Bands, Entertainers & Labels

Seeking Michigan: From Signage to Santa

Seeking MichiganBy Mary Zimmeth, Archives of Michigan and courtesy Seeking Michigan and the Archives of Michigan. The goal of Seeking Michigan is simple: to connect you to the stories of this great state. Visit them regularly for a dynamic & evolving look at Michigan’s cultural heritage and see more stories from Seeking Michigan at Absolute Michigan.

25 Christmas Lane on a winter’s eve, circa 2010 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

My favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Clark Griswold, (Chevy Chase), our hero, has a plan for the traditional Griswold family Christmas that includes fifty thousand twinkling outdoor lights on the roof. When Clark drags his entire family out to see his masterpiece, the lights don’t work. The frustrating, yet entertaining, effort to fix the problem resonates with me (This includes Clark on the roof checking each individual bulb.). My favorite part comes when Clark prevails, the family is impressed, and he thanks his father for teaching him about exterior illumination.


Wallace Bronner (1927-2008) knew that exterior illumination is essential for the holidays. We are all familiar with his enormous enterprise: Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, located on 25 Christmas Lane in Frankenmuth. Initially, this behemoth of holiday cheer started as a signage business. During the early forties, Wally worked as a sign painter and a clerk at the Hubinger Grocery Store, which was owned by his maternal relatives. Part of his job included designing window displays. In 1945, as Frankenmuth celebrated its centennial year, Bronner Display and Sign Advertising was in demand for painting signs and decorating store windows and parade floats. That year Wallace Bronner met Irene Ruth Pretzer, the woman he would marry on June 23, 1951 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Hemlock, Michigan.

Signs designed by Wally Bronner for the city of Clare, 1951 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.).

Irene was instrumental in helping Wally land a monthly window display contract with the Jennison Hardware Company of Bay City (c. 1947) (Irene had attended Bay City Junior College and boarded at the home of G.W. Cooke, president of the hardware company.). Bronner’s work for the hardware company resulted in a referral to the town of Clare, Michigan (1951). This first municipal holiday commission was to design decorative lamppost panels. After that job, Wally hired his friend Fred Bernthal to look for new clients in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario.

Bronner also entered into contracts with General Plastics Corporation (Marion, Indiana) and Mold-Craft Corporation (Port Washington, Wisconsin). These companies provided street trims and ornaments, latex Santas, reindeers and nativity scenes. In 1952, Bronner staged two shows exhibiting outdoor Christmas decorations, one in the Frankenmuth Township Hall, the other at the St. Lorenz School gymnasium. Both were successful. However, both venues were temporary. Bronner decided to rent a more permanent building, a vacated one-room schoolhouse (formerly Frankenmuth School District Number 1). Thus, year round exhibit of Christmas decorations became possible! “At first the people of the community thought the idea to be rather unusual, but accepted it fully when Frankenmuth became known as the Christmas Town.” (Bronner’s 2005 Corporate History, page 35.)

“Thinking Big”

Wally Bronner with employees. (Photo taken in the 1960s. Photo is courtesy Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

Herman Bronner (Wally’s father) was a building contractor and stone mason. He convinced his son to “think big” by changing the plans for the first Bronner-owned building from two, L-shaped, rectangular buildings to one large, square building. The Bronner’s store at 121 East Tuscola (a lot adjoining Aunt Hattie’s grocery store) opened in 1954. It was divided into two sections, one space for the sign painting business, the other for Christmas decorations.

Wally was grateful for his dad’s vision and business acumen. The municipal clientele grew to include shopping centers and commercial interiors. As buyers selected decorations for their stores and churches, their wives requested home decorations. From 1954 to 1963, Bronner exhibited at the Saginaw County Fair, which, at the time, boasted numbers of three hundred thousand people. By 1960, the company was officially incorporated, and home decorations were added to the product line. In 1964, the first billboard advertising Bronners appeared on I-75, ten miles south of Exit 136 (Frankenmuth). Many travelling up North are familiar with that sign. Subsequent ones (more than sixty located in seven states) continue to extol the importance of holiday cheer and illumination.

Source material

Picturesque Story of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, as related by Wally Bronner. Published by Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, 2005.

The History of Bronner’s Christmas Decorations by Doris A Paul. Published by the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, 1981.

Brad Redford, a native of Frankenmuth visited Bronner’s last year and has a pretty funny video in his show Redford’s Rundown. However, we’re going to have to go with this awesome music video of Wally Bronner (Christmas Always) by Michigan rockers The Hard Lessons. A little tip: click that link and subscribe to their email list to download their entire new album Arms Forest AND stay tuned at the end of the video for the B-side of this song, O Holy Night!

Celebrate October in Traverse City w/ Greensky Bluegrass

Our winners have been drawn!!

Char B from Ohio wrote “We love the views, wine, cherries, and hopefully beautiful fall leaves. We are planning on climbing Sleeping Bear Dunes. Can’t wait to get there!” and Cindy P of Traverse City said simply “Michigan is Magnificent” – congratulations!

