Tag Archives: Music

HOWELL: Gettin’ There…

3 Mar

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All across America big cities and small towns are experiencing recovery, revitalization, rejuvenation. People are drawn to the unique things each has to offer; theater, dining, craft beer and cocktails, music, recreation. Tonight we are in Livingston County, about an hour northwest of Detroit in the city of Howell. At 4.95 sq. miles this historic town has a picturesque downtown with a lively dining scene. We have the evening all planned out starting with dinner at The Silver Pig. We’re parked behind the restaurant, a swanky mural of a cabaret performer covers a corner of the wall, the piglet at her feet assures us we’re at the right place. The entrance is marked with a silver awning, a pig juts out at the corner. Inside the decor is dark, quaint, definitely urban, I like it.

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The menu and list of specials is concise, making ordering easy, the cocktail list is impressive. With a little help from our server our order is placed and cocktails served, while I sip on Strawberry Fields, enjoying the muddled strawberry, lavender and honey, Kris is relishing one of the best Old Fashioneds he’s ever had. We snack on the house Truffle popcorn until the Sweet and Sour Cauliflower arrives, absolutely delicious in a spiced orange marmalade glaze with red jalapeno. The pepperoni pizza is served on a cooling rack straight from the brick oven, it’s crisp and extra flavorful with Hungarian peppers. All around us small plates and shellfish towers are being served, everything looks great; we’re definitely coming back.

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We exit through in interior door, cross a hall and cut through the sister restaurant Diamonds Steak and Seafood, looks pretty fancy, I’m adding it to our list of things to do next time we’re in Howell. We pass through the front door out onto Grand River, it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, the Howell Opera House is about a block down and our destination. Built in 1881 the Victorian 3-story structure was once the center of entertainment for the surrounding communities. In those days live shows like Hamlet and Mikado were performed on stage, the theatre hosted speeches–Henry Ford once spoke here, dinners and graduations. In 1924 the 800-seat theatre was closed by the Fire Marshall. While the first floor was used as retail space the second-floor auditorium was used as storage space for the local hardware store; it sat dark for more than 80 years.

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The Livingston Arts Council purchased the building in 2000, in 2007 after a complete renovation of the first floor the building was reopened and is now used for public activities such as tonight’s Acoustic Cafe. Olivia Millerschin is performing at 7:30, the lobby is packed with people to see the show. The open space is set up with rows of chairs theatre-style, small tables are inserted into the rows here and there for the comfort of patrons needing a place to rest a beverage or snack purchased in the lobby. Large round tables at the back of the room are already filled with people. Icicle lights are draped around the room, a small stage is set up in front, microphones, amps and instruments are all in place. 

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At just 21 years old Olivia is already a music veteran, a singer, songwriter and musician, she’s been performing her music for years, you may have seen her on America’s Got Talent. Tonight is the CD release of her second full-length album Look Both Ways. Olivia’s been very busy, she played 200 shows across the country in 2016. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing her music live in an intimate setting. Her show is a mix of old and new original songs, she does a cover here and there of a variety of genres from Blue Skies to Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady; her rendition of Over The Rainbow is magic. In addition to being an amazing performer she has a great rapport with the audience, you can’t help but like her. Check out her video on YouTube for “When” recorded right here at the Howell Opera House.

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After the show a small group of us are led upstairs for an informal tour of the actual theatre. Remember, this place was built before electricity, one day they closed the doors and that was that, today it sits pretty much the way it did back then. It looks and feels old, even the air smells old (not in a bad way), it’s like time just stopped in this room. The proscenium, a simple plaster arch, the original curtains are still in place, except for some water damage the painted ceiling is still in tact; the overall decor is true Victorian.  Get a look at that unusual chandelier, we’re told it’s the original, it was gas-lit and then re-worked once electricity arrived. There is no lighting system, sound system, no plush seats. The floor creeks under our weight, ordinary poles support the balconies, old screen doors left behind by Sutton’s Hardware stand in a corner. Antique showcases house original playbills and other memorabilia. Doors at the back of the auditorium lead to the original lobby; patrons would enter from street level then take the stairs to the second floor theatre. Here we see more photos of what the room looked like back in the day, it was quite lovely. Our guide tells us the theatre is haunted, they say 6 different ghosts inhabit the space… there was nothing unusual during our visit. They say it will take about $6 million to restore, funding it is a constant challenge, it will be a beauty when it’s done.

