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#ANNtourage: a new way
to feast on news and culture

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Many of us already get most of our news and views through people we know on social media, rather than in the paper, on TV or even by going to a website. So we started to wonder how an old-fashioned print magazine could leverage such a phenomenon. This article is the result of our first experiment. This month’s ANNtourage is sponsored by A2 Fitness Professionals in Ann Arbor.

Jim McBee, left, Charlie Steen, Melina Fuentes, Ramayan Saries and Kristine Adams get to know each other on April 16 over dinner at Mezzevino in downtown Ann Arbor.

Jim McBee, left, Charlie Steen, Melina Fuentes, Ramayan Saries and Kristine Adams get to know each other on April 16 over dinner at Mezzevino in downtown Ann Arbor.

Compiled by Jim McBee | Photos by Benjamin Weatherston

The Ann loves people stories. Yes, we want to address the important problems, policies and events of the day, but it’s just so much more readable if you can do so through the lens of the people involved in those issues. So, thanks to an idea of photo wizard Benjamin Weatherston, we’re starting a new project: ANNtourage. The idea is simple: Gather a handful of Washtenaw County people, take them to an event — could be a government meeting, a protest, a concert, a tour of a neighborhood — and record their raw reactions and see what we can learn through their fresh eyes. We’ll do it immediately through social media, and take a more thoughtful turn in print.

People watch “All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records” on April 16 at Ann Arbor District Library in downtown Ann Arbor.

People watch “All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records” on April 16 at Ann Arbor District Library in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ben Weatherston: When we first had the idea for ANNtourage we knew it wouldn’t be about a single event, a single night on the town, or a single group of people. It would only start to make sense months or years later. We’re not trying to see the sights, we’re trying to see through other people’s eyes. For our first trip out we assembled an amazing group of people that were up for pretty much whatever we threw at them. Ramayan Saries, Charlie Steen, Melina Fuentes, and Kristine Adams formed the inaugural ANNtourage on April 16.

For years, business consultants have showered us with advice on what we can do to grow/succeed/connect/engage. We’ve been told to cover events. We’ve been told to cover restaurants. We’ve been told to cover entertainment. It’s not that we didn’t agree, it just took some time to come up with a way that didn’t suck.

Read more about ANNtourage.

Ramayan Saries watches the discussion before the film screening.

Ramayan Saries watches the discussion before the film screening.

Jim McBee: I marvel at how much there is to do in this area. Just an ordinary Saturday night, and we literally couldn’t fit it all in — we cut the poetry slam short and only saw one of several musical acts. And that’s just in a few downtown Ann Arbor blocks.

In case you don’t realize just how good you have it culturally, let this old newspaper gypsy tell ya there are a lot of places in America that have no fancy restaurants, that underfund their libraries, whose big fun is a lukewarm Bud Light and Marge croaking “Lady In Red” on karaoke night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway, on with the show:

Two former employees talk about their experiences working at the Tower Records store in Ann Arbor, which closed in 2000.

Two former employees talk about their experiences working at the Tower Records store in Ann Arbor, which closed in 2000.

Ben: Our first stop was at the downtown branch of the  Ann Arbor District Library. In celebration of Record Store Day, the library hosted a screening of Colin Hanks’ documentary “All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records,” preceded by a discussion with former employees of the Ann Arbor store. I remember going to the “mall” on South University to buy my Beastie Boys CDs and see if I could find a new Bjork import. It was easy to assume that Napster killed Tower Records but the movie showed that wasn’t the whole story any more than Amazon killed Borders. The former executives explained that it was really the inability to pay back massive bank loans.

My only gripe was that the paging system couldn’t be muted during the film. We were treated to the world’s longest announcement about the elevator being broken.

Checking out the Ann Arbor District Library’s vinyl LP collection.

Checking out the Ann Arbor District Library’s vinyl LP collection.

Charlie Steen: ANNtourage as a way to support local culture is a great idea. Attending alternative film screenings, poetry readings and local shows are important to keep those cultures alive. You picked out some great, and varied, events to attend.

Melina Fuentes: Truthfully, I wasn’t too excited about the original (planned) outing of watching government officials at a City Council meeting, but I still would have done it. (The wheels in my head had started turning on how I would compare it to the Van Buren Charter Township Meetings that I record every week.) However, when I was sent the second request, I was thrilled. I had heard about the documentary of Tower Records through the grapevine, but totally forgot that it was directed by Colin Hanks (actor and son of Tom Hanks). I’d always wanted to try Mezzevino, but didn’t really have a reason to go. And I’m a fan of poetry and rarely see it live. Kristine and I had talked about going to Rock the District, as she is huge fan of Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers, so it was like a perfect storm.

Ramayan Saries: (At the film screening) we got a glimpse of how a national brand with a local flavor helped build community through music. I personally found the story of Tower Records inspiring first as a musician and second as a business owner. As an aspiring filmmaker, I also really enjoyed the quality and the style of the documentary.

Ben: After the film, we walked upstairs to look through the library’s modest, yet perfectly curated, new vinyl collection. It made me realize I don’t spend nearly enough time in any of the AADL branches.

Clockwise from left: Kristine Adams, Melina Fuentes, Mariah Cherem, Charlie Steen, Ramayan Saries, Jim McBee

Clockwise from left: Kristine Adams, Melina Fuentes, Mariah Cherem, Charlie Steen, Ramayan Saries, Jim McBee

Jim: I am stoked about the library’s new vinyl collection, and I’m not even a vinyl snob. I am an album-cover freak, though, and I have a turntable, so I’m going to start working my way through a lot of library LPs. Mariah Cherem, who’s curating (what a gig!), has excellent taste. She’s open to your suggestions on what to collect next; just email tools@aadl.org.

Ben: Our next stop was at Mezzevino for dinner. Mainstreet Ventures moved their newest restaurant into the old Champion House location and the dinner rush was very busy. Lots of energy, noise (the good kind) and food. The entire side room was filled with a party of Michigan Theater patrons who were going see the Fab Faux concert. We got the six-course version of the Festa Dia and were all stuffed by course No. 3. We had a vegan and a vegetarian in our group and the choices were not as robust as we had hoped for, but the kitchen was more than happy to serve some of the dishes as veggie options. Unfortunately there’s just not too many ways to make vegan braised beef.

Let me pause before I describe what transpired during the dessert course. I have to collect my thoughts because it’s a lot like describing a car crash inside a tornado. Charlie stepped away from the table for a minute and when he returned there was a large platter that we nicknamed “The Aftermath.”

Melina Fuentes

Melina Fuentes

Melina: The way we all attacked dessert was one for the record books. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an assorted dessert platter gone in such a short amount of time. Truly a battle royale. Conversation thrived during dinner, I don’t recall a moment we weren’t all chatting.

Ben: During dinner is when we made formal introductions and it seemed like everyone clicked right away. No religion or politics, but I did want to discuss the movie. I asked the question, “What is the next Tower Records? What seemingly invincible staple of American culture could be bankrupt in 10 years?” Answers ranged from Best Buy, to Facebook, to institutions of higher education. How did Encore and Nikola’s outlive Tower and Borders? In the era of “too big to fail,” we forget about all the businesses that were perfectly big enough to fail.

While we could have stayed at Mezzevino all night talking, we bought tickets in advance to the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam finals going on at Espresso Royale on State Street. The crowd was large and excited. Most of us totally dug it too. Now let me just state for the record that I love poetry. I love poetry. Translating emotions into words and

Kristine Adams

Kristine Adams

then condensing them into a shortened, more concentrated form is amazing. Throw on some creative limitations like rhyme and meter and I’m all in. But poetry slams are not my scene. A poetry slam is an event. And it’s the type of event that you typically bring a certain type of poem to showcase. If you recite in the style of Whitman or Yeats you definitely won’t score a 9.8 (which multiple people got). Our final event was the Rock the District concert around the corner and after the fifth poet and the 50th (less and less edgy) F-bomb, I was ready to go.

"Not all sweet prose and haikus, but hot brews keeps away the snooze. Wish I could say that all these chicks and dudes were all snappy with the wordplay, but that takes more syllables than I heard today. Still at least one was way more than ok. @espressoroyalecafe #ANNtourage @A2esproyale" — Ramayan Saries on Instagram

“Not all sweet prose and haikus, but hot brews keeps away the snooze. Wish I could say that all these chicks and dudes were all snappy with the wordplay, but that takes more syllables than I heard today. Still at least one was way more than ok. @espressoroyalecafe #ANNtourage @A2esproyale”
— Ramayan Saries on Instagram

Ramayan: The poetry slam was both the most anticipated and the least climactic (event of the evening). Out of the four poets we saw, one was really a stand-up comedian and only one was snappy enough with the wordplay to justify the 9.something ratings thrown up on small cardboard signs for almost all of the speakers.

13ANNtourage18Melina: The poetry slam was interesting and I’m glad we were able to see the guest poet, Toaster (he really needs to hit up some comedy clubs), but other than that I could have done without this particular portion of the night. It seemed rushed and more of an obligation to go because you had already purchased the tickets. Maybe if we had more time to sit and enjoy the poets it would have been worthy of our time, but from the agenda I read it was an all-evening event and we wouldn’t have had time for anything else.

Jim: The evening’s winners, by the way, were Rachæl Lacey, Alex Duncan, Vivian Trutzl and Allie Reynolds, according to Ann Arbor Poetry and Slam’s Facebook page. They advance to the National Poetry Slam in August.

I thought guest poet Timothy “Toaster” Henderson was a freakin’ scream. When I was an English major at Moo U. in the ’80s, a lot of the literary types were a little deficient in their senses of humor, a little self-important, especially in the context of a public reading. Glad to see that’s far from the case here and now.

Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers play at the Maynard parking structure.

Joe Hertler and
The Rainbow Seekers play at the Maynard parking structure.

Ramayan: After I’d finished sipping about half a well-made red-eye coffee, perhaps the best I’ve ever had from Espresso Royale in over a decade of patronage, we bailed on the “poetry” to Rock the District with Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers under the Maynard Street parking garage. This was an excellent crescendo to the evening. The cornucopia of high-energy musical instrumentation and vocals was matched only by the tapestry of colorful, hand-crafted costumes donned by the Rainbow Seekers.

Charlie: Closing out the evening with Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers was a real treat. In a state flooded with talent, they are one of the most exciting musical acts right now.

16ANNtourage20Ben: Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers was the perfect end to the night. Matthew Altruda worked with the State Street District to set up a crazy cool music festival that lasted all afternoon and into the night. With the stage set up right under the parking structure, the crowd extended past Nickels Arcade and back to Williams Street. The Rainbow Seekers describe themselves as post-Motown folk rock and that is a shockingly accurate description. These guys are always awesome to watch and beyond the spectacle, they sound amazing. It was cool to run into friends in the crowd and to see Melina, Kristine, Charlie and Ramayan enjoying themselves.

Jim: A huge thanks to everyone for enthusiastically volunteering to be our guinea pigs — I hope it wasn’t too painful — and to A2 Fitness Pros for sponsoring our first ANNtourage. You rock, Demond.

After Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers play at the Maynard parking structure.

After Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers played at the Maynard parking structure.

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Usually, this just means Jim, one of our partners, uploaded the article. There's an off chance it could be an intern, though, so be nice.

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