Absolute Michigan’s headquarters is at the gorgeous The Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City. This Friday, October 12 from 5-10 PM Porterhouse Productions hosts a celebration of the bounty of Michigan at the October Festival at the Commons with Greensky Bluegrass.

The event features a food truck rally and wines from Black Star Farms, ciders from Left Foot Charley and 19 great seasonal ales including the festival’s Omena Harvest Ale (brewed with 50 pounds of freshly picked hops from Amy and Brian Tennis of New Mission Organic Hops), Filling Station Bayreuth Oktoberfest, Bell’s Best Brown, Arbor Strawberry Blonde, Founders’ All Day IPA & Breakfast Stout, Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam, Arcadia Jaw Jacker, Dark Horse Octoberfest and Cheboygan Oktoberfest and North Peak Hooligan! In addition to full meals, the food trucks will be selling tasting portions and all the libations, food & music is 100% Michigan. Even better, 100% of the alcohol sales support the great work of Bay Area Recycling for Charities.

There’s also a Silent Disco with DJ Dominate, glow in the dark LED disc golf, bonfires & heated tents. And speaking of that Michigan music, acts include Lindsey Lou and the Flatbellies, the Joshua Davis Band and Greensky Bluegrass - all Michiganders and all very good. Greensky Bluegrass all hail from Michigan and regularly light up stages across the nation with some of the finest names in bluegrass & music.

Tickets are available online where you can also see a promo video – $20 in advance or $25 day of event. Here’s Greensky Bluegrass absolutely tearing it up with Scott Law. It was a show that also featured May & Seth Bernard and is a treat!

Detroit’s Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez on 60 Minutes

Sixto Rodriguez performs at TCFF by Gary Howe
Sixto Rodriguez performs at TCFF by Gary Howe

This summer I had the great good fortune to see the documentary Searching for Sugar Man at the Traverse City Film Festival. If you haven’t seen it, seek it out as it’s a wonderful film.

Watch the interview with subject Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez below and check out Searching for Sugar Man from Sony Pictures Classics.

They also have him performing a song and an extra about how success was measured in the Rodriguez household.

Pure Michigan Statewide Sing-along premiers

Rob Bliss & Jeff Barrett, creators of the fantastic Grand Rapids lip dub video premiered their Pure Michigan Statewide Sing-along at halftime of the Lions game on Sunday. It was filmed in 50 Michigan cities in 7 days. It’s a pretty cool travelogue of the Great Lakes State in under 4 minutes.

Check out the finished video below and also don’t miss the behind the scenes blog from

Seeking Michigan: Michigan’s Material Girl

Seeking MichiganBy Nicole Garrett, Albion College Archives and Special Collections, Archives of Michigan and courtesy Seeking Michigan and the Archives of Michigan. The goal of Seeking Michigan is simple: to connect you to the stories of this great state. Visit them regularly for a dynamic & evolving look at Michigan’s cultural heritage and see more stories from Seeking Michigan at Absolute Michigan.

Madonna at Wembley Arena, during her Confessions Tour, 2006 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

As someone born in the 1980s, I don’t remember much about Madonna. I grew up in dance studios, so I was always familiar with her music. I wasn’t a fan, though, until she collaborated with Britney Spears on “Me Against the Music” in 2003. Seeing Madonna perform with Britney inspired me to buy her greatest hits album and expand my pop culture knowledge back a decade to the Queen of Pop.

Michigan Roots

Madonna was originally Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. She was born August 16, 1958 in Bay City, Michigan and grew up in Rochester, Michigan. She was the third child of six born to Silvio and Madonna Ciccone. Madonna’s mother died when she was five, and after that, Madonna took on the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. She attended Catholic school and played the piano as a child but never liked it. In high school, she was involved in theater productions and cheer leading. She also began taking dance lessons and developed a true passion for the art. Soon after beginning her dance training, she quit cheer leading to dedicate all of her free time to dancing.

Madonna by David Shankbone

Madonna by David Shankbone

After graduating a semester early in high school, Madonna attended the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship. She left college early in 1978 to pursue her dance career in New York City. She was hired by the Pearl Lang Dance Company and did an intensive with Alvin Ailey. However, she soon realized that it would take years to make it into a professional dance troupe. Around this time, she joined her boyfriend’s band, playing the drums and singing. Being on stage with the band changed her focus from dancer to singer/performer.

The Queen of Pop

Madonna sang in a few bands and soon obtained a recording contract. Her first single, “Everybody,” was released in 1982 and became an instant dance hit. She recorded her first album a year later and the single “Holiday” shot to number sixteen on the U.S. charts. She had her first number one hit in 1984 with “Like a Virgin”.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Madonna became a pop legend. She has sold over 300 million albums and is the world’s top selling female artist of all time. Her catchy tunes and eccentric ability to surprise have been a formula for success for decades. Other artists have often imitated – but never duplicated – the cultural phenomenon that is Madonna.

We’ll add a classic Madonna video from the 80s – Happy Birthday, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone!


