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Do you live in Paradise? How’s it going?Those are questions we want to explore this fall on IPR News Radio in our series, Which Way to Paradise: Struggle and Promise Up North.Parts of northern Michigan are booming and we are constantly told Traverse City, in particular, is a top 10 place to live, work, and play. Who is coming here and why? How has the region changed and who's missing out on the boom?

Which Way to Paradise: Traverse City the next Muscle Shoals?

Peter Payette

(This is our first story in a new series on IPR.) 

Around the time Ben Davila was thinking about leaving San Francisco, a friend sent him a BuzzFeed articleabout nine private islands you can buy for less than an apartment in San Francisco.
Davila was well aware of the problem. He had a small recording studio in his apartment that he wanted to expand, but there was no way he could afford it.
He was looking around and had visited Traverse City a few times, and one thing he noticed was the microbreweries.
“They’re really bumping places,” says the 34-year-old musician who grew up in southern California. “When you go to them, a lot of people are there.”

Ben was also teaching music to youth at Bird School of Music where there is an emphasis on performance. He’s amazed how open the breweries in Traverse City are to letting newer bands perform.
“That’s completely unheard of in places like San Francisco,” he says.
Ben wants to help young bands and singer-songwriters get those gigs. His new school and recording studio is called The Rock Stop. He teaches lessons, records music, and he just launched his band program this week.
The Rock Stop is on the eastern edge of downtown Traverse City with a view of the Bay. The walls are painted blue and green and lined with instruments, mostly string, including Ben’s Fender Jaguar.
“One of the most exciting things is the first time a little kid ever gets an electronic instrument, particularly an electronic guitar,” he says. “You have that moment where it’s like, ‘oohhh!’ You have that power.”
Ben wants his school to be a place where young musicians feel safe. He’s wearing a T-shirt that says “Don’t Panic.” He says he’s shooting for something that feels like a blend between NASA and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. On a shelf is a picture of Albert Einstein and a talking greeting card with Mr. Rogers.
He opens it and the soothing voice of Fred Rogers announces, “You’re just the way you’re supposed to be. You’re growing just right.”
“Cheers me up every time I hear it,” he says with a laugh.


Family connection
Ben Davila did not find Traverse City on a top 10 list. His partner, Elysha Rom-Povolo, grew up in Beulah but wasn’t sure this was an area she could live as an adult.
They decided to move back when one of her family members became ill. They first looked at Ann Arbor and Chicago, which would have put them closer to family. Elysha says those are great towns but so is Traverse City.
“The fact that we can go out of our door and ride our bikes anywhere in the region is a huge benefit,” she says. “We don’t actually own a car.”

Credit Ben Davila
Ben and Elysha

Elysha’s also a musician. She and Ben have formed a band, and Elysha says they can find live music at multiple places any night of the week.
Ben Davila thinks Traverse City has enough of a music scene to become a destination in the music world. He imagines it like Muscle Shoals, Alabama was in the 1960s.
“Sort of small town where artists know, ‘Hey if you want to make a record, go to Traverse City, that place is cool,’’’ he says.
For now, Ben is building his band program and studio. His protégés will perform a concert in November.

Jealousy Birds from Ben Davila and the Spectacles.

Burning with Elysha Rom-Povolo on keytar.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.