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TODAY: ArtBeat at The Bosco wsg STACEY PULLEN!

ArtBeat is a platform that empowers artists by giving them an opportunity to sell their 
art or perform their music while encouraging them to keep creating.  

Taking place every Sunday at The Bosco in Ferndale, 
ArtBeat packs a fresh lineup of local talent each week!

TODAY join Detroit's legendary Stacey Pullen at a venue he has never played before. 
Enjoy a true household name in this amazing Indoor/outdoor space. 
Doors start at 4pm and is free to ladies with RSVP before 8pm.

Opening Sets by:
Marissa Guzman (DJ/Vocal Set)
(Defected/ Juicy Lucy)

Joe Gize
( City Air Detroit)

Guilty Pleasure- Roman
Dj Marinity (Detroit)

Hosted By
The Bosco
Art Beat
City Air

In conjunction with
Ryan Rankin
Austin Rogers
Jay Noonchester

Table Reservations: 248-541-8818

Location: 22930 Woodward Ave  Ferndale, MI 48220

Stacey Pullen

Stacey Pullen is the Kosmik Messenger. An innovator from the second wave of Detroit techno, he grew up under the mentorship of Detroit's legendary three: Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson. Still continuing to produce his characteristic atmosphere laden electronic sound, Stacey Pullen compounds his reputation as a producer with that of being one of the world's most in demand DJs, playing weekly across the globe year in year out. With a font of passion for music and performance that never dries up, Stacey Pullen still plays every gig from the heart, seeking to surprise and engage, to provide an unforgettable experience, to offer his unique catalogue up without predictability, defying expectation. Above all, from his earliest attempts to the current day Stacey Pullen has stayed true to his one goal: to become and to always be an Innovator.

Marissa Guzman

Vocalist, lyricist, producer, live performer and label owner, Marissa Guzman, was raised in the Detroit suburbs with a father who was in the most successful all-white group on Motown Records, Eddie Guzman of Rare Earth. Marissa started going to concerts and singing when she was just a little girl, and the amazing moment when the band would call their kids on stage to help them sing their hit song, "I Just Want To Celebrate," was when Marissa realized she wanted to be a singer.

Although it took a few years after college and working in the corporate world to finally realize she had to pursue music wholeheartedly, she had a life changing revelation after a spiritual retreat in 2009 to quit her successful career in marketing to focus on being a musician. Marissa learned how to produce, write, record and release her first album, "Joy Road," and in 2011, her first single from the album, "Time To Go," was remixed by South Africa's famous producer, Black Coffee, and went straight to number one on Traxsource. It also beat Rihanna's "We Found Love" in the South African Top 40 charts. In 2012 the song was nominated for "Remix of the Year" at the SAMAs (South Africa's version of the GRAMMYs), and in 2013 "Time To Go" was part of the album "Africa Rising," which won "Best Dance Album" of the year. 2014 proved to be another successful year for Marissa since her song with Cuebur, "No Doubt," was number one on London's "BBC Radio One Extra" show for two weeks in a row, and was also played on the legendary Pete Tong's radio show.

Marissa's story is very similar to Rodriguez in the movie "Searching for Sugarman," except 40 years later: A musician from Detroit who gets famous in South Africa. Ironically, Rodriguez was a neighbor of Eddie Guzman's in Detroit and ran in the same circle.

Marissa headlined countless festivals in 2014, with her biggest show being the "Spring Fiesta" in Johannesburg, where she performed in front of 15,000 people who sang along to her songs verbatim.

After living in San Francisco for the last 8 years, Marissa decided to move back to her hometown of Detroit to be closer to her family and to start working on album number two. She also recently started ArtBeat, a weekly event every Sunday, all summer long at the Bosco in Ferndale. 

ArtBeat is a platform that empowers artists by giving them an opportunity to sell their art or perform their music while encouraging them to keep creating. Stay tuned! The future looks bright for this multi-talented songbird.

RSVP on Facebook and for more info:


NXNE Music Festival in Toronto Report

Words: Sue Static; Photos: Peter Schorn - Rock Out Shots

This past week Toronto (June 17-21) hosted the 21st edition of the annual North by Northeast Music Festival.Once again, the festival treated music fans to a multitude of music from just about every genre, enough to please everyone's pallet. Clubs around the city hosted hundreds of bands and songwriters from mainly Canada and the U.S. and even included a couple of bands from the U.K. as well. Many of the showcases went around the clock with some non-traditional venues hosting music during the afternoon and the music clubs continuing the shows well into the wee hours with a 3am slot!

We didn't arrive until late Thursday and missed Detroit's own Blaire Alise & the Bombshells play the Bovine Sex Club on the opening night. Our music weekend started out at the Comfort Zone a club located in the basement of the soon to be demolished historical building The Waverly Hotel. The Tranzmitors had already hit the stage with their power pop/punk/new wave stylings and antics. The Canadian band had the audience dancing and pogoing around to their sound. We were off to a promising start to our weekend.

The next band had one of the best band name's of the festival: Guantanamo Baywatch. This punky surf band certainly lived up to their moniker!

We only had to walk right next door to catch local Toronto band Elsa who played shoe-gazey dream pop that sounded like it belonged on Creation Records back in the nineties.

The Silver Dollar is another historical music venue known for blues and jazz that had been transformed into an indie rock club over the years. This venue also faced the wrecking ball - due to new condo development being built in that area - but the facade will be saved and hopefully the club itself, as it has always been a festival favorite. Many Toronto music mainstays have closed within the last few years most recently the legendary rock club the El Macombo who had hosted many past NXNE showcases. That entire area won't be the same as these longtime music venues get torn down to make way for more condos.

