2016 Didn't Suck That Much (At Least Not Musically)

There’s a rule in music…well, there’s a rule in my musical world:

If they hang out with Josh and Garth of The Rutabega, they make damn fine music.

This has held true through numerous events and opening acts. Really, the only exception I can think of is myself and, well, I don’t make any music at all. The rule certainly applies to what I deem my favorite find of 2016 (I really should come up with a name for this…the Golden Needle Award? The Drop Of The Year? Or maybe I shouldn’t).

I’m speaking of Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts. I caught them while playing with The Rutabega at McCormick’s in South Bend and, while the late night show was making me feel a bit old, the music of JS&TLG revived me in a way I haven’t felt since I was a punk-ass kid watching Dave Kirchgessner of Mustard Plug hang from that weird bar above the two-inch stage at the original Intersection (cheers if you remember what I’m talking about).

JS&TLG make solid rock music, with high-energy dives into punk rock, blues, and, seemingly, whatever the hell sound they deem appropriate for each song. The bleeding guitars are best played on high volume and, hey, don’t be shy about singing along. Jake’s lyrics traverse the realms of quirky, angry, and sentimental, never once feeling anything but genuine.

As is often the case for me with my end of year favorites, most, if not all of the JS&TLG music I’m speaking of was released prior to 2016, but , hey, this was the year that I discovered it (you could chalk this up to my being slow and behind, but I prefer to blame it on the massive amount of great music being made today).

I’ve put together a Jake Simmons mixtape for you to check out some of my favorites. Make no mistake, though, as anything short of picking up the entirety of every release is simply shorting yourself of rock and roll greatness. And why would you do that to yourself? Check out that mix tape over on Spotify:

AtND Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts Mix Tape

As for the rest of 2016, well, many claims have been made as to the negative nature of the year thanks to numerous deaths of our heroes, bad news stories, and the embarrassing and horrific election of Trump to the White House, but remember, nothing is all good or bad. Whatever else aside, 2016 certainly was a solid year for good music:

(Note: If you’re playing catch up, click on the album or song title to purchase the music from Amazon and help AtND pay the bills at the same time!)

Car Seat Headrest gave us Teens Of Denial, a rock album that finds new depth with each listen.

Amanda Palmer has found a prolific stride thanks to her reliance on Patreon, using the direct support of her fans to give us a constant supply of new and excellent music. It was by fortunate coincidence that AFP’s tour had hit my region the weekend after the election (not to mention the death of Leonard Cohen), giving me a place to process my shock, disappointment, and upset. The concert featured an emotional evening of music, with sing-alongs, scream-alongs, stomping, and crying. Amanda brought along guests, inviting Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Vice President of Illinois’ Planned Parenthood to deliver messages of love and action. Her husband, author Neil Gaiman, was in the room as well. He performed a reading (with Amanda backing him musically) of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” before spending much of his evening with their son in the back of the room, teaching him to walk a few feet from where I was standing (I put my fanboy away and just watched the moment in awe). Speaking of that reading of “Democracy”, you can pick that track up and, in the process, help out PEN America’s efforts to defend free speech by going here.

The Avett Brothers gave us their best album in years with True Sadness. You can check out my review of that here. I saw them too the weekend after the election, a last minute addition to my concert schedule that was the usual emotion packed evening from TAB, heightened so by current events. With protestors expressing similar feelings just around the corner from the Van Andel Arena, the crowd roared in defiance the line “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” during “Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise“.

Swet Shop Boys brought us the Indian/Pakistan/American hip-hop album Cashmere, full of anger and commentary about our culture’s treatment of those of Middle Eastern descent (and not to mention all of those sick beats).

If you somehow missed it, Drive-By Truckers certainly broke new ground with American Band, giving us the American rock album we desperately need in our current culture.

And Charles Bradley gave us Changes, reminding us the true meaning of the word “soul” and recording an amazing cover of, oddly, Black Sabbath.

And we can’t forget all of the awesome coming from Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives, giving us the epic Foxlore when I was still busy singing along with Coyote Stories and Safe Ship, Harbored. Watch for them in 2017. I expect amazing things.

Justin Wells returned from the ashes of Fifth On The Floor with one of the best American rock albums I heard all year in Dawn in the Distance, about his life as a musician, an outcast, and a father.

