Local club keeps live music ‘real’
BENJAMIN MICHAEL SOLIS
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Langel Bookbinder, 32, and Alfred ‘DJ’ Turner, 38, both from Ann Arbor, stand in the hallway downstairs from the Blind Pig where they have organized free monthly concerts.
Alfred “DJ” Turner Jr. is creating a musical movement.
His operation is small, consisting of his own gear, PA system and microphones that he borrows from the Blind Pig, one of Ann Arbor’s well-known rock clubs. Turner’s vision is simple: to bring live music to the people of Ann Arbor on Sunday nights that is absolutely free-of-charge.
The idea was sparked by a rather unfortunate turn of events.
“I was doing a show in Detroit, and the cops came in,” said Turner, 38. “They busted the venue pretty early into the gig. I lived in Ypsilanti at the time, so I was going to have to take all my stuff back there.”
Yet Turner had an advantage. He had worked as a core member of the Blind Pig team for nine years. Three and a half years ago, Turner was promoted to manager.
The desperate and disappointed Turner called his employers and asked if he could stash his gear in the 8-Ball Saloon, the pool hall located directly underneath the Blind Pig.
The owner of the Blind Pig happily agreed, and the rest is history. The shows would take place in that very same hallway.
“There isn’t really a place to go to see a free show, or for a band who wants to get their feet wet in playing out,” Turner said. “Here, they don’t feel intimidated by a big stage, or feel like they have to fill the place up.
“I also don’t think people should have to pay a lot of money to go see live bands.”
Local musician and D.J. Steven Tomlinson said that this is a valid point, noting that the music industry has taken radical shifts in the past 15 years, mainly due to unlimited access to music on the Internet.
“It makes sense that the Blind Pig would start doing this,” Tomlinson said.
The 23-year-old Ypsilanti resident feels that to compete with so much free access, clubs need to start allowing these kinds of things to happen regularly.
“Pretty soon these corporate giants will dictate which artists will be able to tour and reach your town,” Tomlinson said.
For Turner, the original concept was to present acts that could not be seen at most rock clubs, specifically, experimental electronic music. The night was dubbed ‘Low-blast’.
Yet these types of acts were extremely hard to find, Turner said.
Mike Sabatini, founder of the bands Inkface and Jaws That Bite, finds this hard to believe. Sabatini, who has dabbled with electronic music, has never found a problem playing his strange form of avant-garde noise.
“There is a lot more out there with that genre,” Sabatini scoffed. “It’s actually fairly easy to do because I don’t have to worry about other people when I try to book a show.”
The Plymouth native also said that bands would likely not drive to a show just for fun and a free case of beer, something Turner offers to bands as payment for the shows.
Turner acknowledged that some bands did not want to participate because they were not being paid.
Turner, however, found this gratifying, saying this type of attitude isn’t something he wants to foster.
These shows are for people who just want to play music for music’s sake, and anyone looking for the stardom is sadly jaded, he said.
So Turner persisted, and brought these hallway shows back, making them a staple at the two bars.
“It’s been good. It’s something people haven’t seen a lot of,” Turner said. “When people hear something that they might like, they wander down here.”
Turner also views this as a learning experience for himself and the bands he invites to play.
His mission is to teach young groups “self-reliance,” to take charge of their own shows and crowd, and ultimately their own future as gigging musicians.
This is something Tomlinson sees as vital to this kind of growth.
“It’s not just about playing out, it’s about creating an experience,” Tomlinson explained. “We have people who paint at our shows, have Synjection light setups that match our music to lasers and lighting equipment.
“If you offer more than just music, you will create a larger movement than having free shows.”