MCREST gets merry with ‘alternative holiday concert’

Dec. 8 show will raise funds for local nonprofit

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 4, 2012

There are plenty of traditional ways to celebrate the season — but this, says Christine Lavin, isn’t one of them.

Lavin and Uncle Bonsai, a Seattle-based trio, will take the stage at the Warren Consolidated Performing Arts Center with special guest Don White for a Dec. 8 concert benefitting the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team.

This isn’t “The Nutcracker,” nor a church choral performance; it’s what Lavin described as an “alternative holiday show,” a mix of wistful and whimsical, acoustic guitar and vocals, serious and silly, with the seasonal thread tying it all up with a figurative bow.

“This one is way different,” she said. “If we do any songs that are familiar, we do them in ways you’ve never heard before.”

And as an added bonus, “It’s actually supporting a good cause and having fun at the same time,” she said.

Proceeds from the concert go to MCREST, a Roseville-based nonprofit that aims to end homelessness in Macomb County.

The organization’s main component is an emergency shelter program that houses up to 60 individuals and families weekly via a network of 90 local partner churches, said Tim Joy, a member of MCREST’s Board of Directors and the concert chairman.

The churches provide a temporary roof over the guests’ heads, and volunteers chip in with supplies, transportation and more.

MCREST also offers case management support to help participants find jobs, address mental health and substance abuse issues, and overcome other barriers preventing them from obtaining housing, said Joy.

The organization launched two new programs in September — Journey Home, which targets families, and Open Door, for individuals — that provide people who have found sources of income with three months’ rent and security deposit

“We’re really developing into a program where our mission is to transition them to independence,” said Joy. “Going forward, that’s the mission of MCREST: Not just to provide the safe, warm place to sleep, but to get them back to self-sufficiency.”

According to Joy, the demand for MCREST’s services “is still pretty huge”; the shelter is perpetually full, and the organization has to turn away up to 100 people a month, due to space limitations.

The “new homeless” are single parents with children, with families comprising more than 30 percent of the homeless population, he added.

“It just breaks your heart,” he said, recalling youngsters calmly doing homework in the lobbies of churches, awaiting intake at the organization’s temporary shelters. “They seem to be happy, and they seem to be dealing with the issues, but … instead of what neighbor kid they’re going to be playing with that night, or what television show they’re going to watch … they’re caught up in this really difficult life of just finding a place to sleep and food to eat.”

The Dec. 8 concert is an integral part of furthering MCREST’s mission, especially considering government grants are becoming smaller and more difficult to find than in the past, said Joy. MCREST relies on those, plus private foundation grants and corporate and individual donations, to survive, he said. 

The Sterling Heights performance is among 15 stops on Lavin’s and Uncle Bonsai’s cross-country “Just One Angel” tour, which kicked off Nov. 30 in Washington state and wraps up outside of Washington, D.C., Dec. 23.

The tour gets its moniker from the holiday album of the same name, produced by Lavin, which “covers Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice and New Year’s from 22 points of view,” she said.

In addition to songs by Lavin and Uncle Bonsai, the compilation features singer/songwriters like Jeff Daniels, Janis Ian and Kate Taylor.

In many cities, the tour stop included a guest star from the album, but with no one on the recording hailing from metro Detroit, Joy suggested White — who co-headlined last year’s MCREST concert with Matt Watroba — as a fitting addition to the lineup, said Lavin.

“This is the most unusual booking I’ve ever heard of, putting the three of us together,” laughed Lavin, but she said the performers will mesh well because they share a common thread of humor. “I love shows that put unusual combinations of artists together. I think the thing that connects all of us is the funny part.”

White “is just the funniest thing on two feet; I describe him as a blue-collar intellectual,” she said. “A lot of his music comes directly from the life that he leads with his family.”

Lavin described her own music as stemming from the singer/songwriter folk tradition, though she’s known to intersperse her songs with comic monologues. It’s a similar situation for Uncle Bonsai — Andrew Ratshin, Arni Adler and Patrice O’Neill — who she described as “whip smart and quirky and unusual and flat-out brilliant.”

“Somehow, all three of us took a detour into comedy,” she quipped, “and never came out of it.”

The WCS Performing Arts Center is located at 12901 15 Mile, west of Schoenherr, on the campus of Sterling Heights High School.

Tickets are available for $20 and $30. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call (586) 415-5101 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.