PUP gave us The Dream Is Over, a mischievous, loud, and ultimately fun punk rock record worthy of losing one’s voice while screaming along and playing far too loud.

So much good music. So whatever the “dumpster fire” view of 2016 you may have, remember unrest and upset makes for some fine music and certainly gives us a soundtrack for fighting the battles ahead. And, oh, do we have battles ahead.

I want to thank you all for another great year of support. Remember, if you love what we do, you can support us directly at our Patreon campaign or visit any of our sponsor links.

Let’s finish 2016 with our heads high and our hands ready for the battles of 2017. Until then, here’s to life.


Tapistry Brewing



“We make beer and we love it.”

With those words, Keith Adams, summed up our conversation about Tapistry Brewing, the craft beer industry, and the cultural shift in the economies both state and nationwide. Adams has many roles at the Bridgman brewery, including Sales and Marketing Coordinator. He, along with co-owner Joe Rudnick, sat with me to discuss the evolution and adventure of making beer in Michigan for nearly three years.

IMG_1093According to Rudnick, “why Bridgman” has been the most common question he’s received since the tap room opened in 2013. For he and co-owner Greg Korson, though, the location of Bridgman “was a natural.” Born in Stevensville, he had family ties in the region and Korson owned a second home in St. Joseph. Bridgman and the surrounding area “felt like a good place to be.” The building prices were reasonable and the little town on Lake Michigan was a main thoroughfare thanks to it’s position in the county and near Weko Beach and I-94.

Tapistry Brewing started producing and distributing beer two months prior to opening the doors of their Lake Street tap room. IMG_1098The decision was one of finances, as they needed to begin generating an income, but it also worked as a marketing strategy. Joe recalled people peering in the windows of the tap room location while it was still under construction. He would hear tales of beer drinkers asking “where can I get this beer?” When they finally opened the doors, customers were lined up and they’d already pre-sold the majority of the memberships to their mug club.

That excitement has continued both at Tapistry and statewide. According to Rudnick, Michigan has become known in recent years as a “strong beer state.” Tourists from all over the country visit the region specifically to drink beer. He credits the renown to the area’s natural resources (many breweries use locally grown crops and water from Lake Michigan) and the foundation built by larger craft breweries such as Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewery and Grand Rapid’s Founder’s Brewing Company. The established businesses not only put Michigan on the map, but also have helped to assist the smaller brewers as they begin.

“Everybody’s helping each other and wants to see [Michigan] grow.”

According to Adams, that attitude is a natural part of the craft brew industry. Individual breweries work together, not just to grow their own businesses, but to grow the industry and their local economies. They send tourists in their own establishments to other local breweries. When supplies run short, they call on each other to share hops and bottling supplies.

“It’s not a cut throat, brew or be brewed industry,” said Adams. “It’s community-driven.”

Our discussion turned to the economy and the possible beginnings of a shift in American culture. I approach this topic often in discussions, posing the idea that the economic struggles of the past decade have led to a reassessment of priorities in which people are focusing energy and resources into art, food, and the other areas of life that hold more value than the simple pursuit of wealth.

“It was a happy accident of the Recession,” said Adams. “People stopped thinking so macro and started working together, thinking on a local, communal scale.”

He went on to describe their head brewer, whose doctorate in microbiology could secure him a number of careers. He instead chose the craft beer industry because he is doing what he loves. Both co-owners worked previously the pharmaceutical industry, one Rudnick describes as “cut throat.” He finds more value in his current pursuits, where people are working together in a shared love of craft.

“People are in it for the love of it,” Rudnick said.

Tapistry hopes to continue to trend, bringing beer and entertainment to the community year-round. They hold weekly events at the tap room, including bingo on Tuesdays, trivia on Thursdays, and live, acoustic music every other Friday. They also hold seasonal parties and larger release events.

On November 28th, the IMG_1106Wednesday before Thanksgiving, they hope to take advantage of one of the year’s biggest bar nights with a release party for the M.I. Stout. The American Imperial Stout is made with “99% Michigan ingredients, including local malts, hops, and water.” The event will feature food specials and live entertainment from musician Robert Rolfe Fedderson from 7-10 p.m. Information on that event and many others can be found at tapistrybrewing.com.

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.