Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trip down Jacobson's memory lane enjoyed at Castle Museum

by Janet I. Martineau

Cheese soup....cashmere sweaters...Christmas shopping trips...personal customer service.
These were the memories, and images, Saturday afternoon at the Castle Museum, 500 Federal, when more than 60 people gathered to hear author Bruce Allen Kopytek talk about his book “Jacobson’s: I Miss It So!”
And making the talk even more poignant is that it was given in the shadow of, and visible through the Castle’s windows, Saginaw’s very own Jacobson’s -- the department store at 400 Federal which, Kopytek said, at 2007-square-feet and taking up an entire block was the largest in the chain’s eventual 30 stores.

“Every year my brother took our sister to Jacobson’s for a lunch or a dinner and then she would pick out her Christmas gift from him there. It was a tradition every year. For me, I remember the friendly employees who would call you if something was on sale.” --Tom Mikolaski, Saginaw.
Jake's employees June Johnson, Joan Billingsley
With slides and anecdotes, Kopytek took his audience through the history of Jacobson’s -- its rise and fall; its whimsical owner Nathan Rosenfeld who would fire people in one breath and then hire them back minutes later and who waged wars with newspapers in Jackson and Saginaw; how the stores always backed the downtowns where they located.
“Nathan hated malls,” Kopytek said. When Jackson dropped its funding for city bus service, he recalled, Rosenfeld started it up again with his own funds. And in Saginaw, when it became clear 1976’s new superstore needed an expanded parking deck, he bought the bonds from the struggling city to make that happen.
As for why Kopytek, an architect by profession, landed writing this book, he said his mother was a great shopper, at Hudson’s and later Jacobson’s, so he was raised knowing the store.
But, as everyone in attendance seemed to agree, Jacobson’s was more than just about shopping. 

Kopytek noted how each store in the chain was rooted in the community and became a part of that city’s  events, how shoppers thought it was their town’s store and not part of a chain, how the billing came from each store and not the chain’s headquarters, how the employees (called associates) served them personally.

