Uncommon space: A venue for musicians, designed by musicians

In many rural areas, the opportunities for emerging musicians to perform are often limited. There are bars, of course. Sometimes there are breweries or wineries that tap local talent for live music. 

And some larger communities have other venues -- community centers, auditoriums or theaters that can seat larger audiences.

But for many emerging and mid-career musicians, those options are not ideal. A marquee billing at larger venues requires considerable ticket sales. Singing at bars or breweries often means singing before a disinterested crowd. 

A newly opened venue called The Alluvion in Traverse City aims to change that scenario, at least in northwestern lower Michigan.

The Alluvion represents “the missing middle” in the local music and performing arts scene, a place where emerging and mid-career musicians can perform in an intimate setting — a place to better connect to the audience and a place to really showcase their talents.

Matt McCalpin, director of operations at The Alluvion.“There is no other place like it,” says Matt McCalpin, a long-time musician who is also director of operations at The Alluvion. “There are some smaller venues in Traverse City but none that are focused on the music first and foremost.”

The Alluvion is also part of a unique cooperative, Commongrounds, whose mission is to build a more empowered community through cooperatively owned places "that connect people and actively integrate wellness, arts, family and food."

What's happening: The Alluvion, a 150-person-capacity venue and event space, opened this year at Commongrounds, a nonprofit organization housed in a four-story, mixed-use building at 414 E. Eighth St., Traverse City. A variety of nonprofit, business, and residential tenants -- as well visual arts programming, events and activities -- call the building home.

What makes the space special: The nearly 4,000-square-foot space was designed by musicians for musicians and is equipped with state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment. In addition, the space was designed so there is not a bad seat. The stage is modular and the seats are movable to accommodate a variety of performing arts events and screenings.

The Alluvion features state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment.The venue is neither too small -- to make it unviable for artists and businesses -- nor too large -- where seats are disconnected physically from what’s happening. There’s also a green room, a separate space where arriving artists can relax or rehearse privately. The room has a beautiful view of the Boardman River, which snakes through downtown Traverse City, as well as a kitchenette, bathroom and shower. 

“For those who have never been, it’s the most magical experience,” says Andrew Lutes, a musician who is also Commongrounds operations and membership director. “It’s almost hard to talk about without getting emotional. It’s like the room itself is almost alive and needs us (musicians and performers) to be in it to survive. It’s very clear we did not have this size of intimate space to connect to the immersive performing arts (music, comedy, dance, theater) before.”

The need for a new venue: The Alluvion represents “the missing middle” in Traverse City’s music and performing arts scene. There are both larger and smaller venues in the city, but The Alluvion provides a place where emerging and mid-career musicians can perform in an intimate setting.  

Who has been performing: Although open, The Alluvion is in preview-series mode. That preview began with a “really cool show” on April 14, a nod to the building’s address 414 E. Eighth St. Singer-songwriter May Erlewine and her band were joined by other special guests for the musical evening. Erlewine was a consultant in the design of The Alluvion. Other events have followed, including Parallel 45 Theatre reading series, a Boardman Review spring issue release party, and music, including high school jazz, chamber music, bluegrass and acts such as Earth Radio and Medicinal Groove and the Jeff Haas Trio.

The story behind The Alluvion: The dream of a performing space like The Alluvion traces back to the creation of Commongrounds Cooperative a few years ago. Commonplace community coworking and Higher Grounds coffee were the thought leaders behind cooperative.

Students gather in the green room at The Alluvion. Looking to create a physical space, project team leaders asked the community what they would like to see in a mixed-use building. Responses included a place where families are welcome, a place for childcare, a place to connect “more robustly” to the food network (beyond farmers markets), a place for workforce housing, and an intentional space for art.

The organization’s pilot project is the Eighth Street building. Commongrounds opened earlier this year, following a successful fundraising campaign. The project is a partnership between all owners, which not only includes all the commercial businesses and nonprofits co-located at 414 E. Eighth St., but also community members from the area. The organization is nearing 1,000 community owners. 

Plans for the building went forward without a tenant for the space occupied by The Alluvion. A partnership between musician Jeff Haas and Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology and Commongrounds Cooperative.

“The Alluvion is a piece of infrastructure that was identified as badly needed in this community,” Lutes says. “There was lots of community support behind it.”

What’s next: A grand opening will occur sometime in the future (no date has been set).  Meanwhile, the preview series will continue. The plan is for The Alluvion to be open regularly, not just on evenings and weekends, drawing local, regional and national artists. The Alluvion is working to balance ticketed evening performances with free concerts, support for young and emerging artists, space to rent to local arts organizations and other community arts uses.
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