Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Night 12 - Connections to the Past

Michigan has developed an amazing history over the years.  We have pretty strong ties to the past throughout our cities, with some great architecture in towns big and small.  Get off the highway sometime and drive the old 'state routes' to your destination.  They run through small towns that barely show up on a map, but at some point were important centers of commerce, housing, or a place where a family took root and others joined them to battle the wilderness and scratch out a living.  

Jackson isn't the smallest town out there, but it isn't a huge destination for a lot of people.  But they have two amazing pieces of Michigan's architectural history in the City, not to mention some great old houses near the downtown.  The Michigan Theater downtown was opened in 1930 and anchored the downtown until 1978.  After years of neglect and decline, a non-profit group stepped up in the nineties to bring the building back to its former glory. Movies, concerts, theater, and even the Rocky Horror Picture show are on the marquee now, bringing a new generation of Jackson-ite back to the downtown.  Check the schedule online and head over for a show.  

But really, seeing a movie or a play isn't the most unique night out, right? Especially if you are on a date.  You need something memorable. So follow up a night at Michigan Theater with a trip south of downtown to the Sparks County Park.  There you will find The Cascades.  Which, like any great civic institution, were one man's vision of something great for the City.  Since 1932, the Cascades have wowed visitors.  For lack of a better description, they are man made waterfalls. Which may not sound like much, but in the 30's, they were likely viewed as a wonder of the modern world.  And through community support and long term management by the County, they are still wondrous.  It really is a one-of-a-kind end to any evening.  

For pure uniqueness, Jackson certainly has things to offer that make it a place to visit.  That is really what Michigan tourism is all about.  Go off the beaten path a little bit and find something really cool to tell your friends about.  And they will come and the cycle will start anew for a new generation of Michigan explorers.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Night 11 - Entertainment in the Exurbs

I worked in the exurbs of Detroit for a while when I first moved to mid-Michigan.  It was far away from Detroit.  Very far.  When you are that far away from the core of the region, there is a certain segment of the population that don't go to the big City anymore. You are too far away, it takes too long to drive down, it's just not convenient, yadda yadda yadda.  So the exurbs really are a melting pot of the local tastes, since they tend to serve a more local population, rather than the regional draw of the big city.

One of Detroit's exurbs is Novi.  At the crossroads of I-96, I-275, and the M-5 connector, it was destined to be a bedroom community.  Over the years the City worked hard to diversify its tax base, bringing in more office/industrial uses to complement the strong housing market.  But undoubtedly, when people think of Novi, they think shopping.  There are two super-regional malls, several regional malls, and, sadly, a fake downtown.  It was intended to be another regional mall, but it never really got off the ground.  There are several interesting businesses that have stuck it out, but one really sticks out. The Grapevine of Novi started off as a second career for the owners, Brian and Lori (who are very cool folks), and has turned into a destination for a night on the town.  Now mind you, I don't like wine.  It is growing on me slowly but surely, but I really am not a big fan.  But The Grapevine is a great place to slowly try it out.  Very accessible wine list and Brian, Lori, or one of the very knowledgeable staff members will definitely help you out if you are a noob like myself.

If you are thinking about doing a date there, be aware, it is more of an after dinner place.  They have a very small, tapas-esque menu, with some larger items mixed in.  The menu is definitely intended to be secondary to the wine, not the other way around.  I have been several times and haven't been steered wrong on a bottle of wine yet.  In the summer, they have an outdoor patio to enjoy the weather.  As I recall, there is occasional live music; quiet, jazzy type stuff.  And they used to have some special events to help the community learn about wine and enjoy it, although I don't know if it they are still doing that.

All in all, a good place to enjoy a glass...bottle...flight...let's just say you can enjoy wine there.  Say hi to Brian and Lori for me and ask them what they recommend. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Night 10 - 5 Minutes of Glory (Special Event!)

At some point over the course of the last three-five years, the younger generation in Michigan has been getting a might bit fed up with business as usual. The political system is pretty well broken, the jobs we thought would be here are hard to find, and the outlook is grim.  But in every corner of this State, there are people that want to talk about the good things the State has to offer, the good things that they have to offer the State, and other sometimes mundane, but hilarious topics.  People want Michigan to succeed, but one voice is tough to hear through all the noise.  But what if a few hundred of them got together in some vacant building somewhere and talked about how to fix things, all while having a drink or two with their friends?  Would that get people's attention?

