A Tapestry of Evolution • Rewinding the Year in Music, Art, Theatre & Culture

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Theatre, Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 939   By: Robert E Martin

15th December, 2022     0

“What thoughts are to the individual, art is to the community as a whole. That’s where you reflect on who you are, who you hope to be, what you’ve gone through, and where you hope to go.” - Wendell Pierce

The year 2022 was one of re-constitution and realignment for the Arts in the Great Lakes Bay Region, with numerous achievements and highpoints that in the words of Chaucer proved ‘fate comes to aide those who win it for themselves.’

The challenges were numerous and ramifications still emerging. According to Americans for the Arts,  the societal disruption of the Pandemic that left stages empty and art galleries vacant for nearly two years  resulted in a $1.8 trillion loss to the arts & cultural sector of the United States, with nearly 490 million fewer attendees to arts & cultural events. 

Indeed, back in March of 2021, one year after the lockdowns started, the total financial loss to Michigan arts & cultural institutions was estimated at nearly $20 billion.  But as theaters, concert halls, galleries, arenas, and summer festivals once again opened to full capacity in 2022, several high-water marks surfaced to reaffirm our hope for the future, with the Arts once again serving as a catalyst.

The month of January began with Saginaw’s historic Temple Theatre moving away from seasonal blocks of programming and announcing shows in stages. “We will be rolling shows out on an ongoing basis, as opposed to announcing everything at once,” explained marketing manager Thor Rasmussen. “The season model works well in some environments and venues, especially if a particular series consists of a group of shows; but what we’re finding now is the way people are attending shows is by shopping them on an individual basis verses a whole season.”  The approach worked well, as the venue re-opened  with Dogman The Musical, followed by a sold-out performance of classic-Rock icons America celebrating their 50th Anniversary Tour, along with world-class comedians, and an upcoming appearance by nationally renowned singer-songwriter  Jason Isbell on January 29th.

In Bay County, the historic State Theatre kicked off the new year with the 5th annual Band Roulette - an ambitious, innovative, and highly interactive musical showcase that since its inception has raised $14,000 for the admirable efforts of the D-Street Music Foundation - a respected non-profit entity focused upon fostering the talents of young musicians through scholarship and instrument acquisition programs, while also showcasing the artistry of our musical scene to divergent audiences in the Great Lakes Bay Region through various showcase performance festivals held throughout the year. 

According to musician Jeff Poirier, who is the inventor, founder, and  Chief-Ringleader behind Band Roulette, the concept is similar to a variation of ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway’, consisting of a musical pool of 24-plus musicians, selected from some of the best bands in the region, whose names are drawn from a hat to form a 5-piece band that will then spin a wheel containing the titles of popular songs to determine what specific song the newly formed band will need to perform on the spot for audiences with no rehearsals.

The Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum out at Saginaw Valley State University was a fulcrum point for many innovative exhibitions and approaches to circulating art throughout the region in 2022. Beginning with their February exhibitions showcasing Harold Neal & Detroit African American Artists from 1945 that served as a foundation for the Black Arts Movement, along with Tradition Interrupted,  which presented  a stunning display of artistry distinguished by the manner each of the showcased artists merged deeply personal statements with traditional fine art forms, both of these shows presented patrons with pieces equally challenging and disquieting as they were visually and aesthetically stunning and poignant.

Most significantly, the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum served as a catalyst for launching the Public Art Passport, an exciting new regional resource serving as a comprehensive portal to public art in Michigan’s Great Lake Bay Region.  Residents and visitors alike are able to explore 360-degree views of public art spanning across Saginaw, Midland, Bay City, and Frankenmuth, as well as public art hubs on regional college and university campuses. Envisioned as an ever-expanding resource of and for the region, this website portal can be found at www.PublicArtPassport.com includes information about each public artwork, google map locations and links for ease of visiting in person, and also highlights arts and cultural organizations in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

With their extensive and meticulously assembled exhibition ‘A Wider View of Saginaw: The Panoramic Views of the Goodridge Brothers, the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History re-opened their doors by opening the lens of local history upon a pair of groundbreaking brothers whose fascinating large-scale panoramic photography captured a pivotal and transitional period of Saginaw’s history in the early 20th Century from the years of 1910-1922.

In March the big news emanating from our region that registered on a national level came from Bay City musical legend Bobby Balderrama, who rode to the top of national acclaim with his ‘Smooth-Jazz’ hit Any Momentwhich hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Jazz Charts. As a fresh-faced teenager back in 1966 Bobby first went soaring to the top of national Billboard Magazine charts with an era-defining hit called 96 Tears with this band Question Mark & the Mysterians, which Rolling Stone Magazine included in their list of the Top 500 Rock Songs of All Time.

