A few years ago, one of our favorite local watering holes decided to do “live music nights” every Monday. After checking out a few of them we decided that they…suck. Every now and then a decent artist will take the mic, like that one guy whom I would describe as a “male version of Aimee Mann.” I actually told him this to his face, and he thanked me and took it as a compliment! Sometimes….sometimes….I make my charisma checks!
Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann got her start with the new wave group Til Tuesday, whose highest charting hit was Voices Carry (#8 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1985). Later, as a solo artist, she recorded tracks for films and television including Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, Cruel Intentions, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Arctic Tale. Her style as a solo artist could easily be described as “coffeehouse,” with a simplistic acoustic guitar-driven style paired with mellow vocal stylings.
All of that said, that being my husband and I generally tend to stay away from our local bar’s “live music nights.” Our Monday nights have since turned into trivia nights at another watering hole. Although due to recent “developments,” Mondays will no longer be our “regular” trivia nights.
Friday night, we decided to embrace the irony and drive to a bar 14.2 miles away for its live music scene. Why? Because it was BLACK JAKE AND THE CARNIES TAKING THE STAGE! It was something I’d actually looked forward to for MONTHS. A friend’s birthday party was the same night, so even right up until the last minute, it was still a “game time decision” as to whether we could go to the Black Jake show at Original Gravity Brewing Co. in Milan. This bar does live music every Friday night in its “beer garden” out back. There were plenty of available seats inside the bar on this Friday night, and after the high school football game was over, it was apparent a lot of those “football” folks stopped in for a drink after the game at Original Gravity. But out back, all of the picnic tables were occupied with people checking out the live music.
This was the best shot my crappy tablet camera could muster! Black Jake and the Carnies at Original Gravity Brewing Co. September 14, 2018. The band is based in Ypsilanti, MI and was founded by the frontman Jake Zettelmeier. Song topics include murdered ex-girlfriends, serial killers, “snake oil tonic” induced halllucinations (Last Ecstatic Liniment) and Old East Cross Street, an iconic Ypsilanti Street. Zettelmeier even penned a song called Poopslider, which was about the mysterious “pooper” who frequently defecated on a slide in a local park, confounding police for months. Some cover songs from the ’80s also make it into their live lineup as well. Their musical style is described as “crabgrass,” and is, for lack of a better description, kind of like a fusion of folk, punk and bluegrass. With just a touch of speed metal for good measure!
First off, it was kind of…strange being in bar that I usually only visit for trivia nights! Naturally, I saw a couple of familiar faces when I brought my beer outside to watch the show – Chris and Rick, whom both play on a rival trivia team called Big Heads Big Hearts. Rick said he’d never seen a Black Jake show before, but it was apparent that he and Chris both had a good time!
In addition to their original songs, “The Carnies” also performed covers of Footloose, Money for Nothing, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women.
Simply describing Black Jake and Carnies’ music hardly does it justice. To listen to some of their tracks, visit this YouTube link. To watch some of my video footage from this show, click here. This will take you to my trivia team’s Facebook page, which I am pretty sure is public…One more video of mine can be viewed here.
There was one little girl (whom can be viewed in the last video link) who practically lost her shit with excitement (not literally)! WHERE did she get all of that energy? She was barefooted (the bottoms of her feet were black)..and she couldn’t stop dancing, doing cartwheels, running circles with her brother around the tree in the middle of the beer garden. I got tired just watching her! Shortly before the show was over, the girl’s mother escorted them both out (good luck getting them calmed down for bed). A feature of Black Jake’s shows are the carnival inspired games, one of which is throwing balls into the mouth of a Baba Yaga image painted on a big board. “Winners” of these games could get stickers or buttons (this was a popular activity with the kids). They delighted in the “lob balls at Jake’s head game.” A couple of adult women had their chance to lob the balls around, too!
Then there was Linda and her choreographer husband (did not catch his name). They can be seen dancing in one of the videos. When the music was about to speed up, they got a “warning” about that from Jake himself! Amazingly, they kept up – though neither of them had ever heard their music before. She was 53 and looked like a miniature Barbie doll…I thought she was so pretty! She certainly didn’t look her age…
My husband saw his first Black Jake and the Carnies show at a dive bar in Ypsilanti several years ago called Woodruff’s, which is now the location of Maiz Mexican Cantina. Before becoming Woodruff’s, it was called Cady’s Grill (for those of you interested in the bar/restaurant history of Ypsilanti’s Depot Town)! An old name for Ypsilanti was “Woodruff’s Grove.” We have also seen them at The Ark in Ann Arbor, at the Wheatland Music Festival, and at at a “Sonic Lunch” event in Ann Arbor. I guess you could say we’ve become “groupies” of this band, if you will!
It was definitely worth the trip to see them again. And it could not have been a lovelier night (I think I only got one insect bite)!