...Cuz tonight...is Ignite...and I'm feeling, alright...

I really don't know how I made the connection between Whitney Houston's first number one hit and a frenetic five minutes of energy, information, and applause.  But I did.  Ignite Lansing (along with the little siblings in Ann Arbor and Detroit) is built on a fairly simple premise.  Founded by some folks at O'Reilly media, the basic idea is that, If given 5 minutes to talk about anything in front of a rapt audience, what would you say? In short, the creative class' wet dream.  Or, as one of Ignite Portland's organizers called it "Attention Deficit Theater."  

...Just five stolen minutes is all that we share...

Basically, presenters get five minutes and 20 powerpoint slides in which to enlighten the general public on some topic.  But why exactly is this on a 'nightlife' blog?  Well, I can't vouch for Ann Arbor or Detroit, but in Lansing, we make it an event.  Plenty of food and beer, a professionally built and lit stage, professional sound, and 500 or so people packed into some previously vacant or underutilized building in the area.  For one night, we bring a party to your neighborhood.  Maybe you are just there for the atmosphere and afterparty.  Maybe you want to learn about ice climbing.  Perhaps you just stumbled into a ticket and were curious.  In any circumstance, you will leave enlightened and feeling better about where we are going as a State. 

...We'll be making love the whole night through...

Okay, so the Play-on-Whitney's-Words doesn't hold for long.  But hey, Ignite is a hellacious time.  And if you are actually reading this, you don't have tickets, and you want to check out Ignite Lansing 3.0, drop me a note.  I will get you in.  I know people.

Ignite Lansing 3.0 is Friday, March 5th at the Knapps' Building in downtown Lansing.  Door is 6:30.  Tickets are free, but are already gone as they sold out in record time.  Keep an eye out for 4.0.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Night 9 - Blow. It. Out. (Special Event!)

Is this another damned music post? I mean, does the dumbass writing this really have anything else to say?  I need to write a sternly worded note to him...
Save it.  Know this about Michigan.  We can build cars.  We can build furniture.  We love the outdoors.  And we love to Rock with a capital R.  So suck it up.  We got 1000 nights to cover here.  At least 15% of those should involve music of some sort.  It makes you 34% happier. 

Tons of cities have historically put together big music festivals. Some are in parks or in the woods or all over a downtown. Michigan has them all and all over the State.  But the biggest and best is probably the Metrotimes Blowout in Hamtramck. You get yourself a wristband for $20, which gets you into all the venues for every band you want to see, plus shuttle buses between the venues.  [Wait a second?  Did he just say $20] You bet I did! Over 200 bands, four nights, free shuttles, $20.  It is a haven for local music.  Lots of good rock and punk, but there is probably something for everyone.  Best value in Michigan.  

Now, there is plenty of awsomeness to go around, but if there is one problem with The Blowout, it is that the big bands get the late night spots.  And often, some amazing bands play at the same time.  So you have to make a choice.  Do I want to see the Detroit Cobras at the Gates of Columbus Hall or am I in a Hard Lesssons mood at the New Dodge Lounge.  Not to mention the other 11 bands that are probably going to be playing at the same time!  But really, is that a problem?  I mean, you can just check out the other bands out and about in The D, right?  That just highlights the amazing feat that Blowout is.  They get scores upon scores of great local bands to all play together and create an amazing event.  

If you are still looking for reason to go, here's my last pitch.  There is a punk band called Kommie Kilpatrick playing.  If that isn't a reason to go, then I don't know what is.

The Metrotimes Blowout is March 3-6 all over Hamtramck. Wristbands are $20 and will get you into all the venues.  Ticket information is available through their website. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Night 8 - Detroit Rock City

Detroit is known for a lot of things.  Some good, some not so good. I suppose everyone has a story and a special place in their heart for The D. But when a major rock and roll band writes a song proclaiming you The Rock City, then you know that the music scene is nothing to frown upon.  And Detroit does not disappoint. From warehouses for techno and trance to grungy clubs, if you are a band in the area and can't find a place to play, you aren't trying very hard.

But if you are going out on the town, you sometimes miss some of the more obvious places.  Of course, you probably know about some of the bigger venues and events (which we will get to), but when there is so much indie awesomeness, the big 'chain' places get ignored.  Which shouldn't always be the case.  So maybe you are a suburbanite who hasn't been downtown for a long, long time. The Hard Rock Cafe is a great place to start seeing Detroit and music again. Look, they have only been there since 2003.  And they are in a big corporate behemoth of a building that is owned by a company that hired The Hip Hop Mayor after he was deposed from office.  But if there is good music, would you go?  Of course you would.  The real question is, did you know The 313 Hard Rock has music?