Also in March our contemporary rock legends Greta Van Fleet staged a sold-out homecoming performance at Saginaw’s Dow Event Center to kick-off their ‘Dreams in Gold’ world tour, proving in no uncertain terms the band had advanced considerably during the lockdowns,  reaching for the expanse of heaven and opening it wider with new material that sparkled with passion, heat, and the light of fresh creativity. When vocalist Josh Kiszka commented at one point that it was 5 years since they last appeared at the Dow opening for Michigan rock legend Bob Seger, it was easy to see why fans from across the country had traveled to Saginaw to line-up around the Dow 24-hours before the doors even opened.

The month of April witnessed a pair of noteworthy musical events to the region, beginning with the appearance of legendary rockin’ blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd, an undeniably influential force in the worldwide resurgence of Blues music.  Similarly, our very own Larry McCray made national waves with the release of his own groundbreaking album, Blues Without You, who with the help of producer Joe Bonamassa, resulted in Larry’s first release of new original compositions in 15 years and also took him to a stature of acclaim and worldwide attention that he so rightly deserves.

April also witnessed the return of The Saginaw Rotary Club’s 17th annual Saginaw On Stage music festival after a two-year hiatus, featuring the New Reformation Dixieland Jazz Band, 23 North,  Major Chords for Minors, Sensory Overload, We, the Infamous, Haley & the Sound Poets, Catfood Sandwich, The Lucky Nows, Sarah Schingeck & the Hope Dealers, and Magh Maell.

Our region’s premier (and only) Gentleman’s Club known as the Saginaw Déjà Vu celebrated its 40th Anniversary in April.  Born of humble beginnings when it boldly decided to break ground in the conservative farmlands of Mid-Michigan, over the past four decades it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon by managing to play by the rules while also testing them; and today 40-years later it still holds its head tall and proud within its massive and architecturally tasteful 8,000 square foot facility right next to Communications Family Credit Union on Bay Road.

Along with Spring flowers, the month of May blossomed into fine form with The REVIEW’s 36th Annual Music Awards Celebration, which marked one of the strongest celebrations in the history of this longstanding legacy.  With a total of 2.946 people nominating musicians and casting their votes, a total of 947 musicians & groups from the region were nominated by the general public in this year’s awards celebration. Big winners of the evening in their respective genres included Carrie Westbay, who walked away with a total of five trophies; The Family Tradition Band, who won honors in eight categories, including a Best Solo artist trophy for member Randy Badour; and Winaschnitzel who gathered trophies for Best Alternative Band, Best Original Band, and Best Rock Band, and Best Female Vocalist for founding member Shannon Schnettler along with Best Rock Drummer for brother Steven Schnettler, also a founding member of the group.

As the summer months rolled around, the variety and strength of entertainment highlights throughout the region sparkled like the sky on the 4th of July.  After a 2-year hiatus, celebrated Saginaw filmmaker Steve ‘Prozak’ Shippy made a major return on two significant levels with the debut of his eleventh film in his Haunted Saginaw series, A Haunting on Adams Street making its world premiere at The Temple Theatre in July, while also opening a fertile new Haunted Saginaw Museum at 413 Adams on the corner or Adams & Hamilton streets in the location of the former Case Funeral Home. In addition to serving as a shop where people can purchase previous films in the series, candles, and memorabilia, the new museum also affords patrons an opportunity to peruse an expansive exhibition of items and artifacts curated from his investigations not only in Saginaw, but from locations spanning the United States and beyond.

When it came to regional theatre, both the Midland Center for the Arts and Pit & Balcony Community Theatre set the bar high in 2022 with some stunning results. 

Thanks to their Broadway Series, the Midland Center for the Arts was able to offer patrons top-notch national touring productions of An Officer and a Gentleman: the Musical; the 25h Anniversary performance of Riverdance, a re-imagined and updated staging of the timeless musical My Fair Lady, along with an uproarious series of performances by none other than the Grinch during the November holiday season.

In June the Center staged an outdoor production of High School Musical that gleaned national attention. Thanks to their ‘Rising Stars Program’, after weeks of intense rehearsals and training by professional teaching artists, and under the direction of Broadway veteran L'ogan J'ones, 20 rising stars in the region took to the stage performing Disney Channel nostalgic numbers like "Stick to the Status Quo" and "Bop to the Top”.  "One of our main objectives with the Rising Stars program is to provide opportunities for young actors to pursue their artistic passions and find a supportive community along the way," explained Travis Kendrick,  Midland Center's Manager of Produced Theatre and Theatre Education. "The cast and crew have created something incredibly special and entertaining together.”