Next we headed down to the notorious Bovine Sex Club who despite it's provocative name is not a mating club for cows but one of the best rock clubs in the city. It always boasts some of the best hard rock/punk/glam bills of the festival and is always jam-packed. We squeezed in to see what we thought was a band listed - Midnight Towers - who had to cancel. We were instead treated to a band called A Primitive Evolution. This Toronto trio played goth-influenced hard rock with just the right energy and style that was just what we needed to end the first night on a promising note. They included a cover of "Ace of Spades", the heavy metal classic, that they re-envisioned in their own unique funky style and pulled it off; a ballsy move there! Their set even included an appearance by the Grim Reaper!

Night two we made a detour from the festival to check out a concert by UK pop punk stalwarts The Buzzcocks who played the Phoenix Concert Theater in support of their latest album, "The Way." For more on this show check out the review here.

Night three found us at another legendary concert venue, Lee's Palace, who has been hosting shows for over three decades now. (The bass battle in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is set there.) We got their just in time for a set by Boston punk pioneers Mission of Burma. The trio launched into their set loud and fast playing songs from throughout their long career and they clearly were having a blast playing them! Their enthusiasm in playing their classics to just improvising was infectious and had their hardcore fans enjoying the show from start to finish.

They ended their blistering set with one of their most known songs "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" (covered by electro musician/DJ Moby) and "This Is Not a Photograph." The band who has influenced many other artists such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters and Yo La Tengo just to name a few, continues to release new music to this day. As I watched them I couldn't help but think who they were influencing right now and how many bands who play the festival try hard to and wish they could sound like this.

To cool down after the show we caught local DJ Johnny Martinuk close out his new wave meets Britpop set at The Bristol, a new English style pub located in the Great Hall concert venue. We high-tailed it up to the Silver Dollar in time for the 3am set by Smokes. This local band had the late night crowd still upright and dancing with their eclectic rock sound that included a violinist who rocked his instrument along with the rest of the band.

The legendary Detroit band, The Gories, also played the festival this year. Unfortunately we were not able to attend due to this show being at the same time as the Mission of Burma concert. I'm sure they put on an awesome show as they usually do every time I've seen them!

Sunday offered another full day of performances throughout the city and a rap line-up at YDS but it was time for us to return to home with the music of NXNE 2015 still ringing in our ears.

The Buzzcocks Rock Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theater 6/19/15

Words: Sue Static; Photos: Peter Schorn - Rock Out Shots

U.K. pop-punk stalwarts the Buzzcocks returned to Toronto for a show at the Phoenix Concert Theater this past weekend. The current line-up consists of two original members, vocalist Pete Shelley and guitarist Steve Diggle, with drummer Danny Farante and bassist Chris Remmington rounding out the band.

In late 2014 the band released their ninth studio album, “The Way.” They returned to their roots by self-releasing the album thru the crowd-funding website They have been touring worldwide since then to support the album and treat fans to some new songs as well as their old classics.

The band started out this show with the 1, 2, 3 punch of their early songs "Boredom", "Fast Cars," and "I Don't Mind," before launching into new material from the album. They continued to switch back and forth between their more memorable hits and newer fare, which was unrecognizable to most fans in the audience except for the die-hards who knew that the band had a recent album out.

These songs weighed the set down a bit as most fans were eager to hear the edgy pop classics that they came their for. The ever-animated guitarist Steve Diggle clearly was enjoying himself throughout the set and engaged the audience while the others held down the beat. The band ended on a strong note with their pop classic "Ever Fallen In Love" and a rousing rendition of "Orgasm Addict" which had the Toronto audience singing along.

Check out the new album “The Way” thru 1-2-3-4 Go! Records also check out for more information and to order music from their catalog.


TODAY- Fri. June 26- ESHAM Meet and Greet, Live Performance, and After Party.

Detroit rap legend Esham is going to have a busy day ahead of him on Friday, June 26. 
He kicks off the day with a special Meet and Greet at Rock Of Ages at 4PM. Meet the master of "Acid Rap" and finally get that Boomin Words From Hell cassette tape signed. Free to attend!
Rock of Ages is located at:
31015 Ford Rd
Garden City, Michigan
Later that evening ESHAM will be perfoming a live concert at the Crofoot Ballroom.  
Opening the show will be Mastamind (Esham's partner in Rhyme in the group NATAS), Moe Dirdee, SwayZz, and Microphone Phelps w/ Britney Stoney.
Doors at 8pm
All Ages Show
 $15 Advance / $20 Day Of Show
Tickets available at the Crofoot Box Office, and by Phone: (866) 468-3401. 
Tickets are also available fee-free with cash at UHF Records in Royal Oak MI 
 The Crofoot Ballroom is located at:
1 S Saginaw St, Pontiac, MI 48342
A after party will be held after the show at St. Brigid's Bathtub Pub from Midnight to 6AM.
$10 cover or $5 with your Crofoot Ticket Stub
129 Michigan Ave
Detroit, Michigan
Visit ESHAM at


UPCOMING: Sat. June 27- TROMADANCE Film Festival at the Tangent Gallery in Detroit

The TromaDance Film Festival is taking place this Saturday in Detroit.

TromaDance is the first film festival wholeheartedly devoted to filmmakers and fans. Unlike every other film festival, TromaDance does not charge filmmakers to submit their films. Entrance to all screenings is free and open to the public. Also, there are no VIP reservations or preferential treatment regarding films, panels, or parties of any kind given. The organizers of TromaDance believe films are meant to be seen, especially when it comes to new filmmakers. Art - in all its forms - is for the people!

TromaDance features a range of films made independently, usually without big stars, big money and far removed from the Hollywood studio system. The official selections of TromaDance have been made with nothing more than passion, courage, integrity, and raw talent.