“Remember Delta College’s ‘Holiday Benefit Preview’...Jacobson’s was terrific to allow over 1,000 ticket holders, tri-county restaurants and entertainment on site to raise funds for Possible Dream students” -- Karen Peterson MacArthur, Midland.
“I spent lots of time at Jake’s (and money). I remember the wonderful associates and the cookies!” -- Connie Frays Kreft, formerly of Saginaw and now living in Colorado.
Kopytek and book
The Jacobson’s history dates back to 1868, just after the Civil War, and a store in tiny northern Reed City; begun by Abraham Jacobson and his three sons. It advertised itself as selling “fancy goods” and son Moses eventually went on trunk tours downstate to sell the store’s wares.
In 1904, Moses opened his own store, called M.I. Jacobson, at 113 W. Michigan in 1939, Ohio-dwelling Nathan Rosenfeld heard it was for sale by descendants of Moses...bought it...moved to Jackson...kept the store’s original name instead of inserting his....and the rest is history.
Kopytek recounted how Rosenfeld and his wife “were there (at the store) every day, ruffling feathers”; how he worried that department stores in the future “would become vending machines with checkout counters”; always reinvested the annual depreciation on property funds back into the stores; made sure the interior design of his stores evoked a homelike atmosphere, with custom-made fixtures.
Every year or two, Rosenfeld expanded the chain -- Ann Arbor and Battle Creek came with the purchase in 1939, East Lansing was added in 1942, Saginaw and Grand Rapids in 1943, Grosse Pointe in 1944, Birmingham in 1950 and so on.
Originally mostly selling women’s clothing, in the 1950s children’s wear, men’s clothing and homewares were added; furniture and interior decorations in the late 1960s. Hair salons and restaurants were part of the Jacobson’s experience as well. (And the book contains seven well-guarded recipes from the restaurants.)
“I loved my $200 haircuts. $100 spent on the way up (to the salon on second floor)  and $100 on the way down and out. Saginaw was never the same after the store closed” -- Julie Stevens, Thomas Township
“They had the best cheese soup”-- Kathleen Scott, Freeland.
“I miss their fabulous Cobb salad .... and their beauty salon. Used to treat myself once a year to a manicure. It was fabulous!”-- Kathy Bocade, Saginaw
The Saginaw store, Kopytek noted, was not located in the best of locations  yet prospered, drawing customers from not only this region but northward and into the Thumb.
“Nathan’s son, Mark, who took over when his father died, told me it was because ‘our staff knows our customers and how to drive them to the store,’” said Kopytek. Nathan died in 1982, at age 79.
The author said that in writing the book he interviewed countless former Jacobson’s employees who agreed with Rosenfeld’s slogan that “if you have to work this is a good place.” They told him, he said, they appreciated “the enlightened management that allowed them to do their jobs,” and the fact they were often treated to trips and special events.
With the downturn of Michigan’s economy, and in the downtowns in many of its cities, in the 1990s so began Jacobson’s decent, said Kopytek -- ending in the chain filing for bankruptcy and closing in 2002.
“Our daughter bought her wedding gown there the month they closed and they came through for her. And they altered my mother of the bride dress even after they closed” -- Jenifer Kusch, formerly of Midland now living in Port Huron.
“I am still in mourning”-- Barbara Mahar Lincoln, Freeland.
“I spent 26 years working there....still sad” -- Cheryl Hadsall of Birch Run, who worked in the beauty salon and now owns and operates The Willows Salon & Day Spa in Saginaw.
Millie Bierlein and her raincoat
Kopytek said to his mind, no other store  the size and scope of service of what Jacobson’s had exists today in Michigan.
But in the audience at the Castle were both former Jacobson’s employees and shoppers still carrying the torch.
Millie Bierlein of Frankenmuth was clad in an orange/red raincoat with the Jacobson’s label. “I bought it in 1994 and it is still in style and I am wearing it.”
And Saginawian June Johnson, who worked in clothing sales at the Saginaw store for years, was sporting a spiffy gray cashmere sweater with the Jacobson’s label still affixed (see picture at top). “I didn’t buy it at Jacobson’s however. I recall it sold for $200 at the store, but I volunteer at a thrift  shop and I got it there for 50 cents.” 

(To which Kopytek added that Johnson was considered a  “legendary  top performer” in the chain, known for writing notes to customers to the tune of $500 in postage. Sales plummeted when she left and the notes stopped, he said.)
Mikolaski, quoted at the beginning  of this story, bought some of the restaurant’s dishes when the store sold was selling all its possessions. Others in the audience  were wearing jewelry they bought there.
“I still have and wear some things I bought at Jake’s in the 1970s. Expensive as all heck, but classics, finely made and ageless. Fantastic customer service always. You don’t see that anyplace now” -- Betty Hansen, former columnist for The Saginaw News who recalls running to the store on her lunch hours.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Road to Mecca" worth the trip at SVSU