Under the direction of Amy Spadafore, Pit & Balcony Community Theatre continued to thrive in 2022 as one our region’s more engaging theatrical resources, expanding the range of their lens by focusing on numerous regional premiers of newer theatrical works.  The year 2022 witnessed an amazing production of the cutting-edge musical BARE, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, and the brilliantly experimental & poignant A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, as part of their daring After Hours series.

Also noteworthy was the collaborative effort involving Pit & Balcony, the University of Michigan and The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra who staged a sold-out performance of Amadeus at The Temple Theatre.

Living up to their long-standing reputation as innovators instead of imitators, the Great Lakes Bay Region’s pioneering summer music festival series Friday Night Live returned  to Morley Plaza in Downtown Saginaw for their 24th Season in July & August, featuring headlining acts such as Larry McCray, Sharrie Williams, and Elton John & Creedence Clearwater Revival Tribute Bands.

Meanwhile, Bay City’s Wenonah Park was the place to be on Wednesdays during the summer with their Wednesdays in the Park Series. The series showcased an amazing 80th Birthday Bash for Paul McCartney that was put together by Andy Reed & Donny Brown and featured a laundry list of top-regional musicians, and throughout the summer featured various Tribute artists celebrating the music of John Mellencamp, Simon & Garfunkel, Queen, and Alabama.

On the Literary front, the summer months heated up in a big way as the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation resumed their 2022 Roethke Summer Picnic Series in July and August with their 20th Annual (In-Person) In a Poet’s Backyard Picnics,  featuring readings of poetry & prose in the backyard home of Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Theodore Roethke that is located at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

According to FOTR co-founder Anne Ransford, this was an idea conceived back in 2000 when she visited the James Thurber house in downtown Columbus. “This year marked our 20th season of Literary Picnics that allowed everybody to get happy in the poet’s backyard,” she notes. “A lot of non-profits were stunned by the COVID situation, but we didn’t let it stop us and became flexible by moving to a Virtual Series in 2020 & 2021, so we were very excited to be able to return to in-person gatherings.”

The DStreet Music Foundation also moved the date & location of their 17th Annual Parkapalooza Music Festival to the mid-summer months in 2022, showcasing top-notch and multiple genres of musical talent throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region at Freeland’s Hayne Park.  The entertainment line-up included Cold Cut Trio, The RockShow,  Marsupial Creampie, Laurie & the Lefties,  Brother Hyde, Coleman Road, Tweed & Dixie and The Hipakritz.

The Old & The New.  The month of August witnessed the opening of  Dicks Last Resort & Cat’s Meow on Gratiot Road in Shields, . At its core sarcasm is all about engagement, and this place serves it up in spades.  The 12th restaurant in a chain of establishments focused upon injecting a solid dose of fun back into one’s dining experience, according to regional coordinator Leana Lancaster, the idea for Dick’s Last Resort started in Dallas, Texas, back in 1985.  “Richard Chase opened a fine dining restaurant in Dallas but ran out of money and resources, so he found a little hole in the wall across the street and decided to open it up,” she explains. “It was his ‘last resort’.  He was a curmudgeon and kind of a grumpy guy that gave people a hard time when came through the doors, and it grew from there and has evolved into a well-oiled machine.”

Another huge landmark this year was the 40th Anniversary of The Antique Warehouse. Located at 1122 Tittabawassee forty years down the road it still features 70 quality antique dealers offering furniture, glassware, china, lamps, jewelry, toys, coins, comic books, clocks, collectibles and more, all under one spacious roof where people can also shop one of their specialty Shoppe’s and enjoy lunch in their K-Wall’s Kitchen at Memory Lane Café.

Closing out the year, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra announced the selection of Cameron Massey as their new Executive Director .Massey served on the Board of Directors for the Saginaw Symphony Association for two years, and also acted as the Marketing Coordinator. He has 14 years of experience with marketing, graphic design and video production, and has been an avid volunteer for the SBSO since 2020.

“I believe in this orchestra, and the power of music,” reflects Massey. “I’m excited for this opportunity to serve the orchestra that has given me so much, and to give back. The right notes in the right places can change someone’s life, and I look forward to continuing working with the orchestra to bring breathtaking symphonic music to all in the Great Lakes Region.”

 

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