After 12-year hiatus, Skelletones reopens in Grand Rapids Friday

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Skelletones fans, the long wait is finally over: The popular underground music oasis where Still Remains, Nathan Kalish and The Wildfire and May Erlewine once played reopens Friday.

Skelletones is located on S. Division Avenue near Cherry Street, in the same space as the original venue. But a lot changed during Skelletones’ hiatus.

“First stepping in after 10 years and seeing how degraded the space had become was pretty disheartening for my wife and I,” co-owner Mark Leech said.

Leech says the previous tenant was leasing but not living in the space when a water main broke, flooding and warping the floor.

“There was huge sections where the floorboards were all the way up to my knees. It was just like a big wood wave in here from the back of the space to the front of the space. So you couldn’t even walk in here. You almost couldn’t get in the door,” Leech said.

(A Sept. 1, 2021 photo shows the S. Division Avenue entrance to Skelletones.)

Garbage also blanketed the area — enough to fill a couple dumpsters, according to Leech.

“We remember the hours and friends of ours that volunteered time and labor to fix it up and clean it up the first time. And so to have … a lot of that undone was, I had to step back outside for a few minutes and kind of collect myself, because it’s like seeing an old friend from high school that used to be really healthy and then they just got addicted to drugs or something… you’re just genuinely really sad for the state that they are now in,” he said.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

After nine years of shows, Skelletones shut down in 2009, primarily so Leech and his wife could raise their young children. Leech and his family decided last year they would reopen Skelletones after his kids, now 11, 13 and 15 years old, attended a tribute show.

“They fell in love with it. They loved the atmosphere. So they’re pretty excited, not only that we’re reopening, but they plan to be here working on some of the weekends too… so it’s kind of becoming a family affair, which is pretty cool,” Leech said.

(A Sept. 1, 2021 photo shows the renovated interior of Skelletones, located at 133 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids.)

Over the last year, Leech, his wife and their supporters restored Skelletones to its glory days. They replaced floors, rebuilt restrooms and made the building more accessible to people with disabilities. They also built a stage and nonalcoholic bar out of reclaimed wood.

“Anytime we can redeem and put to good use something slated to be thrown away, it feels like a sustainable win,” Leech told News 8. “It’s that mindset that drives us. We want the people who feel discarded to be reminded they still have a purpose.”

SKELLETONES STICKERS, SPAGHETTI DISCOVERED DURING RENO

During the process, Leech also discovered some Skelletones history, including band stickers in the rafters where the stage used to stand, an old Skelletones logo above the restroom that had been painted over, and the remnants of a Skelletones ticker on the emergency exit.

Leech even found dried spaghetti from 15 years ago.

“Somebody thought it would be fun on Halloween night to bring in two 20-pound trash bags full of cooked spaghetti and throw it into the audience, which shut the entire show down because it wasn’t nearly as fun as you would think. And we spent three days back then literally morning to night, cleaning. It was in the rafters, on the walls and it becomes like glue. So here I came in all these years later and I was still finding dried spaghetti in some of the rafters over here,” Leech said, shaking his head.

(A Sept. 1, 2021 photo shows a band sticker that was slapped onto a rafter during Skelletones’ original run, from 2000 to 2009.)

“We’ve become good friends over the years… and from time to time, he’ll still joke about what he calls ‘the spaghetti incident,’… and I just look at him and I say, ‘We’re not laughing about that quite yet.’”

DIFFERENT TIMES, SAME MISSION

While time has passed, Skelletones’ mission remains the same: give high school and college students a safe space to connect with the underground music scene and each other.

“(We) don’t scoot kids out as soon as the show is done. We like when they just kind of hang around for a while, talk to each other because they tend to meet people that are nothing like them or don’t see the world the same way they do. And so there’s really, in my opinion, some really meaningful dialogue that happens just over the course of time,” Leech said.

It’s meant a lot to many teenagers as well, who have created blogs and Facebook groups to reflect on how Skelletones impacted their lives.

(A photo provided by Skelletones shows a band playing on stage inside the original music venue, which operated from 2000 to 2009.)

Leech, who is a pastor, said he has also presided over a bunch of weddings between couples who met or got engaged at Skelletones.

“Which is hugely rewarding for me, it just feels very full circle,” he said.

(A Sept. 1, 2021 photo shows the renovated interior of Skelletones, located at 133 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids.)

The appetite for Skelletones is still there, if Instagram is any indication. Leech said when they decided to reopen, he created a Skelletones account, but posted nothing.

“I came back later that night, and we had 400 followers. The next morning, we had 700. And by Wednesday that week, we were up to roughly 1,400,” he recounted. “I remember those (numbers) just because I was so taken by how many people must have shared and done the word-of-mouth thing. So the feedback and the response has been really positive up to this point.”

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Skelletones will open 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with the first band typically taking the stage by 8 p.m. The venue closes before Grand Rapids’ midnight curfew.

Friday’s show is $5 at the door and includes performances by pop punk band American Cheese, as well as Worst Self, Bitter Truth and Sharp as Iron, which feature musicians who grew up in the area.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Skelletones plans to limit its capacity. Guests must also show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at the front door or wear a face mask.

*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the length of time Skelletones was closed. We regret the error, which has been fixed.

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