Formed in 2009, The Stick Arounds – consisting of members of old-school Lansing powerhouses Calliope, the Pantones, and Gentleman Callers – take you to a sonic neighborhood where garage rock, Byrds-esque pop, Guided By Voices-inspired abandon, and classic rock all happily live together. A mainstay of mid-Michigan dive bars, when the time came to make an album the band decided to eschew conventions and record where they felt most comfortable: in front of a live audience. The project that followed ended up becoming a labor of love for the GTG family as the venue for the live recording was the now-defunct but much beloved GTG-operated DIY/ warehouse venue The Mystery Garage and the recording and mixing engineer was the Hat Madder’s Isaac Vander Schuur. The album, appropriately titled Mystery Garage, captures the essence of the band and documents a place and time, as all great live albums are meant to. Check out the album for 12 songs of tightly crafted rock and roll songs with a chiming, three guitar attack to complement the impressive group vocal efforts – best enjoyed cranked up with the windows down. Order the LP here or stream it on Spotify!
Music scenes are very fluid constructions: you can have a creatively-rich, supportive, close-knit community one year and the next have infrequent, empty shows with no apparent rhyme or reason to how it changes. Then, out of nowhere, a new crop of bands show up and people appear out of the woodwork and it all starts over again. There’s many reasons for this phenomenon, and the fact that its an endlessly recurring cycle is what leads to so many disenfranchised people talking about how “the scene used to be great, but there’s no good shows anymore” when said person’s tastes inevitably become less of a focal point, and a lot of times it’s hard to even recognize when you’re in the middle of a “high point” in the scene. It’s sort of like the “if you remember it, you weren’t there” bullshit that people like to ascribe to the 70s or any sort of “party” scene.
Yeah buddy, I’m SURE it was a great show…
In my (GTG mouthpiece Tommy Plural) fifteen years of performing independent music my awareness of highs-and-lows has been pretty scattered. In 2002 the fact that Drinking Mercury monthly performed in front of 100 high school kids at a rec center in Ionia seemed like we were a part of a huge, dynamic thing but looking back it’s fairly obvious to me that we just happened to stumble into filling a little bit of a void for the background of teenaged socializing, as only a handful of people that were around at the time continued to play or be engaged in DIY music after the 6 months of this being “cool” were up (admittedly, pretty much the entirety of this handful of people later formed the nucleus of GTG Records so perhaps there was something to it… I’ll assume so anyway…). Conversely, for many years I claimed that performing at the Red Light Lounge in Lansing’s Temple Club in 2005/6 was the best local venue experience but it’s impossible to determine if it really was any better than most of the local bar shows I’ve played since as the Red Light Lounge was the first dedicated bar and music venue that the Plurals had any sort of regular/ “scene” presence at so of course my view is going to be rose-colored on that front. I know the Magdalena’s Tea House scene of roughly the same time was a pretty special thing and I still feel a bond with the friends I made in that time even if I don’t see much of them with any regularity (with the exception of the Bermuda Mohawk Productions people that came through this social thread). In some sort of middle ground, we’ve been doing shows at GTG House since 2008 and it’s been through so many incarnations from starting off as living room acoustic shows featuring lots of Earthwork Music Collective artists to general house party location to run-off from Bermuda Mohawk/ Fusion shows to finally coming into its own as a house venue for touring acts and every era has had its ups and downs so its hard for me to say if I’ve ever known when it’s been “thriving.” Most of the time I try and just keep my head down and push onto the next thing and its only years after the fact that I have any real perspective on how well anything went; I just have to hope that the shows we put on are productive for the musicians and enjoyable for the audience.
GTG Fest is usually pretty obviously fun though.
I mention all of this as exposition to highlight how ephemeral most pillars of local arts scenes can be, and to put into perspective one of the only times where I was aware that we were doing something awesome pretty much the entire time it was happening. In 2012 Isaac from the Hat Madder made good on something he’d been talking about for a couple years and started putting on shows with his fellow sound engineer Eric at a warehouse in Old Town that they had access to. Isaac and Eric launched the space and were gracious enough to invite GTG Records as a collective to be a part of putting on and running the shows. The Hat Madder rehearsed in this space at the time and that was just one of many factors that caused the space to be full of professional audio and lighting gear. This time also coincided with some of the other occupants of the space brewing their own craft beer so when we decided to hold our first event at the space in April 2012 we were also featuring unique craft beer by Mash Pit Brewing, some of which only existed at those shows. Talk about ephemeral…
Apologies to these people for existing in a photograph in front of the actual door to the Mystery Garage.
