By Megan Swoyer
It’s winter in Michigan — but don’t let cabin fever get the best of you. The state has plenty of cultural diversions during winter’s chilliest months — and no hats or gloves (for the most part) required!
Northwest Michigan’s Petoskey, Boyne and Traverse City regions feature fine arts and great performances
The Crooked Tree Arts Center exposes a diverse compilation of art, music and shows that Diane Dakins of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau says she wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience. “It opens my mind to art forms and music that I may not necessarily be ready to embrace,” she says.
The arts center is named after a noted landmark where Native Americans gathered for the purpose of trading. The founders hoped the center would become a local landmark as well for those interested in gathering for experiences in the arts.
Located in downtown Petoskey in a beautifully renovated church, the center touts two galleries with exhibits that change seasonally, and a 260-seat theater. This winter, the exhibits are a juried art show in one gallery and a nocturnal exhibit in the other.
The theater presents “Dance the Halls” with the works of pre-professional art center students; violinist Gabriel Bolkosky; the Improvised Shakespeare Company from Chicago; the Mind’s Eye Quartet (jazz); and American Idol finalist Matt Giraud.
The staff at the center also organizes a seasonal wine-tasting program called “Swirl.” Each month the event features wine, appetizers from a different local food vendor and music from a wide selection of talented local artists. Feb. 28 features Lake Street Market with music by Bob Greenway.
The center also hosts the Blissfest Music Organization and many of its concerts. Feb. 16 brings Caravan of Thieves (gypsy swing folk band), while on March 23, Izzy and the Catastrophics entertain with rock ’n’ roll, swing, surf, honky-tonk and bebop all rolled into one great band.
The Northern Michigan Artists Market, just steps from the center, is another area gem, says Dakins. “Six artists started this store that currently boasts the works of artists from all over northern Michigan and in a huge array of mediums.”
And for theater buffs, the region’s Little Traverse Civic Theatre presents “A Little Princess” in March.
In nearby Boyne City, Dakins points folks in the direction of the Freshwater Studio in the SOBO (South Boyne Arts District).
“In addition to a terrific gallery that is the marketplace of about 100 artists, Freshwater hosts concerts throughout the winter,” Dakins says, adding that intermission is a “catered affair with such items as cold squash coconut soup.”
The highlight of Cherry Town’s cultural scene might just be Dennos Museum Center, which is now featuring the imagery of Miao Xiaochun through Feb. 10. Whether you catch this Beijing-based multidisciplinary artist’s works or head to the museum another time of year, you’re sure to be impressed.
Meanwhile, at the museum’s Milliken Auditorium, you can catch a variety of performances, including the Larry Garner Blues Band, Feb. 2. Garner was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 2002. Storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto entertains Feb. 22 at the same time as the opening of the exhibition “Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art.“
Stand-up comedian Kathleen Madigan performs Feb. 14 at the City Opera House. The eight members of Voca People shuffle in Feb. 17 to showcase their unique performance sans instruments.
Blue Water Region
The state’s eastern-most point of land is a water lover’s paradise
In the Port Huron area, enchantment swims in the very blue Lake Huron and the currents of the St. Clair and Black rivers. A fun-loving spirit flows from Port Huron’s riverbanks to lakeshore beaches, from retro diner counters to museum exhibits and from festival tents to lighthouse towers.
The essence of Port Huron goes back to a region that welcomed European settlements in the 1600s, and then moves into the prosperous shipbuilding and lumbering days of the 1800s. Today, the entrepreneurial spirit continues with an enticing soap factory on Huron Avenue and the Quay Street Brewing Company and Restaurant. And then there’s the riverwalk, beneath the majestic span of the Blue Water Bridge, which connects Port Huron to Ontario. Although a bit nippy in the winter, the weather shouldn’t stop visitors from taking a refreshing stroll along the walk.
Visitors to Port Huron can revel in the area’s special maritime nuances. Imagine: 1,080,113 gallons of water move past Port Huron’s Great Lakes Maritime Center on the St. Clair River every second. “That number has been documented,” explains maritime consultant Frank Frisk, affectionately known as “Freighter Frank,” who can often be found at his Maritime Center post. Visitors can ask Frisk any question they might have about the river and the mighty freighters that glide by on a regular basis.
Ann Arbor, Chelsea and Detroit beckon with intriguing diversions
In Wolverine territory, you can’t go wrong with a selection from the University Musical Society, says Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Communications Director Sydney Hawkins.
“The organization brings in amazing music, dance and theater performances throughout the winter months,” she says. Highlights this season include the Martha Graham Dance Company, Wynton Marsalis and the New York Philharmonic.
“Many of these performances are in Hill Auditorium — a beautiful, historic auditorium celebrating its 100th anniversary this year,” says Hawkins.
Another historic beauty, the Michigan Theater on Liberty Street (just look for the marquee) offers a selection of indie films, documentaries and alternative programming. “It’s been restored beautifully to its original 1928 design and is definitely one of our cultural gems,” Hawkins says.
If fine arts are your thing, spend a few hours at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. One of the largest university art museums in the United States, the museum houses nearly 19,000 pieces of art, including works by Picasso, Whistler and more. There’s also a regular rotation of new exhibits.
Hawkins also suggests The Ark, a top acoustic music club, for its quality programming. With only 400 seats, it offers an intimate atmosphere.