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Across the street is a sign for Fog’s Pub with an arrow pointing to the alley; we walk around the block, go down a short stairway and find ourselves in the basement of the Heart of Howell Building. The compact space is cozy and charming, reminiscent of a speakeasy; the decor is a mix of wood, stone and vintage items. They offer a full food menu, classic craft cocktails, a giant beer list, wine and of course dessert. Craving a sweet ending to our evening we are sharing the Lava Cake. The warm chocolate cake is served on a rectangular platter alongside a mound of whipped cream and fresh berries, yum!  It was a great idea to come out to Howell, we’ve had a wonderful time in the vibrant historic district. Come on out and see it for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Holiday Style

9 Dec

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It’s the holiday season; trees are wrapped in lights, Christmas music fills the airwaves, cities and towns celebrate with events and activities. In Detroit, Campus Martius Park has been transformed into Winter Magic. Each weekend the park is filled with music, entertainment, ice skating, tents to keep you warm, food and cocktails. Shoppers can head over to City Loft in the First National Building where stores from the Somerset Collection will take up residence until December 23.

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It’s a crisp Friday evening, we park the Jeep and fill the meter with quarters. First stop, 1515 Broadway for a warm cup of coffee, as we approach the counter a woman asks us if we’re here for Unsilent Night……well, maybe, what’s that? Turns out we have stumbled into something oddly cool. Here’s how it works: participants record one of four tracks on a cassette, cd or mp3 player, the group gathers together, then walks through the streets of the city, when all four tracks are joined it creates an “ethereal, electronic soundscape”. A crowd has formed inside 1515, I haven’t seen so many boomboxes since the 90’s, anything that amplifies music will do. Coffee’s in hand we wait on the sidewalk as the mass moves outdoors, a few brief instructions and the music begins. We join the promenade through the streets of Detroit (one of 33 cities in the world to participate), at times it sounds like bells or chimes, folks on sidewalks pause to look and listen, as the group nears Campus Martius we branch off in our own direction; that was delightful!

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There it is, Detroit’s Christmas tree, placed prominently atop the fountain; thousands of lights wrap the branches, packages are adorned with big red bows, water flows and sprays below; dozens of cameras at a time record the beautiful image. Surrounding trees join in the festivities with their own lights, buildings are specially lit, rosy-cheeked skaters fill the ice rink, freezing cold hands are warmed by fires blazing in barrels throughout the park. As we amble, a stilt walker dressed up as a snow queen pauses for photos, a street performer practices his fire-eating skills, next thing you know we stumble upon an igloo on Cadillac Square. Inside, the light phases from purple to blue to green then white, 25 designer snowmen are decked out in fashions by Somerset retailers; top hats, beautiful scarves, capes,  I can’t decide which one I like best.

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Well past our dinner time we make our way to the Showcase D’ Holidays tent, ooh, it’s warm in here. Every Friday and Saturday they have live music in this space; Bermuda Mohawk is just finishing up, Dennis Coffey comes on at 8:45. Big snowflakes hang from the ceiling supports, lights glow in green and red, the ping-pong table is vacant at the moment. Food and beverages are on the left, seating on the right, the stage is all the way in the back. Restaurant vendors vary from week to week, today some of our favorites are represented, we get vegetarian chili from Mudgies and a Southwest bowl from Johnny Noodle King, yum! Sitting at a high-top table we notice the crowd increasing steadily, it’s nice to get off your feet and enjoy a little music.

