An Insider's Guide to Kalamazoo Live Music

A short walk to an amazing variety of live music—nearly any night we wish—is one of things we have most loved about living in the heart of the city, after buying The Kalamazoo House back in 2014. Obviously, our guests love it too. It’s such a big deal, in fact, that it seemed appropriate to opine and reflect while showing you a list of our favorite haunts.

Steve and Steph soak up the Kalamazoo Music Scene

Steve and Steph soak up the Kalamazoo Music Scene

Steve, Steph, and Maci on the stage of the amazing Kalamazoo State Theatre

Steve, Steph, and Maci on the stage of the amazing Kalamazoo State Theatre

Local Phenom Kaitlin Rose performs with Melissa Dillon (and recording her new live album)

Local Phenom Kaitlin Rose performs with Melissa Dillon (and recording her new live album)

While neither Steph or I could carry a tune if it were in a bucket—even with a handle on it—each of our homes were filled with music while growing up. And even beyond those walls of our respective homes, we were blessed to live in a greater Kalamazoo community widely known as a place where home-grown arts were a major community focus, and where every hot artist would play—be it for a trip to the Gibson guitar factory, or a tour stop where big acts could add a profitable show half way between Detroit and Chicago—and be met with large, enthusiastic audiences. Combined with a top music school in the country at W.M.U., a leading symphony, an international keyboard festival that places the greats of the piano world in the city every other year, and a phenomenal pool of local artists, you can see the appeal.

Local pianists and peformers, Matt Giraud (“Idol” fame) and Rusty Northrop (Rusty’s Big Ass Band).

Local pianists and peformers, Matt Giraud (“Idol” fame) and Rusty Northrop (Rusty’s Big Ass Band).

Flipping through recent photos I snapped while enjoying music and thinking about this post, it would be easy for me to make this post become “look at all the shows we’ve seen post”—complete with amazing shots of big names you’d recognize. That desire is understandable I hope, as when you experience something great, you want to share it. And we want to share Kalamazoo music with you. But there is a larger point. My trip to Nashville last year was amazing, and Chicago blues is legendary, but even compared to much larger cities, Kalamazoo is an amazing place to live and visit if you like music; in fact, it’s a rare night that we can’t find you something high quality on which to groove.

Old time rock ‘n roll, blues, bluegrass, jazz, big band, classical, open mic jams, background combos, live recordings, keyboard festivals, outdoor festivals, indoor arena shows—if you want it, Kalamazoo has it. In reality, as I sat to write this post, it became clear that one post could never scratch the surface.

Ben Daniels and his wife amanda performed with dad jeff daniels at the kalamazoo state, and then knocked our socks off at the union cabaret (shown with Steve and Steph)

Ben Daniels and his wife amanda performed with dad jeff daniels at the kalamazoo state, and then knocked our socks off at the union cabaret (shown with Steve and Steph)

Bruce Hornsby (Steve’s fav) performs for the biennial gilmore keyboard festival at chenery audiotorium (5 min walk)

Bruce Hornsby (Steve’s fav) performs for the biennial gilmore keyboard festival at chenery audiotorium (5 min walk)

For starters, our concert halls, arenas, and large venues sport headliners and leading stars from around the world, as well as touring Broadway shows. Generally these shows are on our web site calendar, or you hear about them from other means. Among these, the Kalamazoo State Theatre (6 min easy walk) is our favorite. (https://www.kazoostate.com) It’s gothic, vaudevillian interior is gorgeous, snacks and full bar yield fare can be taken to your seat, and the vibe just can’t be beat. (And yes, we’ve had headliners stay, but we don’t name drop.) Still, for this post we’ll mostly set the headliners and big venues aside. And we won’t even touch upon on live theatre and musicals. That’s yet another post.

For an insider’s guide to Kalamazoo music, however, the following is what we had in mind. When you stay at the inn and want to stroll to check out the local venues to see what might scratch your particular musical itch, you’re bound to stumble on some local and regional talent that could be finalists on “American Idol,” or “The Voice”, or be featured acts in Nashville. Oh wait, all those we have recently seen just wandering in the evenings this winter. Headliners at large venues are great, but here are our personal favorites.

