MIM Music Theater is symphonic nirvana
The Arizona Phoenix metro area has an outstanding selection of musical venues in which to enjoy concerts and other live performances. From massive stadiums, arenas, outdoor amphitheater, sophisticated performing art theaters, to intimate venues… Phoenix boasts them all.
Opened just a few years ago, one of the newest venues in town is the Music Theater at the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum), which is located in the northeastern part of Phoenix off of Tatum and the 101 freeway. The Music Theater at the MIM is very intimate, with just 300 seats. Acoustically, the theater is sensation! With only 300 seats, there really isn’t a bad one in the house, however after attending a couple of shows, I have to say the 3rd row may be my favorite. The 3rd row gives the audience goer an unparalleled view of the performers in which to see all the subtleties that go into a live show.
The first show I saw at the MIM was the iconic Willy Porter. If you’re not familiar with Willy, the best way to describe his musical performances might be, “playfully political.” Willy’s music is a blend of folk and jazz with some hypnotic funky grooves thrown in.
During his performances, Willy sets up each song with a captivating story on how he came to write the music and corresponding lyrics. He is quite comical and personable, with a great connection to the audience. Willy sort of reminds me of the raw and overwhelmingly talented Harry Conick Jr. The arrangements were creatively complex…many times changing the song within a song. The harmonizing with Carmon Wickerson was simply amazing. The connection this duo had with the audience sent shivers down my spine several times.
The next show I saw at the MIM was the teenage musical phenom, Emily Bear. This fourteen-year-old composer and pianist, was remarkable. While there is no denying Ms. Bear’s musical talent, her youth really came through in her stage presence when she interacted with the audience. I have no doubt the older she becomes and the more stage experience she gains, her interactional confidence will improve.
It was extraordinary to see how easy music composition comes to this young lady. Many of the songs she performed had written when she was as young as five. To prove her musical prowess, during the second half of the show, Emily asked members of the audience to tell her a brief story. She would then think for a moment or two, before playing a composition she’d just come up with in her head, to match the story that had just been shared. In all my years of seeing live music performances, I’d never seen anything like this.
Emily was joined on stage with a bass player, a drummer, and for a few songs, a cellist. My attention was often drawn from Emily, to the drummer, Mark McLean. This gentleman was a masterful percussionist and did things with his drum set that I’d never seen performed before. Granted, I’d never had such a vantage point at a concert before, as we were just a few rows from the stage.
Another fantastic aspect of attending a show at the MIM is that after the performance, the artists come out to the lobby to talk with fans and sign autographs (at least this was the case in both the shows I attended). I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. McLean, a musician who has been in the industry for a while. I had to ask him what it was like playing for/with such a young star. He said, “because she is so talented, and such a consummate professional, we often forget that she is just a teenager. She is so beyond her years.”
I’m not sure how long they all have been playing together, but they seemed to have a good time on stage.
I think the reason the MIM is able to attract such high quality talent to its modestly sized theater is two-fold. First, it’s an outstanding venue, both for the musicians as well as the audience members. Second, the musicians who come to the MIM are awe-struck by the museum, which displays instruments from many of the musical greats in which the artists have either looked-up to, or have been inspired by. I can only surmise that having this musical treasure on display attracts artists who may not otherwise be willing to play at such a small venue. For concert-goers, the intimate venue of the Music Theater at the MIM is without question a musical treat.
While I’ve seen a couple performances at the Music Theater (located inside the MIM), I have yet to tour the museum itself, which I hope to do one day soon. If you’ve ever been the Music Theater or toured the museum at the MIM, please leave a comment below and share your experience.