Buzz by the Bay • Bay City Highlights From Another Atypical Year

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Theatre, Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 923   By: Jason Dean

16th December, 2021     0

As another year like no other prepares to become history, there was plenty to appreciate in Bay City, whether it was a continuation of previous successes or a detour in a new direction spurred by necessity.  Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival celebrated its 15th year, and while outdoor concerts earned another standing ovation, outdoor entertainment options opened up all over town, on the east and west side alike.

But before I dwell on Bay City, a detour on the subject of history. 2021 was less than one week old when the January 6 protest on the U.S. Capitol went down. To localize the experience a bit, I happened to be at the Fashion Square Mall that afternoon. I knew something was off when I was standing in line at a shoe store and a fellow patron deliberately lifted up his shirt to reveal a handgun tucked into his pants. It was mid-afternoon, and the protest was in progress. 

The clerk and I exchanged bewildered looks and casual relief after he and his companion left, and minutes later I learned of the events in Washington, D.C. In hindsight, I believe he was making some sort of solidarity gesture, and it crystallized the polarizing drama of 2021 that has played out in towns across the country in the form of the right to bear arms, or more specifically, to brandish a weapon. 

Speaking of shots, the reality of new COVID strains compromising our ability to freely unmask in public seems destined to continue well into 2022. Due in part to lagging vaccination rates, the numbers continue to rise, and Bay County is typical of that trend.

It’s mid-December, and the annual post-Global Warming Indian Summer hot flash – a recent meteorological phenomenon – is in full swing. The unseasonably warm conditions portend the inevitable snow dump or ice storm sometime in the spring. 

Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival celebrated 15 years of independent film and music with a total of nearly 100 films and musical acts on a schedule that utilized venues all over the city. This year, a crowdfunding partnership with the Detroit Free Press and Seed & Spark added visibility and cache to the event. The short film The Exit Plan was named Fest Best audience choice award. Smelly Little Town, the short documentary about Bay City native Madonna, was screened on opening night and earned Best Michigan Film.

I caught a screening of Suzi Q, the engrossing docu-film about the career of trailblazing musician and actress Suzi Quatro, who inspired everyone from Joan Jett to Joanie Cunningham with her musical chops and her time as Leather Tuscadero on the 1970s hit Happy Days, respectively. 

Many local businesses embraced alfresco seating in 2021, with Bay City’s Feet on the Street group inspiring restaurants and venues on Midland Street, Saginaw Street, and Center Avenue to extend their dining area to the great outdoors. With sections of these streets closed to vehicle traffic, music could be heard at numerous restaurants and bars through the warmer months.

The State Theatre continued its robust schedule, enhanced by outdoor entertainment at the Wenonah Park World Friendship Shell. Among the national acts to visit this year were Cheap Trick and Justin Moore, who were part of the 2021 Rockin’ the River Weekend Concert Series

It was also enjoyable that the Bay City Players’ summer production of Godspell received the open-air treatment at the Friendship Shell. Local theatre treasure Leeds Bird co-directed and Kevin Cole provided musical direction, searching from Saginaw to San Francisco to Shields to assemble a top-notch ensemble to interpret the score.

While the aforementioned Cheap Trick was, in fact, the real deal, the steady procession of tribute bands and artists is poised to continue into 2022.  Whether it was a bluegrass tribute to Tom Petty or a more straightforward interpretation of an artist, Bay City continues to build on its reputation as a popular destination for tributes that cater to various generations. Elvis Presley, Lady Gaga and the Spice Girls, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, and Rolling Stones tribute acts were well-received throughout the year.

Local band nights also embraced the tribute path, with XLNC Music’s recent Winter Coverland show at The Crowne Pub offering an array of local artists such as Winaschnitzel, Territorial Pissings, Evan and the Oldenburgs, and Bellevue showcasing their take on popular bands such as Heart, Aerosmith, The White Stripes, and Blink-182, respectively.

Speaking of music, the Michigan Music History Podcast, a project started by Scott Baker with Fred Reif and Gary “Dr. J” Johnson, literally does just that. Having debuted in early 2021 with the intent of examining the colorful music history of the region, the podcast is propelled by Baker’s genuine interest in the subject and fortified by personal anecdotes and memories of “Sir Fred” and “Dr. J.” The podcast has featured interviews with Larry McCray, Bobby Balderrama, Mike Brush, and Bob Hausler among others. 

As anticipation builds for news on progress of the new physical location of the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame, Johnson’s ongoing labor of love, the podcast will provide updates as well as an infusion of deep content from which to draw upon. 

Finally, the year in review would not be complete without acknowledging the continued successful rollout of cannabis into the local marketplace and culture. Following the prescient lead of Bangor Township, the City of Bay City has de-stigmatized the industry, with no less than four dispensaries (Lume, Skymint, Diamond Cannabis, and the newest entry, Nirvana Center) operating within a few blocks of each other Downtown. 

Judging from the events of the past year, the assimilation of cannabis into society seems to have gone just a tad bit smoother than the assimilation of guns into society. But maybe the mellowing influence can start to have a positive impact on society at large. Seems like more than just a pipe dream. 

This holiday season, as you sit by the fire and fill your pipe (or clean your firearm, whichever the case may be), remind yourself that this season of joy assures us that peace, love, and harmony are the ultimate goals for humanity.




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