GUEST COLUMN: It’s time to shake up Livingston County’s entertainment scene with music for younger residents

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I’m gonna be straight up with you: Livingston County’s entertainment scene frustrates the hell out of me. I’m supportive of Acoustic Cafe and Concerts At The Courthouse and whatever the 14 times they close Main Street in Brighton each summer.

What we need — and what’s desperately lacking in this community — is a consistent place (or set of places) where folks can go see live, original music in an intimate, focused setting.  Bar/coffeeshop gigs and street fairs notwithstanding, there’s not a lot going on here where we can go see an upcoming, original indie rock band in a setting where they’re not competing with bounce houses, vendor tents, and Tony’s hot dog cart (and I love me some Tony’s hot dogs).

So I reached out to Maria Stuart and asked if I could use her wonderful The Livingston Post platform to see if there’s a demand for such a series of events. If I put some effort into booking indie, alternative, punk rock, hip-hop, maybe some heavier shows in Livingston County, will this community support it?

My name is Nate Dorough. I’m 40 years old. I live in Hartland Township with my wonderful wife and 4-year old daughter, in the shadow of the old Hartland High School, from which I graduated 22 years ago. Somehow, I ended up in the music business, and for the last 15 years of my life, I’ve been an independent concert promoter.

It’s a hard career to explain, but basically I connect venues and audiences with musical artists. If enough people show up, I might make a profit. If they don’t, I go back to my wife and adjust our plan for the week’s groceries. It’s kind of like legalized gambling. I take risks with my money to hope that there’s enough people in a market that want to see a specific show. Sometimes (more often than not), I’m right and we do fine. And sometimes unexplainably, I’m wrong and the show’s a stiff. Not that what happens at the door has any real effect on what’s happening on stage, which is the beauty of my job. Some of my favorite shows I’ve booked resulted in me losing a whole bunch of money, but were magic on stage.

I started booking shows 15 years ago in a very unlikely place: Livingston County, Mich. Not Nashville, or New York City, or even Detroit. But right here, where I live.

I started renting out unconventional spaces like the lower level of the Howell Opera House or the Meijer Skate Park, finding someone with a sound system, lining up a bunch of local punk and indie rock bands, and suddenly, we had a thing called the Livingston Underground. Some shows were insane and sweaty and packed well beyond capacity. Some shows, five people showed up and I had to beg them to stay so the bands weren’t playing for me and the sound tech.

But for four years, we did all of that, and had a great time. And I got pretty good at it, so folks from other communities requested that I come book shows in their cities across the state.

I started Fusion Shows in 2008, and 11 years later, I’ve booked over 3,000 concerts all over the state of Michigan, in Detroit and Lansing and Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.  I’ve worked with Stone Temple Pilots, Macklemore, Dashboard Confessional, Owl City, Fun, 311, and so many more. And still, I continue to take the most pride in helping original local artists develop a following.

Somewhere along the way, the internet found its way onto little devices we carry around with us everywhere we go, and we became fans of independent acts in the next town, state, or country, and “local music” kind of lost its identity. When I started, there was always a ska band in Howell, a bunch of great alt-rock bands in Brighton, and heavy bands in Hartland and Pinckney.  And then, with no real warning, there just wasn’t, and it was because the internet made the world smaller, and we as young people in Livingston County didn’t mind the idea of driving to Ann Arbor or Lansing or Detroit (or Chicago or Cleveland if we really wanted to see a show) to see someone who was a little more “our taste.”  It’s not a bad thing. We had the blinders removed when music started living on the internet for free, and now, we didn’t have to look locally for music we liked.

Also in 2008, I started booking and producing an event in the old Hartland High School called BLED FEST (Big Love’s Educational Festival), which was one of the coolest independent punk rock festivals in the Midwest, drawing 2,000 people to the area each Memorial Day weekend. It came to a close this past May, and while it was a massive success, it was never really embraced by the local community.

This summer, I left my Fusion Shows brand behind and joined a new company called Audiotree. They are based in Chicago, made up of two founders from Kalamazoo.  Together, we’re launching a new brand on Nov. 1 called Audiotree Presents, booking shows across Michigan and Illinois. And while I’ll put a considerable amount of my energy into Detroit, Grand Rapids, and beyond, I want to start bringing some of my shows to Livingston County again.

Is this something you want, or am I the only one who sees it as a gap in what living in this area offers?

I can put events in the Howell Opera House or Hartland Music Hall.  I’m gonna check out this new Brighton Coffeehouse and Theater this afternoon, see what that’s all about. I can drop events into the Hartland Performing Arts Center or the Historic Howell Theater. Maybe a local bar wants to become the go-to for original live music and get a different, younger demo in their establishment.

My email address is nate@audiotreepresents.com. I’d love to see an email if you’re someone who has a space where original live music could live, or if you’re someone from Livingston County who plays original music (regardless of age). Or honestly, email me if you’re just someone who wants to see shows like these in your community.  I’d love to see the way it appears through your eyes.

I need to include a quick thank you here to Maria. She and The Livingston Post have been a vital part of living in this community over the past decade. She’s always been quick to support my ideas, and she and I working together on something like this is long overdue. If we do find that there’s support for something like this, she’s already promised to sponsor our efforts and help spread the word!
Hit me up! Let’s bring something cool and different to our hometown.

Nate Dorough is an independent concert promoter who lives in Hartland. You can reach him at nate@audiotreepresents.com.

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Nate Dorough is an independent concert promoter who lives in Hartland. You can reach him at nate@audiotreepresents.com.

2 Comments

  1. I would LOVE to see a listening room type of venue in Livingston County. Part of this is getting residents used to the idea. Most people have never been to a listening room and don’t understand that the music is not background there, but it’s a concert. It’s very different than music at a bar or restaurant. Nate, I think you could help to establish this idea at the BCAT.

  2. Nate, it would be great to have a venue here to showcase local talent. I have two sons who were part of the ska scene back in the day, and it was always great to see them perform. One still plays drums in a punk band. Not sure if it’s a chicken / egg thing…there may be bands, but the perception that there is nowhere to perform, or maybe there are just no bands.

What do you think?