COUNTER CULTURE: New Arts Collective in Old Town Saginaw Seeks to Seeks to Serve as an Artistic Hub of the Great Lakes Bay

Posted In:   From Issue 808   By: Robert E Martin

09th April, 2015     0

Right next to the Review offices at 316 S. Hamilton Street in Old Town Saginaw Counter Culture is happening. I’m not talking about anything so oblique as philosophy, or historical as the dawn of Haight Asbury or the Ann Arbor Free Clinic back in the 1960s, but something physical, immediate, and evolving into something different with the dawn of each new day.

The brain (and love) child of Ben Champagne & Curtis Dalton, the new performance venue and creative space known as Counter Culture is dedicating to delivering all variety of artistic & educational expression, hoping to serve as a creative hub for those interested and involved in music, visual art, and just about anything creative that one’s imagination is capable of grasping.

How can one not love it? No one is excluded and for its creators this means it may serve as art gallery or all-ages music venue on one-day, a market or classroom the next. Previously, such a place has not existed in the Great Lakes Bay area; but the partners each believe that it is precisely this wide-open avenue for the collective creative consciousness throughout our community that will allow it to flourish.

The idea for developing Counter Culture started two years ago when Curtis – a successful music promoter for over a decade – and his partner Ben were walking through Old Town Saginaw.  “I saw a little space for rent off Hancock and thought: What if we put together an Arts Collective – not necessarily a music venue – but something more like a studio together?  explains Ben. “I figured if we could get five friends to pitch in $100 each we could do whatever we wanted, but Curtis had a bigger vision that also included using the space to showcase shows and concerts.”

Curtis started out doing All-Ages Rock ‘n Roll shows at Olde Jamestown Hall, just as his cousins Matt & Andy Dalton (co-founders of the successful Summer Music Festival Dirtfest) did before him. “Then when Shooters opened their concert hall, I was involved there from its birth to its death,” explains Curtis. “I put together the very first large show in that room along with their last large show; and from there I started pulling shows together at random rooms in the Metro Detroit area.”

“Most recently I used The Comedy Club in Old Town Saginaw once and also did something at The Schuch; but its been spotty for me down here the last couple of years. In 2012 I did a show and promoted hard and only got 100 people to attend, so to me it was a sign that the Scene in Old Town had kind of died out.”

Both partners agreed that a regular type of showcase needed to be established. “Both The Hamilton St. Pub and White’s Bar have done a good job at keeping the local music scene alive; but our goal is to add another venue with different alternatives to help establish and allow things to take root more.”

Apart from featuring live musical acts and artist exhibitions, the goal of Counter Culture is to also showcase regular speakers and feature films. “We won’t sell alcohol,” explains Curtis, “which is where bars make their money. But we looked at places like The Mess Hall in Chicago and the DAAC (Division Avenue Arts Collective) in Grand Rapids that paved the way for what we hope do develop here, which is find creative ways to use our space.”

“I was in a Mentor Scholarship Writing program at the University of Michigan,” explains Ben, “and did Poetry readings at a lot of galleries last year and got familiar with the Poetry Circuit. I didn’t even realize poets had a circuit just like musicians have developed, so thought if we could merge that with the music and make it more like a circus by adding in any idea that somebody creative can dream up, we would have a winning combination. We might even pull together a Robot Contest, as our space is open to that.  Mainly we want to open the room to any type of innovative gathering or idea and bring things out of the basement by doing it together.”

The idea is to charge patrons a modest $10-$12.00 cover charge that may vary according to the type of show and promotion being featured.  For their Grand Opening on Thursday, April 9th, things kick off with a Tri-Cities Art Show from 4:00-11:00 PM featuring Avram Golden, Jason Graham, Adam Wernecke, Marcia Johanna, Randy Crawford and Erin Case with special music by WhyWolf.

Friday, April 10th will feature live music with Cradle The Fall (performing their final show), Midwest Skies, The Heart As Is, Call Your Shots and Don’t Pull the Plug. 

Saturday, April 11th will feature a lecture ‘Defining the Matrix’ by Brian Stanek, Jr. entitled Red Pill/Blue Pill at 4 PM.  Then more musical shows feature Stepdad, Edgar C and Garbage Physics on Saturday, April 18th and The Now Mercy No Surrender Tour featuring Sworn Enemy, Wretched, Dark Sermon and Hammer Fight on April 28th.

“The bands that we feature are a bit more elitist than what you hear at the local bars,” states Curtis. “Many are still national acts traveling all over the place, but what they perform isn’t quite like anything you’d hear on the radio; not because they don’t draw a crowd, but because they’re part of a smaller sect that doesn’t fit the mold of traditional radio playlists. It’s kind of a Punk Rock spirit we have going on.”

Curtis & Ben say the musical shows featured at Counter Culture will showcase statewide as well as groups touring the country. The featured band Stepdad, for example, has done some huge national tours and is from the Grand Rapids area, but they also feature Saginaw native Ryan McCarthy in the group.

“Saginaw once had people traveling from all over Michigan  – Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit – and we would get 400 or 500 people at some shows because many of the bands we featured were only coming here to Saginaw, so our scene would be a destination point,” reflects Curtis.

“I think a lot of the younger bands are being phased out.  When you do All-Ages shows kids that are 11 and 12 and in their early teens start seeing live music, so by the time they’re 15 or 16 they buy a guitar and practice a little; by the age of 17 they’ve started their first crappy band; and by 18 they’re a little better, so at the age of 21 they’re getting really good. When you don’t have an All-Ages Music Scene happening, many times a kid’s first exposure to music it when he’s 18 or 19 at the bar, trying to sneak drinks. So if they even get interested in performing and starting a band, by that time they’re heading off to college. Consequently you lose an entire generation of new musicians.”

“The problem as we see it is that nobody goes out and engages that much anymore,” adds Ben. “I’ve had young people tell me they like a lot of the music we’ll be featuring, but have never been to a show or concert – they like the bands because they’ve seen them on youtube. The bars get people out to drink, but we’re more about getting people out, period. In Detroit there is a lot of unity and you’ll see people at every show that’s staged and they’re all close friends. We once had that around here.”

In terms of speakers and films Counter Culture will feature, Ben and Curtis say they will go with things that fit their ethos. “We’ll feature counter culture people talking about kitschy subjects and more,” notes Ben. “When school ends we’ll have more academic lectures and traveling writers coming through giving lectures. I do reviews for New Pages Magazine and am thinking of developing some theme months, so we have a nice balance between music and lectures. The projected idea is to have something going on all the time here, because why let the space sit empty?  We have a girl coming in that will be doing both a Yoga Class and a Women’s Empowerment workshop and are also looking at a Comedy Improv Night. What’s better is that all of this is being led by people apart from just the two of us.”

So far the Counter Culture team say their art schedule is booked out for three months and their calendar filled for nine, with lots of original artwork rotating throughout their walls on a 2-month basis. “We’re fast and trying to cycle the artwork displayed around every three to four weeks, tops,” admits Ben. “We want to keep things fresh and make it vital; and also encourage people to come view it while inspiring other people to go into their garages and create some things.”

“We were excited about this project from its inception, largely because we held a preliminary meeting at The Red Eye and had 35 people show up,” Curtis states. “This operation is really about empowerment more than the two of us. We’re paying the bills and keeping it floating, but it’s really about everybody else that wants to use what we offer in order to create a cooler Saginaw.  It’s important for us to rebuild the scene.”

“When the auto industry crashed and Detroit plummeted that seeped up I-75 and everything kind of got ruined. But as Detroit gets better that’s also creeping up I-75 and everything seems to be getting better again as we shift into more a service industry economy. With new businesses and operations opening and buildings getting fixed up, it looks like the ground is being set to really change things and brighten Saginaw up.”

As for the film fare that will be featured at Counter Culture, Curtis & Ben say they are working with local colleges and also planning on bringing in a lot of original films from local filmmakers, but for now are working to develop schedules of films that fit a theme. “The first film we’ll be showing is Network, which is one of the best movies ever,” notes Ben. “And when Lawnchair Film Festival starts up we’ll be doing a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 kind of thing afterwards, so if people want to come down and watch another movie after Lawnchair they will be able to do so.”

“It’s all fun and is going to evolve as we move along,” concludes Curtis. “The nature of this animal is that every day it’s something new.  The last big show that I did was in Pontiac at this 1000-seat venue that was top of the line all the way. I put 500 people into the room and the show basically ran itself; but I walked away that day thinking it was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to scale things back and work more from a do-it-yourself Punk Rock mentality as opposed to operating this giant machine.”

“It gets too specialized – one guy does one thing another guy another – and eventually, you lose control. We believe Counter Culture gives more control back to both audience and artist.  I’ve got friends in Detroit that opened a venue in an old church deep in the hood where it’s as dirty as it gets, but he still pulls in 200 people thrilled to be there, which is a cool thing.  I want to be a part of that instead of something so polished.”

“We both want to emphasize that anybody interested in scheduling some type of arts, music, or cultural related event should contact us. We’re open to all ideas because getting to High School kids is so important.”

Counter Culture is located at 316 S. Hamilton St. in Old Town Saginaw. To contact Counter Culture email Ben or Curtis at counterculturearts.org. You can also phone them at 989-326-1303 or 989-746-4654.

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