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Outside we wander around a bit, the streets are busy with bundled up pedestrians, horses’ hooves sparkle with glitter as they pull carriages through the the maze of streets—- what a fun way to see the city, the Zamboni is hard at work refreshing the ice at the rink. Stopping in at the Compuware Building, we relax at the sound of water falling in the fountain, it’s quite lovely; Santa packed up at 7 pm, but he’ll be back tomorrow for pictures and wish lists. Outdoors, the line to rent ice skates zigs and zags, all seem in good spirits as they await their turn. At the other end of the rink stands a temporary bar, a table empties just as we enter, immediately we claim it. You couldn’t ask for a better view; tables are set up along clear plastic windows of the tent, the decor is straight from Ikea, the beer from Atwater, there’s also a full bar, too bad it’s only here until the end of the month….. Kris grabs us a couple of drinks at the bar, the space is cozy, tablecloths look like their made from logs, each table is decorated with a candle and centerpiece. It feels as if we’re part of the group out on the ice, expert skaters fly by as the inexperienced grasp the side rail, refusing to let go; someone is always stopping to take a photo. The holiday spirit has arrived in Detroit, come out and get some for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Dlectricity Redux

1 Oct

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Tonight Midtown Detroit is putting on a free, amazing, festival of light, sound and art; everybody is invited! Dlectricity (inspiration for the name comes from Detroit’s own, long gone, Electric Park) features more than 35 world-renowned and emerging artists whose work will illuminate historic architecture and public spaces along the Woodward corridor from the Detroit Historical Museum all the way to Orchestra Hall, for two consecutive nights.  It is a balmy September evening in the city, we arrive early enough to secure a parking space within decent walking distance of the activities, as we near Woodward we begin to see flashes of light and color, foot traffic is picking up, let’s check it out.

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Folks are gathered around the plaza of the historical museum, the film, The Legendary Leland Club, is being shown on the side of the building, we watch a few minutes then begin the trek down Kirby to see what else is going on. This side of the DIA a piece called Sash is being projected onto the building, the horizontal design cycles through all the colors of the spectrum. Making a right on John R the sidewalks are crowded with people, fluorescent glass tubes are formed in the shape of a house on the CCS campus, across the street the DIA loggia is aglow in blue LED lights, designs of different color and shape dance on the walls. A crowd has gathered in front of the Michigan Science Center to see Kelly Richardson’s submission, The Erudition; it’s quite an attention-getter. The scene is eerie, otherworldly and tranquil at the same time; a lunar-like landscape is the backdrop for towering holographic trees that blow in a fictional wind, stars twinkle in the night sky, parts of it seem so real, I just want to stand there and keep looking at it. On the Farnsworth side of the DIA, kids are playing a Detroit version of the game Minecraft; by choosing virtual textured cubes of wood, iron, diamond and lava, players construct and deconstruct the city into an array of make-believe structures.

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I would say the main attraction of the festival takes place on the Woodward side of both the DIA and the Detroit Public Library. The front surface of the opposing buildings act as a screen, Mindfield tells a story from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman, simultaneously, one on each building; it is visually stunning. Colors, shapes, scenes, faces,  flash in front of us, we watch one side, then the other, the story is played in a continuous loop, bystanders are enveloped in music and light. Walking toward downtown, we pass a robotic sort of installation called Mechano Shards, as the name suggests 20′ tall shimmering crystal-like shards, made from clear plastic and filled with air move in synchronized patterns, it’s interesting to watch the human interaction; children seem fascinated, some stand in the middle as shards close in around them, they laugh and think it’s cool. We continue our direction, passing the WSU Welcome Center, people peer in windows at the display, we see bicycles wrapped in colored lights cruising down the street. The large green space at Woodward and Warren is host to a bevy of things; a video plays on a big free-standing screen, a large-scale projection covers a building, Design Village features the work of independent Detroit designers, in the distance a white glow attracts visitors to what appears to be a giant television; here anyone can play the part of Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