review by Janet I, Martineau
If there is one thing clear and evident with the  Saginaw Valley State University production of “The Road to Mecca,” it’s that it is superbly acted.
There may be a few issues with lighting and staging, but wow what a powerhouse with its cast of three in portraying an intimate story about loneliness, friendship, trust, freedom, creativity, judgmental society, racism and old age.
Sadly, two of its three-night run is already sold out in the 100-seat Black Box Theater -- tonight and Thursday are packed; only 7:30 p.m. remains.
Penned by Athol Fugard, a South African born playwright now living in the U.S., “Mecca” is set in 1974 apartheid South Africa in a small village. But its themes are universal, really, and in this case based on a real-life woman.
The three characters are Helen Martins (played by Kiri Brasseur), an aging widow who has made the outside and inside of her home into a massive display of folk art, much to the annoyance of the community; Elsa Barlow (Mykaela Hopps), a 31-year-old feminist teacher who has befriended Helen and makes 10-hour drives to visit her, and Marius Blyeveld (played by Ashton Blue), the town’s minister who is seeking to put Helen into an old folks home for her own good.
What happens in the course of the show is we watch as sweet, confused, non-confrontational Helen becomes a battlefield between Elsa and Marius for their own personal agendas.
“How do you like your tea?” Elsa says to Marius at one point, with all the sarcasm a voice can muster  along with a killer look in her eyes.
Elsa and Marius are bullies.....or are they? Turns out there is more to them than first appears as the evening progresses.
And as said, all three actors are spot on. It takes the viewer but a few seconds to connect to each, and then waver back and forth on how they feel about them as they continue to bully Helen and each other AND come to grips with their own issues and loneliness.
Director Tommy Wedge has staged the show “in the round”  -- a first at SVSU -- meaning the audience sits on all four sides of the stage. And meaning, given the smallness of the Black Box Theatre, this cast better be good and always in character because they are always just a few feet if not inches away from viewers. 
As a “critic,” I have always enjoyed watching not where the action, the dialogue, is taking place at the moment but the other characters who are away from the focus, in the shadows so to speak. In “Mecca” everyone was in-the-moment real, especially Hopps as the prickly and edgy Elsa.
Blue moved beautifully throughout as an aging minister; went from gentle to kinda feisty in a flash. And Brasseur never wavered as a gentle, timid, plyable soul....until the moment she got to speak about her passion, her art.
All three are costumed beautifully as well.
What we had issue with is the inside of Helen’s house really did not reflect her folk art passion -- perhaps not possible because of the “in the round” concept and not being able to block views. There was no sense of the outside art as well. It would have enhanced the experience if each had been addressed -- especially given the fact such folk art passions exist in both Midland and downstate in Detroit.
But more critical is that the script refers to the fact Helen’s house is lit at night only by candles, and those candles are symbolic of the issues the script is raising. There are a few fleeting moments in the show when, indeed, that is the only light (fake candles, so not to worry Mr. Fireman) and it is lovely -- unusual, calming, lovely. We are able to see the faces fine, due to the small theater. And sometimes the actors carry them at face level, which creates an interesting look.
For the most part, however, overhead stage lighting rules -- subdued, yes, but obvious; vitally needed at one point, fine. But the candle use was much more effective and less jarring to the mood.
Other than that, “The Road to Mecca” is a trip well worth taking,

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hands, feet, sheet music were flying at duo organist concert

Janette Fishell
review by Janet I. Martineau
Sheet music landed on the floor, feet tap danced across the pedalboard, bodies scooted and wiggled across the bench, and the final notes were often held soooooooo loooooog and LOUD the building nearly shook from the reverberations.
So it went at Friday night’s Concerts at First Presbyterian Saginaw event featuring, as the main attraction,  two organists seated at one console -- four hands and four feet going full tilt on the church’s mighty Casavant organ. Even it, this inanimate instrument, must have been as spent at the end as were the athletic Colin Andrews and Janette Fishell.
Andrews and Fishell each played solo segments, but it was their time together, along with their unusual program selections, which were the hallmarks of the evening.
Thundering “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets,” played by both, kicked it off, followed by her contemplative “Clair de lune” (Vierne’s, not Debussy’s). 
Her whimsical “Fantasmagorie” by Alain evoked images of a horse/dinosaur beast on the beach and offered impressive  footwork, followed by evil spirits turned into suicidal pigs in Eben’s “Sunday Music” -- with the suggestion we all turn the Bibles in the pews to page 53 in the New Testament, St. Mark 5, to read the full story while listening to her end it by playing up and down the three manuals like the ripples of waves.
Colin Andrews
On both sides of the intermission the couple collectively visited Russia -- where they first toured together -- to celebrate Ippolitov-Ivanov’s “Procession of the Sardar” and Gliere’s  “Russian Sailor’s Dance,” from “Caucasian Sketches” and the ballet “The Red Poppy.” And Russian flavored they were indeed. Very.
And then came the sheer athleticism.
First Andrews soloed on Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor,” featuring the deepest of the rumbles in the organ’s pipes as a constant undertow in its detailed  21 variations, followed by Bonnet’s “Variations de Concert,” the final section of which offered a dazzling display of footwork by Andrews.
With the finale, all hell broke loose in their playing of  the familiar “Bacchanale” ballet scene from the Saint-Saens opera “Samson and Delilah.” 
The long expanse of sheet music went flying throughout (“Don’t be concerned when we do this,” Andrews advised at the outset. “We are trained and know what we are doing”) because there were so many notes. 