Downtown Music with Drink, Food & Fun:

1. Old Dog Tavern (15 min walk) http://www.olddogtavern.com/events/

2. Union Cabaret (6 min walk) https://www.uniondowntown.com/music--bands.html

The Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra performs at The Union Cabaret

The Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra performs at The Union Cabaret

3. Webster’s Tasting Room (4 min walk) http://webstersrestaurant.com/tasting-room/tasting-room

4. Shakespeare’s Pub (12 min walk) http://shakespearespub.com

5. O’Duffy’s Irish Pub (12 min walk) http://oduffyspub.com or https://www.facebook.com/oduffyspub/

6. Bell’s Eccentric Café (15 min walk) https://www.bellsbeer.com/events/cafe

7. Shakespeare’s Lower Level event venue (12 min walk) http://shakespearespub.com/EventsInTheLowerLevel

“The Voice” runner up Josh Davis at a great local pub, Old Dog Tavern, Feb 2019

“The Voice” runner up Josh Davis at a great local pub, Old Dog Tavern, Feb 2019

8. Final Gravity Brewing (7 min walk) https://www.facebook.com/FinalGravityKalamazoo/ Open mics Thursdays 7p.m., live music most weekends and growing.

9. Entertainment District (10 min walk--Wild Bull Saloon, District Square, Gatsby, forthcoming new venue) http://entertainmentdistrict.co/special-events/

10. Loui’s Trophy House (:25 min walk—:05 Uber) https://www.facebook.com/pg/LouiesTrophyHouse/events

Honorable Mention:

1. Potter’s Lounge (Uber 15 min--Four Points Sheraton in Portage by airport) https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/azofp-four-points-kalamazoo/

2. HopCat Kalamazoo (12 min walk) https://hopcat.com/kalamazoo

3. The Dock at Bayview (:30 min drive/uber: Gull Lake/Richland) https://www.facebook.com/The-Dock-At-Bayview-349111065207442/ or http://www.thedockatbayview.com/

4. Arcadia Brewing (:25 min walk—:05 Uber) http://arcadiaales.com/event/

5. Green Top Tavern (9 min walk) https://green-top-tavern.business.site/ https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Green-Top-Tavern-337127626746103/events

6. Boatyard Brewing (Uber :10 min) https://www.facebook.com/pg/boatyardbrewingco/events or https://boatyardbrewing.com/

Large Venues

Steve with Frankie Ballard with Frankie’s former coach and local musician, Jeff Meuller

Steve with Frankie Ballard with Frankie’s former coach and local musician, Jeff Meuller

1. Kalamazoo State Theatre (6 min walk) https://www.kazoostate.com/

2. Wings Event Center (Uber :15 min) http://www.wingseventcenter.com/events

3. Miller Auditorium (Uber :8 min) https://www.millerauditorium.com/

4. Chenery Auditorium (10 min walk) https://www.cheneryaud.com/

Classical, Fine Arts, and other

1. Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra https://www.kalamazoosymphony.com/

2. Gilmore Keyboard Festival https://www.thegilmore.org/

SOme of the best classic rock you’ll hear at the regional level: lovey howell are among S&S favorites

SOme of the best classic rock you’ll hear at the regional level: lovey howell are among S&S favorites

3. Stulberg International String Competition http://www.stulberg.org/

4. Cooper’s Glenn Music Festival http://greatlakesacoustic.org/coopers-glen-2019/

5. Kalamazoo Bach Festival https://kalamazoobachfestival.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=4219

6. Kalamazoo Concert Band https://www.kalamazooconcertband.org/

7. Bronson Park Summer Concert Series https://www.kalamazooarts.org/organization/concerts-in-the-park/

Friends and family jam out at the B&B when john thomas comes to visit the surviving subject of his “Kalamazoo Gals” story being told ‘round the world.

Friends and family jam out at the B&B when john thomas comes to visit the surviving subject of his “Kalamazoo Gals” story being told ‘round the world.

8. Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra http://gulllakejazz.com/

9. Arcadia Festival Site: Summer events outdoors in a great setting include Kalamazoo Pride, Blues Fest, Audiotree music festival, Ribfest and more.

10. Parchment Kindleberger https://www.kalamazooarts.org/concerts-in-the-park/ and https://www.kindlebergerarts.org/

Of course you’re always welcome to simply enjoy the beauty of The Kalamazoo House, and lay low in peace. But if you want to take a walk, you just might be rewarded with some beautiful sounds.

For more information visit our ongoing calendar of big events (larger venues), check out our Facebook Page where we post many local music performances for the week, or drop us a call, text, or email.