How To Make The Most of An Indie Film & Music Festival on Historic Hell’s Half Mile

Today, guest blogger Blair Giesken gives us some tips for making the most of Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival happening in Bay City September 25-29, 2014! 

The name “Hell’s Half Mile” started in the late 1800’s when a stretch of Bay City’s riverfront was peppered with rowdy saloons and seedy hotels where loggers and shipmen would go to “blow off a little steam.”  Then, locals came to call it Hell’s Half Mile.  Today, they call it home to one of the most collaborative and inspiring film and music festivals around.

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Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

As a writer and director of 4 films showcased over 2 years at Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival, Rider Strong (yes, 80’s babies— we’re talking former Boy Meets World actor Rider Strong), sees the irony in it all.  “’Hell’s Half Mile was the strip of waterfront where lumberjacks used to go boozing… Now, a bunch of us from Hollywood go there for a film festival. Not much has changed.”’

Jokes aside, Hell’s Half Mile does more than satisfy those who live for great independent films and music.  It’s a movement.  A grassroots effort to grow and celebrate a community that hasn’t lost (and will never lose) its love for the arts.  And in its 9-year history, HHM has been bringing independent filmmakers, actors, and musicians from across the country to experience how truly alive with the arts the Great Lakes Bay Region is.

If you love independent film and music even half as much as the artists, directors, actors, and musicians who attend Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival each year, you’ll want to plan ahead so you can soak up the total experience when it returns to Bay City, September 25-28.

Here are a few tips for taking in all the great film & music that spans this all-out 4-day festival:

Don’t just sit there!

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

HHM isn’t about plopping down mindlessly in a seat to watch a movie or squishing into seat number 2,001 at a sold-out arena concert.  If you’re looking for that type of passive experience, this isn’t your jam.  It’s about connecting people to true, raw independent film and music.  Connecting musicians to filmmakers, filmmakers to festival-goers, filmmakers to film students, and so much more.   Our suggestion?  Get involved.  HHM makes it easy for you to sit in on panel discussions from the film directors and actors themselves, attend workshops to learn more about the art of filmmaking from the pros, or mingle with the musicians you came to see firsthand.  You can even volunteer at the festival to get behind-the-scenes access (and in some cases, entry into the opening night party & premiere film!)

Get Your Bearings

While HHM Film & Music Festival takes place primarily along… you guessed it… Hell’s Half Mile… there are other venues and festival hotspots you’ll want to explore between films and performances.  Check out HHM’s festival venues & hotspots map ahead of time so you know how to hop from venue to venue (and where to stop for a cold brew or a bite to eat along the way!).  And be sure to pay special attention to the list of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops on the list of festival hotspots – many of them host special dinners and live music performances during the festival to round out the total Hell’s Half Mile experience.

Do Your Homework

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival is a totally hands-on, involved experience for independent film & music lovers.  So if this is your first time attending, you might want to get in the spirit of the festival by revisiting some past classics.  Get your hands on films from past years of the festival, or download a few tracks of some musicians who have graced the Hell’s Half Mile Stage.  Though the lineup changes each year, it’ll give you a feel for the types of film and music that flood Hell’s Half Mile during the 4-day celebration (and will get you familiarized with many of the writers, directors, and actors who are repeat visitors to HHM).

Don’t View & Run

With so many great films and performances packed into just a few short days (this year, September 25th-28th), you’re not going to want to miss a minute.  So find a place to cozy up, and do it well in advance.  Hell’s Half Mile has put together a list of hotels near the film and music venues, or you can book your stay directly at the new GoGreat.com.

Blogger- Blair GieskenBlair Giesken is the Founder & Creative Director of Brandscape, a boutique branding and marketing firm based in Grand Rapids.  She was born and raised in the Great Lakes Bay Region, and loves to come back often to visit family, friends, and the place that will always still feel like home.

These Isle Royale Photos Are Sure to Inspire Your Next U.P. Getaway

Today, Michigan landscape photographer Joshua Nowicki shares some photos from a recent trip to Isle Royale. We’re sure his experience will inspire you to add the Upper Peninsula to your Pure Michigan getaway bucket list! 

Several weeks ago, I was invited to photograph a family wilderness program for the Isle Royale Institute (a partnership between Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park).  It was my first trip to the island, and I was incredibly excited. I was delighted to discover that my expectations for the trip were far exceeded.