I would normally stay away from the touristy things.  But if you are a Detroit music fan, it is probably worth checking out.  The normal, somewhat kitschy memorabilia is on the walls and throughout, but with a D slant.  They even have one of The Nuge's guitars!  Is the food a little overpriced?  Yeah, a little, but it is good.  But when you go to the Hard Rock, you go for the atmosphere.  And if you happen to check the schedule, you might see a very, very intimate acoustic set with a great band.  Had a nice dinner there whilst dealing with some serious issues and saw a band I would normally never think to see, live, about five feet from me.  And they ended the night by climbing on the bar and doing their finale.  And for about an hour there, life was all right.  

With the Hard Rock, you know what you are getting, so it will probably be a good time.  Then maybe you can check out some other events in some different venues.  And really see what The D has to offer. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Night 7 - George and Gracie Couldn't Have Said It Better

The bar scene in Metro Detroit generally has something for everyone.  There are plenty of places to dance and be seen.  There are quite a few 'authentic' irish pubs mixed in with the old school irish pubs that have been there for years.  Wine bars have become more popular.  And there are even a couple of microbrewers in the region that pour an excellent pint.  From a hole in the wall to a 500 person behemoth, the bar scene in The D has something for just about everyone. 

But what is you are looking to go out with someone and have a quiet night, or a serious conversation, or just a drink without the bumping bass?  Let me suggest Goodnight Gracie's. They have three locations, although I have only been to the Royal Oak one, so YMMV at the other two.  Ferndale appears to be a little more like a traditional bar and the Ann Arbor version has jazz and a dance club upstairs.  

Gracie's in Royal Oak is a borderline hole in the wall on Sherman Street.  It is a pretty narrow place, with a fairly limited amount of seating.  Later in the night, they get pretty packed.  But they serve a great martini.  And often times, they have live music.  In fact, on occasion, 93.9 The River has acoustic sets there with bands that are coming to town to play a full set.  They are connected to D'Amato's, which is a pretty good restaurant if you are looking for a bigger meal. But that also allows you to order off their menu from Gracie's.  So you can get your cozy little seat in the window, your pomegranate martini, and order some calamari.  Which was pretty good as I recall.

So enjoy Gracie's.  Quiet little place among the hustle and bustle of the Detroit Metro.  Maybe you'll get lucky and be there on a night with a sweet band.  Or maybe you'll just get lucky.  Either way, should be a good night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Night 6 - A Rose By Any Other Name

The State of Michigan is a pretty amazing place.  We have sand dunes and ski hills.  We put America on the road.  We've got a long history with cereal, furniture, cherries, and a ton of other things. The things that Michiganians have done over the years could fill up multiple leather bound books.  It's a great state and I'm glad I moved here.

One of my favorite parts of the State is the dichotomy between the big cities and the small towns.  The D is a sprawling metropolis of rebirth and decay, architecture and opportunity.  Grand Rapids is the greenest city in America that took amazing chance on democratizing the concept of a juried art show.  But in between these anchors, and throughout the State, there are amazing little towns that each have their own place in Maslow's Heirarchy of Michigan Cities.  Some are one stoplight towns and some have a bustling downtown.

Chelsea falls into the second list.  There are some cool shops and restaurants in Chelsea.  They have an outdoor juried art show going on right now (A Sculpture Walk!).  But one of the highlights of Chelsea, I would posit, is The Purple Rose Theater.  Jeff Daniels decided that there was no reason that the midwest couldn't have an amazing theater company.  So he founded one in the town he grew up in.  The Purple Rose gives aspiring actors and playwrights (actually, anyone in theater) a place to work on their craft.  And they do a great job.  Ticket prices are affordable and there are usually four different productions a year.  I saw The Poetry of Pizza there in 2008.  It was the world premiere and it was a very good show.  The theater is intimate, but still modern and seats 160ish.  And it is right in the downtown, contributing to the vibrancy of this wonderful small town.  Well worth checking out.  Excellent date night, when combined with dinner at one of the nearby dinners.  And you are supporting one of the more unique endeavors someone has undertaken in Michigan.  And that, is Pure Michigan...