After 11 years in Spring Lake, owner Michelle Hanks will close the much-beloved listening room following sold-out shows Friday and Saturday, ending an era of memorable live music.
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When award-winning national touring artist Rebecca Loebe made her final appearance at Spring Lake’s Seven Step Up in October, she expressed the sort of sentiment that’s shared by pretty much every performer who’s played the intimate venue over the past 11 years.
“Please clap for this venue,” she implored the rapt audience from the stage inside this acoustically pleasing, 112-seat venue.
“So many of my dear friends and musical heroes have played here. It’s been a beacon of hope and a wonderful room. What a special place. Seven Steps Up is one of the most incredible venues.”
Opened in 2011 by Michelle and Gary Hanks, that special place just off of Spring Lake’s main drag will host its final shows this weekend before closing its doors, with Michael Pearsall of the Washington D.C. rock band Honor by August performing at 8 p.m. Friday and Massachusetts singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg taking the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday. Both concerts are sold out.
Devastating fallout from the COVID pandemic and, specifically, financial shortfalls from outdoor Grand Haven concerts booked and hosted by the Hanks and their Courtyard Concerts organization forced the couple to sell the Spring Lake building earlier this year.
It sold quickly, though Michelle Hanks said she’s “contractually limited to divulge any information” about the new owner’s plans for the 4,800-square-foot building at 116 S. Jackson St.
Then, unexpectedly, stunningly and sadly in late October, Gary Hanks passed away at age 70, just as the couple was preparing to move to Seattle and barely six weeks before Seven Steps Up was set to close.
In a recent interview with Local Spins, Michelle Hanks – who has taken a new job in Seattle – conceded she’s “having trouble getting through my days, let alone consider what the future might hold. Gary’s passing changed everything.”
But Hanks expressed heartfelt gratitude for the fan and artist support that the listening room has received since hosting singer-songwriter Alice Peacock for its first show in March 2011. The venue has since boasted capacity concerts by the likes of John Waite, Glen Phillips, May Erlewine, Billy Strings, Peter Asher, Albert Lee, Shawn Mullins, Tony Lucca, Howie Day and so many more.
MAGICAL MOMENTS, AUDIENCES COMPLETELY ENRAPTURED
“We are grateful for everyone who ever attended or performed a concert here. We believed in this place and appreciated everyone who share that belief in our experience,” she said, noting she reveled in “the moments when the sound is perfect, the audience is completely enraptured by the music and we can feel the energy in the room.
“It’s magical. The moments when the audience erupted into spontaneous standing ovations. That’s something, too.”
Indeed, the venue’s “magical” pindrop-quiet environment and attentive audiences impressed performers from across the country who made Seven Steps Up a regular stop on their tours – relishing the comfortable, community vibe that made it feel like playing a friend’s living room.
New York City singer-songwriter Jesse Ruben called it “a big deal” to play the venue, insisting that he had wanted to play Seven Steps Up for 10 years before finally getting the opportunity this past fall.
His was one of more than 600 concerts hosted by the listening room during its tenure.
Hanks conceded that the lack of Grand Haven support for the Summer Sessions concert series and Friday night shows held at Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium ultimately led to a financial shortfall that didn’t allow Seven Steps Up to stay open. The outdoor concerts experienced losses in excess of $100,000, according to a GoFundMe campaign.
“We had to come up with the money to fund the shortfall for the Summer Sessions and Free Friday Night Summer Concert series (and the response from) our community leaders was negative when we asked for help,” she said.
“We had already over the years put every penny we had including retirement into this dream, so the only possible place to get money is from the equity of the building. We thought that if we just tried a little harder for a little longer we could find a way to keep going,” she said.
“Our community has made it clear that what we have to offer is not needed. I think it’s pretty much as simple as that. We were given an opportunity to borrow the money long-term and continue with Seven Steps Up, but didn’t feel we have enough community support to try and survive or continue to work as hard as we have been. Staffing shortages and lack of ticket sales were definitely a factor.
“Had we gotten that assistance, we would have continued Courtyard Concerts and we would not have had to sell the building.”
Hanks is back in Spring Lake for the final shows and then she’ll “pack everything up for Seattle.”
But she said she’s thrilled that Pearsall – who’s performed at Seven Steps Up several times – is part of the venue’s final weekend of shows.
“Michael is important to our history as a venue. We were prepared to shut down in the fall of 2015 and a conversation with Michael changed that,” she recalled.
“The room is special to Michael, too. When Michael asked if we would consider giving him a final chance to play the room, it felt full circle and the timing worked perfectly.”
VIDEO: Jesse Ruben, Rebecca Loebe at Seven Steps Up
VIDEO: Honor by August with Michael Pearsall at Seven Steps Up
PHOTO GALLERY: Seven Steps Up: The Musical Memories
Various Photographers (Click on Photo to Enlarge)