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Sunday, 04 August 2013 21:27

Setting the stage: Entertainment options growing for all ages

Written by  Jayson Bussa and Lindsay Patton-Carson
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Blues Traveler to perform at Audiotree Music Festival held on the property of Wings Stadium. Blues Traveler to perform at Audiotree Music Festival held on the property of Wings Stadium. COURTESY PHOTO

Brandy Gulley dubbed it “the year of legends.”

Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo has stepped up to the plate over the past year, booking acts that fans might normally have to drive 45 minutes north on U.S. 131 to check out.

These shows included Elton John and Bob Dylan, not to mention an upcoming appearance by Joe Satriani, a guitar prodigy tied with such acts as Alice Cooper and Chickenfoot.

“It would seem, right now, we’re focusing on the legends — sort of those bucket list artists that people just want to see before they are done,” said Gulley, the marketing coordinator for the 40-year-old Wings Stadium. “Really, 2012 and 2013 have kind of been a year of legends for us.”

These acts have certainly upped the ante as far as entertainment options in Kalamazoo, all while the smaller market in Battle Creek focuses on the more local, community-based entertainment options.

Gulley explained this was a niche that needed to be filled.

“We really are trying to fill the void between Grand Rapids and Detroit,” she said. “Grand Rapids is a heavy-hitter for national acts, and so is Detroit, and we want to fill that void and give Kalamazoo and the greater Kalamazoo area something to look forward to.”

Still, Wings Stadium isn’t just a haven for the elder statesmen of music. Gulley said there are some exciting announcements in store for the coming year that will also appease younger crowds.

The venue is already showing signs of this with the more youth-oriented Audiotree Music Festival, which will take place on the property outside of Wings Stadium on Aug. 31, featuring 15 bands.

“We hope to sell both niches,” Gulley said. “We’re really looking forward for what is to come.”

It doesn’t end with music, and Kalamazoo is certainly no one-trick pony for venues. The historic State Theatre pulls in big names in music but has recently made national comedy acts its bread and butter.

Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium also offers a variety of top-level national entertainment options, including musicals and plays.

“In the past year, ticket sales have been up overall,” said Rob Pennock, associate director of auxiliary enterprises for Miller. “Having Wicked always helps.”

And just because touring entertainers do not make their regular rounds through the Cereal City does not diminish that city’s product offering, sources said.

Case in point: What A Do Theatre, an upstart theater that staged its first show in February 2011 at the First United Methodist Church, later moved into its own 99-seat facility.

What A Do pays its actors, who must also serve on staff, taking care of chores like building or painting the set. Despite the smaller scale, What A Do is up for six statewide Wilde Awards this season.

“There are great theaters in Kalamazoo and they range from community theater to professional,” said Randy Wolfe, artistic director for What A Do. “We’re doing this in a noncompetitive way. We’re focused on what we’re trying to do.

“Believe it or not, the community is supporting us and the state is, too. Our demographic is community-based, but also includes the outlying community, as well. We’ve had people from Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and elsewhere visit us.”

According to Wolfe, who served as a freelance artistic director in Kalamazoo for 12 years, the grassroots dynamic makes the effort all the more worth it.

“It’s beyond fulfilling,” he said. “It just makes it even more worth the while and the effort to keep going and keep growing. The people who work at What A Do are very much loyalists and our audience is growing.”

What A Do’s evolution is just one growth story that Battle Creek has to look forward to thanks in part to the city’s newly refreshed downtown.

Over the past two years, visitors to Battle Creek had to remain patient as they maneuvered around heavy construction to get to their favorite businesses and events. But all that changed in November 2012 when the construction ended.

“We have a new downtown we want to show off. … It’s very different from two to five years ago,” said Alyssa Jones, communications and events manager for Battle Creek Downtown Partnership. “Since construction, we’ve increased investments from building developers.”

The completed downtown also enhances the existing events and attractions Battle Creek offers year round. Currently, the city is getting ready for the third Leilapalooza, Battle Creek’s only philanthropic music festival, where the proceeds are split between the Leila Arboretum and the Kingman Museum.

“All musicians donate their time,” said Paul Jones, committee member and founder of Leilapalooza. “Many are up and coming, some have been around for a while and some are newer.”

In 2012, Paul Jones estimates the event, which features food vendors, merchants and more than 50 bands on six stages, had between 3,000 and 4,000 attendees.

[email protected] is another summer event that highlights the newly renovated downtown area. Located in Friendship Park, the weekly outdoor concert series runs through Aug. 23 and features local, regional and national bands that tend to bring in visitors from outside Battle Creek.

“We notice with [email protected] that the bands with their own following bring people from outside Battle Creek and we hope to capitalize on that with showing them what we offer,” Alyssa Jones said.

Read 4817 times Last modified on Sunday, 04 August 2013 14:07

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