|Do-It-Yourself Venue Give Small Bands Place to Play, Builds Community|
by Brandy Arnold
Want to gather a group of friends to see some of your favorite bands, but not many venues in your area are bringing those bands to the stage?
Why not do it yourself?
That’s the outlook of four friends and roommates who have turned their living space into an all ages spot to see up & coming bands.
Punk fans Lindsay Sanderson, Eric Steeb, and husband/wife duo Lauren and Alex Ewigleben cite the Division Avenue Arts Cooperative (DAAC) and the Pyramid Scheme as their go-to venues to see bands. But, some of their favorite acts are far too small to pull in the numbers for the Pyramid Scheme, and often times, too small even for the more intimate DAAC.
The group decided to recreate the all-ages atmosphere of the DAAC, but on a smaller scale. And so the Turtle Den was born.
Their first show in 2010 was in the basement of their house on Fountain Street. The concert featured The New Yorker, The Reptilian, Jazz Hands and Good Teeth/Gold Teeth. Entry for that show, and all others since then, has been strictly donation based.
“If people don’t have the money, we’re not going to turn them away,” said Alex. “But anything they can give helps. We encourage them to buy merchandise from the bands.”
Even better, the group will offer their home to the bands that play there if they are from out of town/out of state and need a place to stay after the show.
Though half of current Turtle Den patrons consist of friends and acquaintances, the group is hoping the personal setting of someone’s home doesn’t scare off people looking for a good show. Though it may seem odd to have strangers in their basement, the group hasn’t had any problems with rowdy crowds or theft.
“We take precautions on what we leave out during shows,” Lauren said, “but everyone’s really respectful.”
While the crowd for their first few shows was made up of a handful of people, they’ve since grown solely through word of mouth and social media.
Whereas they were once reaching out to bands by email and through recommendations from John Harmon, friend and bass player of Grand Rapids based punk band Jowls, they now receive requests left and right from bands to come play the Turtle Den. A pre-Thanksgiving concert featuring Touche Amore out of California brought in about forty people. Pretty good for a Heritage Hill basement.
The group now holds shows in their slightly larger basement at 9 Fuller Ave. Drivers-by can see a friendly cartoon turtle, amusingly acquired during Alex’s days as an employee at Babies “R” Us (and what inspired the location name), in the window marking the way to their literal underground venue.
They are hoping to connect with others in Grand Rapids taking the do-it-yourself route through Do-It-Together Grand Rapids, an organization that brings together the underground community.
“The eventual goal is to reach out to other similar DIY organizations in places like Kalamazoo, and bring the whole state together to make it easier for small bands to come through Michigan,” said Alex. “They know they're going to have to place to play, know people will show up and know that they'll have a place to sleep. I'm very excited for what's to come.”
Published: July 2, 2012
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