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Everywhere you look buildings are awash in light and color, sound and motion, sidewalks are thick with people, across the street, the bell tower of the First Congregational church is lit. The JVS Building is covered in ever-changing images of colorful, cell-like clusters, putting me in the mind of science and biology. Kris takes photo after photo, not an easy task in a crowd, we continually point things out to one another. When we reach Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company we stop in for a drink. In addition to serving freshly roasted, single origin, organic coffee they offer a nice selection of artisanal beer, craft cocktails and natural wines. The place is packed, the line at the register long, Kris notices two empty seats at the bar and leads me there. Scanning the drink menus, we quickly make a decision and place our order, it feels good to be sitting. The front of the building is all windows, giving one a great view of the hustle and bustle outside, Edison-style lights give the room a warm glow, exposed brick and wood plank ceiling make it cozy. Kris sips an Old Fashioned, I am enjoying a great Spanish red wine, a steady stream of customers come and go. 

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Illuminated sculptures titled Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, are grouped in front of the Max M Fisher Music Center, an up close look reveals they are made from plastic shopping bags, when we reach Parsons St, the “MaxCast” of Let’s Dance has just ended, guess we didn’t time that well! A giant waterfall cascades the length of the Bicentennial Towers, nearby, the Majestic Theater is aglow with laser, spiro-graph-like patterns in red, green, blue and yellow. The street in front is blocked off, lasers occupy lanes, as we stand there on the avenue I turn away from the show and take in the liveliness, movement and life that is becoming a regular occurrence in Detroit. The people who are here tonight reign from all over the metro, state and US, the city is becoming a destination, a place that draws individuals in with these type of events, shattering the one-sided, negative image so commonly associated with Detroit. There is an overwhelming sense of community out here tonight, and for that I am glad.

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 Making a right on Garfield we pop in and out of MOCAD and N’ Namdi, one of the coolest installations we see is on the back of the Garfield Building, Sound Spheres. Supernatural 3D images and shapes continually evolve and blossom from one form to another, wouldn’t it be spectacular these projections were permanent? Inside the Catherdral Church of St Paul acoustic simulations are projected onto the surface of the chancel, simultaneous to the visual segment, a precision-timed audio piece composed to excite the natural acoustics of the space is pumped into the room; it’s pretty awesome sitting in the 1907 structure watching sound take form. In the courtyard outside, plastic storage containers are stacked one on top of another, lit from within they take on a mysterious glow. Retracing our steps, we make our way back to the Jeep, we pass multi-generational families, hipsters, students, 30-somethings, all gathered here to enjoy what the best of what the city offers; fun, art, new experiences, great food, excellent drink and a night on the town!

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DETROIT: Lush Life

23 Dec

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We are celebrating our anniversary with a little staycation; fine dining, world-class opera, a luxurious stay at a bed and breakfast. The best part is we don’t have to drive far, all of this and more can be found right here in downtown Detroit! We arrive at the Inn on Ferry Street, we are shown to our temporary quarters in the Raymond C Smith Carriage House. Built in 1892 as a carriage house, it was converted to a single family home in 1926. Today the entire second story is a three-room suite consisting of two bedrooms, full bath and sitting room–wow! Furniture is Arts and Crafts style, colors are warm, the rooms cozy and inviting. We slip out of our everyday clothes and replace them with our evening attire, one must get dressed up for a night on the town.

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First opened in 1938 by Gruber brothers Lester and Sam, the London Chop House is the best-known restaurant in Detroit history. Operating for 53 years in the Murphy Telegraph Building, the legendary restaurant closed in 1991. In February 2012 an amazing thing happened, after a year of restoration and refurbishing Nico Gatzaros re-opened the Chop House, even the old phone number is back. We park on W. Congress, an illuminated awning fronts a nondescript door, we descend the stairway to a host stand where we are greeted and our coats are checked. One step into the dining room the air just feels different, the space looks much as it did in its heyday; the long oak bar and mirrored back wall are all original as are the famous circular red leather booths and banquettes, even the built-in telephone booths are working again. This place has an amazing history of guests who have dined here; locals such as Henry Ford II, the Fishers, Stroh’s, Harley Earl, sat side by side with musicians and entertainers such as Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra and John Barrymore. In 1961 James Beard named it one of the top 10 best restaurants in America; it was the epitome of fine dining and patrons dressed the part. In one newspaper clipping I read it said “Deals were done and fortunes were made over thick pieces of steak and expensive wines”. I like to think that somehow all of that history and energy is absorbed into the walls creating a mojo of its own.

