There are more than 100 live-music venues in Grand Rapids, ranging from the 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena to coffeehouses accommodating a few dozen patrons. One of the city’s most unique concert spaces is Midtown, located in downtown’s Studio Park entertainment complex.

Opened in October 2019 as Listening Room, the venue was rebranded as Midtown in 2022. It seems there are a number of “Listening Rooms” around the country, so the moniker didn’t appropriately reflect the venue’s distinctiveness. Even more importantly, the new name signaled a change in programming. While Listening Room primarily booked singer-songwriters, Midtown expanded the entertainment mix to include full bands and comedy performances.

Midtown is also a nod to the city’s past. Jack Loeks opened the Foto News Theater in downtown Grand Rapids in 1944 and renamed it the Midtown Theater in 1948, when he acquired the right to show full-length movies rather than just newsreels, cartoons and short subjects. Today, the Loeks family owns Midtown and the entire Studio Park complex, which also includes a movie theater, restaurant and retail shops as well as housing and office space.

An Intimate Experience

Midtown seats 200 patrons but it captures the intimacy of an even smaller venue. Seating flanks the semi-circle stage 180 degrees from one side to the other, including booths and high-top seating along the walls. The stage is just one foot off the ground, fostering a greater connection between the artist and the audience.

And what artists: Grand Rapids’ own The Verve Pipe. Mexican American rockers Los Lobo. Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara. Americana artist Iris DeMent. Best Latin Pop Album winner Alex Cuba. Singer/songwriter/rapper Meshell Ndegeocello. Irish American rock band The Young Dubliners. Folk legend Suzanne Vega. Comedians Pauly Shore, Tim Meadows and Josh Johnson. Local comedy troupes Pop Scholars and River City Improv.

That’s just a sampling of the incredible diversity of performers Midtown brings to the stage multiple times each week. A top-notch audio system captures every nuance of every performance: 17 well-placed speakers throughout the space allow the sound to travel to the back of the room without blasting speakers near the stage. Warm lighting further enhances the cozy ambiance. 

Attentive Service

Midtown offers a selection of wine, liquor, craft cocktails, and beer at very reasonable prices. If you care for a refreshment during the show, simply raise your hand and the attentive wait staff will come to you, ensuring minimal interruption to the people around you. Everything about the space and the service is designed to encourage active, attentive listening to the performers.

All seats are general admission, so get there early and enjoy a beverage while you wait. The floor features comfortable chairs with plenty of legroom and cocktail tables.

Quinn Mathews, Director of Music and Programming for Studio Park and Talent Buyer for Midtown, says the concept of Midtown has always been an environment to come in and take time away from everyday life stresses. “We want our listeners to have a drink, bring their friends, and relax,” Quinn says. “And when the show starts focus and take in the live entertainment that the performers have worked on to provide for your experience!”

Outdoor Concerts

When warm weather rolls around, Midtown brings the music outdoors to Studio Park’s beautiful piazza. Midtown’s Listening Lawn series has hosted such performers as New Orleans-based The Soul Rebels, bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers, folk icons the Indigo Girls and South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Up to 500 guests can be accommodated, with most concerts offering both seated and standing-room tickets. 

The bar interior at One Twenty Three in Studio Park

Head down to One Twenty Three before or after the show for food and drinks.

Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids

Beyond the Music

Just because the music stops doesn’t mean you have to go home. A great option right inside Studio Park for a snack or drink to talk over the great show you just saw is One Twenty Three located on the first floor. 

There are many other restaurants to choose from just steps from Midtown’s front door, including Hopcat, Luna GR, Max’s South Seas Hideaway, Peppino’s Sports Bar & Grille, and Stella’s Lounge.

If you’re in the mood for even more entertainment after the show, opt for a movie at Studio Park’s Celebration! Cinema. With nine screens, a bar and a food menu that goes way beyond the usual movie munchies (but includes them too), Celebration! is a luxurious way to enjoy the latest blockbusters, indies and everything in between.

Studio Park has its own ramp for parking when you visit Midtown. The music venue doesn’t validate parking, but you can get your parking ticket validated with any purchase from One Twenty Three Tavern or the Celebration! Cinema concessions stands.

Mathews adds new shows often, so keep an eye on the schedule. “Many of the artists we book play in much bigger venues in larger markets like Detroit or Chicago and we are able to land them on a travel day between sometimes to play in this intimate space,” he says.