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  • James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets coming to the Magic Bag

    The Magic Bag in Ferndale will host James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets on Thursday, May 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. A press release reads, “James McMurtry recently signed with the bourgeoning Los Angeles record label Complicated Game. The legendary songwriter will enter the studio later this month to start working on his first album in six years. “I’ve got a new batch of songs, organic and with no added sulfites, aged in oak for several years,” he says. “Francois Moret at Complicated Game seems to like these songs and (producer) C.C. Adcock thinks he can turn them into a record. Good times fixing to roll.” Label head Moret agrees. “In March 2013, when C.C. Adcock told me we were going to see James McMurtry at the Continental Club in Austin, I expected to see a good show,” he says, “but what I saw left me mesmerized! I immediately knew I wanted to sign him. As a European, it is an amazing opportunity to work with one of the most talented American singer-songwriters.” Evidence: McMurtry’s Just Us Kids (2008) and Childish Things (2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched […]

    The post James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets coming to the Magic Bag appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Dead Kennedys to have a holiday in Detroit

    The Dead Kennedys, still with local boy Klaus Flouride in the ranks, will play St. Andrew’s Hall on Tuesday, June 24. Alongside Flouride and fellow original members East Bay Ray and DH Peligro, the current lineup includes singer Ron “Skip” Greer, taking the place of Jello Biafra. Downtown Brown will open that show, which starts at 7 p.m., with tickets priced $20-$25. Give Klaus a hero’s hometown welcome. Just over a week before that, strangely enough, Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine will play at the Magic Stick. It’s a weird coincidence, but one that DK fans should be happy to embrace. That show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $17-$19. Local hardcore vets Negative Approach play before Jello, with the Crashdollz opening the show. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Dead Kennedys to have a holiday in Detroit appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Planet Ant presents A Steady Rain

    The Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck will present a police drama called A Steady Rain May 2 through 24. Planet Ant veterans Ryan Carlson and York Griffith will star in the play, written by House of Cards and Mad Men co-writer Keith Huff. Tickets ($10-$20) are on sale now at According to the press release, “A Steady Rain by Keith Huff focuses on Joey and Denny, best friends since kindergarten and partners on the police force whose loyalty to each other is tested by domestic affairs, violence and the rough streets of Chicago. Joey helps Denny with his family and Denny helps Joey stay off the bottle. But when a routine disturbance call takes a turn for the worse their loyalty is put to the ultimate test.First produced at Chicago Dramatists, A Steady Rain appeared on Broadway featuring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. The Planet Ant production of A Steady Rain is directed by York Griffith featuring Ryan Carlson and Andy Huff. This marks the return of two of Planet Ant’s founding members. Carlson and Griffith. Griffith has served as the theatre’s Artistic Director where he directed the critically-acclaimed productions The Adding Machine and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? […]

    The post Planet Ant presents A Steady Rain appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • You can wear Detroit’s blight on your face

    There is no easy answer to the question regarding what should be done with Detroit’s abandoned homes. However, an Eastern Market company has a solution that could reflect Detroit’s possibly bright future. Homes Eyewear has set out to make the city a little more stylish, and do their part in cleaning it up by repurposing select woods from neglected homes for sunglasses. All of the wood that Homes uses is harvested from vacant houses with the assistance of Reclaim Detroit. A lot of work goes into prepping the wood to be cut and shaped into frames. Homes goes through each piece to remove nails, paint or anything else detrimental to their production (it’s a bit strange to think that your wooden sunglasses could have had family portraits nailed to them). In order to produce more durable eyewear, they salvage only hardwoods like maple or beech, which are difficult to come by as most of the blighted homes were built with softer woods like Douglas fir and pine. If you’re worried about looking goofy, or shudder at the thought of salvaged wood resting on your nose, you can rest easy. Homes currently offers frames in the popular wayfarer style and are developing their unique spin on the classic aviators. For as […]

    The post You can wear Detroit’s blight on your face appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Lily Tomlin coming to Ann Arbor

    Detroit home-girl Lily Tomlin will perform at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, June 14. A press release reads, “Get together with Lily Tomlin for an unforgettable night of fun and sidesplitting laughter. “Tomlin is amazing” The NY Times and “as always a revelation.” The New Yorker This unique comic artist takes her audience on what the Washington Post calls a “wise and howlingly funny” trip with more than a dozen of her timeless characters—from Ernestine to Mrs. Beasley to Edith Ann.” “With astounding skill and energy, Tomlin zaps through the channels like a human remote control. Using a fantastic range of voices, gestures and movements, she conjures up the cast of characters with all the apparent ease of a magician pulling a whole menagerie of animals from a single hat.” NY Daily News “Her gentle touch is as comforting as it is edifying.” NY Time Out She has “made the one-person show the daring, irreverent art form it is today.” Newsweek Her long list of awards includes: a Grammy; two Tonys; six Emmys; an Oscar nomination; two Peabodys; and the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Find more info here. Follow @City_Slang

    The post Lily Tomlin coming to Ann Arbor appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Welcome Valerie Vande Panne, the new Detroit Metro Times editor

    The Detroit Metro Times, Detroit’s award-winning alternative weekly media company, is proud to announce the recent hire of Valerie Vande Panne as Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning independent journalist and Michigan native, Vande Panne’s work has appeared in Crain’s Detroit Business, The Daily Beast, and Salon, among other publications. Previously, Vande Panne attended Harvard University and was a regular contributor to The Boston Phoenix, and a news editor of High Times magazine. She has spent years covering drug policy among other subjects, including the environment, culture, lifestyle, extreme sports, and academia. “Valerie understands our business and what we expect to accomplish in Detroit. She has an excellent sense for stories that will move our readers, as well as experience with balancing print and digital content. I’m excited to have her at the paper and trust her leadership as we move forward,” said Detroit Metro Times publisher Chris Keating.

