Resilient Neighborhoods: Woodbridge welcomes fall with porch concerts and Co-Hop beer tappping

Woodbridge resident Jason Rho never knew about the creative talent living in his neighborhood until COVID-19 brought fellow performers onto their front porches. 

“It was kind of that first step to playing out and about again, and when you're a musician, you have that itch,” he says about the inaugural porch concert series held in the neighborhood three years ago. 

“And to fulfill that itch, embracing the community and getting to know our neighbors, finding other talented musicians that lived just down the block... Because of this porch festival, we were exposed to all types of music going on in our neighborhood. That meant a lot to us then,” he says. “It still means a lot to us.”

Rho, a bassist who also plays a little guitar, sings, and enjoys helping to grow hops in the community, is pretty geeked about the annual Woodbridge Porch Concerts + Co-Hop Beer Tapping happening Oct. 7. A strolling concert series organized by Woodbridge Neighborhood Development will take place from 12-6 p.m. throughout the neighborhood. This year's lineup boasts over 25 performances, with multiple genres of music beginning every 30 minutes.

To toast the autumn season and this year's Woodbridge Wet Hop Pale Ale, the 4th annual Woodbridge Co-Hop Beer Tapping will follow daytime festivities at the Woodbridge Pub garden lot. Brew Detroit in Corktown brews the specialty beer from hops grown and harvested by Woodbridge residents. A portion of Saturday's beer sales and in the month to follow will benefit WND minor home repair grants for low-income residents in the neighborhood. 
“When we fuse both events— the first tapping of our beer and the porch concerts— I affectionately call it Woodbridge Day,” Rho says. “It’s a way to get all the neighbors involved and have one big celebration. That strong sense of community is very important to me. I never really had it growing up.”

When Rho and two musician friends moved into a flat on Commonwealth in 2018, with a fourth musician living upstairs, the group envisioned jamming together regularly. But the 32-year-old data analyst says his roommates, gigging musicians then, were, in reality, too busy to sit at home and play music together. That is, until the pandemic. 

Finding time on their hands, the group finally turned their daydreams into a house band called Commønwealth. No agenda or setlist, they put together covers of the songs they loved listening to, from R&B and Motown to indie pop, rock, and funk. They live-streamed their music to share joy with a nervous world and eventually hosted a porch concert for friends. In the fall of 2021, Rho heard “through the grapevine of living in Woodbridge” that WND was putting together a porch concert series for neighbors. He quickly signed the band up to play.

Commønwealth band members Chris Kendall, Jason Rho, Josh Bertolet, and Tom Phillips.

"It was perfect. 2021 was kind of the first year where we're starting to feel safe maybe, especially since we're going to be outside,” he says. “Giving us the opportunity to play to a crowd and do so meant a lot to us as musicians and creatives to share our passion with people we love and strangers alike.

Ironically, Commønwealth will play on Avery Street this year at 4 p.m. Rho's looking forward to covering a group favorite called “Show Me How” by Men I Trust, featuring on vocals Detroit artist Liz Ably, Rho’s bandmate in Deep Bloom. Now that life has returned to a daily pace, and only a few friends from Commønwealth live in Woodbridge, the opportunity to play together is rare. “Woodbridge Day” gives the band the chance to bond, Rho says, and “remember the good times during the time we were trapped in together.” 

Working on the music lineup with Angie Gaabo, WND’s executive director, Rho says he's happy but not surprised to see how the event has grown. He hosts an open mic music night every other Tuesday at The Lexington Bar in the neighborhood, where he regularly meets artists and musicians who he describes as “people with a lot of passion and ambition.” 

"I definitely think it's going to be a bigger community event for other parts of Detroit,” he says about the upcoming concert series. “And I'm happy to share our neighborhood with others.”

Come for the music, stay for the brew

At WND, Angie Gaabo has been organizing and marketing the event and working to secure small grants for gigging artists. But she's also wholeheartedly embracing the chance to make music with her neighbors. A cellist, she’s performing in three ensembles on Saturday, playing classical standards and pop surprises and accompanying a musician who plays Medieval and Renaissance recorders. Because, why not?

Gaabo says the concert series was inspired by a neighbor who saw musicians playing on porches in Fendale and other parts of the city during COVID-19. WND, which hosts regular programming for and with the community, was trying to find ways to bring neighbors together safely and outdoors. The idea was perfect for Woodbridge, a pre-auto neighborhood with no driveways and lots of big porches, where the houses and streets are close. 

And, “There are a lot of musicians here just historically and then because of how close we are to Wayne State and our students who live here,” she says.  “You often will hear people and bands practicing or playing on the weekend with their windows open in the summer.”

