Two Detroit Traditions:One Old and One New — The Best in Town!!!!!

…….Actor, Director, Producer and Screen Writer Jeff Daniels’ “Wild Lonesome”

…..Detroit Red Wing’s Darren McCarty, not so lonesome but wild!!!

I’m fairly certain these two guys have met. The accomplished local celebrities have hockey in common. Darren McCarty’s role as a Detroit Red Wing is obvious and Jeff Daniels is a hockey dad in Chelsea, Michigan some 60 miles west of Joe Louis arena. Daniels has been seen at JLA on many occasions during the Stanley Cup decade and is a long-time Wing’s fan having grown up in the area.

But the two have more in common now, something that will surely only get bigger with time: Traditional hometown holiday performances……..

I’ve been blessed over the years to have attended fantastic performances or music ranging from James Brown to the Boston Pops, Art Garfunkel to Al Green, The Royal Shakespeare Company to Cheech and Chong, Bob Seger to Harry Belafonte and those are just the tip of the iceberg. Great individual performances, all of them.

This week, I had the privilege to attend Jeff Daniels’ intimate, funny, touching and classy one-man show Jeff Daniels Unplugged at The Purple Rose Theatre Company

on Saturday night 12/28 AND the first-place Detroit Red Wings traditional New Year’s Eve home game.

Spectacular events three days apart that will never fade into the blurred myriad of performances I’ve attended through the years. And yet, while the two might seem disconnected with nothing in common both are destined to grow in their greatness.

First, Jeff Daniels:

My wife got me the tickets to his one-man show at the PRT as a Christmas gift. Having been there before, she knows how much I love the theatre for it’s living-room venue…it only seats about 200 and the audience feels as if they are IN the play, not watching it. Of all the theatre I’ve seen, no place else has drawn me onto the stage and into the minds and emotions of the performers. Vicariously, one is drawn into the essence of the character so deep that before long one feels as if they are doing the acting themselves. The intimacy of the theatre is part of it, the other is the quality of the performers and the performances themselves.

And so it was with Daniels’ show. By my best ciphering, only 2200 blessed folks have seen the shows between the three sold-out shows last year in his first benefit performance for the company and the eight shows this year, replete with songs he’s written over the years yarned together with humor and personal tid bits of his life growing up in Chelsea, MI and his career in New York and Hollywood.

We sat near the entrance to the stage on the right of it looking at the profile of Daniels’ chair, guitar and small wooden table upon which sat some steel finger picks and a plastic water bottle Daniels said later is what a hockey dad steals from his son for a prop. These items were no more than 15 feet away from us as we waited and wondered what his show would be like.

Then there was a moment — one he didn’t expect to share with me or anyone else who happened to catch him stopping briefly just off my elbow to eye the crowd and take that leap into his performance that is through the no man’s land of confidence and sheer terror. Daniels looked off to his left at that moment, thinking no one could see him at this moment, but his gaze met mine directly and he knew it was time to leap into character — only this time he was leaping into himself.

I was his at that very moment — the connection had already been made and I have to admit I was open to moving wholly into his world. Not because of the celebrity status — no way, I’ve met plenty in my days as a journalist in New York, California and Detroit and am not impressed by the calling card. Rather it is the hometown demeanor Daniels presents, the smalltown Michigan guy achieving his dream of acting, performing and writing about Michigan while helping other Midwesterners learn, apply and make a career out of what he loved to do best. It was that sense of “If I can do it, you can — and I want to help you get there….” that Daniels exudes with his charm, humility and art.

And so, when he began to speak slowly, saying his hellos and humbly thanking the audience for spending what he called inflated ticket prices to see HIS show (“I’m free,” he explained, “but the theatre is not….) the crown began the process of drawing in and onto the stage. The absorption onto the small stage and into the character began, only this time it was toward a real person, one who shared a life just like everyone only had decided to make “a career out of (his) Wild Lonesome.” And before we knew it we were entranced into his first song about that name for his creative place, where he goes to let the process take place — the place we all have he said so purely connected to humanity and the fact we all had stories. The only difference was he had to entertain us with his, and on he went.

