Local couple brings all-ages music venue to Marquette

Marquette's vibrant live music scene thrives mainly in local bars, making it off-limits to younger listeners--until now. The Racket, an all-ages music venue in Marquette, provides a stage for young musicians and a safe atmosphere.
Marquette is a small city with a big live music scene. Rock, country, pop, punk, blues: There's a genre to fit almost anyone's taste. Bands abound, but for younger listeners, getting to hear those bands can be difficult or impossible, because the most common venues for live music in Marquette and the surrounding area are local bars. That means if you're under 21, you can't get in after 10 p.m., and if you're under 18, you can't get in at all.

The solution to this is The Racket, an all ages, substance-free music venue. Located at 2680 U.S. 41, Marquette, behind Rendezvous Tattoo, The Racket hosts live music events featuring local bands as well as a few "imports" from outside the U.P.

Chris and Kerri Shelafoe, who also own and operate Rendezvous Tattoo, are passionate about music, and equally passionate about giving young people a place to have a raucous good time in a safe and sober environment.

The Racket opened in February with a show by local band Fried Chinese Donalds. "One hundred and thirty-five people came, which is pretty awesome," says Chris Shelafoe. RIght now, The Racket accommodates a 100-plus crowd, but Shelafoe plans to add a balcony and a loft for even more audience space, as well as more lighting and an improved sound system.

"I love dealing with youth," says Shelafoe. "When I was younger there was a venue like this, and it shaped me. I thoroughly enjoy local music. The main reason I started this is because there isn't anyplace for younger talent to have their music showcased to a younger crowd; there isn't anyplace for younger acts to play."

"I don't make much money off it," Shelafoe admits, but profit was never the point. "I want to show kids you can go to a show straight and have a good time. It's a wonderful thing to see kids showing up and having fun without being under the influence. I'm a recovering addict myself, so I'm really interested in this. Originally I wanted to do an AA/NA thing, but it's kind of like that, because people come to these events, and they talk."

Getting the word out about shows at The Racket is not a problem, says Shelafoe. "Word of mouth is a very useful tool, let me tell you. We make event pages on social media, and we put up flyers and depend on (the media) doing stories about us. Trying to get the all ages atmosphere in the door is not a thing of how, it's just doing it."

Managing a boisterous young crowd of music lovers is not as daunting a task as it may sound, according to Shelafoe. "The kids are really respectful; if they see kids drinking, they ask them to stop. The punk rock bands will park their trailers, talk to the kids, then come in."

The Racket is available for BYOB events for ages 21 and older, and has hosted drag shows that attracted capacity crowds. "I'm talking with a comedy group out of Detroit so I'm setting up comedy shows, too," says Shelafoe. "But the all ages shows are exploding."

Shelafoe says older ages are more likely to show up on 18 or 21 and older nights, but parents will often attend all-ages events. "I like seeing parents show up with their kids, and the parents actually thank me. And when they see no drinking and smoking, they say, 'Hey, you're really doing it.'"

The Shelafoes really are doing it; providing a safe, exciting, clean and sober nightspot for kids and adults alike. Chris Shelafoe's goal is a modest one: "I'm just doing it to bring people together."

Deb Pascoe of Marquette is a freelance writer and a peer recovery coach for Child and Family Services of the U.P. A former columnist for The Mining Journal, her book, "Life With a View ," a collection of her past columns, is available in area bookstores.
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