When it comes to live music venues, few will tough it out through five decades.
Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig was in jeopardy of ending its historic run this year when news come out that the club was for sale.
Opened in the early 1970s, the the Blind Pig started as a blues club and transitioned into a rock venue the following decade after passing through a few owners.
Most local musicians and music fans know the history. The college town bar attracted some big names on their way to the top, most notably grunge heavyweights Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Upon walking into the brick building, guests can see a wall of fame with newspaper clippings spanning the years touting the club’s now-famous bookings.
Besides the music, the Blind Pig is known for its no-nonsense security staff and — in spite of operating in a college town on planet Earth in the year 2017 — the cash-only bar. No credit cards accepted.
These days, the Blind Pig hosts a diverse mix of music including local indie rock, jam bands (it’s Ann Arbor, after all), dance club nights and hip-hop. Its basement bar, the 8 Ball Saloon, is a cozy hangout for sipping mugs of draft beer, playing darts or pool, or slipping a few bucks in the jukebox.
Earlier this year the Pig’s legacy was threatened when in February word got out that longtime owner Betty Goffett had put the club up for sale at an undisclosed price.
Rumors swirled that it would be shut down, destroyed and turned into condominiums, but longtime Blind Pig employees Faith Wood and Jason Berry couldn’t let that happen.
They sought out financial backers who would keep the 400-capacity music venue open and intact.
Enter Joe Malcoun, an Ann Arbor-based tech CEO and investor, who worked with Wood and Berry to form a partnership that includes the two longtime employees as managing partners. Wood and Berry have worked at the Pig as general manager and talent buyer, respectively, for 20 years.
Malcoun said on the financial side, the partnership includes local folks who he says are “super passionate about keeping the Blind Pig the Blind Pig.”
“It’s a pretty broad cross section of the community,” Malcoun said of the financial arm of the partnership. He said one partner is a musician, another has a construction background, others are in real estate management.
“Blind Pig is still here,” Berry said in an email, adding “(expletive) gentrification.”
So now that the Pig is partially owned by longtime staff members and partially by investors who care about Ann Arbor and local music, what will change?
Malcoun says the first major thing they’ll do is update the sound system this spring. One of the new investors are Leon Speakers, a high-end speaker company based in Ann Arbor, and they will custom-design the new system.
While they want to improve things from the musicians’ standpoint with better sound, the customer will also see improvements like digital ticketing and — yes! — the acceptance of credit cards at the Blind Pig and 8 Ball Saloon.
For now, those are the only real updates and changes planned. Malcoun says he and his partners want to take some time and listen to the staff and customers and see what they want before making any more decisions.
I’m assured that the layout of the Blind Pig will not change, no real changes are in store for the 8 Ball Saloon, and there are currently no plans to paint over the years of graffiti in the upstairs band green room, which has served as a holding cell for musicians readying to take the stage.
The Blind Pig is at 208 S. First in Ann Arbor. Call (734) 996-8555 or visit blindpigmusic.com.