We can’t mention Ann Arbor without talking about neighboring Chelsea — a small town that packs a big cultural punch.
For starters, the River Gallery, housed in a two-story, renovated 1898 building, represents 45 or 50 artists at any given time and also hosts the work of one or two artists at a time. Tucked among the charm of downtown Chelsea, the gallery is a must-see.
Afterwards, head to the renowned Common Grill. Owned by Craig Common, the restaurant is ranked as a top Michigan dining spot. Diners indulge on everything from the herb- and pine-nut-crusted Nantucket scallops to grilled vegetable wraps. One thing to remember, though, if you’re going to take in a show at the town’s Purple Rose Theatre, make your dinner reservation two hours before curtain time. You’ll want to savor many moments here and not be rushed.
If you do nothing else in Chelsea, be sure to see a play. Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre Company, a leading American theater dedicated to producing the new American play and creating opportunities for Midwest theater professionals, was founded in 1991 by acclaimed actor and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels.
A quick look back at the theater’s history reveals some intriguing tales. In the early 1900s, the building that houses the facility’s “Garage Theatre” was a used car and bus garage owned by Jeff Daniels’ grandfather. In 1989, the building was purchased and renovated by Daniels and later donated to the theater company.
In 1999, a $2.2 million capital campaign was launched to expand and refurbish the theater. The doors opened again in 2001 with an interior that features authentic 1930s theater decor — from the marbled glass chandelier in the lobby to the art deco doors and ticket booth.
“The Meaning of Almost Everything,” a world premiere comedy by Jeff Daniels, runs through March 9. The show questions the nature of our world and the absurdity of it all.
Theater patrons often spend the night at the 1881 Chelsea House Victorian Inn, a lovely establishment just across the parking lot from the theater.
The Detroit Institute of Arts has one of the best art collections in the country. “And it continues to attract new traveling exhibits and has interactive features geared toward all ages, such as eye spy and a virtual dining table,” says Metro Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Deanna Majchrzak. She suggests visitors time their outing during a special event, such as Friday Night Live! (live music and art-making workshops), the Sunday Music Bar (enjoy a coffee, wine or mixed drink and experience musical performances) or Brunch with Bach.
“Fabergé: The Rise and Fall, The Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts” runs through Jan. 21. Patrons can see jewel-encrusted parasol and cane handles, an array of enameled frames, animals carved from semi-precious stones and miniature egg pendants.
West of downtown Detroit, in Dearborn, is The Henry Ford, featuring a museum, historic village, plant tours and more.
“Visitors can spend days at the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour,” says Majchrzak. “People are amazed at all the artifacts, and that the museum isn’t just about cars. There’s a great collection of automobiles, but there’s also locomotives, agricultural equipment, historic airplanes, household equipment and much more within the nine-acre museum.”
The traveling exhibit, “LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition” runs through Feb. 24. It showcases 13 recreated famous landmarks built from LEGOS, including Fallingwater, 7 South Dearborn, Chicago Spire, John Hancock Center, Marina City, Willis Tower, Trump Tower, Burj Khalifa, Empire State Building, St. Louis Arch, TransAmerica Building, Jin Mao Tower and one of the World Trade Center towers.
Next door at Greenfield Village, visitors go back in time as they explore 83 historic structures, including Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, Henry Ford’s birthplace, Noah Webster’s home and the Wright Cycle Shop. Visitors can even ride in a Model T, on the Weiser Railroad, or take a spin on the Herschell-Spillman Carousel.
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour is just a short bus ride away (you board the bus at the museum). Here, visitors can see Ford F-150 pickup trucks being built in a real working factory as well as the world’s largest living roof, which features a 454,00-square-foot garden.
West Michigan Wonders
Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids deliver more Michigan marvels
Something not to be missed in this Southwest Michigan town, home to Western Michigan University, is likely one of the most multi-sensory experiences in the state — The Air Zoo. Here, amusement park-style rides, Full-Motion Flight Simulators, the RealD 3D/4D Missions Theater and more than 50 rare and historic aircraft combine to create a unique destination.
If you’re considering an overnight stay, book a room at the 1895 Henderson Castle, a national registered historic landmark. The inn/spa/restaurant will especially come to life (or “death”) for this winter’s Murder Mystery Dinner Feb. 23. You’ll help solve a “murder” and catch the “perpetrator.”
Miller Auditorium is a big draw for cultural activities. Feb. 26-27 brings “Rain, A Tribute to the Beatles,” while “A Tribute to Doo Wop” hits the stage on March 8. “Wild Kingdom’s” Peter Gros entertains on March 24 and “Celtic Women” take to the stage on April 5.
This West Michigan city offers a myriad of cultural happenings, thanks to great museums and facilities that focus on everything from art to presidents to gardening.
“Thank God For Michigan” is drawing rave reviews at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The exhibit explores how Michigan was deeply involved in the Civil War. “Great Shipwrecks, Storms and Stories” is also popular, thanks to the inland seas’ intrigue. Here, learn how bad weather, bad decisions, bad design and bad luck can cause all kinds of havoc on the Great Lakes.
Whether you’re into sculpture, art, tropical plants, arid gardens or flowers, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park features indoor exhibits throughout the year, many changing. Outdoors, paved paths and a boardwalk in garden locations lead visitors to Mother Nature’s prettiest masterpieces year ’round. Tram tours are available March through December.