Friday, May 25, 2012

How Jack White Rocked the Masonic Temple of Detroit

Jack White's matinee show at the Masonic Temple of Detroit was one of my favorite performances of all time. Here's why: 1. White played a lot of White Stripes songs, and the crowd ate it up. 2. Who else plays a matinee show on a weekday? 3. Tough to beat a concert in a building as cool as Detroit's Masonic Temple. 4. Unlike other performers who brag about being from Detroit, White simply brings the city to life in his music. He said hello to his hometown, and that was enough. 5. The crowd was fantastic. I only saw one or two hipsters. The rest of the crowd looked like they were going to a Tigers game. 6. White's rendition of Hank Williams' "You Know That I Know" brought the house down. The guy next to me said he had goosebumps — he wasn't alone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

12 Lesser-Known Michigan Inventions and Celebrities

Michiganders are happy to rattle off a list of our celebrities and inventions to anyone who will listen. Ever hear of the automobile, Motown, Vernors, Iggy Pop, Stroh’s, Alice Cooper? Need I go on? So much great art and culture comes from Michigan; it seems I’m always discovering a new (to me) Michigander or invention. If you want to share some Michigan trivia at your next dinner party, read on — Michigan is responsible, for better and for worse, for all of this:

1. Snowboarding: Before there was the Burton board, there was the Snurfer, invented by Muskegon’s own Sherm Poppen. Poppen’s initial invention used two water-skis and a rope for his children: snow + surf = Snurfer. Read more about the Snurfer

2. The Gipper: George Gipp, Notre Dame’s first All-American football player, was a Yooper, and was immortalized by Ronald Reagan as the "Gipper" in Knute Rockne, All American.

3. Gumby: Claymation pioneer Art Clokey was born in Detroit used the soil on his grandparent’s farm in Millington as inspiration for Gumby. According to Found Michigan, “Even the name ‘Gumby’ has Michigan roots: After rainstorms, the clay in the soil would turn into a thick, goopy mess—a slurry that Clokey’s father jokingly referred to as ‘gumbo’ every time his car got stuck.”

4. The Real McCoy: The saying “the real McCoy,” or the real thing comes from Ypsilanti-based African American inventor Elijah McCoy, in reference to his oil-drip cup lubricant system for locomotives. McCoy also invented the folding ironing board, in case you were wondering.

5. The Dharma Initiative: You probably know the Dharma initiative started at the University of Michigan, but did you also know Locke is a Yooper? The actor Terry O'Quinn who played Locke on Lost was born in Sault Ste. Marie. Even if you didn’t know that, don’t you feel like you just knew somehow?

6. The Wizard of Oz: Writer Frank Baum used Holland, Michigan and Lake Macatawa as inspiration for the land of Oz, and wrote portions of the classic from his Victorian summer home in West Michigan.

7. Silent Film Star: Buster Keaton spent his childhood summers in Muskegon, and always regarded Skee-town as his hometown. Who needs Charlie Chaplin when you have “The Great Stone Face?” See more of Buster Keaton in Muskegon.

8. Nellie Ball: Don Nelson, the NBA’s all-time winningest coach was born in Muskegon. Nelson is credited with inventing the modern brand of fast-paced, up-tempo basketball that we now associate with professional hoops. 

9. Paved Roads and Traffic Lights: In 1909 Woodward Ave. between 6 and 7 Mile became the first road in the world to be paved with concrete. Eleven years later Detroit police officer William Potts invented the three-way traffic light.

10. Saved by the Bell: Actress Elizabeth Berkley was born and raised in Farmington Hills. I’m not saying Jessie Spano was the coolest student at Bayside High, or even the most important cast member, but she was valedictorian, and she did know how to party.

11. Modern Burlesque: And speaking of Showgirls (see what I did there?), Dita Von Teese, a woman Vanity Fair called “a burlesque superheroine,” was born in West Branch, Michigan — from Northern Michigan, to Marilyn Manson, to Paris.

12. Yankees Baseball: Yankees baseball owes a lot of its success (evil, evil success) to Derek Jeter. Can’t say I’m proud he’s from Kalamazoo, but it’s a fact of life I’ve learned to deal with. Looking at Jeter’s High School Yearbook photos helps, but I prefer to skip Jeter altogether...

Bonus Celebrities: Did you know Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers grew up in Grand Rapids; Jason Newsted of Metallica was born in Battle Creek and attended Gull Lake High School; and World Series of Poker Champion Greg Raymer was raised in Lansing?

Did I miss any of Michigan’s lesser-known inventions or minor celebrities? Leave them in the comments so I can brag about Michigan next time I travel out of state.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Touring Pond Hill Farms & Harbor Springs Winery

Outside Harbor Springs, just up M-119, you’ll find Pond Hill Farms tucked into a Northern Michigan hillside, a city unto itself. If you’re looking for farm-to-table food and quality Great Lakes wine, this farm is worth a scenic road-trip.

Pond Hill Farm features a livestock barn, trout pond, canned goods, wine tasting, pig races, and best of all, a giant squash rocket slingshot where you shoot buckets of vegetable into a field of farm animals who happily eat your shrapnel. Pond Hill farms is family owned and operated, and that includes their 14-year old dog who has free reign over the grounds and the general store. Pond Hill sells all variety of of canned goods, including pickled asparagus and garlic, salsa, honey, and jams.  

Upstairs they’ve opened a new tasting room for the young winery, Harbor Spring Vineyards. The winery is so young, in fact, they don’t yet grow grapes mature enough to produce wine, so they purchase the grapes for their Regatta Red, chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, cherry wine, sumac wine, and the Cherry Finale dessert wine. There’s also a hard cider and cherry cider, and beers in the works, including an eggplant brew. The award-winning wines are quite good, especially the red, so fingers crossed on the crop. The tasting room was handmade using wood harvested and milled on the farm, which makes for a comfortable atmosphere.