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We cross the room to our table, holiday decorations adorn the space, diners are dressed up for the occasion. Our server is attentive and friendly, after explaining the specials she leaves us to peruse the menu. We start with a salad, citrus marinated hearts of palm, bibb lettuce, charred bell peppers. avocado and lump crab, outstanding. I order the Salmon served with broccoli rabe, pecan pesto and beet relish, Kris chooses the Bourbon Brined Pork Loin with apricot marmalade, bacon, sweet onion and frisee salad. Both meals were very good, the service impeccable; our glasses were never empty and nary a crumb littered the table-cloth.

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We have tickets to see La Traviata at the Detroit Opera House. Of all the theaters in Detroit, I think the Opera House is the most elegant. Designed by C Howard Crane (who also did the Fox, State and Orchestra Hall) it opened in 1922 as the Capitol Theatre, in addition to showing movies they also had live entertainment; both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed here. Through the years the theater changed names, it was the Paramount, Broadway Capitol and finally the Grand Circus Theater. At the end, the lovely plaster work had all been painted black and punk rock bands took the stage. When they finally shuttered the place someone neglected to turn off the water, by the time the Michigan Opera Theatre became interested in the building the orchestra pit was filled with water and most of the plaster had fallen. Jump forward to 1996, after millions of dollars spent on a remarkable (some even thought impossible) restoration, the Michigan Opera Theatre celebrated the grand opening of their new home with a performance by Luciano Pavarotti.

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We enter the grand Ford Lobby, women wear fancy dresses, gowns, sequins and mink coats, men look dapper in their dark suits and colorful ties. Magnificent crystal chandeliers illuminate the space, the carpet is an exact reproduction of the original. We climb the staircase to the second floor, the view from here is dazzling; beautifully decorated Christmas trees are placed here and there, white lights wrap ornate railings, plaster is finely detailed and painted blue and cream. Inside the auditorium itself gold leaf abounds, ceiling patterns are larger here, the proscenium is painted solid gold, the curtain shimmers in red.

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La Traviata premiered in Venice in 1853, tonight we are commemorating the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata stands as the most-performed opera around the world to date; once you see it, you’ll know why. The lights dim and the curtain rises to enthusiastic applause. One of the things I love about going to the opera is the passion of the audience; we clap for the scenery, the costumes, and of course the incredible performers. Violetta and Alfredo capture our hearts in Act I, Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont shows up in Act II to cause trouble, I wouldn’t dare tell you what happens in Act III !  Many songs are familiar, the music is enchanting, mesmerizing, heart-wrenching, Verdi at his best. Sung in Italian, there is little need to read the English subtitles to follow the story, I can hardly take my eyes off the cast. Almost three hours later the story comes to a close, the crowd is on its feet, cheers of “Bravo” fill the air.

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The temperature outside has dropped into the teens, we make a quick dash back to the car, a night-cap would be perfect. Since we are all dressed up we will end our evening with cocktails at Roast. Located on the ground floor of the Westin Book Cadillac, Michael Symon opened this meat-centric restaurant in 2008. He has since won numerous culinary awards and can be found regularly on the Food Network and ABC’s The Chew. The bar area has a contemporary feel, the place is hopping, we manage to find two seats at the bar. iPads are scattered across the counter, it takes us a few minutes to realize these are the menus. Kris is usually good with a VO and Diet Coke, so he goes with it, I decide to scroll through the menu. After going through the lists of wine by the glass, beer, cocktails and spirits I decide simple is best and order a rum and coke. We leisurely sip our cocktails while watching the comings and goings of people in the restaurant and hotel. It has been an amazing evening, tonight we are definitely living the lush life!