My Destination Ann Arbor post about the Milan Bluegrass Festival

Screen Shot 2019-06-15 at 8.47.12 PM.pngTo understand why and how a big, multi-day annual bluegrass festival took root in the small town of MilanOpens a New Window. in the 1980s, just think of the factory-job-fueled migration trail previously forged between Appalachia and the Detroit Metro area.

“In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, people moved to this area from Kentucky, from Virginia, from Tennessee, from West Virginia, … and [bluegrass] was the music they loved,” said Mark Gaynier, who hosts and organizes the Milan Bluegrass Festival. “The Kigers [who launched the first iteration of the festival] came from Alabama originally. … Lots of people around here had been born and raised on this type of music, so the Bluegrass Festival just felt like a big old family reunion.”

Ruth Kiger planned the inaugural Milan Bluegrass FestivalOpens a New Window. as a charitable fundraiser (to help a friend who was suffering from an illness) in 1980, but the response was so overwhelming that she and husband Cayce Kiger, who’d built the KC Campground, decided to put on the festival annually.

The festival quickly grew in prominence – to such a degree that bluegrass god Bill Monroe appeared at the last one planned by the Kigers in 1986.

“Then Ruth Kiger passed away from cancer,” said Gaynier. “And the festival bounced around a little bit. It was in Leslie, Michigan for a while.”

Back then, Gaynier was a salesman for Frito-Lay, and the Kigers’ campground was one of his accounts. “I got to be friends with them,” said Gaynier. “I used to joke and say things like, ‘I should have a job like yours, where you sit out there in a lawn chair, and people just throw money at you and go put up a tent.’ And then in 1996, they came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you buy the campground?’”

Gaynier did just that. READ THE REST HERE


My Metromode story about Swing Farmington

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(Photo by Doug Coombe)

Swing dancing’s trendy mainstream revival in the 1990s – which spawned everything from a classic “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” Gap commercial to Jon Favreau’s cult-hit indie romantic comedy, “Swingers” – came to a pretty abrupt close with that decade.

But you’d never guess that if you came to downtown Farmington on a summer Thursday night.

In Riley Park’s Sundquist Pavilion, about 200 people of all ages (though the average skews young) gather weekly to Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, and Charleston their cares away by way of Swing Farmington.

“I fell in love with it from the first night,” says Melvindale’s Amber Konjarevich, 25, who first attended with friends in 2013. “Over the years I’ve made some of my best friends at Swing Farmington, who have been there for me and will be lifelong friends. I love being able to bring new people and have them experience the joy that [Swing Farmington] brings to me. The energy is always so positive, and it’s a great way to bring people together.” READ THE REST HERE


My Metromode story about Farmington Farmers Market

Screen Shot 2019-06-15 at 8.34.51 PM.pngLast Friday, one day before the Farmington Farmers Market officially opened its 26th season, FFM manager Walt Gajewski needed to have his car towed from the parking lot.

“I called, and I gave the guy the address, and he says, ‘Oh, you’re at the Farmers Market. I love that market!’” says Gajewski with a chuckle.

The tow truck driver is hardly alone. Throughout the summer, many Farmington locals bike, walk, and pull their kids in wagons to Riley Park every Saturday, while attendees from neighboring towns (and beyond) nab a nearby parking spot – all to spend an hour (or three) listening to live music; tasting vendors’ samples; chatting with farmers, artists, and friends; browsing fresh produce (or fish or meat); and enjoying the ridiculously irresistible smell of Petey’s Donuts.

All these sensory treats combine to make the Farmington Farmers Market part of many locals’ weekend routine. READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor post about Jenn Cornell Queen

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 10.55.49 AM.pngThis profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.

Jenn Cornell Queen – Ann Arbor SPARK’s VP of Marketing and Communications and a driving force behind a2Tech360Opens a New Window. – has long been one of Tree Town’s movers and shakers; yet surprisingly, she only became an official resident two years ago.

“Yeah, that’s it,” said Jenn, who grew up in Belleville, and had made Tecumseh her home for years before moving to Ann Arbor. “But I started working here twenty years ago, when I got my first agency job.”