When WND put out a call in 2021, about a dozen performers answered back: rock music, but also other kinds of instrumentalists, spoken word, and poetry. This year's broad offering includes blues, Indie rock, pop, folk, classical, and a jazz trio of performing students from Wayne State University. Visiting performers are matched with a porch host who has volunteered their porch as a stage. Senior residents at The Village of University Meadows in the neighborhood have assembled an informal gospel choir for the first time.  At 3:30, DJ Shaun Watts will host a midday dance break on Avery Street.

It’s just a really beautiful day,” says Gaabo. “You can be here the whole afternoon walking from house to house and listening to whatever you want to hear. Some people will bring a bike and park and stand or sit on the grass, listen to music, and then bike down to the one they want to see next. We want to showcase that most of these acts live in this neighborhood or have a deep connection [because] they lived here before or grew up here." 

Brizzl. Photo by Daniel Hall. Headlining the event at 5:30 p.m. are funk band Cye Pie and Ya Homies (Cye Pie on Spotify), who will perform at the Woodbridge community garden at Putnam and Commonwealth, and hip-hop artist Brizzl (also on Spotify), performing at Commonwealth and Merrick. Music will continue at the Woodbridge Pub garden lot with jazz by Sky Covington and a 9 p.m. performance by Gusher at The Lexington Bar. 

Time to Get Hopping

At 6 p.m., the Woodbridge Co-Hop will commence the 4th annual tapping of their neighborhood-grown beer at Woodbridge Pub. The Pub, The Lexington Bar, and 8 Degrees Plato will continue serving the beer until it's gone (generally about a month). The Roost, a cafe and micro grocery in Woodbridge, will serve the beer during porch concerts on Saturday.

Residents grew over 115 plants this season to harvest 100-plus pounds of hops to make that beer, says Mark Jones, co-founder of the Co-Hop. In addition to giving Brew Detroit the hops needed to brew eight kegs of harvest ale, growers had enough to pelletize and sell later this year. The Hartwick strand the group plants is considered an experimental Michigan species with growing interest among homebrewers and microbrewers across the state. So far, Woodbridge is the only place growing it, he says. Jones chose Hartwick because it smells like pineapple and spices, and the cones grow large. 

"It helps people think that they're doing it right if the crop is big," he says. "I wanted to make sure people saw the fruits of their labor. And it smells like what I would think a good pale ale would."

The Co-Hop has upped their game this year. For the first time, the community didn't manually pick the hops, a laborsome task requiring dozens of volunteers to work eight or more hours across 15 properties. With the new method, growers cut down one long bind at a time with the plants intact and bundled them with a coconut fiber twine before driving them to Mr. Wizard's Hop Farm in Monroe to be processed. Jones says the drive took as long as it did to gather all the plants. 

He appreciates the "Woodbridge Ale," as he calls it, is local from start to finish. 

He says combining Beer Tapping with the porch concerts was absolutely the right move. In addition to granting the Co-Hop permission to use two of its vacant lots, WND contributed funds towards plants, hop trellises, and soil testing early on. They also helped with marketing the Co-Hop and reaching the community. ombining events, Jones says, WND could take control of the tapping party, leaving him to focus on harvesting and keg orders. He says it would be hard to keep everyone tuned in and motivated to grow and harvest without their participation and enthusiasm. He's glad to know the proceeds will circle back into the neighborhood. 

WND matches funds that come through beer sales and other donations with money from MSHDA and other sources to help as many folks as they can, Gaabo says. It's all about housing stabilization— helping people stay in their homes and helping houses from becoming unliveable. 

These are old houses that start to fall apart at some point," she says. "There's a constant renovation and maintenance process that goes on.  And a lot of these homes are passed on through generations."

This year, WND will do a total roof replacement for an 82-year-old resident who has lived in Woodbridge her entire life. She has water pouring through her roof in five or six different places, Gaabo says, and no repair will suffice. The $20,000 replacement will make a huge difference for this resident and the block she's living on, she says. 

Gaabo says it was an interesting connection between housing stabilization and the event because people are on porches during the concerts, and the attention is on the house. The event is a win, she says, because it's very low cost and rather a light lift for a big impact. Mostly free music + beer sales = modest home repair dollars.

Amanda Vig Jones, Mark Jones, and Autumn Jones grow hops as a family.

Jones says he's hoping Woodbridge will get a brewery at some point. But if they can't, the citizens will do it themselves.

"We can make our own beer and put it in our restaurants. Everyone is extremely helpful. Everyone loves the garden. Everyone loves the community feel," he says. "It's a really good neighborhood for it. And I think people liked the taste of it and likes to be part of the process. I asked if anyone felt left out because of not getting a discount for the beer. And the majority just said they want to grow to help. And I think that's really cool sentiment."

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by Sarah Williams.

Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller