""It must be something in the water." - Paul Tinkerhess.
Last Sunday, I walked around a neighborhood in Ann Arbor's west side and witnessed a new music phenomenon - the Water Hill Music Festival - where neighbors played music from their front porches, backyards, and garages.
The idea for the festival came from Paul Tinkerhess, a local business owner and musician.
"The concept is simple," Tinkerhess said. "On the afternoon of Sunday, May 1st, everyone in the neighborhood who either is a musician or wants to pretend to be a musician is encouraged to step out onto their front porch and play music. That's it. Or half of it. The other half is that we are inviting all the other neighbors, and the rest of the world, to wander through the neighborhood that afternoon and enjoy something like a music festival with a lot of stages."
The neighborhood in Ann Arbor's west side, dubbed "Water Hill" by Tinkerhess, if filled with musical talent.
I caught a small fraction of the festival, and made this video:
Dave MacDonald is finishing up his doctorate in music composition at Michigan State University. When his friend asked him to compose a new piece for saxophone, MacDonald said sure, no problem. But there was one catch: he wanted to get paid.
Arts patronage 1.0
MacDonald says getting paid would be hard for a few reasons: There's not a lot of money in classical music, and it's hard to get an arts grant if you're an unknown composer. Plus, he says, arts patrons are hard to come by:
On Sunday, May 1 from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m., musicians who live in the city's Water Hill district will sit out on their front porch or lawn, and put on a show. It's called the Water Hill Music Fest, and more than 50 house in the neighborhood will participate.
The new commercial paints Grand Rapids as the state's 'go to' place for arts and culture, with lines like "where food is art, and music flows in every color imaginable; let's start living the artful life."
It's not the post-apocalyptic competition featured in the Mel Gibson movie.
Instead of "two men enter, one man leaves" ...
It's more like "around 100 men and/or women enter, around 100 men and/or women leave... perhaps with some scrapes and bruises."
A write up on this wild, anarchic race is featured on the Changing Gears website by WBEZ's Robin Amer.
Robin writes about how the organizers unearthed an abandoned velodrome in Detroit's Dorais Park:
It was literally unearthed by one of the city’s vigilante lawn-mower gangs — people who mow the lawns at city parks because the city cannot afford to do so. The velodrome, on the city’s east side, was repaired by racing enthusiasts who cut down trees growing in its center and invested thousands of dollars of their own money and over 4,000 lbs of concrete fixing its surface. And now, it has come back to life as home to a variety of competitions.
When asked who the sanctioning body for this race is, organizer Andy Didorosi replied:
We are. We're the only sanctioning body in the world for zany two-wheeled party racing on abandoned Velodromes. :) Sanctioning bodies are silly.
Here's a video of last year's race. I like how the victor, instead of doing a lap with a checkered flag, does a lap with a torn-off portion of a Pabst Blue Ribbon box.
Today's Artpod is all about nostalgia...Michigan-focused nostalgia, of course.
Rock Around the Clock
Did you know that 50 years ago this week, "Runaway" by Del Shannon was the #1 song in the U.S.? Don't worry, neither did I. But Michigan Radio's Mike Perini did! He's the station's resident music head. Turns out Del Shannon was born in Grand Rapids, and he grew up in nearby Coopersville. "Runaway" was the first rock 'n' roll song by a West Michigan-born artist to hit the top.
Mike talks to me in the first half of the podcast about some other classic rock 'n' roll songs written by Michigan artists, including the always popular "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley.
Let's play ball!
A new play pays tribute to long-time Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell. The play is called "Ernie" and it was written by best-selling author Mitch Albom. The play looks back at Harwell's life and includes vintage footage of the Hall of Fame announcer.
On the podcast I talk to Will David Young, the veteran Michigan actor who plays Ernie:
Ernie Harwell fans will get to relive some of the famed baseball announcer’s past in a new play called, appropriately enough, “Ernie.”
The play, which opens Thursday, Apr. 28 at the City Theatre in Detroit, was written by Mitch Albom. The story takes place on the night the beloved Tigers announcer gave his farewell speech at Comerica Park. Before his speech, he runs into a young baseball fan, who coaxes Harwell to reflect on his own life.
The play also includes vintage footage of Harwell, including some of his most famous calls.
Veteran Michigan actor Will David Young plays Ernie, which he calls "the biggest rush" he's ever experienced:
"So many people considered Ernie a grandfather figure, uncle figure, father figure. People who knew him well considered him a mentor with his gentleness, humor, humanitiy; it’s daunting playing a figure like that."
As for that famous Harwell cadence? Young says he tried to get into "that touch of Georgia twang."
Last December, there was a lot of speculation about Aretha Franklin's health after she went into a hospital for undisclosed reasons. People held a prayer vigil, and there was speculation the soul singer had cancer.
Now she's back. Last February the AP reported she had "revamped her diet, giving up her beloved chitterlings, pigs' feet and ham hocks in favor of a Whole Foods-type diet."
She's getting ready to release a new album and is planning a hometown concert.
From the Associated Press:
Almost five months after undergoing serious surgery, hall of fame singer Aretha Franklin is coming out with a new album and has scheduled a hometown concert.
The 69-year-old Queen of Soul will play DTE Energy Music Theatre on Aug. 25. It's in Clarkston, north of her native Detroit.
And Franklin's new CD, "Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love," will be released in Wal-Mart stores on Tuesday.
The music legend underwent surgery in early December in Detroit for an undisclosed ailment. Since then, she's lost more than 80 pounds. Franklin says the weight loss was because of a change in diet and exercise.
She canceled several performances last year because of illness, but her show at DTE is one of a handful she has booked for this spring and summer.
An artist in Detroit is expanding his project that highlights different city neighborhoods. Several years ago Ben Bunk moved to Detroit for an artist residency at the 555 Gallery.
He would ride his bike on a seven mile commute from the Eastern Market area to a studio near the abandoned Michigan Central Station. His bike rides inspired doodles which eventually lead to a series of black and white drawings of neighborhood buildings.
Bunk says it’s fun to draw Detroit, and describes his drawing style as relatively simple.
“It’s realistic in the sense that it has perspective that’s correct, and all the windows are there but the lines are crooked. I would say it’s kind of childish and it’s funny. The buildings are kind of crooked and they talk to each other in how they’re bent.”
Bunk won a mini-grant from a local event known as SOUP and used the money to self-publish a post-card sized book of his drawings. Bunk is now working on professionally publishing a second edition.
They ratified the $34.3 million, three-year contract this afternoon. The deal includes an initial 25% pay cut for the musicians the first year. Starting musicians used to earn $104, 650 their first year; they'll earn $79,000 under the new contract.
There’s an additional $2 million pot of money which management will use to pay musicians for optional community outreach work and educational programs that include teaching, coaching and chamber music.
Cliff Bell’s is one of the oldest Jazz clubs in the city - a little history from Cliff Bell's website:
Through the 30's 40's and 50's Cliff Bell's and the Town Pump Tavern anchored two ends of what was Detroit's busiest night crawl with clubs, pubs and Burlesques dotting Park Avenue. During the 70's and 80's the Club operated under a series of other names. Many remember The Winery, La Cave, or AJ's on the Park.
In 1985 the famous club closed and remained empty until in late 2005.
Like a lot of places in Detroit, it was left empty for a long time. The plaster cracked, the ceiling leaked, but that all changed in 2005 when Paul Howard and Scott Lowell began the renovation of the shuttered club.
In this video, the owner of the building that houses Cliff Bell's talks about the restoration of the club.
This video was shot by Lindsey Smith, and produced by Juan Freitez.
More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.
The orchestra is rehearsing for two concerts this weekend, both of which sold out almost instantly. Leonard Slatkin, the DSO’s music director, says it helped that the tickets were free. He says "the real test is going to come next season when we try to see if we can sustain the positive energy that's been a result of this settlement."
Leonard Slatkin, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the strike, says he’s very excited to be back. He says as the DSO moves forward, it will have a bigger and stronger presence not only in Detroit, but in the suburbs, too:
"Another plus of the strike is more people that didn’t know about us, know about us! We were in the news all the time, and we need to capitalize on that. An orchestra is an institution that only appeals to a relatively small percentage of a given population in any city; now we at least have a recognizable name."
Slatkin says people will begin to the see the "hand-print" of what the new model for the orchestra will be as we move into the Spring season, and he says "no decisions will be taken without the complete consent of the orchestra."
The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.
In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:
“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."
"I will have people reading that story in the form of a 3-act play, while more than 100 images are being shown on a very large screen behind them."
Chido Johnson was a 2009 Kresge “Visual Artist” fellow, and he’s excited to display his new work during Art X Detroit. He says "Detroit has been identified over and over again as a decayed city, and this is a way to really emphasize how rich and cultural it is.
Just before 7 o’clock this morning, I got on a bus to Detroit. More than 50 people from West Michigan are also on board. And these are normal, non-politician-type people who are trying to learn more about Detroit.
If you find yourself asking something like, “Why would they do that?” or “What’s to learn from Detroit?” – then join me, you’re on the right track.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians strike may be nearing its end, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to get things back on track at Orchestra Hall.
For starters, the organization has to figure out how to overcome some ‘image’ problems that come with a six-month strike.
Elizabeth Weigandt is a DSO spokeswoman. She says it hasn’t been pretty to watch the strike unfold, and some patrons may not be happy with how things were handled over the last six months, but "we're hoping that as we get back to making music for them, doing what they love, they will be able to let go of what’s happened, just as we will, and move on to an even better future."
Then there's the music. Nearly all of the current season has been lost to the strike, and the summer season was threatened as well. But Weigandt says the summer season is back on and she doesn’t think the 2011-12 season will be delayed:
"Obviously we have to move quickly to get the word out about what next season will be, but we do have a lot of interest. We will probably make the announcement as soon as we can. I would say within the next couple weeks."
Neither side has released details about the proposed contract.