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  • City Slang: Music review roundup

    Send CDs, vinyl, cassettes, demos and 8-tracks to Brett Callwood, Metro Times, 1200 Woodward Heights, Ferndale MI 48220. Email MP3s and streaming links to Ricky Rat’s Tokyo Pop/Glitter People (New Fortune) 7” single highlights all that’s great about the Trash Brats guitarist, but also his limitations. The man can write a bubblegum rock ’n’ roll song to match anyone in the city and most beyond. He’s also a killer guitarist, ripping out one throwaway riff after another with reckless abandon. He’s a machine. On his own though, without Trash Brats frontman Brian McCarty, his voice doesn’t have enough strength to do the songs justice. Not that you need to have the greatest voice in the world to sing this stuff – you don’t need to be able to perform vocal gymnastics – but you do have to be able to wail the tunes out. Both of the songs on this single are great, but you can’t help but wonder how much better they would sound with McCarty or somebody similar talking the mic. Still, as they are the songs are great fun. We’re just being picky. The Paper Sound’s Trajectories is a dense, atypically dark Americana-tinged album, unrelenting and […]

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  • Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes

    “Neighbors wanted.” That’s the message on the homepage of, a new website launched by the City of Detroit today to auction off city-owned homes to prospective buyers who pledge to fix them up and move in. “We are moving aggressively to take these abandoned homes and get families living in them again,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement today. “There are a lot of people who would love to move into many of our neighborhoods. Knowing that other people are going to be buying and fixing up the other vacant homes at the same time will make it a lot easier for them to make that commitment.” The website to facilitate the auctions went live this afternoon. The first auction is scheduled to take place Monday, May 5. Officials said in a news release that one home will be auctioned per day, Monday through Friday. Fifteen homes are available for sale on the site, a dozen of which are in the East English Village neighborhood. Any Michigan resident, company, or organization that can do business in the state can bid, according to the website. Properties will be for sale for only one day, with bidding taking place from 8 […]

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  • Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes

    In case you haven’t heard, two of the biggest names in film, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, are collaborating to put on a benefit concert for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this summer. In case you wanted to go- well, you’re too damn late. The DSO says tickets to the June 14 concert were snapped up in a record-breaking 15 minutes after they went on sale at 9 a.m. today. The DSO has since released this statement to fans who didn’t snag seats: Our apologies to everyone who was unable to buy tickets this morning for our historic benefit concert featuring John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Despite increasing our phone and internet system capacity for the day, a surge of hundreds of ticket buyers purchased tickets in a matter of minutes, filling the phone lines and temporarily maxing out our web servers. After a one-hour pre-sale made available to donors and subscribers at 8am, we released additional seats at 9am to the general public, including seats available for as low as $30. All seats sold out immediately. The concert program seems nothing short of top notch: Williams will conduct the orchestra as it performs some of his most iconic tunes, such […]

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  • Blowout 2014 schedule available to view now

    The schedule for Blowout 17, taking place Wednesday April 30 to Saturday May 3 in Hamtramck, Detroit and Ferndale, is available to see now. Visit to see the schedule and plan your festival. Follow @City_Slang

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  • City Slang: Trash Brats get sleazy at Small’s

    The Trash Brats hardly ever play live anymore, so each show feels like an event. Wandering around Small’s in Hamtramck late Saturday night, there’s a near-carnival atmosphere in the air. The Brats were never supposed to be taken seriously, but years on-and-off the radar have given the band the gift of respect born out of longevity. We’re not being dismissive at all. In fact, no amount of kooky faces from guitarist Ricky Rat and bassist Toni Romeo can hide the fact that these boys can play and the band writes killer bubblegum sleaze-rock tunes. The fact that the venue was packed compared to, say, a recent show by internationally known punk icons Sylvain Sylvain and Glen Matlock (which you would think would attract a similar audience) is testament to the fact that, in Detroit, the Trash Brats command a certain reverence. Before the Trash Brats took to the stage, local punks The Dives kicked off the night with a set of sincere, energetic and well-performed, if standard, punk rock. No frills (besides frontman Ron McPherson’s dapper suit), the band features members of the Junk Monkeys, the Black Mollies and the Joint Chiefs, and it drives through a set of catchy, […]

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  • Cycle 7 opens at the Red Bull House of Art

    By: Ayana Bryant-Weekes The Red Bull House of Art, a multidisciplinary and collaborative art project, relieves the stress of financial limitation or lack of tools and space so budding artists can manifest their creative dreams right here in Detroit. Six artists are selected for a three-month residency where they are provided individual studio space and materials, allowing their artistic concepts to flow freely. At the end of each residency is an unveiling and public display at the Red Bull House of Art Gallery. As show curator Matt Eaton told us in a 2013 interview, “The selection process for the current crop of artists was just the same as every round. The goal is not to find the hippest, coolest artists (though I think they are all very cool), but to find the people who may not typically have a voice.” This year, for the first time, Red Bull House of Art will showcase more than just Detroit artists. National artists from across the country in a special artist-in-residency program will have the opportunity to showcase their work to a much broader audience, and bring a national art stage to the Motor City. Since opening, 54 Detroit-based artists have been given the […]

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Stir It Up

Optimism in the hood?