Everyone at TromaDance is treated as an equal. The elite and the celebrated are treated no better or worse than the experimental filmmaker or the random moviegoer off the street. Admittance to all screenings, panels, parties, and events is strictly on a first come, first served basis. If there are any VIPs at TromaDance, they are the filmmakers whose blood, sweat, and hard work are on the screen.

TromaDance is an opportunity for everyone who's ever picked up a camera to have their work seen without the compromises required by elitist cartel interference. TromaDance is proud to be the first and only film festival of the people, for the people, and by the people.

TromaDance Detroit continues this tradition and expands on the possibility of a free and independent festival for the people! TromaDance Detroit will feature not only independent films, we are expanding the festival to include art in all of its forms. Music, performance art, and more!

TromaDance 2015- Featuring over 10 hours of programming, the festival includes two feature films, two blocks of short films, burlesque from Sadie Sparkles, music from Hearse For Hire, “torture juggling” from Nathan Wakefield and more!

Also featuring art by:
Steve Czapiewski
Rhaige Desolation
Jerry Shirts
Crystal Mielcarek
Roger Scholz
Mark Jackson
Monkey's Nephew
Matthew Mcr Ellison II
Jordyn Karpinski
Sara O'Malley
Sara Kirsten
Aaron C. Wade


 Sat. June 27th (doors at 1pm)


The Tangent Gallery

How much: 


Full schedule available here:

More information can be found at:


5 Fun Things To Do This Weekend 6/26 - 6/28

Friday June 26th

BARS OF GOLD with very special guests Braidedveins and Pink Lightning at S M A L L ' S - B A R 
10339 Conant, Hamtramck 8 p.m. doors, 18 and up / $7  cover

Six bands including Prude Boys and Real Ghosts plus more / $6 - $10 donations / All ages at Trumbllplex  4210 Trumbull, Detroit 

Saturday June 27th

Lumpfest II: Summer Lumpin' held at 12038 Lumpkin in Hamtramck featuring local and Mid West bands / $5 cover and attendees are encouraged to not be a dick- lump on 

Rollie Tussing & the Midwest Territory Band with Matt Jones & the Reconstruction and Danny Kroha / $7 cover / 21 and up / 9pm 

Sunday June 28 

Motor City Gear Gala at the Rustbelt Market 22801 Woodward Ave in Ferndale /  11am to 6pm / All Ages and Free entry / buy some gear, shred some gnarls, meet and simultaneously greet some great locals who all love music and instruments. 


TART presents These Are Not Love Songs - an EP release show at New Dodge Lounge July 11

On the List: Jeff the Brotherhood 6/15/15 at Small's Bar

Two brothers, neither named Jeff comprise the nucleus of Nashville's Jeff the Brotherhood. They came through town and blew the roof of off Small's Bar in Hamtramck this past Monday night. They blazed through material from past albums and also some songs from the new album Wasted on the Dream. Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, both guitarists romped around on stage with fervor.  The remaining two members kept a steady flow to anchor the brothers' energetic fury. The Jeff's took the stage for a set of somewhere between and hour and an hour and a half. 

The crowd was at times both entranced by the hypnotic vibrations and repetitions and also brought to dancing, head banging, and even somewhat moshing to the loud psychedelic/ grunge rock that they delightfully play. Both brothers take turns trading off stage antics and heavy guitar playing poses. This was the second time in about 2 years that Jeff the Brotherhood made it's round in the area to Small's Bar. We were glad to welcome them back for a night of proper rock rumpus. We all hope that they come on back to these parts again soon. Join the Brotherhood. You'll be glad that you did.

photos and review by Joe La Grassa "On the List" for MCB 

UPCOMING: Fri. June 26- ESHAM Meet and Greet, Live Performance, and After Party.

Detroit rap legend Esham is going to have a busy day ahead of him on Friday, June 26. 

He kicks off the day with a special Meet and Greet at Rock Of Ages at 4PM. Meet the master of "Acid Rap" and finally get that Boomin Words From Hell cassette tape signed. Free to attend!

Rock of Ages is located at:
31015 Ford Rd
Garden City, Michigan

Later that evening ESHAM will be perfoming a live concert at the Crofoot Ballroom.  
Opening the show will be Mastamind (Esham's partner in Rhyme in the group NATAS), Moe Dirdee, SwayZz, and Microphone Phelps w/ Britney Stoney.

Doors at 8pm
All Ages Show
 $15 Advance / $20 Day Of Show
Tickets available at the Crofoot Box Office, and by Phone: (866) 468-3401. 
Tickets are also available fee-free with cash at UHF Records in Royal Oak MI 

 The Crofoot Ballroom is located at:
1 S Saginaw St, Pontiac, MI 48342

A after party will be held after the show at St. Brigid's Bathtub Pub from Midnight to 6AM.
$10 cover or $5 with your Crofoot Ticket Stub

129 Michigan Ave
Detroit, Michigan


Visit ESHAM at


UPCOMING: Tuesday, June 23- Imagine Dragons Smoke + Mirrors Tour with Metric and Halsey at the Palace of Auburn Hills

Grammy Award-winning rock band Imagine Dragons are bringing their electrifying live show back to the Detroit area this Tuesday, June 23rd. They will be playing the Palace Of Auburn Hills in support of their Smoke + Mirrors Tour and Album of the same name.

Opening the show will be alternative rock band Metric and Halsey.
Formed in 2009 and featuring lead vocalist Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman, Imagine Dragons earned a grassroots following by independently releasing a series of EPs. After Alex Da Kid signed them to his KIDinaKORNER/Interscope label, the band made its major-label debut with the release of Continued Silence, a 2012 EP featuring the 2x platinum breakthrough single “It’s Time.”