But no apologies to Matt. He knows why.
The first show featured the Claudettes, an instrumental piano-drums duo from Chicago formed by two members of Oh My God that was doing one of their first tours, and locals The Hat Madder and The Plurals (in what was a homecoming show for our second extended west coast tour). Everything was largely in place at this show – with Isaac spearheading the show with the help of other GTG people it basically was turning a bunch of people with many years of experience putting on and playing shows loose into a room that was perfect for putting on a show, with no real “boss” to answer to in terms of how we could run the show. It was sweet! It took a little while to fully utilize the space- there was a lot of extraneous gear and miscellaneous storage items that we had to sort through for the first run of shows, it took us a few tries to find the best location for the bar, and we had to try a few different options for beer supplies – but we basically immediately had a venue not only with all of the best qualities of doing a show in a basement or, uh, garage, but also the facilities to produce a live show that rivaled and in some cases bettered the sound and stage setups of actual bar venues. I’ll always feel bad about the bathroom though… open ceiling and we somehow never got around to replacing the latch to keep the door shut. I guess we can retroactively claim that we were trying to give the space some CBGB-cred.
Our perhaps ill-advised social media profile picture and thus the image most associated with the Mystery Garage.
We had no name for the venue for the first several shows, just referring to it as “the garage,” “old town garage,” “the warehouse,” “Isaac’s work” and I once tried to get “Hat Box Garage” to take off as it was the Hat Madder’s rehearsal space but it semi-unofficially settled into “The Mystery Garage” around October 2012 when we held GTG Fest 2012 at the space. The space was also known as the “Local Music Appreciation Club” so that the venue could operate as a private club to maintain legal credibility. The Mystery Garage can certainly be credited with saving GTG Fest and, in reality, establishing it as a true local event. For the first three years of GTG Fest we held it as an all day party on my parents’ property in Ionia, so it was both out-of-the-way and impractical to promote. In 2011 (after my parents were sick of it basically, ha) we held two separate daylong shows at now-defunct Lansing DIY space Basement 414, as well as a GTG House show, and used “GTG Fest” and “GTG Festivus” as a banner to connect all of them. In 2012 we really had no idea when, how, or where we would do GTG Fest and the Mystery Garage popping up made it possible. Finally holding it as a proper event in Lansing and seeing how well it went as a one day thing at the Mystery Garage prompted us to experiment with the multi-day and multi-venue format that we’ve pursued int the years since. Thanks Mystery Garage!
Fun fact: Isaac and Eric “fired” each other multiple times after this show, and then worked together early the next day.
It’s to the credit of the people of Lansing that we were able to operate the space with little to no problems from the people that attended the shows. Opening up the doors of a private space to people on the street and allowing those over 21 to consume alcohol can have all kinds of risks but everyone seemed to love the space so there was an element of self-policing going on as no one wanted the space to be compromised and all of the organizers of shows kept a pretty good eye on what was going on as well. So our sincerest thanks are owed to all of the amazing people that attended our warehouse venue. I always loved seeing the looks on people’s faces as they entered the venue for the first time; the exterior was so unassuming but then this truly awesome space existed inside. And trying to explain the space to people with little prior experience at DIY spaces was always pretty fun… “wait, so it’s a bar… but just in someone’s warehouse? And bands play?” Yeah, basically… and the bands were diverse and pretty kick ass most of the time, and maybe not even from this country.
I take any chance I can get to post this picture.