Sitting on the bow of the Isle Royale Queen IV and watching Copper Harbor, Michigan disappear into the distance as my cell phone signal faded filled me with joy.  As we moved further out into cool air of Lake Superior, a beautiful white all-encompassing fog surrounded the boat adding to the sense of adventure.  Approaching the island, even before I could see the land, there was a warmth in the breeze and a soft sweetness to the air.  As the island appeared out of the fog, the sky began to clear, and the air warmed.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

After disembarking from the ship, we received a short humorous and very informative introduction to the island from park ranger, Lucas Westcott.  Upon setting foot on land, I was struck by the beauty and wealth of wild flowers; a gorgeous layer of orange, yellow, purple and white blanketed sections of the landscape.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

On my first evening, I went for a walk along the Rock Harbor Trail and saw numerous loons, squirrels, and rabbits.  Additionally, upon turning a corner in the trail, I found myself standing within 30 yards of a cow moose and calf.  At night, I enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature and I could even occasionally hear moose walking through the woods near my tent.  I saw more moose on Isle Royale than I have in all of the trips that I have taken to the Upper Peninsula.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study is followed around the world, and I delighted in a trip to Bangsund Cabin to meet Rolf and Candy Peterson.  Standing in the Museum of Pathology and listening to Rolf discuss the project was a surreal experience I will always treasure.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

A short walk from Bangsund Cabin, leads to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse which is open to the public as a museum.  The tower of the lighthouse also provides visitors with a magnificent view of Rock Harbor and Lake Superior.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

The number of amazing experiences I had are too numerous to write about in one blog post. Some of the additional highlights of my trip were:

Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge and enjoying the fantastic view of the island and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada from the steps of Mount Ojibway Tower.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Marveling at the view of the night sky.  I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly and was even fortunate enough to see both the Milky Way and Northern Lights one evening.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Waking early to watch the sunrise over the forest.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Walking through sections of white spruce and balsam forest covered with Old Man’s Beard Lichen.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Having the rare opportunity to watch a group of pelicans fly over the island, finding greenstones along the beach near Rock Harbor Lighthouse (all stones were left at the beach as per park guidelines), sitting and watching hummingbird moths busily flying from flower to flower, watching curious squirrels explore our camp, and meeting park superintendent Phyllis Green and discussing how a trip to Isle Royale is an incredible place for a family adventure…just to name a few!

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

If you love hiking and camping, Isle Royale is an absolute paradise where you can enjoy the uninterrupted beauty and sound of nature.  However, if camping is not for you, you can experience the island from the comfort of the Rock Harbor Lodge.  There are a variety of trails that are easy to access from the lodge or by water taxi.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

I look forward to my next trip to explore more of this beautiful national treasure.

Joshua_NowickiJoshua Nowicki is a St. Joseph, Michigan based photographer specializing in landscape, nature, architecture, and food photography. His photos can be viewed online on Facebook or his website.

Back Roads and Time Travel, Discovering Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Best-Kept Secret

Today, Northern Michigan photographer Aubrieta V. Hope lets us in on Sleeping Bear Dunes’ best-kept secret.

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Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (michiganscenery.com)

Sometimes the best travel secrets are hidden in plain sight. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, known for its Dune Climb and majestic Scenic Drive also harbors a secret place off the beaten path that many visitors never see.  It’s a quiet place that invites exploration, where the past seems so near that maybe you could just slip into it.  To discover this special place, travel north on M-22 from Glen Arbor and turn west on Port Oneida Road into the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

Drive slowly, or better yet, ride a bicycle along the back roads that branch out from Port Oneida Road.  It’s a storybook landscape with more than a dozen farmsteads dating from the mid-1800′s surrounded by rolling hills, wildflower-tangled pastures and beautiful Lake Michigan beaches.

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta Hope Photography

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta Hope Photography

The old pioneer community is quiet now.  But life goes on: wild roses and poppies bloom, orchards bear fruit, and migrating birds and other wildlife proliferate. Two well-marked hiking trails (the Bay View Trail and the Pyramid Point Trail), traverse the region, both offering panoramic views.  You can spend an entire day here and feel like you have just begun to explore.

Port Oneida offers endless inspiration for artists. As a photographer, I visit the area every chance I get.  I especially enjoy photographing the old farms on misty days and during the fall color season when the trees glow like candles on the hills.  I find secrets of Port Oneida’s pioneer past everywhere, in the glint of an old window at sundown or the crunch of a vintage apple in late summer.    ­

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (michiganscenery.com)

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (michiganscenery.com)

Every season brings beauty to Port Oneida, but summertime is special because that is when many events bring the old farms to life.  It’s a fun way to connect with the area’s rich history.  Some events during the summer in Port Oneida include: the Port Oneida Fair, a 5K Barn to Barn Trail Run/Walk, ranger-led interpretive programs, art classes, horse and wagon tours, and volunteer building and restoration projects.

Go ahead, take a back road and time travel into the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes’ past.  Bring your hiking boots, your binoculars, a picnic, a friend, maybe even your whole family.  You might just want to stay awhile…

For maps, schedules and other information, stop by Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Visitor Center in Empire.

Aubrieta V. HopeAubrieta V. Hope is a landscape photographer with a special interest in Northwest and Upper Michigan.  To see Aubrieta’s images, visit her website, www.michiganscenery.com, check out her Michigan Scenery Facebook page, or stop by Petoskey Pete’s in Glen Arbor or Great Goods in Suttons Bay, Michigan.