The Year in Arts, Music & Culture

A Rollercoaster Ride of Remembrance

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Culture, ,   From Issue 889   By: Robert E Martin

10th December, 2019     0

In terms of the Arts & Cultural scene in the Great Lakes Bay Region, the past year witnessed many highpoints along with some serious potholes to navigate around as the road to the future unfurled; but overall it’s been an uplifting and positive year, despite some serious bouts of heartbreak along the way.

Saving the Roethke House

As the REVIEW was poised to celebrate its 40th year of publishing in 2019 (a definite highpoint!) 2019 nonetheless got off to a rough start on January 21st, when the Review discovered that the Friends of Theodore Roethke (FOTR) Board of Directors had voted to demolish the historic ‘Stone House’ of Carl Roethke, brother of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Theodore Roethke, which is located at 1759 Gratiot in Saginaw.  Along with the poet’s childhood home at 1805 Gratiot, the two structures serve together as a museum affording the experience of writing & reading in a poet’s house, and to avail visiting writers, students, and researchers the archives and artifacts of the Roethke family.

Both of these structures command a Michigan Historical Marker between them, a National Literary Landmark designation from Librarians’ Association for the poet’s house and listing on the National Registry of Historic Sites under the National Park Service for both; but with $18,000 in roof repairs needed along with other ancillary restorations, a motion was made to demolish the structure and repurpose the premises for use as an outdoor cultural center.

After the REVIEW broke the story, the public rallied to support preserving this historic treasure and the Board subsequently voted to suspend the demolition and embark upon a fundraising campaign to save the Roethke House with the goal of creating the Carl Roethke Development Center for community enrichment and programming.

As 2019 comes to an end, this is the perfect time to consider making a tax-deductible gift to this important campaign, which consists of three phases: 1) Roof replacement along with soffit and window repairs; 2) Interior and exterior paint, attic insulation, and kitchen, furnace and electrical updating; 3) Build programming to extend the Theodore Roethke museum, using Carl Roethke’s home for writer’s residency programs, workshops, and lectures. The house has been inspected by R.C. Hendrick & Son Construction and Ann Arbor Builders president, Alex de Parry. According to their assessment, with the necessary repairs, the house could be in great shape and is “definitely worth the effort to save this historical home.”  

As we go to press, the Roethke House has raised $10,000 so far from community donations and estimate they will need a total of $50,000 to initially protect the Stone House, including its roof and replacement of sofit wood and some windows to seal structure before painting exterior. 

Rising Stars & Singular Showcases

The Saginaw Art Museum staged some remarkably impressive exhibitions in 2019, beginning with a showcase of Saginaw artist Stacie Rose, one of those rare visual artists whose work is equally engaging, singular, and deeply personal. Utilizing a broad and often vivid spectrum of color to convey the mood and essence of her paintings, her work has shifted from depicting likeness in her still-life and portraiture work, to capturing unseen emotions and feelings hidden within her subjects through her recent impressionistic outings, which incorporate the use of color, patterns and intricate line work as a tool to translate a deeper level of understanding of her subject - as if the brush pulls from her subconscious and places the inner workings of her vision onto canvas for all to appreciate.

Similarly, an exhibition of Midland-based artist Mike McMath, known mainly for his detailed and distinct acrylic paintings, staged a new body of work that employs the mediums of encaustic painting & Venetian Plaster as part of special exhibition titled Plaster & Wax: Michigan Artist Painting Beyond the Canvas that was displayed through mid-September, followed by an exhibition of the works of iconic New Yorker cartoonist and artist Charles Addams.

2019 also witnessed a significant ‘changing of the guard’ at both the Saginaw Art Museum and historic Temple Theatre, as the Board of Directors of these two esteemed entities announced a pair of pivotal appointments, selecting Larry Preston as the new Chairman of the Board of the two entities; and Michael Kolleth as Executive Director - both charged charting a course for both of these treasured entities into the waters of the future, which as is always the case are equally rife with challenge and possibility.

Preston is both co-founder and recently retired CEO of Tri-Star Trust Bank, while Kolleth was formerly senior director of Public Affairs at Dow Chemical, replacing former Director Stacey Gannon,  who resigned in March to take a role in the financial services industry after six years in the Executive Director role. 

The summer months also witnessed the return of the 2nd Annual Old Town Saginaw Art Fair, designed to reclaim what once was one of the oldest summer art festivals in the State of Michigan. Demonstrating that creativity is not limited to the canvas when it comes to celebrating the divergent expressive talents of our region, according to Chairwoman Lauren Collison, the number of featured artists doubled from the previous year, with a total of 41 remarkably talented artists presenting their work from a divergent array of media.

J-Lee ‘Sire’ Haulcy is a rising Hip-Hop artist, actor, and television personality that hails from Saginaw, Michigan by way of Atlanta, Georgia.  At only 15-years of age, Sire has managed to rack up many notable accomplishments that have earned him the reputation as the ‘Yung King of Hip-Hop’. One of the youngest featured artists on Cypher Circuit and 16 Bars of Real Rap, in 2019 he also became the breakout star of Lifetime Network’s The Rap Game, created by executive producers Queen Latifah and Jermaine Dupri.

The month of April witnessed a pair of major artistic & musical celebrations in the form the FUNHOUSE Art & Music Festival (formerly known as the PATCHWORK Festival) that brought an impressive coterie of A-List musicians and contemporary artists to various venues in Saginaw & Bay counties, for what could  truly be called the ‘Bounce House’ of Festivals. Spearheaded by Counter Culture proprietors Ben Champagne & Curtis Dalton, the pair brought new millennial national visual artists such as Parker Day, Angela Deane, Christina Kenton and Shaina Kasztelan  to our region, along with stellar musical acts such as Twin Peaks, Post Animal, Vince Dynamic and Ampersand Castles.

Meanwhile, In the midst of a late winter slush storm (for the second year in a row) REVIEW Magazine presented its 33rd  Annual Music Awards Celebration at Lumber Baron's Genevieve Ballroom in Bay City the evening of April 14th and honored 61 artists who’ve  enriched the cultural climate throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region with remarkably impressive talent.

With an unprecedented total of 10,650 votes cast by the general public between January & March of this year (last year’s previous record was 7,638) and a total 904 artists nominated from the region, the top five nominees in each division moved to a final round of voting and the winners were honored at this special annual celebration.

With an evening full of unexpected surprises and standout guest performances, big winners of the evening in their respective genres included rapper Mike Spitz (Spitzer) who walked away with 4 four trophies in the Hip-Hop/Rap division for Best Video, Artist of the Year, Songwriter & Favorite Performer; Country rockers Kin Faux, who took honors for Country Songwriter & Instrumentalist  (Rico Gonzalez), Best CD Release and Best Country Band; Rhett Yocum who earned Best Blues Instrumentalist and Best Blue Band honors; Monique Ella Rose, who gleaned three trophies  for Best Female Jazz Vocalist, Best Female Blues Vocalist and Best Jazz Songwriter; with the Rock honors going to Sprout & the Orange, who won Best Alternative Band, Most Innovative Artist (Aaron Johnson); The Rock Show (Best Variety Band); Barbarossa Brothers (Best Original Band, Best Keyboardist (Loren Kranz), and newcomers For Tomorrow, who picked up trophies for Best Metal Band, Best Rock Bassist (Chris Haller), and Rest for the Wicked who won Best Rock Band.

As for live performances, promoter Paul Koch brought 85-year old Blues Hall of Famer John Mayall to Bay City’s Arbeitoer Hall for a special performance with Saginaw’s own Larry McCray. “I do 100 shows every year and there is no exception to that, except for last year when illness prevented me from hitting that mark,” Mayall told The REVIEW. “It takes me all over the world and fortunately I still have enough of an audience out there to appreciate it.”

New Releases & Singular Speakers

In terms of new musical releases by regional artists, here are a few of the more notable:

Leland Blue – Leland Blue: On their self-titled release, Leland Blue produced an extremely strong opening statement to their recording career.  Their guitar-forward indie rock sound is full of the kinds of hooks that should get the band some looks.  Songs like 10 PM, Shade and Cold Comfort are extremely listenable tunes, with stacks of guitars on top of rock-solid rhythm tracks.  The band present a radio-friendly mix of strong lead vocals, “guitar hero” instrumental chops and clever, nuanced songwriting. 

Loud Thoughts – Headspace:  With their debut EP Headspace, Frankenmuth based quartet Loud Thoughts announced themselves as another force in the resurgence of guitar-centric rock.  Fronted by guitarist Chase Singer and vocalist Clayton Singer, the four song set hints at the dynamic sonic presence they have live. 

The White Oranges – 5: The White Oranges are a rocking outfit.   The song structures and sounds on their third album, 5, tip their hats to influences old and new.  Whether on a punchy rocker, like Avenues, or a confessional acoustic tome, like Grow, the band is able to evoke an emotion with their performances.   There is an earnestness and honesty that marks the best rock and roll and The White Oranges have it. 

In terms of compelling and charismatic speakers, kudos go out to The Temple Theatre for bringing  Deepak Chopra to town for a thoroughly astonishing and life-altering lecture,  Chopra is an Indian-American doctor, holistic health and alternative medicine practitioner, and author of 86 books, translated into 43 languages, including 25 bestsellers, who after becoming disenchanted with Western medicine and its reliance on prescription drugs, turned to alternative medicine and in 1995 formed the Chopra Institute for Well Being in California.

His gift is the way he weaves his extensive knowledge of history, science, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, and physics together, opening a comprehensive window into how to view the world and our place within it. Chopra told The REVIEW: “You only know struggle by how well you know success. Up is known by down; joy is known through suffering. All experience is by contrast; therefore, you’re not overcoming the struggle nor are you creating the opposite. The ultimate goal is to know yourself as independent of both and the awareness that knows struggle is also the same awareness that knows victory and joy.  How we use this awareness influences a lot. We have to go a state independent of hope and despair and independent of happiness and suffering. As long as its dependent upon something, you’re caught in a trap. But if you get in touch with the source of both then you can express creatively and attain creative solutions.”

For documentary filmmaker Steven Shippy 2019 was a breakthrough year. The Saginaw native presented his latest opus, A Haunting on Brockway Street, in a pair of sold-out performances at The Temple Theatre, which is the tenth film in his Haunted Saginaw series.   As he celebrated the 10th Anniversary of his popular series, Shippy also managed to secure a new national television series titled Haunting in the Heartland, which will make its debut in January, 2020 on The Travel Channel.

Trials & Tribulations

One of the most difficult things for me to process this year was the shocking news that gifted Saginaw native, songwriter, musician, author, and close dear friend Stewart Francke suffered yet another devastating and debilitating medical hardship when this courageous cancer survivor was struck down with a hemorrhagic stroke in late April, forced to spend the summer and fall in intensive rehab and needing to re-learn how to walk and talk.

But for miracles, his personal strength, and the grace of God, I am pleased to report that on December 6th I received good news from one of Stewart’s family members that he is now home, his feeding tube has been removed, his voice is much stronger, he engages in conversations, and is now eating real food and hooked on Mickey D milkshakes.  Apparently, he is playing some guitar.

As fate would have it, I first learned of this devastating news days after I was honored by receiving the 2019 All-Area Arts Award for my contributions to our region through both The REVIEW and our annual Music Awards Celebration.  To make this honor even more poignant, Stewart sent me this following congratulatory message upon learning of my induction.  To my knowledge, this is among the last pieces Stewart composed before being struck with this horrible catastrophe.

Bob:  We met in 1982, back in the good ole’ great days when so many of us musicians could actually make a living, in a shiny, tin-roofed, warm, popcorn and booze smelling JB Meinberg's when I was playing with the original incarnation of The Point (a truly dreadful name, and I'm to blame) with Guy, Billy & Devlin on that postage stamp of a stage. We had no idea what we were doin’--we had passion and taste and chutzpah and energy and ego to burn, but no chops, understanding of theory, and even less stage demeanor. We had the ethos of a punk band back then - just do it ourselves; we know what’s good and what we’re hearing on the radio is crap. Pretty soon there were lines around the block, primarily for the energy, and young guys and girls wanting to dance and hookup.

Yet you saw something there and helped define us -- this mix of rock and roll, Jazz, punk, soul and flat-out cheeseball. Bands in their early 20s simply don't know who they are as people yet, so there's always argument about direction. You've got such a Catholic sensibility about music and the arts, never bitchy or demeaning, yet you knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff musically, always. Your ear for the most interesting stuff has never eluded you. You can hear what's good through amateur playing, too much volume, no audience present, musicians having over-imbibed, and strange, tragic stage dress, a la Greta Van Fleet -- now deservedly one of the biggest bands in the world and talented torchbearers of real rock and roll. Saginaw/Fmuth must be proud. Hell, I'm proud. And who informed me of this great young band about 2 years before the world knew? You, of course, already on to ‘em in a supporting role with The Review. Your ears and heart don't lie to you...or them to us.

It's a Midwestern thing, maybe even a Mid-Michigan thing, this artistic honesty that avoids pretense and addresses listeners directly.  It's also Midwestern to find an abiding faith in the land and people around us - the rivers, lakes and streams, the people of all classes and races and creeds. Your life and writing and publishing and commitment to Review, and the many, many years of Review Award shows have exemplified all of this and more. You had a burning in your gut for this place, these people and your website nee mag.

What would any of us have done without you? There was no one like you in town, with your array of gifts. You’re the very best, man, and a trusted, supportive friend to boot. Saginaw’s always been a little late recognizing the very best things in life.

It’s difficult for a ‘word-person’ such as myself to become tongue-tied; but reading this heartfelt missive from Stewart once again as I summarize this ‘Year in REVIEW” has put me into a state of tears once again. 

Please join me in praying for the reservoir of strength essential for sustaining Stewart and his family through this difficult time - the same way he has done for each of us with this words, music, and compassion.

Finally, the biggest and most shattering story of the year in terms not only of Saginaw’s Downtown resurgence, but also the artistic and cultural climate of the region was the sudden and unexpected closure of The Bancroft Wine & Martini Bar and Bourbon & Co. in early August.

Undeniably, two of the most impressive and visionary creations to grace the streets of our fair community in recent memory, owner & proprietor Ryan Seifferlein designed these two signature establishments to  showcase the splendor of Saginaw’s historical legacy as much as to raise the bar in terms of the cultural artistry our community was capable of achieving - whether it was the music emanating from the many talented homegrown musicians that were featured; or the caliber of food and cocktails that served to satiate the appetites of those hungry for something more than the predictable; everything about these venues - from the staff to the bamboo toothpicks used to spear the blue-cheese stuffed olives on those delectable martinis - was first class, with keen attention paid to each and every detail.

Before Ryan opened Bourbon & Co. in the Spring of 2017, I remember the way his eyes glistened as he gave me a sneak preview, as if he were Walt Disney opening his first theme park. “This style is so different”, he said. “ “I call it Industrial Punk – its classy without appearing too high-end. My goal was to make the place feel like something you’d find in Detroit or Chicago, so people could step out of Saginaw for a second.”

For me that statement and vision says it all. Although Ryan is less than half my own age, over the next two years I was fortunate to cultivate not only a business relationship, but a friendship with an individual much wiser than his years, with the tenacity to weather adversity and the compassion to always recognize the needs of his staff as his most important asset.

There is much to lament about the closings. As one who built an Arts & Music oriented publication from scratch and have weathered my own trials & tribulations over the years, having witnessed a time when Saginaw once had dozens of venues featuring live music, packed six nights a week, both the Bourbon Bar & Bancroft were significant because they formed a type of time tunnel that - as mentioned at the outset of this meditation - bridged the legacy of the past into the possibilities for the future.

And now that future is darkened. These closings are a major loss for our community, our region, and for me personally. They open up a huge vacuum that will be sorely missed and doubtfully replicated, especially insofar as Seifferlein’s closures were precipitated by an eviction that is currently in litigation,  with no court date set as we go to press.

Given the nature of this eviction, and counter-suits that have followed as a result of it, few of the details can be disclosed at this time.  What can be disclosed, however, is that Lakeshore Development - the original developers of the Bancroft Complex - sold the structure two years ago to RoCo Property Development for $13,300,000 dollars. Moreover, at the time of the sale the decision was made by Saginaw’s City Council to give them the same property tax discount incentives as the original developers that did all the work.

We witnessed the closing of The Art Gallery that was also contained within that structure shortly after RoCo took over, the closure of Bancroft Wine & Bourbon & Co this year, and no new businesses leasing any of the structures contained within either the Bancroft or Eddy Buildings since their acquisition, which are cornerstone landmarks.

Sadly, this would seem to indicate a similar problem, also occurring in downtowns like Ann Arbor and East Lansing and many cities where local and independently owned businesses are forced to move to other outlying and more affordable parts of the city because of unmanageable leasing rates.

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