In one part of Detroit, new neighbors, consciousness-raising, signal welcome change afoot

Perspective is a matter of position. Right now in my neighborhood, from where I sit, things are looking up. That's partly because the house directly across the street from me had been empty for a couple of years, but now it's occupied by a couple and their three kids. They are friendly and seem like they'll be good neighbors. The same goes for the people who moved in a couple of doors over. That house was never vacant, but the guy who lived there for 47 years decided to move to Florida after his wife died. I can't blame him. However, he was a good neighbor and you never know what you're going to get when the new folks move in. That still leaves a couple of empty houses on the block, but we're better off than most.

A few months back, the real estate agent who was showing the house across the street told me that the housing market in Detroit had hit bottom and was turning around, at least in the area where I live — not far from the Avenue of Fashion, as we still call Livernois south of Eight Mile long after most of the fashion shops have gone. I didn't know how much faith to put in his words, but it seems that he may have been right. I've seen a couple of news stories saying that the market in southeast Michigan is getting a little better, at least in spots. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean Detroit, but, like I say, what I can see from my front door looks good. 

In general I've been seeing a lot of new faces in the neighborhood. Among them are my old Free Press co-worker Vickie Elmer and her partner Mark Loeb. They moved in the next street over in December and have already made a difference in the neighborhood. Elmer — who lived in Lathrup Village, then New York, Indianapolis, then Ann Arbor before settling in Detroit — was the catalyst for the first Jane's Walk in Michigan this past Sunday. 

Jane Jacobs was a great observer of urban life who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities a half-century ago. She believed that cities could best be explored and improved by getting up and walking around. This "Live, Love Detroit Walk" had about 115 people strolling around Greenacres, where Elmer and I live, and nearby Sherwood Forest. These are among Detroit's tonier neighborhoods, but the abandoned homes syndrome and crime that affects pretty much all of the city creeps in here too. The bottom line is if residents take care of their own neighborhood, things would be much better throughout the city.

"This is a surprising place for people who have a picture of Detroit that comes from the media," says Elmer. "I was surprised by the rich diversity of people in this neighborhood, not so much about race, but income, education, occupation and a variety of ages. I really think that people came away excited by Detroit. I've been feeling for a few years that, as cool as Ann Arbor is, there's not the raw edge you can find in Detroit. We feel like it's going to be a good place to be."

The move is definitely good for Loeb, whose event planning business, Integrity Shows, has clients mostly in Detroit, Ferndale and Royal Oak. He's been commuting to put on arts shows, green fairs and the Jazzin' on Jefferson festival (June 15-16 this year).

Maybe it is a good time to be in Detroit. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems like now that the consent agreement has been signed between Detroit and the state of Michigan, all of a sudden it's OK to say good things about the city. For the moment, I'm not going to take the jaded view that it means outside forces are conspiring to devalue Detroit until they can get their hands on it and take over. Most of the stuff that's coming around has been a long time in the making.

Like the Woodward light rail line, for instance. We've been talking about it for many years. In fact, the People Mover, built in the 1970s, was originally envisioned as part of a larger transit system. In recent years there has been much talk, first it was public, then it was private, then it was public-private, I'm not sure where that stands now. Then we couldn't afford it at all and would go with a rapid bus system. Actually when that development popped up it distressed me. I had read a little about urban transit and trains are hands-down better for economic development than buses. I'm not sure why, but all kinds of business springs up around train stops and the value of area real estate goes up too.

Now it looks like it really is going to be a train, although ambitions have been scaled back to the original idea of running it from Jefferson to Grand Boulevard instead of out to Eight Mile Road. That stands to be a boon for Midtown, where neighborhood anchors such as Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and the Cultural Center have been parlayed into a gentrification and economic development not seen in any other part of the city. 

Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution was on The Craig Fahle Show a couple weeks ago extolling the virtues of Midtown and the Woodward corridor. "It's a 1.5-mile area," he said. "You've got 24,000 residents; you've got 46,000 workers, a whole bunch of students, over 30,000. My lord, that's a platform to build on."

Things are looking up in some other neighborhoods. In Brightmoor, where I lived for several years before moving to Greenacres, urban agriculture has begun to transform an area that has been plagued by empty, falling-down houses and other blight. The western part of the neighborhood hosts at least 22 kitchen, community and market gardens. . A neighborhood organization takes on block cleanups if someone on the block steps up and takes charge. Neighbors also turned an abandoned house into a neighborhood stage, and created playscapes and a nature trail. 

On the east side, the Lower Eastside Action Plan (which I wrote about a couple of months ago) is harnessing a number of community development organizations and urban agriculture activists to clean up and stabilize neighborhoods and build a food system with local gardeners and farmers.

There is plenty more that needs to happen around here to change the culture and the trajectory of the city. But for a while this spring, I thought I'd dwell on the positive, and take a cue from the smiling new faces I'm seeing in the neighborhood.

Detroit Food Summit: The Detroit Food Policy Council's annual summit, "Powering Up the Local Food System," takes place May 18-19 at the Focus: HOPE Conference Center. Sessions will be held on Children and Food in Schools, Grocery Stores and the Food System, Alternative Markets Visioning, Urban Agriculture Policy, Good Food Good Jobs, and other issues around creating a homegrown food system. More information and registration is available at or call 313-833-0396.

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