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    The Daily Michigan: Traverse City Wine & Art Festival tix and CD by Orpheum Bell

The Daily Michigan: Traverse City Wine & Art Festival tix and CD by Orpheum Bell

This one is so popular, we’re going to do it again! Today on The Daily Michigan one of our featured partners, the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, is offering a pair of tickets to this landmark celebration of the culture & cuisine of Michigan’s Wine Coast and a CD from Ann Arbor based Orpheum Bell.In our last giveaway we featured news of the 2012 headliner, national recording artist Rusted Root. One of the acts that is joining them on Saturday June 30th is Ann Arbor based Orpheum Bell. This 5 piece band fuses grooves from around the globe. They call it “Country & Eastern” and we’ll send the winner their CD The Old Sister’s Home to help you warm up for one of the best parties of the summer – enjoy their video below!Please note: you must be 21 to win this giveaway.

Click here to sign up (and to learn how you can win)

DLECTRICITY, a new illuminated art festival for Detroit

DLECTRICITY is a new nighttime, outdoor contemporary art festival that will invite emerging and established artists, performers, lighting designers, and architects to make site-specific installations of light, sound, performance and projection along the Woodward corridor. The inaugural DLECTRICITY will take place Friday, October 5, 2012 (7-midnight) and Saturday, October 6 (5 – 2 AM).

Artists will be utilizing various mediums that fuse sci-fi technology & Victorian spectacle on a grand scale. In addition to commissioning 6-8 major art installations, organizers have issued an open call for entry from which they will select up to 25 projects to transform Midtown Detroit into an illuminated urban spectacle. The Freep reports:

“We want to offer multiple experiences,” said Marc Schwartz, cofounder of Art Detroit Now, an advocacy group that dreamed up the idea and has partnered with economic development nonprofit Midtown Detroit Inc., which is acting as producer. “You’ll be able to drive, but we also hope for people to walk and be able to just come upon work in some intimate spaces.”

…A half-dozen artists with national and international reputations already have been signed up, including Jacco Olivier from the Netherlands, Evan Roth of Paris and the Detroit-based team of Annica Cuppetelli and Christobal Mendoza.

The name for the event was inspired by Detroit’s very own Electric Park which was located on the site of what is now Gabriel Richard Park. From 1906 until 1928, Detroit Electric Park served as a major attraction, beginning as a trolley park and later expanding into an amusement park with the development of electrification.

The Daily Michigan: Mother’s Day Music from Earthwork

Today on The Daily Michigan we continue our Mother’s Day giveaways with a $30 Digital Download certificate from our good friends at Earthwork Music, another of our featured partners. 

While you can use the certificate for any three download discs they offer, we’re going to suggest that you select Mother Moon by May Erlewine (aka Daisy May). In addition to the beautiful title track, the album includes a very fitting song for mothers everywhere, Big Mama Brown.

Check out the video below and here’s wishing all the luck and fortune in the world for Michigan’s many mothers.

Click here to sign up

Flat, black & circular: a Michigan original

Flat, Black & Circular by Eridony
Flat, Black & Circular by Eridony

Saturday was Record Store Day, a national celebration of independently owned record stores and the art of music. Pitchfork Magazine, one of the premier independent music publications, posted their list of favorite used record stores in the country. Michigan got two shoutouts, Encore Records in Ann Arbor and Flat, Black & Circular in East Lansing. This particular review was written by Pitchfork editor-in-chief Mark Richardson who begins:

This is the first record shop I ever walked into. Flat, Black, and Circular, or FBC as it’s known to the locals in East Lansing, opened in 1977, and I was in there for the first time around 1980. I didn’t buy a record there for a few years, but this is where I discovered how fun it could be to poke around amongst obsessives. FBC’s most striking feature is an archway that frames the entrance, which is built from 45s. It’s in a nondescript sort of mall-like building that also houses offices and an assortment of retail shops– in the early 80s, a place opened across the hall called the CD Emporium, back when CDs were a major curiosity.

But FBC has outlasted them all. They have a glass display that features rare records assembled around a single theme. Many of these are local. These guys are collectors, and yet, somehow, they’ve managed to remain on top of things. I remember walking in after having been away from East Lansing for a number of years and being shocked at the collection of electronic and experimental vinyl.

FBC has a timeline that takes you from when FBC founder Dave Bernath called co-founder Dick Rosemont’s Audio Aftermath program on WKAR-FM to the opening of Flat, Black & Circular Recycled Sound in the Campus Town Mall on September 26, 1977 with such innovations as two extra turntables with headphones to audition albums while sitting on living room furniture and beyond.

Record Store Day had a special Michigan tie this year – it was also the birthday of their 2012 ambassador Iggy Pop.

Here’s a great interview with Dick & Dave on the occasion of their 30th year in business.

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    The Daily Michigan: Two tickets to the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival

The Daily Michigan: Two tickets to the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival

Today on The Daily Michigan one of our featured partners, the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, is offering a pair of tickets and some big news.

April is Michigan Wine Month, and yesterday this annual celebration of wine, art, food & music announced their 2012 headliner, national recording artist Rusted Root. Rusted Root has sold more than 3 million albums worldwide, and should deliver an amazing show on Saturday, June 30th at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Check out the video of Rusted Root below and for this giveaway, you must be 21 to win!

Click here to sign up (and to learn how you can win)