Night Visions arrived later that year and Imagine Dragons found themselves on a skyward trajectory that saw the album debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, sell nearly four million copies worldwide, and became the No. 1 album on Spotify Worldwide for 2013. Night Visions’ second single, the 9x-platinum “Radioactive,” hit #1 on the Billboard Rock chart and earned the band a 2014 Grammy for “Best Rock Performance.” It is the best-selling rock song in U.S. digital history. The third single, “Demons,” hit #1 at Alternative and Top 40 radio, and has sold 3.9 million copies in the U.S. The band has sold more than 24 million tracks worldwide.

Artist Tim Cantor will have a exhibition set up inside the Palace for the show as well. Fans will be able to view the art that Cantor created for “Smoke + Mirrors” while listening to the songs in DTS’ innovative Headphone:X immersive surround sound. Cantor, who painted the album’s cover art, as well as pieces inspired by each song, will also be on hand at each venue to meet and discuss his creations with fans.

Tickets at $69.50 GA floor and reserved as well as $49.50, $34.50 and $29.50 reserved.
You can pick up tickets at,, The Palace Ticket Store and all Ticketmaster locations. Tickets may be also charged by phone to American Express, Discover, Visa and MasterCard by calling 800.745.3000.



Huma Room - HopCat - Detroit

Rock and Roll is a merciless and fickle business.  Bands come and go.  Sounds change, falling in and out of vogue.  What constitutes a long career in the music business makes the average NFL career look lengthy by comparison.  

N.Y.C’s Jon Spencer Blues Explosion predate texting let alone the iPhone.  The three piece
dropped their eponymous first record way back in 1992.  Thousands of concerts later, JSBX
brought their spirited, workman-like approach to the Huma Room in the newly opened 
Hop Cat Detroit.   The Huma Room, while cozy, delivers a full, nuanced sound and allows 
the crowd to get up close and personal with the band.  Oh, yeah: there’s plenty of beer.

Blues Explosion!

The band tore through their discography with bravado and a bit of abandon.  “Do the Get Down” delivered the funk while “Wax Dummy” brought the noise.  The band even covered the Beastie Boys’ nugget “She’s On It”.  Those in attendance got what they came for:  a revival-type atmosphere with a heavy dose of blues and punk.




NEXT MONTH: Sculpture X Symposium @ WSU, 20-31 July

July 20–31, 2015
150 Art Building
Detroit, MI 48202

The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University (WSU) is providing one-day mobile sculpture workshops for participants at various community sites in Detroit, July 20 – 31, 2015. Students from the Carr Center Jazz Ensemble will perform during the workshops.

Workshop participants will learn basic 3-D design fundamentals, create abstract sculptures out of random materials using an assemblage technique, and paint their compositions one color to get a better sense of their compositions.

The workshops will accommodate 10–15 participants, ages 12–18 years old.  All materials will be provided by the Department of Art and Art History, WSU.

The sculptures created during the workshops will be collected by the instructor and exhibited at the department’s Art Department Gallery, WSU, September 11–October 23, 2015, and will be returned after the exhibition closes. A public reception for the exhibition will be held on Friday, September 11, 5-8PM.

The exhibition will be on view for the community, and for guests who will be attending the Sculpture X Symposium, a symposium hosted by the Department of Art and Art History, WSU, October 9-10, 2015. The symposium will include artists from around the country who will be participating in exhibitions, lectures, and panel discussions throughout the tri-county area. More information about the symposium can be found at the following link:

July 20, 1-5PM: Farwell Recreation Center
July 21, 1-5PM: Mack Alive
July 22, 1-5PM: Clemente Recreation Center
July 23, 1-5PM: Adams Butzel Recreation Center (Lyndon)
July 27, 1-5PM: Patton Community Center
July 28, 1-5PM: Butzel Recreation Center (Kercheval)
July 29, 1-5PM: Clark Park Coalition
July 31, 1-5PM: Soul Harvest Ministries

Poetry & Prints workshop YouTube video, Summer, 2014

WSU Mobile Art Workshop Facebook page:

Art at Wayne Facebook page:

Sculpture X Symposium Facebook page:

The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History is a division of Wayne State’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, educating the next generation of visual artists, designers and art historians. Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit’s midtown cultural center, is a premier urban research university offering more than 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 28,000 students.

YEAH! Live Music Event at Garden Theater in Detroit


Live Music. Narratives. Detroit.


MCB PICK OF THE WEEKEND: Heaven's Gate at JUMBO'S on FRIDAY, June 19th 2015

Heaven's Gate will be playing a Detroit show with PC Worship (both on Dull Tools) at Double Happiness 
at JUMBO'S on FRIDAY, June 19th.
In her own words, Jess Paps of Heaven's Gate talks about the writing of Woman at Night :
"I'm sure every person has their own affair with night time...
There is no time I feel more myself, simultaneously alive and dead. There is no other title for this record; simple, to the point.
Written by, about and for a woman alone with her own thoughts, reflections and deepest fears. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember being incredibly scared at night.
I suppose you might just call it anxiety. I was a kid in the 80's and 90's and there were a few high profile kidnapping cases. It hit me hard at a young age and I remember
following my mother around everywhere as soon as it got dark out. She used to joke and call me her shadow. As I grew older, it turned more existential and dissociative and I
remember looking in the mirror at age 10 and feeling like I didn't recognize myself or know myself anymore. As I became an adolescent and teen in the 90's my favorite
time was locked up in my bedroom at night, listening to records, pouring over lyrics, playing guitar, writing poems, having secrets. And that is still my favorite thing, my
favorite place. I suppose night encapsulates all my greatest joy and vulnerability, of being alive and fearing death."
"During the day I still read too much news; it's all about kidnapping, torture, murder and rape Rape in my backyard, sex slaves in another continent, three women chained up in a suburban home for ten years, finally seeing the light of
day. The impulse to write about my experiences as a woman and those of other women (fictional or real) was perhaps an attempt to process and master these circumstances and stories; and also to take back power and control.
The voice on the record is mine, though I suppose it effaces itself at times. I was so struck and consumed by what happened in Cleveland last year with the three women (Michelle Knight, Gina Dejesus, and Amanda Berry) who had
been kidnapped and imprisoned for ten years by Ariel Castro, I wrote the vocals for Amanda Berry about it. I still have complicated feelings about this song and titling it after a survivor but ultimately felt that it was a story that should
be told again. When Amanda Berry finally broke free from the home she was captive in for ten years with her daughter last year, she called 911 from a neighbor's phone and kept repeating 'I'm Amanda Berry.' That call is
essentially the chorus of the song. The tone in her voice during that call is truly one of the rawest and most haunting bits of sound I've ever heard and I could not shake it."