Jenn worked for seven years at that first PR firm, after graduating from Alma College; then, in 2007, she launched her own agency (Jenn Cornell PR Consulting) specializing in tech companies. (Yes, Google was among her first clients, in a moment when the company was preparing to open its Ann Arbor office.)

“Ann Arbor is such a cool town,” said Jenn of her choice to build her career here. “I was never going to get bored. One of the great things about being a consultant is you can pick and choose clients – but you can’t really pick a bad one in Ann Arbor. There are start-ups, there are more established businesses – the diverse range of work made me want to keep doing it. … [People in the local tech community] are always so excited and happy to talk about why they do what they do, and that enthusiasm is infectious.” READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor blog post about Zingerman’s Camp Bacon

It’s official: Zingerman’s famous Camp Bacon. is just as dreamy as it sounds.

Now in its tenth year, this multi-day celebration (happening May 29-June 2, 2019) of everyone’s favorite savory meat features a film festival at Greyline; a Bakin’ with Bacon class at the Bakehouse; the Bacon Ball. (this year spotlighting ‘nduja, a spreadable salumi blended from Calabrian sweet and spicy peppered pork) at the Roadhouse; a bacon tasting program for kids at the Deli; a cheese tasting – alongside Zingerman’s specialty bacon Pimento, of course. – at the Creamery; a breakfast (prepared by four-time James Beard Foundation finalist Steve McHugh) at Greyline; a lunch talk with “Travels Through Dali: With a Leg of Ham” author Mei Zhang; and a Camp Bacon Street Fair.

But even with all these tasty options, the appropriately titled Main Event symposium at Cornman Farms. is Camp Bacon’s centerpiece, offering a full day of “meaty speakers” and, of course, a bacon-centric breakfast and lunch.

None of this, however, specifically aims to mark Camp Bacon’s one decade anniversary.

“We don’t really care about that, other than it’s a nice, round number,” said Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig. “It’s like a birthday. We just try to keep getting better, like everything else we do. We never get it all right, so we keep pushing the envelope.” READ THE REST HERE

My On the Ground Farmington story about Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery’s plans to move into Masonic Lodge

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.32.04 PM.pngAs news has spread that Coldwater-based Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery plans to open a second location in downtown Farmington – inside the historic Masonic Lodge, at Grand River and Farmington Rd. – locals have been jones-ing for more information.

So let’s start with the first thing everyone wants to know: when will Blue Hat open its doors?

“I’m assuming we’ll not get into the building until June 1st,” said Phillip Jewell, a retired software engineer who’s now Blue Hat’s COO. (Jewell’s wife Catherine, a former opera singer, is BH’s owner and CEO.) “We’re scheduled for a four-month build-out, so that would probably take us to the beginning of October, unless we can cut the buildout back. There’s not a ton of work to do, but we need to make changes to the serving area and the kitchen; we need to put in ADA-compliant bathrooms, and we need to put the deck in, which will be an elevated deck with 24×24 porcelain tiles.”

While this work is being done, locals will be able to try Blue Hat’s wares this summer at the Farmington Farmers Market.

“Our coffee is different from a lot of other roasters,” said Jewell. “ … Industry standards tend to result in coffee that’s more acidic, while our coffee is more smooth.” READ THE REST HERE

My Concentrate story about the 10 year anniversary of the announcement of the Ann Arbor News’ closing

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Photo by Doug Coombe

Ten years ago, on March 23, 2009, the staff of The Ann Arbor News – then a daily afternoon print newspaper founded in 1835 – was summoned to an all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Naturally, there was rampant speculation across departments about a possible second round of employee buyouts, or scaling back to print the paper only two or three days each week. News metro editor Steve Pepple (who now works at the Detroit Free Press) pulled aside business team leader Stefanie Murray and assigned her to report on whatever was said at the meeting.

“I had no clue what I was about to cover,” Murray says.

When the gathered throng finally fell silent and the News’ publisher, Laurel Champion, stepped up to the lectern, the 272-person staff (including myself, who had worked at the paper since 2004) learned that the company would permanently shut its doors in July. As more readers turned to the internet for free news (and free classifieds, once a major income source for the paper), the News’ business model had become increasingly unsustainable.

“I’ll never forget the audible gasps from several in the packed room,” says former News sports reporter Kevin Ryan. “Personally, I knew in those moments that my journalism career was going to end.”