Pond Hill Farms moves slow, which is precisely the pace you’re likely after if you’ve committed to a day of cruising through the Tunnel of Trees on your way to Legs Inn or Wilderness State Park. You may as well stop off at the farm and get a have a nip of wine before you venture down the road. Pond Hill Farm is open from 8am to 6pm daily.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On the Anniversary of Tawas Point Lighthouse

For our anniversary this year my wife has planned a Michigan mystery tour. I can’t wait to find out where I’m headed, though I’m not sure how she expects me to drive blindfolded. If our anniversary last year was any indication, there’s a lot to look forward to. Looking back on last year, I’m happy to report there were no shipwrecks during our tenure as keepers of Tawas Point Lighthouse. It’s hard to believe that was a year ago already — I need to get back. If you have the time, I highly recommend the Tawas Point Keeper’s Program. Here’s just a bit of what you’d find:

On day four, I waded into Lake Huron to tour the wreckage of the May Queen, a 108-foot, two-mast schooner that crashed in a snowstorm in 1859, back when the point’s first lighthouse — Ottawa — was still operating. The wreck was no fault of the keeper. Snow had blocked the lens and the ship sprang a leak on its own. A century and a half of shifting sand has exposed a 90-foot portion of the ship’s starboard side, and the chilly, fresh water has left it well preserved, like waterlogged railroad ties held together by rusted spikes. I couldn’t help but imagine myself as Jacques Cousteau — turtleneck, red cap, and all. I tried to signal my “discovery” to my wife on shore, but she was lost to her own youthfulness, collecting driftwood and stones.

You can read more about the adventures at Hour Detroit, “A Tawas Point Lighthouse Caretaker Illuminates the Experience,” check out a radio interview my wife and I did on the Warren Pierce show on WJR, and even if you’re not staying in the lighthouse, there’s still plenty of reasons to visit East Tawas — here are my Top 10 recommendations for the Sunrise Side.
Happy anniversary, Love.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Best of the Siciliano’s Market Homebrew Party

Michigan’s homebrewers brought their finest beers and cleverest taps to Grand Rapids last Saturday for the 9th annual Siciliano’s Market Homebrew Party at Johnson Park. The party is a celebration of the localist of beer, where Michigan homebrewers compete for awards, sample each other’s recipes, and share tips on brewing. Awards are given in a variety of Beer Judge Certification (BJCP) style categories, and the top ten overall rated beers compete for best-in-show.

Overall winner Russ Smith of the MOB (Muskegon Ottawa Brewers) club took home top honors with his German Northern Altbier. Smith’s name will be engraved on the Siciliano’s cup, and he’ll receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Chico, California for his winning beer.

Among all the beers I sampled Brett Mytys’ Belgian sour beers stood out, especially the Flanders Red, which was one of the sourest beers I’ve ever tried, and maybe the most addictive. Mytys is the resident sour beer expert for his extensive experimentation with Belgian-style beers, the commitment to which he calls a “leap of faith.”

Mytys spoke at a Siciliano’s Market seminar the previous night, and is well-respected in the community. He says he’s not planning to open a brewery anytime soon, though he did admit his operation would — if it ever opened — be named Burhnam Park Brewing after Daniel Burnham, urban planner from Mytys’ hometown of Chicago. “Burnham thought every citizen should have a park within walking distance. I think every citizen should have a brewery within walking distance,” he said.

Michigan’s major breweries would be wise to keep an eye on Mytys and these homebrewers, many of whom are only a business plan and an investor away from making a major splash in the industry. Take Eric Hoffman, for example; he won a gold medal with MOB in the Specialty Beer category for a Sour Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout (14%), and he’s the brewer behind Muskegon’s soon-to-open Unruly Brewing. Next time I see Hoffman I expect it will be at his new brewery on the Lakeshore — just what Muskegon needs. 

Other notable beers and party favorites included a saison by Brian Machiele of the Brewers on the Lake club; Blackberry Mead from 56th St. Brewery; a homemade oatmeal cookie by Joel Kamp and Chris Carr (MOB); and Joe Burdick’s garbage can tap setup, which might just revolutionize backyard BBQs everywhere. 

The homebrew party saw 220 entries compete in 14 categories, and judges included several BJCP-Certified tasters, and notable Michigan brewers like Jake Derylo, Head Brewer at Brewery Vivant; Jake Brenner, Head Brewer at HopCat; Matt Blodgett, Brewer at Founders Brewing; and Rachel Holland, Brewer at Michigan Beer Cellar.

Cost of entry into the contest is $5 (not including the party), and each beer is judged on a specific BJCP category, then the top ten beers are judged against one another for the top award. The $35 party entrance fee includes door prizes, growler, mug, bottle opener, messenger bag, music by Jimmy Stagger, spare-rib dinner from Three Men and a Grill, and bottomless beer from some of Michigan’s finest homebrewers. 

It’s a homebrew party and I’ll drink if I want to. And I did, so leave a comment if I missed anyone. More details at the Buzz: Siciliano's Market News & Notes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Auto Discovery: Alter Motors of Plymouth, Michigan

The other day I was wandering around the side streets of Plymouth, Michigan and discovered an old factory with historical markers out front... “In the early 1900s, here in Plymouth, the Alter Motor Company was formed in 1914 to produce a car that was designed by Clarence Alter, a nineteen year old from Wisconsin. The car was a lightweight, six-cylinder, five-passenger touring car that sold for $685.000. The company employed 100 men and turned out 25 cars a day. But this was not enough to compete with the mass production of its larger competitors, and Alter went out of business in 1917.” You Auto Know