Reason for Change 2015 by DC-in-Detroit

DC is a longtime contributor to the MCB.
She can be reached at [at]

A Center for Inquiry Conference
11-15 June 2015
Buffalo/Amherst, New York

Conferences are my beat. I won’t go on again about why I enjoy them so much, although in this case, it may be less obvious than in most. This point was made when I crossed the border into Canada on my drive eastward:

Border guard: Where are you headed?
Me: Buffalo.
Guard: What’s in Buffalo?
Me: Weekend conference, science and philosophy talks. Things like that.
Guard: And what do you do for a living?
Me: Er, I’m a graphic designer…

Didn’t occur to me how odd that could sound until that moment, that a graphic designer from Detroit would be driving across Canada to listen to people talk about climate change and living without religion.

Nooooooo no no no, uh-uh. (Ambassador Bridge)
I got some good heckling on the Canadian side, too, when I stopped at Duty Free before crossing over to New York. Caught scanning the shelves for anything I can’t get back home (even though there’s a Duty Free within sight of my office), the lovely older Canadian sales lady asked me where I was headed. “Buffalo? From Detroit? Well, at least you aren’t going some place worse.” Double heckle from the Canadian! Well done, socialist.

It’s an easy drive from Detroit to Buffalo, through Canada (it’s faster and the roads are better), unless you don’t like bridges. I crossed over at least 5 major bridges before the day was done, but then terrifying bodies of water is kind of a theme of that area.

I had decided to go out Thursday in order to make the opening night reception. As I tend to do, I warned people about my attendance.

For once, it actually paid off, as a young man who had also been using the con hashtag approached me and said, “Hey, are you DC in Detroit on Twitter?” Eric Wojciechowski (Wojo if you’re nasty), it turns out, is from Livonia. It was his first such con, although he’s been writing and getting involved in things atheism/humanism for a while now. And who else did I run into at the reception? A gaggle of Michiganders, of course, mostly from Grand Rapids, where CFI Michigan is HQed.

In the opening remarks, we were told that the conference sold out, which brought us in at just under 300 people. This is a great size in my experience—enough people to justify dual tracks (“humanism” and “skepticism”) yet few enough to get to talk to plenty of people without feeling overwhelmed.

On seeing my name tag—and I brought my own badge holder, lest my nerd cred ever be questioned—which listed me as a journalist from, someone asked, “So all you gotta do is say you write for a blog and you get in free, huh?” Yep, just say you write for a blog, post daily for ten years, get a few million hits, win some awards or whatever, and then you can get in to things. Sometimes.

The morning of Day One was largely about “Yay For CFI!” which they deserve. CFI has been doing a behind the scenes work in service of secularism for decades, like having a non-governmental organization rep at the United Nations (the movie-star handsome Michael De Dora, who is also a registered lobbyist for Congress), which is kind of a big deal. Further, CFI has now merged with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the Council for Secular Humanism, bringing their related missions under the same canopy.

Reason for Change 2015
The big room.
CSI focuses on the science and skepticism side of popular nonsense (such as “alternative” medicines and climate change denial), while the Council for Secular Humanism’s aims involve human rights, and a secular, free society. Both groups have their flagship publications—the Council for Secular Humanism’s Free Inquiry and CSI’s Skeptical Inquirer—which have stood the test of time. If humanism and/or skepticism interest you at all, you owe it to yourself to invest in these mags.

After lunch, the tracks diverged, forcing people to make some choices: Skepticism track or humanism track? The first showdown of the day was “Why People Fall for Dubious Claims: The Lessons From a Life of Skepticism” by Ray Hyman vs. “The Impact of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)” from Nicholas J. Little. RFRA is a very current and important discussion we should all be having, but I confess to a giant soft spot for Ray Hyman, and I’d sit and listen to him tell stories all day, any day. Counting himself as a “skeptic” for 80 years (!!), Hyman didn’t disappoint. Before Hyman begins, I can hear big-S Skeptic legend Joe Nickell holding forth at the back of the room. Joe Nickell is always holding forth.

The last talks of the day were the Alternative Medicine Panel and the Leaving Religion Panel. Once again I found myself in the room with the skeptics, as I’ve never had any religion to leave. In both this session and the earlier, it appeared to me that the attendees were split evenly between the two tracks.

As a member of the media, I didn’t technically have access to Friday night’s awards banquet, but as a member of the Michigan crew, I felt it was my duty to find a way to attend. Our own Jeremy Beahan and Luke Galen (also of the Reasonable Doubts podcast) were slated to co-receive a Forkosch Award for their article on the prosociality of religion; in other words, does religion make us better people? It’s a fascinating topic, and subject of much study. You can read it for yourself here, or listen to Dr. Professor Luke Galen lecturing on the topic here. Our new friend Eric had bought a ticket to the banquet, and along with Jeremy and Luke, we wanted to sit with Jennifer Beahan and Jefferson Seaver of CFI Michigan, so the six of us found an empty table near the back. Shortly after settling in, we were asked to move…to a reserved table up front. Here I thought I was getting the bum’s rush! But no, we joined the jovial Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry, and the evening’s comedian, Leighann Lord, up in the good seats.