At one time all four of their feet were at work and evoked images of tap dancers; endlessly their arms reached over and under each other; the wiggling and scooting the the bench intensified despite the fact this married couple already was one body.
All of the duets were transcribed for organ by Fishell, as impressive an accomplishment as her playing.

And the evening was capped off by a bountiful St. Patrick’s Day reception -- with all manner of foods having a green element as well as a green punch.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A slice of apartheid South Africa comes to SVSU with a "guest" director

“The Road to Mecca”
SVSU Black Box Theatre
7:30pm March 21-23
$10 adults; $7 students and seniors
(989) 964-4261

by Janet I. Martineau
As a college student, Thomas J.  Wedge is in the process of completing his masters of fine arts degree in directing from the University of South Dakota.

Wedge with the Owl House door created by THEA 160 students
 But circumstances currently find him on the adjunct faculty at Saginaw Valley State University and directing its next production, Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca.” The three-character play set in 1970s apartheid South Africa opens Wednesday, March 21.
“And we are doing it in the small Black Box Theater -- in the round, which has never been done there I am told (meaning the audience is on all four sides of the actors),” says Wedge. “It’s a new experience for me in blocking a show and for the three actors acting within it as well.”
The story revolves around Miss Helen, a reclusive Afrikaner widow who has spent years transforming the yard around her desert home into a sculpture garden of her own making.  An Afrikaner is a South African of European descent.
She is an outcast because of her art, and Afrikaner Fugard uses her to explore the conflict between a fiercely independent artist and a conservative society justly yearning for order -- also symbolic of the apartheid issue which infuses his plays, says Wedge.
“Each character in the play is trying to find light, healing. The image of a candle is used a lot -- candles light the room since she has no electricity. The inside of her house is a work of art too -- mirrors, crushed glass, paint. We are hanging hundreds of glass bottles from the ceiling -- light from them reflecting around the theater.”
As for Wedge, who grew up in South Dakota, he and his girlfriend Holly currently live in Midland with their two sons, both of whom are autistic, says Wedge. “Holly is from Essexville. We felt we needed to be close to family at this point, and Midland has a great special ed program that serves our sons, so here we are.”
At first Wedge set up an independent study project with SVSU theater professor Steven Erickson, then came the offer to join the adjunct faculty this past September, and now the  opportunity to direct a show as well.
“And they allowed me to choose the show to direct,” says Wedge, a Fugard fan. “”Road to Mecca’ (written in 1984, right after his well known  “Master Harold...and the Boys”) is one of his shows that had never been on Broadway until just this winter. He’s is celebrating his 80th birthday this year.”
Wedge says “Mecca” is autobiographical in many respects, and was inspired when Fugard was looking to buy a small place to write, visited the New Bethesda area where the play is set, saw the elderly woman who had created that homemade mecca with sculptured glass, and then learned two years later she had committed suicide.
Folded into the story is a local pastor and an English urban schoolteacher from Cape Town who endures 12 hour drives to visit Miss Helen.
“Helen was always judged by her community,” Wedge says of the real life woman. “She was shunned by her community, which was conservative. Kids threw rakes at her. Now her house, called The Owl House, is a museum, a tourist draw for the village.
“That is why I chose to do it in the round. The audience may not get what I am doing, but Helen  in this play is surrounded by judging eyes  -- and the audience is among those judging eyes and, I hope, will be looking at each other too and reflecting on how they are always judging others.
“As I said, this play is about finding light, and looking for people in your life who reflect it and not take it away.”
Although all three characters in the play are white, Wedge has chosen a black actor (Ashton Blue) to play the minister who is trying to get Miss Helen to move into a home for the elderly -- a black/white situation which would not have been possible in the days of apartheid. “I am totally comfortable with that because apartheid fades as a theme in the script and the payoff, the compensation, is I get a really good actor,”
In addition, the minister and Miss Helen (played by Kiri Brasseur) are written as elderly, so he is coaching them to act elderly -- and he  also is getting all three (Mykaela Hopps is the 31-year-old schoolteacher determined to keep Miss Helen free)  feeling comfortable with many South Africa terms in the script.
Before turning his focus on directing as a career, Wedge acted in 30 regional shows in South Dakota, many of them at the Black Hills Playhouse. “Actually in college I started out  in computer science and math, with a minor in theater, and then just got more and more into theater.”
He is continuing work on his master’s while in mid-Michigan but will have to return to the University of South Dakota for one semester to complete requirements. He then hopes to teach and direct in a college or university setting “because I love working with young actors, young artists.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Always...Patsy Cline" evokes emotions going back to 1963

