By Craig Manning
True to its college-town status, Kalamazoo is home to both a slew of educational opportunities and a thriving cultural environment, and WMU pupils both new and old should plan on taking full advantage of the town’s entertainment options and student discounts all year round.
Perhaps the most prevalent entertainment venue in Kalamazoo is located right in the middle of Western’s campus: the 3,497-seat Miller Auditorium is, alongside its namesake fountain, the most iconic sight that WMU has to offer. Realized through the efforts of WMU President James W. Miller 44 years ago, the performing arts center has grown into one of the biggest and most frequented in the state of Michigan, and their 2012-2013 series is one of their boldest and most impressive to date.
This year’s lineup, which includes national tours of Broadway classics (West Side Story and Hair) and modern favorites (Les Miserables and Green Day’s American Idiot) has generated a good deal of buzz amongst Western students and local residents alike. In addition, this season will see the return of Wicked, back by popular demand after only two years.
According to a recent Miller Auditorium brochure, “when [Wicked] last played at Miller in 2010, it broke box office records and sold out in record time.” Undoubtedly, the show, which is slated for a two week run next April and May, is destined for a repeat performance, and those interested in attending should purchase tickets soon.
Tickets are available from the Miller Box Office, online at millerauditorium.com, or by phone at (269) 387-2300. Students can redeem a 50 percent discount with a valid WMU ID on any Miller performance. Students are limited to one discounted ticket per person, per performance.
Miller Auditorium is also the home of many events hosted by the Campus Activities Board, including frequent “Miller Movie” events ($1 each for students) and occasional large-scale concerts from well known pop-music acts.
Though living legends like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan have both visited the Miller Auditorium stage, the venue is not generally known for its live music lineup. That’s not the case with the downtown State Theatre, a 1,500-seat venue that has served as a tour stop for an eclectic range of artists in recent years, including Chris Cornell, Bright Eyes, Modest Mouse, Ryan Adams, Bassnectar, Wilco, Kid Cudi and Andrew Bird.
“Something just seems to happen here between the audience and the artist,” said Sarah Bauman, a State Theatre staff member. “Whatever the type of show, be it music, comedy, whatever: everyone loves it. The artist ends up performing longer than they ever meant to, and something about the place just seems to affect everyone.”
The Union Cabaret & Grille is another downtown fixture, combining the musically-driven sensibility of the State Theatre and the WMU-roots of Miller Auditorium with a restaurant atmosphere.
“As far as what makes [The Union] special as a venue, number one is our ties to Western,” Pete Nemec said. “The sole purpose when we opened back in 2002 was so WMU jazz students could play onstage in front of people.”
Those three venues are just the tip of the iceberg for Kalamazoo’s entertainment scene, which also includes frequent Art Hop events downtown, various festivals (the string-instrument-based Fretboard Festival and the Gilmore Keyboard Festival both take place in the spring) and plenty of movie theaters (Rave, Celebration, and Goodrich cinemas, all of which offer student discounts that drop movie prices to around $5).
Don’t forget the other music venues, like Bell’s Eccentric Café, a beautifully-rendered hall that mixes intimate live music with one of the best taprooms in town, or The Strutt, Kalamazoo’s former hipster-hangout, which closed its doors last spring with plans to re-open at a new location.
Those looking to scope out the town’s music venues should check out kalamazoolocalmusic.com or kzoomusicscene.com for a comprehensive list of upcoming performances throughout the city.