Rising From The Ashes

curt.kemp

When an accidental fire destroyed the 231 House of Muses in Marquette on Jan. 6, 2007, the local music scene lost a venue for aspiring musicians. Maybe more importantly, the community lost a hub of artistic expression.

Today, in the wake of that fire, a few music venues have cropped up, providing Northern Michigan University students and the Marquette community with a stage, a scene and an outlet for the same sort of expression the House of Muses provided.

This summer alone, the Upfront and Company began “The Show” – a weekly slate of music featuring local and regional acts held on Tuesday nights – and senior secondary education major Cameron Mahoney started what’s becoming a series of diverse basement shows, including local acts, Michigan’s lower peninsula and Wisconsin.

And whether it’s the Upfront or Mahoney’s basement shows, at the head of these movements you’ll find NMU students.

Senior printmaking major Christopher Moore was working with the House of Muses at the time of the fire, helping with publicity and booking bands. Compared to many of those involved in the local music scene, Moore took the loss a bit harder.

“In fact, when the fire happened,” Moore said, “I had equipment in the basement that almost went up. We didn’t see it for a couple months. It was rough times.”

Moore, who hails from a thriving music scene in Kalamazoo, has now put his efforts into another venture at Upfront and Company called “The Show,” a weekly Tuesday night slot that highlights local musicians.

“My thought was that there weren’t too many outlets for local music in the area, certainly not one that has a sound system that good, certainly not one that is that spacious, with that capacity,” Moore said.

Already employed at the Upfront as a sound engineer for concerts, Moore approached his general manager, Jon Ruuska, with the idea.

“I said, ‘I’ve got this idea. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but I think maybe if we give it a shot, we could see something,'” Moore said. “We started off kind of gentle with a couple folk acts, then we started ramping it up a bit more to indie rock, and we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve gotten loud, loud, loud metal.”

Moore said the public response, according to bartenders he’s talked to, has been that patrons are viewing the music as more artistic expression than simply dance music.

“It’s interesting to see the dance floor filled with people who aren’t dancing, but who are definitely front and center for a band, and will listen to them,” he said. “That’s been pretty wonderful.”

Moore’s band, the Chanteymen – an indie folk ensemble reminiscent of The Decemberists – kicked off the first Upfront Tuesday night show in June, and the venue has hosted 15 such Tuesday night events since then.

“Overall, I’m pretty grateful for what we’ve got right now, and I’m always exciting to see what’s going to happen next,” Moore said. “It seems like new bands are popping up all the time, comprised of members of old bands, and it’s always exciting to see who’s going to pop out of the woodwork next. Who’s going to be the next [former Marquette band] Munboot? Who carries the torch? Who takes their influences from the area and takes it a step further?”

But the biggest thing Moore stressed was that he’s not making the Marquette music scene grow on his own. It takes all the musicians in the area, he said, adding that he was giving an “open invitation” to musicians to get in contact with him about playing the Upfront.

“My boss [Ruuska] said in an interview something like, ‘He [Moore] has so many connections,’ and I don’t feel like I have connections,” Moore said. “I just feel like I’m lucky in the sense that I know a few people that know a few people, that know a few people.”

Moore also knows that it’s going to take a variety of things coming together for the Marquette music scene to be sustainable.

“I think that’s more what makes a scene than one single person, two people, a bar, he said. “It takes more than a location and a couple people and a crowd. Everybody has to fit together.”