    The post Welcome Valerie Vande Panne, the new Detroit Metro Times editor appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.



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Herbal essences

A little Detroit store dispenses the remedies of a fading tradition

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Gary Wanttaja stands before his jars of herbs.

Silence lingers in the old shop the way it would inside a library, as if to say that here too, years of accumulated wisdom are stored and revered.

The old wood shelves on the walls are lined with hundreds of glass jars filled with colorful powders and mysterious leaves, like containers of magic potions. Some jars are clear; many are brown to protect their contents from the light. A small label on each says in carefully hand-printed letters what they hold. 

Irish moss sits dried and crumbled in one, myrrh fills half of another with fine grains. They share shelf space with the oat straw and the yam root, the hyssop and the shepherd's purse, the sassafras bark and the coltsfoot. 

This small room is home to Nature's Products, a bulk herb store whose simple name reflects the essence of its conviction — that long before the modern drug industry, nature provided cures to most of our ailments. It sits in a plain building on Conant by Seven Mile, a dusty stretch of road where its closest neighbor is a noisy collision shop that strews crumpled cars along what little parking the road affords. With its dim lighting and old tin ceiling, the shop has the air of an apothecary a century ago.

Its regular customers are practitioners of folk medicine, who use the herbs in traditional remedies often passed down through families or learned from neighbors in the rural countryside. So the labels describe the jars' contents not in their proper name, but in their common one. Thus the euphrasia is labeled as eyebright, to indicate what it does, and the phytolacca is introduced by its vernacular name of pokeroot, to suggest what it looks like.

When someone comes for help with an illness, or for an ingredient for a family concoction, owner Gary Wanttaja will twist the lid off one of those big jars, pour a portion into a plastic bag using his eyes as a measuring stick, then confirm his estimation by putting the bag on one side of an ancient, heavy metal scale that sits in the sunlit window among all the houseplants angling for the light.

But that ritual happens less every year, and not just because business is slow, as it is throughout the city. The hand-me-down knowledge this store embodies is utilized mostly by old folks now, and they're dying off. And marking a break in a long chain, they say their children and grandchildren have little interest in learning the old ways. The tradition is slowly fading away.

"It's not just here, it's happening all over the planet," says the slight, pale Wanttaja, 54. "They're changing all over. They're looking at this like, 'This is the old way, this is going backwards. We need to go forwards.' Their attitude is, like, 'We don't need all this funky weeds and seeds.' And that was what kind of happened here."

Wanttaja had severe allergies when he was young, and he turned to alternative medicine when doctors couldn't help. "Regular medicine just wasn't doing anything," he says. "So after a couple of years of changing my diet, using nutrition and using the herbs and realizing it worked, I started looking at more alternative things, and I thought I'd like to do this as a living."

He opened the store in 1978, in an old building that used to be the neighborhood's little grocery store. At first he expected the growing interest in alternative medicine at the time would provide him a natural customer base. He was wrong. "I thought I might have all these hippies coming in here," he laughs. 

But to his surprise, most of the customers were middle-aged and elderly black people from the neighborhood, many who grew up in deep poverty down South, where for years they had little access to doctors or modern medicine. For them, the woods and the backyard garden were the pharmacy.

"You've got a sick kid, what are you gonna do? You look through the options — I could go to the doctor but I don't have money, I could watch the kid burn up with a fever, or go talk to your neighbor, who knows to use some herbs. So that became part of the culture. A lot of Detroit came in around World War II to work in the factories, so they brought that culture with them."

His customers began sharing with him years of shared secrets and traditions, and he became a repository for different strains of herbal knowledge. "I just started logging this information, and after years it was kind of neat," he says. "You get an idea of what they were using down through the South, and they were happy to share it."

But he's not supposed to share it himself. Telling customers what to take for certain ailments crosses the line into practicing medicine, and could land him in trouble. Instead he shares stories of how certain herbs worked for him personally, and from those hints, some of his longtime customers have realized that he knows more than he's letting on.

"Gary knows it, he just won't tell you a lot," says 78-year-old Faith, an eccentric, longtime regular who years ago rechristened herself with that single name. "He'll tell you he's not a doctor, but as far as knowing it, he does know it."

She grew up in the backwoods of Louisiana, where the family created cures from things growing in the wilds out back. "There weren't any doctors," the 78-year-old says. "The only thing you had was herbs. And you had an herb for everything. They used them to heal us with the things that just got on everyone's nerves. We call them weeds, but yet these herbs heal." 

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