review by Janet I. Martineau
What  bittersweet night it was Friday, attending the opening night of the “Always....Patsy Cline” production at the Midland Center for the Arts.
Joanie Stanley in the title role took my emotions back to 1963, as teen-ager madly in love with Cline, right from her Arthur Godfrey years, and learning of her death in an airplane crash. Still can recall hearing the news. Still hurts. Then John F. Kennedy followed in a few months.
And watching Sally Goggin play Cline’s true-story BFF took those same fragile emotions back to the late 1970s through  early 1990s when I covered the arts for a newspaper and Goggin was a leading lady in many of Midland’s best shows ever, before she moved away to Cadillac.
Huge, huge losses on both accounts....and profound sadness, tears even, swept over me Friday night on how desperately I still miss both of them.
But....but....the sweet side kept mixing in. Here they were, these two very important elements in my lifeline, on stage together. Briefly...just two hours. But together --- with Stanley’s rock solid voice capturing the essence of Cline and the live concert I never got to see and Goggin, well, back in high gear as the Meryl Streep of mid-Michigan in that she can inhabit the very being of a character through the total loss of herself.
Wow. Whatta night.
Then add the 1960s-era set; the country band with a real, live steel guitar (LOVE that long forsaken instrument); Goggin’s body English when “driving” her character’s car; Stanley’s ever-changing costumes and wigs; the simplicity of the show evoking a simpler time; excellent sound that gave the feel of old recordings; the comfortable relationship of the two actresses and the band as if they really were who they were portraying (a hoot really since Stanley never sang country before this show, Goggin acted in classic theater pieces, and some of the band members are classical or jazz oriented).
Goggin also milked the audience at several points, goading them here and there and making side comments, which they loved and made the evening more personal. Her Louise Seger character is a larger-than-life Texas gal, and Goggin knew how to play it for every laugh without overkill.
And the  audience often started applauding when Stanley began a Cline classic, as if in their mind this WAS a Patsy Cline concert. The show contains 27 songs, so it is more concert than play and, as indicated earlier, Stanley’s vocals were as golden as Goggin’s comedic acting. (Loved it, too, when the two did a little singing together since Goggin was active in musical theater so knows her way around notes).
I have wanted to see this show about a short-lived but profound friendship for a long time, and this production did not disappoint -- so thank you very much, director Susie Polito in particular since she oversaw it all.
Memories of it will now invade my sweet dreams, replacing some of that sorrow.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Former FBI profiler serves up insider news to Horizons Town Talk audience

