We’re currently living in a world where our experience of live music has been limited to the virtual realm of social media or video conferencing platforms. That’s been endearing and effective for keeping fans and artists connected. But David Jeffries is quick to quell any worries that live music venues will need a marketing strategy to make a comeback.
“…We won’t have to sell people on art and music — …it’s something that’s just waiting to organically happen again. The idea of being in a space together, the commitment of the audience, the commitment of the artist, all of these things are in a synergy that you just can’t get in the virtual world.”
Ziggy’s is still working its way back toward reopening its doors. They’re continuing to work on reconfiguring the way they will host live music in a post-COVID world. But one recent bright spot came this week when supporters helped the Ypsi venue meet its Patronicity goal within 24 hours. Jeffries immediately acknowledged how awful the timing was, and how insensitive it felt to be running a crowdfunding campaign in the midst of the recent tragic events involving the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Ziggy’s continues to show their solidarity and continues to show up to the demonstrations that have been taking place. Due to circumstances beyond their control, Ziggy’s had to take the time-sensitive action for this Patronicity campaign in accordance with terms of Michigan’s Economic Development Corp for small businesses. And the community pulled through for them. “We were overwhelmed,” said Jeffiies. “And this will allow us to open when we’re able to.”
Jeffries’ ideology that no one should be in the position of having to sell someone else on the appeal of live music is matched with his 20 years of experience as a music journalist for outlets like Musicland and Rovi. Additionally, he spent his coming-of-age years working in record stores. He even worked as a ticket runner for the Agora Theater in his primary hometown of Cleveland.
Jeffries attained the property on W. Michigan Ave. with his wife Jo in 2016. Not long after leaving the music journalism world, he said the two of them were keen on starting their own business. Although he’s a writer, there’s something indescribable about his motivations for developing a live music venue. “It was the room….the room made me want to do it. It wasn’t really a dream of mine because it always seemed out of reach anyway. It was really just seeing the possibilities of the room when we walked in. I really felt a vibe inside of it. I told (Jo) after walking in, ‘Ya know, we might be able to do this.’”
The space was formerly home to a beloved local coffeehouse called The Green Room, which hosted live music and visual artists. Fittingly, the Jeffries also got their own business started as a coffeehouse, but they were weighing the option of also obtaining a liquor license. “But we looked at the liquor license as something that could supplement the live shows we wanted to do as opposed to what most people might do, where they want bands to drive people to their bar.” For Ziggy’s, the bands came first! Jeffries said they never wanted to be a bar that had distracting sporting events displayed on adjacent television sets.
Jeffries refers to this venture of his life as his “third act” but he also admits that Ziggy’s “…kinda went off like a rocket-ship. We had our first show in March of 2017 (with avant-jazz saxophonist Elliott Levin and legendary Detroit jazz-poet John Sinclair), which is where we always wanted to be. But we knew we wanted jazz nights, we knew we wanted a connection with the Detroit techno underground, we wanted artists from Chicago, we wanted fantastic DJs. We started by doing shows with the avant-jazz crowd but soon the Northern Threat hip-hop artists hooked up with us. And now, we’ve had so many nights with Silas Green, the Wax Kings, we’ve had amazing indie-shows that flow into a DJ at the end of the night. There have been so many amazing nights, here.”
Jeffries actually can pinpoint the inspiration for Ziggy’s. It was watching the frenetic and impromptu performance of punk-philosopher Ian Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses/The Make-Up) firing up a crowd of friends in his backyard during what was otherwise a casual party. Ypsi songwriter/producer Fred Thomas had invited the well-known D.C. hardcore punk savant over to a gathering of AllMusicGuide writers — and witnessed how easy it could be to ignite pure excitement amid an assemblage of people. It inspired him to find a way to recreate that as often as possible.
“And it really is something we’re going to need back. Of course, there are so many things in our daily life we need back right now. But hopefully people realize that live music is something that isn’t always going to be available whenever you want it. And it just means a lot to get up, to get out, to go see live music. You’re never going to fully understand an artist until you see them live.”
Jeffries said that the concept of “filling a void” wasn’t a major consideration when opening a music venue in Ypsilanti. Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, there seemed to be a prevailing indie-rock club, whether it was the Elbow Room or Woodruffs. As noted, Jeffries was simultaneously eager to have the venue be an integral member of the cultural scene around Ypsilanti. However, he and Jo also wanted it open to the widest variety of lineups’ possible in terms of the style, content, and personality of each respective performing artist.
He’s glad to look back on three highly active years with participation in the Totally Awesome Fest as well as the First Fridays showcase series. But he’s also eager to look forward to the days when crowds can start gathering again, when artists from around the city, and even outside of the state, can start planning dates to perform at Ziggy’s.
That’s what it really comes down to: it was never seen as filling a void. It was more important that any scene as active as Ypsilanti’s is going to need venues. That’s how Jeffries saw it, plain and simple. A scene, its fans, and its artists need venues. It is, as he said, a “synergy.”
“What always warmed my heart was that on any given night, whether it was a funk band, or a jazz band, or a DJ, I’d look around and just see how many musicians were at our spot. That felt great. And it’s just something that’s eventually waiting to happen again. Anytime you’ve got enough people, enough of a scene, it all happens again.”
It never seems like the right time to start a venue, especially when not much seems to be happening. Jeffries was motivated to start a venue because of the activity in Ypsi. Even though literally nothing is happening right now, Jeffries says it’s only a matter of time before the music starts playing again.