Reason for Change 2015
"I must be in the front rooowwww!"
Good lord, how old is that reference?

Two lifetime achievement awards were also presented to atheism superstar Richard Dawkins, and author and historian Susan Jacoby.

If you’re reading this piece at all, you’re probably already aware of the work of Richard Dawkins. In addition to his tireless promotion of science to the general public, his 2006 smash hit The God Delusion was instrumental in the popularization of the so-called New Atheism movement, positioning him as of one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, alongside fellow authors Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens (a personal favorite of mine). His acceptance was brief, as was Jacoby’s, as she would be the evening’s featured speaker.

Reason for Change 2015
Our table for the banquet, featuring Jen Beahan laughing at something pithy, and Leighann Lord wondering if I was going to be taking pictures of the top of her head all night.
Susan Jacoby is less well-known outside of secular circles, but her impact has been great. Her 2004 book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism is a well-regarded treatise on this godless nation of ours, and 2013’s The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought appears to be the book to read on “The Most Remarkable American Most People Never Heard Of.”

Jacoby’s Friday night talk was called “The Conscience of an Atheist.” She made a point of emphasizing that article, saying this was not the conscience of atheism or of the atheist, but instead, was a very personal speech about free will, mortality, and love. “Love is never wasted,” she read from a letter she wrote to her dying partner. “Love is never wasted, even though it is not eternal,” she told us. And we all cried.

Saturday, I awoke early and well-rested. I always sleep well in hotels, maybe the scent of bleach soothes me. I had breakfast in, again, knowing I’d need my brain spun up to speed as quickly as possible for the day’s talks. My room service waitress was the same one from yesterday, and she was chatty. When I told her I was from Detroit, she warmly thanked me for Detroit taking Buffalo in after the big snowstorm this past winter forced them to play at Ford Field. I have no memory of this whatsoever: whenever the word “football” is spoken, my brain immediately starts doing math or naming colors, anything but listening. But she was quite moved, so I played along. I’ve always said we’re pretty nice here in Detroit.

Typically, Saturday is when a con really picks up, and when I went down to the big room for the morning’s first talk, I found it mostly full. Apparently, I ask if a seat is empty wrong. I tend to ask “may I sit here?” And people panic and answer “yes, it’s taken.” It’s extra awkward. I bet if I ask “is this seat taken?” next time, they'll answer “yes, go ahead.”

The morning panels were a mix of humanism and skepticism, where I learned that the numbers are growing within Secular Student Alliances, and that we are not hybrids with aliens, but with Neanderthals. Both good things to know.

Saturday was also the day things got more serious. Just before lunch, emcee James Underdown told us to make sure our conference name tags were visible, as there would be an event that afternoon that would require some added security. It was at that moment that the police presence became noticeable to me. Oh, they’d been there the whole time, I just hadn’t given it much thought. It isn’t uncommon for gatherings of a couple hundred people to have some extra cops and an ambulance or two on standby—what’s unusual is for the police to be wearing flak jackets. Police or security are common even for the most benign of gatherings. And to me, this was a pretty benign gathering; there was nothing specifically blasphemous about it. But that's not how unreasonable fanatics work. Not only are there factions who take simply having a discussion about living without religion as a direct attack on them, there are plenty of places in this world where, today, saying the words “I don’t believe there is a god” can lead to being pulled out of your home and thrown into prison. And that’s just one of the legal threats.

Reason for Change 2015
Lindsay Beyerstein (left) interviews Taslima Nasreen, one of the guests requiring additional security for her protection.
(Note also the magnificent rat tail at lower right.)
There were at least three people speaking at this event who were under current, credible death threats. Many more of them are regularly threatened, but usually by a random crank or two, not an entire country. This is the case with speakers Taslima Nasreen and Asif Mohiuddin, both of whom are in the U.S. under threat of imprisonment or death for the crime of speech, both of whom are under the protection of CFI.

Nasreen has been self-exiled from her home country of Bangladesh since the 1990s, when she came under threat for her writings about the humanity of women. Mohiuddin has fled Bangladesh after being viciously physically assaulted and imprisoned multiple times for similarly daring to criticize anti-humanist portions of Islam.

People are being attacked, arrested, jailed, and murdered for speaking, writing, and blogging “anti-religious” content. These aren’t theoretical laws about things people think are bad ideas (like adultery statutes here). This isn’t being yelled at on TV or people being mean on twitter. These are people being dragged from their homes and offices and stabbed to death in the street. And when they plead for help from the police, the police assist the attackers. If you are lucky, you can receive 10 years in prison for “blasphemous writing.”

As I sit here in my over-climate-controlled office overlooking the Detroit River, typing whatever I bloody well want, it chills my blood.

This isn’t just stuff happening “over there.” As our world becomes more open, it becomes smaller, and there IS no more “over there.” Nasreen and Mohiuddin are death-defying heroes in their home countries for doing what we do every day here in the States—or what we presume to continue to do. As insidious influences grow, and well-meaning people bend over backward to accommodate those horrible ideas in the name of diversity and acceptance, how much closer to “blasphemous writing” sentences do we all become?

We fight for their rights—and their lives—“over there” because it’s the right thing to do for them, and because it’s the right thing to do for US.