by Janet I. Martineau
So there she was. FBI special agent/profiler Candice DeLong keeping watch over just-nabbed Unabomber Ted Kaczynski inside a small Montana cabin as other FBI agents searched his nearby shack.
Just the two of them, side by side for five hours -- the culmination of DeLong and a partner posing for four months as National Geographic researchers in Lincoln, Mont., and hanging out at its Rainbow Cafe in hopes of finding this “person of interest” hermit living on Bald Mountain.
“He had already lawyered up so I could not question him about the case,” DeLong told her Horizons Town Talk audience of their cabin meeting. “So it was small talk only....I said, ‘So Ted, what’s it like to live off the land.’ And he gives me a cooking lesson.
Former FBI profiler Candice DeLong
“He told me how to boil a I would ever eat a turnip.”
She recalled he “smelled like wet dirt and was trembling....I thought he was cold but then I realized he was trembling from fear. And did I ever like that.”
Kaczynski  had, over a nearly 20 year span, killed three people with mail bombs and injured 23 others in his battle against the advances of technology and science -- this man with a doctorate degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
That was in 1996. In 2000, DeLong  retired after a 20-year career with the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, has written a book about it, hosts a couple of crime-based cable television shows on the Investigation Discovery Network, and provides commentary on crimes across the television spectrum.
So, the 61-year-old was asked before her talk, are the fictional television shows depicting criminal profilers true to life?
“Not very. Not at all,” DeLong says firmly.  “First of all, the actors are way too young. It takes years of life experience to be good at it. And they always show them at the crime scenes. Profilers are primarily called in well after the fact and do their work by analyzing the information that has been collected -- using their training, research, statistics, what they know.
“Criminal profiling can’t be done with a computer, a recipe or a template. It’s about analyzing, observing. A murder committed by, say, a Navy officer who is highly trained  will look totally different from one committed by a teen-ager.”
Profiling, she says, is not admissible in court as evidence “but when an offender is ultimately arrested, the profile created of him or her by a profiler is 80 percent accurate at a minimum even if it did not lead specifically to the arrest.”
DeLong says by high school she realized she had a knack for being able to break down things that puzzled her and solve them with her analytical mind.
But the FBI was not her first choice as a career.
“I was the  head nurse at Northwestern’s Institute of Psychology in Chicago for 10 years, and the FBI came to me and recruited me as a special agent.”
As she later told her Town Talk audience, in that nursing job she gravitated toward “patients  who had done unspeakable crimes. The other nurses avoided them but I wanted to know why it happened, what went wrong. Why did a man kill his wife and kids while they were sleeping, Why did a 15-year-old boy stab his mother and nearly decapitate her. So I worked with them.”
Hence the FBI’s interest in her as the concept of “profiling” took shape; of suggesting what type of person or personality might have committed a given crime.
“In 1979, at age 30, I was recruited by the FBI. I had been divorced three years and had a son who was 4 and here I was changing careers ... taking on a job where women were seen, at that time, as intruders.”
She spent 15 years with an FBI office in Chicago and five in San Francisco, and her first big case was the so-called Tylenol murders in 1982 -- during which seven Chicago residents died after taking Tylenol capsules filled with cyanide poison. Three of them were in the same family.
DeLong devoted the majority of her talk to this case -- and gave tons more information about it than what the Internet indicates. On the Internet it says the case was never solved.
DeLong named a name, a person who was convicted of extortion in the case but was never tried as the killer because there was not enough evidence. However, she said, he gave FBI agents great detail on how he thought the killer went about filling the capsules with the poison; had killed before "but got off on a technicality,"  and harbored a major grudge against the person he tried to frame for the Tylenol murders (over a $50 paycheck owed to his wife).
Two paramedics, she says, linked Tylenol to the deaths and the recovered bottles still on store shelves “could have killed 150 people.” At its zenith 100 state and federal agents were working on the case, she says, and 5,000 leads were pursued.
At one point, she says, FBI agents were hanging out in all the New York City public libraries waiting for a copies of the Chicago Tribune to be borrowed by the person they suspected of the extortion side of the case. He showed up, was arrested and convicted of the extortion, and later told his detailed story of how he thought the killer went about loading the tainted capsules.
“He served his time (12 years) and now lives among us. We keep him under constant surveillance. He is not living in Saginaw.”
DeLong says she began her FBI career with three goals in mind: to work on a notorious/high profile case, to catch a serial killer, and to rescue a kidnap victim (a crime with just a 50 percent live recovery rate, she says).
The Unabomber and Tylenol cases, she says, fulfilled the first two. 
And in the same year of the Unabomber arrest, her third goal was reached in the San Francisco  area when she and other agents arrested, at an Amtrak station, a pedofile who had kidnapped a 10-year-old boy, plied him with crack cocaine to do sex acts, “and was on his way with the boy to buy a girl in Mexico, fly to the Netherlands to make porn movies with the two kids, and then kill them.”
DeLong recalled reaching in the swarm of arresting agents and the accused, pulling the boy to safety, and then accompanying him on a flight to his home. As he saw his parents at the end of the airline tunnel he began running toward them.
“But then he stopped, turned around and said to me, ‘Thank you for saving me, Agent Candy.’ And that was the best day of my career.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saginaw's Magic Bean Cafe is home to a ukulele group

