I set up a still life, still life moves around me

A familiar beard–

This week, I headed all the way to the tiny town of Ellsworth for a concert benefiting the Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center. Wagbo is a non-profit organization situated on a 212-acre historical homestead in the rolling hills of the beautiful Jordan River Valley. Their mission is “To provide an inspirational place for people to connect with each other and the land.” I’ve never actually attended any of the educational or recreational activities at the farm, but I’ve always been impressed with the variety and depth of what they have going on. Throughout the year, they offer: maple sugaring in the spring, foraging forays in the summer, cider pressing demos in the fall, and animal tracking in the winter– plus workshops, field trips, and festivals scattered through the seasons.

The benefit concert which I attended was to raise money for a new, more energy efficient roof for the farmhouse at Wagbo. The night started out with Contra dancing to the Peacemeal String Band, but my friends and I arrived a bit late and didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the free dance lessons.

It was a beautiful sight to see entering the tiny town hall– people of all ages swirling energetically to old timey music, homemade food on tables and an overwhelmingly friendly atmosphere.

Micah Middaugh–

Soon after arriving, I saw a familiar dark haired, bearded visage in the crowd. I could hardly believe my luck. Micah Middaugh, singer, song-writer and one of my all-time favorite Michigan musicians was in the crowd, dancing with friends and family. Micah is from East Jordan and one third of the indie folk/rock band, Breathe Owl Breathe. We went up to him and said hi, loaded our plates with food and proceeded to feast on local, healthy cuisine.

My first introduction to Micah Middaugh’s music was during my freshman year of college, close to a decade ago. My dad was selling soap at a music festival and had a kid stop by his booth to give him a free CD. The band’s name was No A.M.

Courtesy photo.

That was one of Micah’s first ventures into music. That year I was a freshman at the University of Michigan and Micah’s poetic and free spirited lyrics kept me going through some really difficult times. I was 17-years-old and had never been far from home. I was surrounded by a world I’d never experienced: competitive, high achieving and sometimes cruel. I missed the peace of northern Michigan. I missed the lakes, the rivers and I missed my family. Something about Micah’s music comforted me and made me feel at home. Those early recordings were not the most technically refined recordings, but I loved them and they continue to be very dear to me.

Micah’s career with Breathe Owl Breathe has since been very successful. He started playing with cellist, Andrea Moreno-Beals soon after I was listening to him in my dorm room. They then acquired a third band member, percussionist Trevor Hobbes, and have exploded on the indie music scene. The trio packs venues across the country and was featured on the “best music of 2010” list by National Public Radio.

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Stull

Probably the distinguishing element of Breathe Owl Breathe for me is the playfulness of their music. There is little regard for convention and although sometimes bizarre, it is always imaginative. As a creative writing major, lyrics are very important to me when listening to music. Micah uses an entirely literary way of expressing himself. Phrases like the title of this blog are simple, but don’t shy away from philosophical complexity.  Last, as long as I’m gushing about this band, I might as well mention that I can’t imagine a better musical combo than cello+guitar+percussion+the occasional banjo.

Chris Bathgate–

The main act at the benefit concert was Ann Arbor musician, Chris Bathgate. I’ve only recently started listening to him, but quickly fell in love with his dark,mellow and impossibly catchy tunes. I played his song, Buffalo Girl over and over after listening to it for the first time. Bathgate’s repertoire has a folk music/ singer songwriter feel, but is way more modern and cool. With influences from blues and bluegrass, the young (only 29) musician incorporates just enough experimentation to keep his music interesting, but not inaccessible. His voice is sort of gloomy and his word-choice dark and poetic. A few examples I really like: “The fog rolled in and choked our hearts.” and “I’m a fumbling fake and a f***ing fool and that’s why I can’t fall in love with you.”

Chris Bathgate and his band at the "Raise the Roof" benefit concert for Wagbo Farm and Education Center.

 Budget for this week’s adventure–

Whole thing only = $15

Great Lakes State Song of the Week–

Breathe Owl Breathe- Recite the Child

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Dance, dance, dance, all night long…

Hey, I remember this view–

This week I headed south for the Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival. I hadn’t made the trip there since moving away from Traverse City to Indian River four months ago. It was well worth the two hour drive. If the good music, delicious beer and perfect weather weren’t enough, I was able to visit wonderful friends I haven’t seen in too long.

We made the most of the entire day starting by heading to the Hickory Hills disc golf course. When I was in Traverse City, I lived in a condo with my golden retriever puppy, Milo. Milo would tear the place up, eating computer power cords and potted plants unless I made sure he got plenty of exercise. So, I would take him to Hickory Hills every other day or so to run around and sniff stuff while I played disc golf.