CFI has set up a fund specifically to assist in the emergency relocation and housing of these threatened freethinkers:

The third person under threat is, of course, Richard Dawkins, who can’t type a tweet without getting threats from without and within. During his brief book signing before his live Point of Inquiry interview, those in line were subject to bag searches for everyone’s safety. As Eric pointed out on twitter, “The fact that @RichardDawkins had to sign books with an armed police presence is exactly why we need #Reason4Change.”

The other thing I took to heart on Saturday came during Eddie Tabash’s “Taking Atheism to the General Public” talk, which addressed the double standard where it comes to skepticism of religious claims as opposed to other supernatural claims, and what we can/should do to overturn the fear, distrust, "and downright hatred" the general public holds toward atheists. During the Q&A, a young woman stood and said, essentially, “I look around this conference and see mostly people who look not just like my father, but my grandfather, and not a lot of people who look like me. It's almost like we aren't welcome.” And asked what “they” (CFI? old white men?) were doing about that.

Reason for Change 2015

As a young (shut it) woman, I want to be very clearly on record: I didn’t feel unwelcome at this con, and never have at any con, regardless of topic. This is a perspective that makes no sense to me. Because a room doesn't “look like” me, they are excluding me? How does this follow? Blaming the “grandfathers” in the room for the lack of [whatever other thing] in the room? I chose for myself to attend this conference, and presumably so did the question-asker. Neither one of us needed some vaunted Old White Man to engrave us invitations. What are “they” supposed to do, take us by the hand? Escort us to events? Fuck that noise. For a 20-something woman to feel that unless her “kind” is represented well enough (what is her kind? and what is well enough?) that she is specifically being excluded is profoundly disheartening. We pursue the things that interest us. We have the freedom to do—and not do—that. What I hear in this complaint is “this thing that you’re doing, which I’m consuming, you’re not doing it in a way that [I/my group/whatever] would like, so stop doing the thing that you’re doing, and start doing something else.”

For dinner, Jeff Seaver (exec. director CFI Michigan) gathered the Michigan contingent for pizza across the street. There were 13 of us just at dinner, and a few more who couldn’t make it. Never let anyone tell you different—Michigan is full of smart and open-minded people. A couple of us rushed through dinner in order to get back to the con hotel in time for the Dawkins book signing, which preceded his live interview. I myself didn’t have any books for him to sign, because I’m one of those people who doesn’t keep books. Increasingly, I’m not even buying paper books, and only so many people can sign my iPad. So I lingered, chatted with Jen, looked at Niagara Falls pics… then moseyed across the parking lot, to be met by a harried Richard Dawkins going in the other direction (with a handler). “Hey!” I said, “You’re not supposed to be over here! I’m on my way over there to see you!” He laughed and scurried on, no idea where he was going. My best guess is to get a tattoo at the strip mall tattoo shop. Okay, not my best guess, but my favorite guess.

The Josh Zepps/Richard Dawkins/Point of Inquiry interview was The Event of the event. Every butt was in a seat, the lights low and dramatic. The organizers did things right and kept the interview portion to about 30 minutes, leaving another 30 minutes for audience questions. Interviews with Dawkins aren’t exactly rare—he seems to make himself very available to the media. He is not, however, always available to the throngs of people who have a great need to interact with him.

Reason for Change 2015
Richard Dawkins (left), Josh Zepps, and about 60 tiny bottles of water.
My primary takeaways: Like music, you don’t have to be able to do science in order to appreciate and enjoy science, and “stick to your decent, liberal principles, and don’t compromise them.”

Which leads me to something else I want to say about the joy of cons. While no means the only (and maybe not even the biggest) draw, Dawkins was the superstar on the program. Given the opportunity, people queued for his autograph, and nervously stumbled over their questions during his Q&A. But once the spotlight had moved on to someone else, Dawkins, along with the majority of the weekend’s other speakers, became an attendee (and student and fan) along with the rest of us. He sat in front of me to hear Ron Lindsay, and at least once came to someone else’s microphone for a Q&A. And significantly in his case, he was largely left alone. When Dawkins wasn’t ON, he was not being mobbed, or even pestered, because his draw isn’t about him. It’s about his ideas. At this convention, the ideas were unquestionably the real stars.

I ordered breakfast again on Sunday. My chatty room service waitress commented that I was treating myself with some eggs Benedict. She was absolutely right; I was headed home that day, and I knew damn well I wouldn’t be eating again for another 10–12 hours. She told me what a pleasure “[my] group” had been, and how it’s always uplifting to have a good event at her hotel. I thanked her warmly: always good to see seculars represented well. Sometimes it’s enough to be recognized as not “evil.”

This time I skipped the skeptic track panel (CSI Executive Council Panel) in favor of the humanist track, “We Are Awake Already: Secular Humanists Reply to Sam Harris.” I had mixed feelings about the inclusion of this panel at all, as there’s far too much nitpicky infighting in the so-called atheism community. Sam Harris has done great work in evangelizing secularism, so to speak, and an over-parsing of his recent Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion seemed counterproductive (if not petty). But panelists Judith Walker and Eddie Tabash made excellent points about “emotion in the service of reason.” Walker, in particular, spoke to Buddhism and what she called Buddhism Light getting an unreasonable free pass from critical inquiry, and how much secularized Buddhism (and Sam Harris) suffers from the dreaded “deepities.” It’s possible—and for us, necessary—to separate “meaningful” from spiritual/religious. It does no service to secularism to cloak our very real and very significant life events in the language of religion. Calling an experience spiritual does not make that experience deeper. 

Our final talk of the day was from outgoing president and CEO of CFI, Ron Lindsay. In his 7 years at the helm, Lindsay has weathered some storms—what kind of activist would he be if he hadn’t?—and has done good things for CFI’s visibility. He insists he’s leaving the organization in good shape, while, “The mission of CFI is as vital as it ever was, maybe even more so.”

