Live.
“We want a variety of demographics represented. So we’ll have tribute bands for the older crowd, hip hop, comedy and Latin music, so there’s something for everyone.”
Gilmore is responsible for 20 Monroe Live coming to downtown Grand Rapids. It was his unrelenting push for a venue of this size in entertainment-hungry West Michigan that finally led to the green light that brought the 2,400 capacity venue to Grand Rapids.
“It was mostly selfish reasons why I wanted to build 20 Monroe Live. I was tired of traveling to Detroit or Chicago for shows, and I really love bringing people together,” Gilmore admitted.
It seems too perfect that Grand Rapids’ largest cultural event – ArtPrize – is the reason for its newest and brightest star, but this is the way Gilmore tells the story.
A few years ago, Gilmore envisioned what would become 20 Monroe Live as a Live Nation venue attached to The B.O.B. (also owned by the Gilmore Collection), but nothing came of his conversation with the global entertainment company. Then the wife of Live Nation’s CEO visited Grand Rapids for ArtPrize and fell in love with the city and told her husband that Live Nation must get a venue there.
Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids, agreed that the city needed such a venue, and worked with Gilmore to bring the space into existence. “What 20 Monroe Live does is fill a void,” Small said.
The only other venue with the capacity of 20 Monroe Live is Devos Performance Hall, which does not have the same club-like atmosphere and hosts far fewer concerts. And, the number of artists able to sell out a 2,400-person venue is, obviously, greater than the artists that can fill a venue like Van Andel Arena.
20 Monroe Live aims to entice touring artists who might skip the city altogether otherwise, to come to Grand Rapids. “One of the goals Greg and I talked about was promoting Grand Rapids’ music scene because it wasn’t being celebrated,” Small said.
20 Monroe Live fits neatly into the live performance landscape of Michigan’s second-largest city, complementing the Pyramid Scheme (425-person capacity), The Intersection (1,800-person capacity), and Van Andel Arena (10,800-person capacity).
Beyond the hole 20 Monroe Live fills, it also helps solidify Grand Rapids as a destination. “This is another thing on our menu, another thing we have to offer to people,” said Small.
Apart from its immediate benefits, a Live Nation venue suggests wider cultural benefits to the city. “When you see that Peter Frampton is going to be in Grand Rapids, you then think, ‘what’s there to do in Grand Rapids?’” Small said. “Concerts are one of our city’s pillars. What better package than beer and music?”
And this package is what brings people to Grand Rapids, and what keeps revenues up. “I talked to a guy from Grand Rapids Brewing and he noticed how many more people are downtown since 20 Monroe Live opened,” Gilmore noted.
One thing Small emphasized was that Grand Rapids, as a medium-sized city, has to do things differently than Detroit or Chicago. “We can offer music, food and drinks as good as anyone in the Midwest, but we never talk about getting bigger – just better.”
Major metropolitan cities can more easily develop a defined music culture, and add to a city’s “cool” factor, affecting other businesses. Knowing 2 Chainz, Kanye West, and Young the Giant have played Grand Rapids builds up other industries.
“We were always being bypassed, but now our venue is taking away from the House of Blues in Chicago a little,” Gilmore bragged. “Live Nation said they were pushing for 20 Monroe Live to be a Pollstar club venue of the year.”
Pollstar provides definitive rankings of music venues across the world. The Intersection, Van Andel Arena, and Devos Performance Hall all rank among the top 100 venues.
20 Monroe Live is indicative of a large portion of Grand Rapids’ character. There are no professional sports teams or national monuments, but the major “brand pillars” like beer and food and art… and now music continue to draw tourists in.
What keeps Grand Rapids relevant is the quality. For a city stuck between Midwest cultural hotbeds like Chicago and Detroit, on any given night a national artist is headlining a show here. The larger essence of the Grand Rapids music scene is that it is as powerful and as diverse as the city itself: understated and welcoming.
*Photos courtesy of 20 Monroe Live