Songs about his first car, a blue ’63 Dodge Valiant, sitting on his girlfriend and later to be wife Kathy’s porch on a summer Midwestern night in Chelsea, a hysterical number about their cat Mr. Blister who watched Daniels wait for phone calls while just starting out, his mother’s encouragement, vacationing with his family in a recreational vehicle and even a song about a night in the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula about 9 hour from here where we have a family cottage.

In my mind, I could almost remember the night Daniels and I shared a few brews there and conversed about life and collaborated on my vision for a movie I’ve got partially down on paper. But, of course, there was no such evening….just the sensation of it.

But that’s what his unplugged show did….it made one feel as if they were spending an evening in their celebrity friend’s living room, the guy you grew up with who just happened to make it good despite you knowing his weaknesses. And it was touching, funny, romantic and inspiring. Inspiring to create, to share your love and inner self with others….to unlock your own “Wild Lonesome.”

After tonight’s show, there will be three left this year. 600 more folks will be blessed to see Daniels share his song-writing and guitar playing with them. 600 more will see him sing George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” on an old guitar Harrison signed for Daniels on the set of a movie many years ago. He shows the guitar like I show folks the special-edition Scotty Bowman bobblehead Scotty gave me from the trunk of his car when we spent a day together this fall. Harrison’s creative level seemed to Daniels what his was to other watching that night, including me. Recognizable and so similar one can taste and touch it, yet so personal it cannot be duplicated.

And then, the “Old-Style Hockey.”:

For 58 years (except one when there was a lock-out, and another when some moron planned a concert in 1996), the Detroit Red Wings have hosted a New Year’s Eve game. We went as a family almost every year to the Olympia Stadium and followed the game with a family fondue.

Only thing is, back then I was more interested in bidding the family fondue farewell and finding and skipping off into the night in search of other parties. Today, a ticket to Joe Louis Arena on New Year’s Eve is HOT, HOT, HOT. Folks have always come dressed in their formal and best, ready to party into the new year after the early game (7 pm start) is over.

This year, I was able to get some tickets from a guy at work and take my wife, sister and brother-in-law. One of the Original Six teams was coming to town and the St. Louis Blues have not managed to beat Detroit in playoff series or even regular season games for some time, always falling second to the Wings. They came into the game three points back, having won four in a row, they were grumpy having to be out of town on this night and angry.

The game was a classic, lots of action, great scoring and the two teams took out their dislike for each other in the old fashioned way… squaring off and settling debts with a good rowe, a ruckus if you will. And the joy of being there with my wonderful sister and brother-in-law (and of course wife) is a whole ‘nother story on its own.

So what does all that have to do with Daniels??? Well it was the same type of transport, for one. Having played organized hockey until I was 35, I was right there fighting with the guys just like I was collaborating with Daniels in a bar. My man Darren McCarty scored a goal, and risked injury in a fight to stick up for a teammate who was getting harassed to no end. He removed his shirt knowing he’s be kicked out of the game and possible fined to pummel an opponent who wouldn’t let enough be enough. Now I’m no advocate of violence, but hockey’s a game where best friends even come to blows some times — it happens.

58 years of hockey in Detroit on New Year’s Eve.,,,my guess is Daniels’ show will be an annual event for sometime and that someone will pay big dollars to film it one day so millions can enjoy it. I’s also bet that in true Daniels’ fashion he’ll donate that money to the PRT.

My point in all this is simple: Take a good look again at the picture of McCarty……look at the fans, each of them including the young little girl on the right. You will see a prideful and entertained bunch that can’t cheer loud enough for their local hero. You could plug those people into a picture of the crowd at the PRT after Daniels’ Unplugged show — the folks there were that appreciative and touched by their hometown hero.

And for you? There are plenty around you who cheer and admire you as well, just not so publicly. Your own “Wild and Lonesome” is there always and that’s what draws others to you….use it freely and wisely my friend for time is too short!!!!

And that’s something else Daniels, McCarty and I had in common this holiday season.

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