He also reflected on a common thread that ran through the humanist discussions: “It’s because our lives are finite that they have great significant. What we do matters because we do not get second chances.”

Reason for Change 2015
Ron Lindsay, closing out the con.
Lindsay was moved to tears as he spoke to the meaningful work CFI has done and will continue to do. For his efforts, he is given a long, and warm, standing ovation to end the conference.

After the official end of programming, attendees are invited for a tour of CFI HQ, which is right there in Amherst. Since I had my car, I drove through the University at Buffalo campus and to the little CFI building, awkwardly nestled next to some hideous new construction. (Apartments, I think. I didn’t subject my sensibilities to the brutalism long enough to really register.) I arrived between tours and helped myself to a good meander through the building, until I heard the familiar voice of Deb Goddard addressing people in the lobby.

I found her with 6 or 7 con-goers along with, oh look who it is again, Richard Dawkins, along for the tour. There was much respectful gawping and photo taking of Paul Kurtz’s office, the collections of literal snake oil, bits and bobs and documentation significant to the freethinkers movement… and then we got to the middle of the building where we found the office and lab of Joe Nickell, featuring a real-live Joe Nickell.

Nickell, as I’ve mentioned, is a story-teller, an entertainer. His office is like a smaller version of what I expect my living room to look like in a few years, stuffed with skulls and voodoo fetishes, spirit cones and alien relics, shrunken heads and bigfootprint casts. Joe invited questions about any of his goodies, and told us tales of cases, like the elderly couple with a home that supposedly had “blood spurting out from the walls.” Since he’s an investigator and not a mystery-monger, Nickell brought forensics and good-ol’ rational observation to what appeared to be a sad case of some people needing attention (of one form or another).

Reason for Change 2015
Previous visitors to Joe Nickell's office.
In a moment I can only describe as delightfully charming, Nickell presented Dawkins with one of his wooden nickels, which he gives out in lieu of business cards, running through the “magical properties” of the coin. The magic is, of course, simple but well-practice sleight of hand (it’s solid! it’s rubber! it’s two-headed! it’s vaaaaanishing!), which Joe decided to teach us, as a group. “Joe!” Debbie Goddard gasped. “I’ve known you for 15 years! You’ve never shown me!”

Reason for Change 2015
The ol' wooden nickel trick.
Then came the part of the tour we’d all been looking forward to: the basement, where the real magic happens. That would be the library and rare book room, which hold a certain kind of magic to a certain kind of person anyway. Deb handed us off to CFI librarian, Tim Binga, who led us through the maze of shelving into the Holy of Holies, where he introduced us to the oldest item in the library, this 1699 edition of “The Folly and Unreasonableness of Atheism.” He even let us touch it with our grubby little heathen hands. (It felt like history. And bigotry.)

Reason for Change 2015
1699! Certainly the oldest book I've ever defiled.
While at the back of the special collections, mostly donations from private libraries, Dawkins asked Binga, “Quite a big collection with finite space. How do you decide what to take in?”

“Well,” Tim began, “let’s say, you, for example, were interested in giving us your library. In that case… we’d build a wing.” The little group chuckled.

But Dawkins, not laughing, said, “How would we go about that? I mean, it’s quite large, my library.”

“Oh! Well, if that’s something you’d consider, it’s something we can certainly discuss at a time you find appropriate.”

“Yes, yes, I think I would.”

“I think we just witnessed a coup!” one of us said. “We’re witnesses!”

I’d given myself an extra day of vacation time to spend in Buffalo, Niagara, or wherever else in the region looked interesting. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, by the time I left CFI, it was early evening, and my energy reserves were running low. But since I had to drive through Niagara to get home, I decided to at least stop at their little aquarium. Aquariums are pretty high up on my priority list in new cities, and this was a small one, so the time investment would be minor. Saw a giant Pacific octopus (she was a beauty), some sea lions, bunch of…fish mostly. When I left, I noticed a number of people walking over a bridge, so I decided to see what was on the other side.

Reason for Change 2015
Great white shark of Aquarium of Niagara.
What I found was an easy way to get into the Niagara Falls State Park. The aquarium itself is across the freeway from the Discovery Center, on the far side of the park, which is a trolley stop. Got my $3 trolley ticket, and let someone else drive my ass around for once. Obviously, I didn’t get the whole Niagara Falls experience, but I did get a good view of the American Rapids, and I did de-trolley long enough to walk down to Horseshoe Falls. For someone with a fear of large bodies of water and vertigo—who can’t swim—that was enough experience at that moment.

I could see making a weekend of Niagara Falls, just not this weekend. I walked up to the hostess stand at the Top of the Falls Restaurant two minutes before they stopped seating, which meant I had the entire outdoor patio to myself. After stuffing myself full of “Buffalo mac and cheese” (mac and cheese with Buffalo chicken atop, pretty exotic), I could only hope I would retain consciousness for the drive home. (I did.)

Reason for Change was, overall, a mellow and pleasant weekend. With so many recent changes to contend with (CSI and the Council for Secular Humanism coming in-house, the departure of Ron Lindsay), I don't know if this smallish, local gathering represents CFI’s plan for future cons, or if this was just a good time for them to keep things close to home. I found the relative small size of the con a relief myself, as it makes getting familiar with new people that much easier. (There’s something to be said for four-figure attendance, but I’m not the one to say it.) As an opportunity for learning, it was stellar; as an occasion for all-important fellowship, even better.

At the end of programming on Sunday, Tom Flynn found me in the big room and teased, “I’m sure you're going to write a scathing piece about our little event.” As if I’ve ever written anything scathing in my life. What I have written is honest, which is a promise I always keep. But I do think I've failed in my other pledge—that this column would be more ruthlessly edited...or at least considerably shorter.

Sorry, Tom.

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