This Is Pyramid Scheme

A few weeks ago, I wrote about people who used to drive to Detroit or Chicago to catch a cheaper flight, and how the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan has changed this behavior.

More common in my life was driving to Detroit or Chicago to see a band. Despite Grand Rapids' impressive local music scene, there seemed to be a whole slew of good, national bands that were suffering from Goldilocks syndrome when it came to Grand Rapids. The Intersection was too big. Mulligan's is too small. And nothing was just right.

Then it happened. The stars aligned in such a way that Jeff and Tami Vandenberg, the brother/sister team behind The Meanwhile Bar, partnered forces with Mark Sellers, proprietor of Stella's, Viceroy and Hopcat. As far as the music connection goes, Jeff Vandenberg operates his own record label, Friction Records, and pioneered the DAAC, a place where every young Grand Rapidian goes at least once to see a show they never forgot. And Sellers' brother, John, wrote Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life. Everything seemed to be in it's right place, and for the past year, photos of construction have peppered the Scheme's Facebook page.

And here we are. About a week away from the grand opening of the 420-capacity mid-sized music venue The Pyramid Scheme, a grand opening weekend featuring back-to-back shows from the legendary Guided by Voices.

At the helm of the Pyramid Scheme is April Basile. Basile managed J. Gardella's downtown for four years before becoming the manager of The Meanwhile, a bar she was attracted to based on its focus on art and music, upon its opening in autumn of 2007.

Basile knows how to run a bar smoothly, and behind the bar, she's the kind of 'tender that balances personality and efficiency, and the staff she and her teammates have chosen reflect similarly.  "Personality is going to be a strong factor when it comes to bringing people into (the Pyramid Scheme)," she predicts.

Another prediction she has mirrors my own, about snagging those cool bands on the run. "I think we're going to be able to convince bands to come to Grand Rapids that can't sell out something as large as the Intersection or Orbit Room, but could oversell Billy's." So far, some other major acts announced have been Afrika Bambaataa and Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan fame. Posters from local bands piecing together bills have been popping up all over town.

Oh, and guess what, music lovers? You know how you're still upset about the time you went and saw an amazing show, but you had to pay a million dollars for a Coors Light?

"We're always going to have the same prices in the front bar and back bar," Basile says.

That's right. You can see a show and not pay exorbitant venue prices. What else?

"Instead of having plastic cups that we throw away," Basile says, "we've invested in a thick plastic cup that is washable, so we won't be creating as much waste.

A venue both affordable and green? It's like a dream.

Basile shows us around the bar, unexpectedly welcoming in blues and browns, a softer schematic than Meanwhile and Viceroy's red and black. "It's so different (in here), people will always remember being (here)," Basile says.

The floor has been tiled in zig-zags to mirror The Red Room in the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, so feel free to dance like a man from another place, perhaps at the upcoming Clean Works 10th Anniversary Dance Party. The resin mold of a T-Rex skull (the same as in the Natural History Museum) hangs on the wall -- Vandenberg says he bought it from a man who calls himself the Dinosaur Hunter, whose life is spent searching for prehistoric relics.

PBR is the only non-Michigan beer Pyramid Scheme offers, with ten of their 16 main tap handles occupied by Short's Brewing Company, except on May 4, where Short's will assimilate them all. Unsurprisingly, the bar will also feature a selection of pinball machines.

Tami Vandenberg classifies their emotions as "beyond excited." She says, "The response is overwhelming and people's enthusiasm is flattering. We can't wait to serve these folks up some booze and good music."

So, here are the logistics: Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW and officially opens on April 29, with Guided By Voices (but keep watching their Facebook page, as secret shows may emerge). The front bar is always open and always free, 7 days a week from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. 

And we'll leave you with the daily specials, running from 8 p.m. to midnight:

Mon -- $3 wells, $3 ciders
Tues -- $3 Two-Hearted
Weds -- $ half off all Short's pints
Thurs -- $1 black labels, $2.50 house wine
Sundays -- $3 Jameson

Happy Hour, $1 off all Michigan products.

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J. Bennett Rylah is the Managing Editor of Rapid Growth Media.

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