For anyone who has never heard of disc golf, you essentially throw a frisbee, or disc, with the goal of making it into a basket placed 200-500 feet away in as few throws as possible. Courses are usually through the woods and it’s a good way to get outside and be active while having fun. The course at Hickory is exceptionally scenic. There are a lot of old growth trees on the property and it was built into an old ski hill which means spectacular views.

The view from hole 19 at Hickory Hills disc golf course

I don’t know but I’ve been told, if you keep on dancing you’ll never grow old–

The Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival occurs every summer at Grand Traverse Commons, the old State mental hospital campus. There is a fascinating history behind the location (click this link to find out more). There is also a winter microbrew fest which occurs in downtown Traverse City. The events are put on by Porterhouse Productions, an independent production company which promotes community, the arts, social engagement, and environmental stewardship, according to their website. Proceeds from the festival this summer benefit cancer research at Munson Medical Center and the New Year’s Cherry Ball Drop which supports local food banks.

I attended the fest last August as well and was excited to be back and try out all the Michigan microbrewed beer, local wine, hard cider and mead. Best of all, one of my favorite bands to see live was performing: Ella Riot.

Northern Natural Winery offering tastes of their hard cider and wine made from certified organic fruit. Their farm is located in Benzonia and has been in the same family for over 100 years. Owner, Kyle Mackey (with baseball hat, smiling) said he found this bus on Ebay.

Some of my favorite breweries were there as vendors including North Peak, Short’s, Atwater Block, Right Brain and Bell’s. All were giving away samples, interesting information about their companies and new products.

Of the beers I tried, my favorite was Bell’s Oatmeal Stout from Kalamazoo. I know, sounds boring, but so good! I also liked Atwater Block’s Vanilla Java Porter out of Detroit which I originally tried last year at the festival and liked enough to have bought several six packs over the course of the year. Not to ignore the local microbreweries, I really liked North Peak‘s Siren Amber which they describe as a “malty classic, with the subtle hop flavor & aroma from Willamette & Fuggle. Enjoy the caramel sweetness with just a hint of roasted barley, which provides the rich amber color & a slight dry finish.” Well put. North Peak is a Traverse City company which owns the microbrewery, a distillery and two local restaurants.

I was surprised and delighted to discover a ginger hard cider. It tasted like ginger ale! But not Vernors, like spicy, fresh ginger, one of my favorite flavors (remember last week’s tirade on how delicious the ginger cookie was?). It was highly carbonated, crisp and not overly sweet. It is made by Left Foot Charley, a winery located in the heart of Traverse City at the former Northern Michigan Asylum.

Rugby and beer are a good pairing–

The Traverse City Blues rugby team was at the event recruiting new members. Some of the newer team members were running a game where you had to try to throw a rugby ball through a hole in a board. A dollar buys three tries and if you succeed, you win a t-shirt. I played rugby for the women’s team at the University of Michigan and played with a couple different women’s teams after college, including one in New Zealand.

Tackle technique: stay low, head behind, wrap and drive.

It was a very fun time of my life, but one that happened years ago. I am not in rugby shape these days. But, I have a fairly large ego and thought it would be a piece of cake. I tried and failed. The young men running the booth were rookies, so I came up with a new plan to win a t-shirt. I told them I’d wager another dollar, but this time I had one chance to tackle one of them. If I succeeded I’d get a shirt. The guy who volunteered was about eight inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than me. He laughed and agreed to the terms. He had about a 10 foot area to try to run around me, but I caught him and brought him down. I may be several years older, but I haven’t lost my touch when it comes to rugby. My ego was sufficiently boosted and I grabbed a TC Blues shirt and thanked the young men.

Move your feet–

Interspersed with beer, cider and rugby, there was also music. We enjoyed dancing to Ella Riot and That 1 Guy, then headed to the silent disco tent.

Ella Riot is an Ann Arbor-based band. Their shows are very high energy and make dancing nearly unavoidable. Pictured here is Robert Lester on guitar and Mike Shea on drums.

I’d never been to a silent disco, but it sounded like fun. Everyone attending wears headphones and there’s a DJ. So, if you take your headphones off, it appears the audience is dancing and hooting like crazy people to nothing. I think the object of a silent disco might be to have DJ’d dance music, which is usually very loud, in a small space and not bother neighbors. The festival was able to have two performers playing concurrently only about 400 feet from one another. The disco was a blast.

The silent disco tent featured DJ Body Rock: Chicago native, Robert Lester, fellow University of Michigan alum and member of Ella Riot.

Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed – Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’
-Deep Thought, Jack Handy

Budget for this week’s activities–

Too much. Tickets to festival (44) + gas (30) + souvenir beer glass (5) + gyro (6) = $85 (oh no).

Great Lake State song of the week–

This week’s song is from Ann Arbor-based Ella Riot. I’ve loved experiencing this band’s live “dancethink” shows for several years and only wished their set at the microbrew fest could have lasted longer.

Ella Riot- It Could Be