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Kalamazoo State Theatre

December 21, 2017

  • 404 S. Burdick Street
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49007
  • (269) 345-6500
  • Website

I don’t have to tell any parents this, but when you have kids, me time goes away.  That’s not a bad thing.  We just have to cut back on some things we used to enjoy doing.

One of those things is concerts.  It can be expensive to hire a babysitter for the night on top of all the usual concert expenses so it really has to be a show we want to see to make it worth it.

We’ve missed out on one show we both have wanted to go to for quite some time.  Every year, for the last nine years, Frankie Ballard does his Country Christmas show at the State Theatre.   We’ve always had something going on and last year, even though we had tickets, we couldn’t get a babysitter for the night due to the weather.

We made plans to go to the show again this year and even worked it out so my parents would be in town for Christmas.  We had our babysitter and we had our tickets.  We were finally going to get to this annual show.

The State Theatre is in downtown Kalamazoo on Burdick Street just south of where the Kalamazoo Mall ends at West Lovell Street.  The theatre has been a fixture in the city since the vaudeville days.  It was built in 1927 and has seen movies, concerts, stage shows, operas and much more.  The theatre was conceived by the W.S. Butterfield Theater Chain and designed by John Eberson who designed around 100 theaters and created the atmospheric theatre style.  The Butterfield Theater Chain is responsible for dozens of theaters in Michigan with Kalamazoo’s being one of the early theater’s W.S. Butterfield used on his Michigan vaudeville circuit.  

We got to the theatre around 7:30 for an 8:00.  We parked in the Epic ramp and walked the block and a half to the theater.  The State has it’s own parking lot at Burdick and Cedar which is about a block to the south.

We were a little surprised by the line that was wrapped around the block when got there.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the line for 21+ writstbands….which we needed.  It moved fairly quickly though as two security guards near the doors were checking ID’s and putting on yellow wristbands as quickly as they could.

The entrance to the theatre is next to the old box office.  In the days when you would actually buy your tickets on the day of the show, The State had the traditional glass encased ticket window right at the front doors.  Now, the ticket office is located in office space just south of the main entrance.

We scanned our tickets and headed inside.  There is a staircase immediately to your right to head to the second level or continue on straight for access to the lower level.  The lobby area is kind of tight.  The walkway is just wide enough for maybe three or four people across but I never felt cramped and always felt like there was plenty of room to move around.

There are three concession stands on the main level.  Each one of them has beer, liquor and non-alcoholic drinks.  I believe some of the taps may have been different at each one, but I didn’t look very closely as we were walking by.  Our seats were on the far side so we went all the down to the last concession area near the entrance to the aisle that would get us to our seats.  There is a concession stand at each entrance which relieves congestion from the small hallway.

The second floor lobby is a little more spacious and has room to congregate.  There is another concession stand on the second floor and another set of bathrooms with more stalls.  It’s not something I pay attention to, but my wife said the ladies room on the first floor only had two stalls and security was directing people upstairs where there was more.  The second floor also has tables and it’s where the silent auction was held for this particular show.

J and I each got a drink then we found where we needed to go to get to our seats.  There are three aisles and ushers at each door to help you find your seats.

I had gotten online as soon as tickets were available for this show and was able to snag some great seats.  We were three rows back in the orchestra pit on the right side of the stage.  Most of the seats in the State Theatre are padded theater seats but being in the orchestra pit, we had metal folding chairs with a cushioned seat.

So, let’s talk about this theater.  It’s gorgeous.  I mentioned earlier that John Eberson created the “atmospheric theater style.”  That style of designs attempts to transport the theater goer to “an exotic European courtyard or garden.”  The State has intricate wall designs of statues or balconies.  The theatre was designed in the style of a “Spanish Garden.

The design even went so far to include the night sky with a deep blue paint job and little lights for stars.

The theatre seats about 1500 people in the main floor and a balcony section, so it’s a small intimate theater that’s perfect for concerts like this one Frankie Ballard does every year.

The show started a little past 8:00 with an opening act.  Patrick Sweany, who’s a pretty accomplished blues and rock musician who’s taken the Nashville route as a singer/songwriter type act.  He played a half hour set with just his guitar and a stomp box.  I had never heard of him before, but he kept the crowd’s attention and played a good opening set.

There was a short intermission of about twenty minutes or so.  J and I were both working on our second drinks of the night.  She stuck to a cocktail while I was enjoying a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

When the lights went back down, Frankie Ballard and The Wildcat Band took the stage.  Ballard bucks the typical country music superstar look.  Instead of jeans and cowboy boots, he came out with his guitar wearing a black pinstripe three piece suit with his signature red bandanna in his back pocket.

He kicked of the set with “Young and Crazy” which also happens to be my favorite song of his.

He hit all of his big songs throughout the night…and even got the cheap pop by hitting the hometown crowd with a Bell’s Beer reference in the song “It All Started With A Beer.”

We also got previews of a couple new songs that are sure to hit the charts when the next album is released.  “Try, Try, Try” went over really well and he had the crowd singing along by the time it was over.

The night seemed like a homecoming for Frankie as he stopped to tell stories, acknowledge family members in the audience and even brought his dad up on stage to sing an Elvis cover.  The last original song the band brought out was Sunshine and Whiskey

Of course, the show wasn’t over.  The band came back out for an encore and played three more songs…a couple of covers and Frankie had to do a Christmas song….this is Frankie Ballard’s Country Christmas after all.

I can’t believe it’s taken us nine years to get to the Kalamazoo State Theatre.  There have been a number of acts over the years we’ve wanted to see but there’s always been some conflict.  The theatre is a jewel in downtown Kalamazoo.  You’re not going to see a huge pop act there, but it’s such a great, intimate spot for the smaller shows and movies that regularly play the stage at this historic theater.


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