by Janet I. Martineau

A member of S.U.G.A.R.
Sugar is making some sweet sounds at the Magic Bean Cafe.
Make that S.U.G.A.R.  -- as in Saginaw Ukulele Gurus and Rookies,  upwards of 20 of them strumming away and singing in unison from 10:30am to 12:30pm the first Saturday of every month.
“We’ve been meeting here for six months,” says leader Johnny Hunt, “and I am one of the gurus. About half of the members are from Saginaw and half from Midland, and there are more rookies than gurus.”
Turns out, too, the ukuleles in this group come in a  variety of  sizes and colors (from earthy wood to bright orange); range in price from $30 to $1,000; and aren’t just for playing Hawaiian music.
Primarily in the Baby Boomer and up age range, S.U.G.A.R. winds its  way through tunes associated with Jamaica, cowboys, the Monkees and Ireland; “It’s My Party” and “Chapel of Love”; “I Want a Girl” and “Dream”; the more challenging “Sidewalks of New York.”
And the chords and words they use as guides....well.....some members  have the old tried and true printed sheet music, but in plentiful abundance too are laptop computers and iPads outfitted with special music stands.
Leader Johnny Hunt
(For more pictures of the group, check Arts Saginaw on Facebook)

Why a uke group? Didn’t Tiny Tim give the instrument a bad name?
“They’re easy to play,” says Hunt, “easy to carry around and you can get a decent new one for $30. They have had their ups and downs in popularity over the years, but in last last two or three years they’ve caught on again.”
Hunt, wearing a mix of an Irish hat and a Hawaiian  shirt on this day, is preparing S.U.G.A.R. for its first public performance at the Magic Bean, 5789 State.

 Between  7-10pm Saturday, March 31, the group will perform two 30-minute sets mixed in with some special guests.
“We’ll see how it goes, but eventually I would like for us to perform at nursing homes and get out to other places. But the main goal is to have fun and make music; to get people infected with the ukulele l bug,” says Hunt, a member of the Muzyka! band.
S.U.G.A.R. was formed as as a part of the Folk Music Society of MIdland, of which Hunt is a key player. There is no membership fee to belong.
And Tiny Tim aside, here are some impressive names who play or have played ukes: Jimmy Buffett, Warren Buffet, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Arthur Godfrey, Van Morrison, Taylor Swift, Pete Townshend and Eddie Vedder.