City Slang: Sweet Willie Tea at Eastern Market

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Saturday morning, Eastern Market in Detroit. The crowds are difficult to negotiate, especially when pulling a two-year-old in a wagon, but the bumps and constant apologies are worth it because the hustle-bustle buzz is so otherwise enjoyable. The following day, Sunday, will likely be crazier because of the big flower show. My family and I are here for more traditional reasons – fresh and hopefully locally produced fruit, veg and meat.

Samples are placed in front of my twitching nostrils but, unlike at Sam’s Club, these morsels look good. Some sort of spicy sausage (meat unknown)? Yum. Naturally sweetened cookies? Bit bland, but not bad. Wandering around a busy Eastern Market with my wife and kid, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells, is awesome.

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Out of the major hullabaloo (an under-used word), just across the street, somebody is providing a soundtrack to the goings-on. Fittingly, the music is earthy, natural and locally produced. Sweet Willie Tea (love that name) is a Flint blues-Americana man who sits on his stool while passers by pass by, one foot on a kick drum pedal, a guitar in his arms and a kazoo in his mouth.

Seriously, you’ve never truly heard the Hank Williams tune “Jambalaya on the Bayou” until you’ve heard it dressed up with kazoo solos. The crazy thing is, on Willie’s watch it doesn’t even sound silly. The guy has a joyful air about him, but also one of authenticity. You believe every word he utters, every note he plays, so a blast on a kid’s party instrument does no harm at all.

People stroll past Willie, many barely notice that he’s playing at all, but those of us that stopped and paid attention were rewarded. Eastern Market is one of Detroit’s many gems and, if you don’t already, check out the musicians next time you’re there.


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