Some News staffers went on to take jobs at the then-new digital media, which integrated with MLive Media Group and adopted the Ann Arbor News name four years later. But for many, the News’ closure indeed marked a transition into new careers and new markets. READ THE REST HERE

My On the Ground Farmington story about Metromode’s Future of Farmington event

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.36.15 PMOn Wednesday, February 27, about a hundred locals gathered in the Civic Theater’s upstairs auditorium to listen to, and take part in, a panel discussion called “The Future of Downtown Farmington: An Evening with Metromode.”

Moderated by DDA President Todd Craft, the panel consisted of Farmington Mayor Steven Schneemann; DDA Executive Director Kate Knight; Issue Media Group Co-CEO Brian Boyle; and Michigan Municipal League Executive Director/CEO Dan Gilmartin.

The program kicked off with a question about the role community engagement plays in the economic development of downtown.

“Many of you … know that this city, this community, is driven by volunteers,” said Schneemann. “ … Looking around the room, I’m seeing people who’ve been really engaged in the community, and they usually started by volunteering for something, by being downtown, by being out in the community and seeing something they want to get connected to. And the next thing you know, they’re interested in serving in a greater capacity on a planning commission. … This also starts to get people familiar with the place enough that they start to say, ‘Hey, this is a place to put down some roots. This is a place where I can start to invest, or I can open a business in.’”

Boyle, who’d just returned from the Knight Media Forum in Miami, noted that one big topic of conversation involved tracking the relationship between civic attachment and economic development and understanding the way the media plays a key role in that.

“The 24/7 news business model, which is essentially driven by clicks, is now, as a business paradigm, incentivized to report on things that disconnect people from place,” said Boyle. “ … There has been a lot of talk about the importance of these types of community conversations as infrastructure to continue to knit the community together and create more civic connectivity at a time when media implodes all around us.” READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor Great Minds Think A Lot blog post on Bilal Saeed

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.14.15 PM.pngThis profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.

Bilal Saeed – co-founder and managing owner of Pakmode Media and Marketing, and chairman of AFC (Association Football Club) Ann Arbor – is a person who harbors equal love for Ann Arbor and YpsilantiOpens a New Window..

“I grew up in Port Huron,” said Saeed, 34. “Both of my older sisters went to U of M, … and my dad loved the (Ann Arbor) Art Fair, in particular. But really, we’d jump at any excuse for getting all of us in the car and heading to Ann Arbor. So I developed a real affinity for the area. When I went to Eastern (Michigan University), I hadn’t been familiar with Ypsilanti at all, and I fell in love with Ypsi, too. With both places right next to each other, I found it really hard to ever leave.”

Saeed launched PakmodeOpens a New Window. – a company that focuses on sports and entertainment marketing (the name alludes to Saeed’s Pakistani heritage) – in Ypsilanti in 2008, when he was still a student at EMU. And although the company now works out of an office in Ann Arbor, Saeed makes his home in Ypsilanti, near a border between the two towns.

“I’m one of those people – a lot of people feel really strongly one way or the other,” Saeed said of town allegiances. “I’m a connector. I love both communities. They each have different things to offer, so I feel like I get the best of both worlds.”

But how did Saeed become AFC Ann Arbor chairman in 2014?

Well, he’d already spent a good chunk of his childhood playing soccer in Port Huron, “and also pretty much every other summer in England with my family, which taught me a lot about the game, playing pick-up with kids in the back alley or the parks,” said Saeed.

So he’d always had a passion for the game. And when local soccer fanatic Jamey Amrine started laying the foundation for building a semi-pro team (now called The Mighty Oak), Saeed didn’t hesitate about getting involved.

“I thought, what a cool opportunity to use my skills for a good cause,” said Saeed. “From the beginning, I knew it wasn’t a ‘get rich’ type of business. It was clearly marked from the beginning as something we could just do for our community, and I thought about what a powerful tool this could be to get kids involved in the game, get them more active, and encourage them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. When I was a kid, the game gave me confidence, it gave me friends, I learned how to work with teammates – I learned so much from this game. So to be able to use this platform to give this same opportunity to young people, and get them involved from the get-go – I just love it so much. I feel lucky to lead the club. It’s a real labor of love.” READ THE REST HERE