Venue Spotlight: Blind Pig, “We can never turn our back on local music”

. June 3, 2020.
Rock band performs at Blind Pig.
The photos featured here are from an annual local music multi-day concert event known as FUZZ FEST. Photos by Chuck Marshall

There’s a solid likelihood one of your favorite bands stopped through this 400-capacity venue on 1st. St. on their way to their higher-tier status. 

Nirvana was at the Blind Pig in 1989 (opening for the Flaming Lips). Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins came through on respective tours in 1991. A few other names to drop would be No Doubt and Sonic Youth, but the Pig has consistently showcased up-and-coming local bands throughout the years. Oh, just a few more names to drop: Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and the Stooges & MC5.

Jason Berry, the venue’s longtime talent buyer, acknowledges that the Blind Pig has already been deemed a legend. “But we don’t worry about our ‘legend,’ presently—because all our ‘legend’ is, is all of the stories that have accumulated over time from people coming to see what wound up being their favorite concerts, or even people meeting their significant others at a show, here. Everybody, when they were coming up, played here.”

Berry has been booking shows for the Blind Pig since the fall of ’97; up until that point, he had been in a Detroit-based band “trying to be a rock star like everyone else.” He still remembers how big of a deal it was when said-band got its first opportunity to play at the Blind Pig. But Berry was keen to step into the role of facilitating the scheduling process for not only his own band, but to aid his contemporaries in jumpstarting their tours. That early flair for organizational tasks that others might have found tedious led him to enter the offices of Prism Productions and offer up those services to Lee Berry—who, at that time, was booking for the Pig, (and has since moved over to the Michigan Theater.) The rest is, essentially, history.

“This venue, to me, is Faith!”

And what a history this venue has! The Blind Pig is inside a building that’s been standing since 1901; it first opened back in 1971, co-founded by Tom Isaia and Jerry DelGuidice, who outfitted the space to host live music. Roy and Betty Goffet became the owners in the early ’80s, and it wasn’t long before they opened the 8 Ball Saloon in the basement. Just a couple months after Berry’s first day in 1997, the Pig hired Faith Wood— who would go on to become the venue’s general manager “We’ve got one of the best working relationships,” Berry said. “This venue, to me, is Faith! It’s not even a building, it’s a human— and I just try to always do right by Faith.” Though there was a momentary tremor of concern in 2017 when the Blind Pig went up for sale, a new partnership of owners and investors quickly assured fans that live music events would continue unabated.

“Faith and I know that there are all these things that make our business fluctuate: after 9/11, people were scared to go out and that actually persisted for several months; then the recession in 2008 effected things and the smoking ban happened during that same time. But, the Blind Pig has such a relationship with this music scene; it’s not anything we’re doing that makes the Pig magical, it’s that we have a magical scene. So as long as the scene exists, then the Pig is going to exist.”

#SaveOurStages

The Blind Pig endures because of the local music scene, because of local music fans; it endures because of the collaboration of Berry and Wood, and it endures because of the support from the group of new owners and investors, like Joe Malcoun, of the tech company Nutshell. The Blind Pig is also buoyed, vitally, by its membership in NIVA, a newly formed coalition of independent music venues. NIVA dedicates efforts to lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill to secure financial support to preserve the nation’s ecosystem of venues like the Blind Pig. If you’ve seen the #SaveOurStages hashtag around your social media feeds, recently— that’s NIVA.

“And we’re about to be 50 years old,” Berry says. “It has been what it is for almost 50 years now. There are not many of those places left in the country right now, there aren’t even in New York, not anywhere, that are 50-year-old music clubs. I think we’ll be fine— the agents will call. You wait till the curtain lifts and then you see. But (NIVA) is a beautiful thing, because every state has its own chapter, and Scott Hammontree is our fearless leader in Grand Rapids. It’s been keeping the pressure on to not forget about us.”

And that ties back into the heart of this ongoing series, here at the Current— to not forget about venues. We all keep talking about a future where things are somehow going to be normal again. The reality is that things might not maintain an appearance or an operation that resembles what we would all consider as normal. Just as Berry said, the only way a venue like the Blind Pig reaches ‘legend’ status is the accumulation of unforgettable memories, unforgettable memories, and unforgettable stories. And whenever things are ‘normal,’ we just can’t ever forget about our venues.  

But Berry concludes by saying that we also can’t forget about the vitality of the actual local music scene itself. “We’re religious about our civic responsibility to local music! (The Blind Pig) isn’t hurting like the clubs who depend entirely on tours—bigger clubs who never host local music are seeing this and wondering how the hell they keep the lights on now. We know damn well the venue can’t survive without local music…it’s a moral responsibility we hold to keep helping, as much as we can, to develop local music….”

“…We can never turn our back on local music…” 

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