VACANT Lansing: An Event Shrouded in Mystery
It all started in mid-January, when I saw a tweet from @ambermshinn: “Am officially blindfolded-tigercat curious about #vacantlansing. May pony up for tix on surprise alone. That said: Clowns = Refund.” Hilarity ensued as a rundown of clown-meets-tiger scenarios played out in 140 characters, and it was determined by the Twitterverse that clowns are terrifying. As I followed the madness online, I kept seeing the hashtag #vacantlansing pop up. I was intrigued, but still needed some persuasion. A few hours later, Redhead Design Studio
shared some graphics on Facebook featuring a blindfolded tiger on a purple background. I finally bit.
To Buy, or Not to Buy
I hustled to the VACANT site
, clicked through and attempted to gather any information. But alas, all I found was the tagline, “Expect Nothing.” Reassured that plenty of other enjoyable peeps had bought their tickets already, I figured, at worst I’d sit around and chill with my friends for a few hours. I decided to buy tickets and join in on this mysterious event. Out of the 75 regular tickets available, only 10 were still available, so this must mean that this is a really big deal. VIP tickets were also available, but I figured I should purchase with the majority (strength in numbers in case of clowns or tigers, or even clown tigers), as there were only seven packages for sale.
I received my first email from the mysterious VACANT organizers, which began with, “Oh, you clever kittens.” How could I not be totally into any sort of situation in which I get called a clever kitten? I was getting even more excited. And, to top it off, the email had the best news: “One thing we can promise - no clowns.”
Throughout upcoming weeks, the buzz died down, but then ramped back up as the sold-out VACANT approached. A colleague mentioned to me that the blindfolded tiger (as seen on posters at local hotspots like Soup Spoon, Eclectic Tattoo and Great Lakes Coffee and Chocolate) could be a reference to blind tigers and blind pigs; prohibition era code words. The all-knowing Google confirmed the rumor and I started to develop a suspicion the event may well be a speakeasy. The entertaining “kitten” emails kept coming; sending ticket-holders out on scouting missions and sharing secret codes we had to decipher (for the record, my engineer manpanion decoded the message which stated attendees bring their own booze). I monitored Twitter for any VACANT hashtag action and plenty came through. So many predictions and imaginative scenarios, but, by far one of my favorite tweets came from @lilhitaly : “@geoknitter I sure hope #vacantlansing is real. But, even if it’s not, I’ll have my flask with me so the night won’t be a total loss ;).” My sentiments exactly.
VACANT day arrived, and I assume it's no coincidence that is happened on Leap Day. Way to utilize an extra day! Still not really knowing what type of evening was in store, I bucked the cocktail dress convention, taking to heart one email telling us to dress warm. It was a wool suit and boots for me (don’t worry, I blinged out in the jewelry department). After getting an email with the password (Bum’s Rush) and GPS coordinates to the spot (thanks again, to my engineer for ensuring I didn’t wander lost in REO Town as some folks did) I headed out. I was one of the first to arrive at the vacant building next to Studio Intrigue Architects. I made the mistake of coming through the wrong door, robbing myself of experiencing the password exchange with the doorman. I also missed the opportunity of walking through the open-door, which was the C of the VACANT logo. Despite my error, I was immediately impressed. The place looked great, with strings of lights hanging from the high unfinished ceiling and fabric-covered tables dotted with candle-filled mason jars throughout the room. The silent movie projection on the wall and flapper girls mingling immediately confirmed my suspicions. This was definitely a speakeasy.
At 7 p.m., the gals working the door were swamped, so I jumped in to stamp hands as a myriad of adventurous Lansing residents paraded in to mix the contents of their flasks with bitters-filled beverages like Mint Tea and Ginger Fizz. Being a vacant building, the heating options were slim and I was grateful I eschewed form for function in my giant puffy parka.
As the room filled, so did the entertainment options. The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle
headlined the live music, and vocalists Abigail English, Kristen Cambern and Amanda Whitehead each serenaded us with jazzy tunes. Throughout the room, actors were in character gambling over a game of poker or policing the VIP section while cigarette girls handed out popcorn and candy smokes. I was impressed to see a good portion of attendees dressed to the nines and in their best speakeasy outfits. I guess they must have had their own version of an engineer. The actors and attendees started to blend together, and toward the end of the evening, I noticed the floor was littered with feathers from boas and fascinators.
The VIP section was a curtained off area with cushy furniture and lovely aperitifs. The furniture was eclectic and fit the whole event perfectly. Plates of appetizing foods from Fork in the Road, Local Artisan Diner
and Soup Spoon Café
, as well as a special treat from former Mama Bear’s chef and owner, kept the VIPs’ taste buds satisfied. If I were a little more confident that clowns and tigers were not going to be involved, I would have invested in the VIP package and enjoyed the yummies.
Some of my favorite aspects of the evening, aside from getting to spend time in a fantastic-space-to-be with lots of new and old acquaintances, were Jena McShane’s
customized photobooth sessions and the dancing unicorn, frog and rainbows during the LUVs' final set. As the evening neared its end, DJ Rachael smoothly transitioned from period-appropriate speakeasy tunes into a full-on dance party.
As I collapsed into a chair in the VIP lounge, I noticed a Cravings Popcorn
bag with a cryptic message on the back. “There’s a rumor that VACANT II is going to be electric” and as my honey and I headed out at 11 p.m. after a unique and entertaining evening, he pointed to the wall where movies had been projected all night. “When did they switch to that?” he asked, of a VACANT logo spotlighting a question mark with the note “Summer 2012.”
So as one Lansing mystery is solved, another door is opened. Of course, I don’t need to tell you to "expect nothing" from Vacant Lansing numero duo, except to see me there!
Kate Tykocki is the interim news editor and a freelance writer for Capital Gains. She geeks jazz hands
, knitting and theatre. You can also follow her at @katetykocki
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Views of VACANT, for even more check out the slide show in this issue
Photos © Dave Trumpie