I spent a little while gathering information from the internet and corresponding back and forth with Isaac, and I think I’ve managed to compile a list of every band (plus the group of comedians and the artist that did live caricature drawings whose names are somehow alphabetically right next to each other!) that played the Mystery Garage between April 2012 and February 2016. If I’ve forgotten anyone, let me know… since there was never a regular show calendar it wasn’t the easiest thing to organize. Everyone that performed at the Mystery Garage, in alphabetical order…
A Couple ‘A Cowboys, Adam Balbo, Aimcriers, Antilogical, Amoeba Boys, The Arrangement, Banned and Burned, BerT, Bobby Meader Music, The Break-Ups, Calliope, Cat Midway, Cavalcade, Cave Needles, Cheap Girls, City Mouse, the Claudettes, Comedy Coven, Corey Marie, The Cost of Living, Couches, Croatone, The Crushtones, Dead Ben Rooster, Distorted Waltz, Drinking Mercury, Elroy Meltzer, Emily & the Complexes, Fencemen, The Fiction Junkies, Fools Rush, Frank and Earnest, the Free Life, The Foreign Resort, Geistlos, Genocya, Ghoulie, Giygas, Hailey Wojcik, The Hat Madder, Honah Lee, The Hunky Newcomers, Hut Two Hike, I Am Sunday, Immanuel Can’t, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, The Jackpine Snag, Jake Simmons, Jeremy Porter & the Tucos, Jessi Spreitzer, Johnny Unicorn, Jonny Janis, The Lippies, Little American Champ, Lovey Dovey, Mad Moon, middleman, Miski Dee, Mr. Denton on Doomsday, The Mongrels, Mudwest, Narc Out the Reds, Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, The Need You Nows, Newday Dreamers, Nocturnal Aviators in Action, The Plurals, The Plurettes, Provost, Racket Ghost, Re-Evolution, Red Teeth, Sam Goodwill, Scary Women, So Long Naota, Spit For Athena, Stargrazer, Stereo Artifacts, The Stick Arounds, Stonecutters, Summerpunx, Sunn Burn, Terror Terror! Oh My!, Tommy Plural, When Particles Collide, and Worriers. Some of those bands didn’t play too many shows, barely toured, or we were fortunate enough to grab them on an early tour. A lot of talent graced the “stage.”
We also have the lovely what-if alternate universe we can all theorize about in which these bands that were all booked to play a Mystery Garage show but had to cancel for whatever various reasons managed to pull off a set too: Benny the Jet Rodriguez, The Chirps, Elliot Street Lunatic, Murderburgers, People Grinding Axes, The People’s Temple, and Toys That Kill.
A crowd of people stood and stared.
Too many memorable shows to name them all, but I can write about a couple that immediately come to mind. All of the GTG Fests were memorable shows, and the 2015 Mystery Garage day for GTG Fest was particularly memorable as we had beautiful weather and everyone was essentially basking in what had a been a long but great weekend. At the end of the night, and fest, the few people left – basically the show organizers, Honah Lee, and a handful of night owl attendees – held a multi-hour, adrenaline-filled and alcohol draining dance party that should have certainly ruined someone’s vocal cords but didn’t. City Mouse’s GTG Fest 2013 set featured Hattie and Nich as the rhythm section and watching them from the audience for pretty much the only time was surreal and a personal favorite lineup and performance by one of the bands that I’ve seen and enjoyed the most. Watching Calliope reunite with former bassist Carmen Paradise for a one-off set in that band’s criminally lone Mystery Garage appearance was definitely another highlight for me as were all of the many times the Hat Madder and the Jackpine Snag (definitely the venue’s two most frequent performers) blew the doors off the place. I was on tour when it happened but the Stick Arounds recorded their forthcoming debut album live at two Mystery Garage shows, so that’s a cool future token to look forward to. And I also can’t forget that we used the space as the venue for the “action” in The Plurals “Prolly Knot” music video from last year.
Having a true alternative venue for the people of Lansing and DIY touring bands for four years has definitely been an amazing experience, but as all things must come to an end after February 13th the Mystery Garage shall be no more. Professional and life changes came along, nothing more, and it’s just time to move on. The four years since Eric and Isaac opened the doors have seen the Avenue Cafe rise as a premiere local venue, the opening of the Robin Theatre in REO Town, and Mac’s Bar, GTG House, and various other pop-up house venues and spaces continue to provide many opportunities to stage cool and unique shows so our fine tertiary market that is Lansing is in a good place in 2016. Having the experience of the Mystery Garage with us now has definitely motivated us to maintain high standards for the shows we put on and if things fall in place again hopefully we’ll have another space like it in the future.
So, with all of that said, I hope to see everyone that can make it come out to the Mystery Garage on Saturday February 13 for one last show. We have a stacked bill of locals that frequented the stage lined up to play one final time and we’ll also be hosting an open mic from 6-8 PM for anyone else that wants to perform in the space one last time. Event page here. Thanks again, people of Lansing, for helping make the venue such a success, Eric and Isaac for opening the doors in the first place, all the people that helped put on the shows, Brandon and the other craft beer enthusiasts for keeping the libations flowing, and every performer that came through the doors. What a run!
Photo credits: Ben Hassenger, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, Hattie Danby, Josh David, Bethanne Harms, Daniel Ryan Balderas, Matt Waterman.