“Oh, my God, did he say Ypsitucky?”

When I first moved back to Ypsi, Linette and I made some shirts that said “Buy Indie in Ypsi.” We thought that we were doing a good thing – encouraging people to support the locally owned, independent stores in their community – but some folks didn’t see it that way. We received complaints from a vocal minority, telling us that, by using the term “Ypsi,” we were hurting this community that we’d moved back to be a part of. Apparently, by not using all of the letters in the formal name, we were somehow denigrating the entire community, and moving the City backward. I can’t recall how, if at all, I replied, but, if I did, it’s likely that I used words like “shortsighted” and “ridiculous.” Well, it looks like we’re finding ourselves in another one of those teachable moments here in Ypsi.

Apparently, this time, it’s Erik Dotzauer of the Depot Town CDC that’s the offender…. Yup – it seems as though he’s kicked the “Ypsitucky” hornets’ nest pretty hard.

I received a note from a community leader not too long ago, telling me of Erik’s plan to promote an “Ypsitucky Bluegrass Festival,” and asking me to send a letter of complaint to the City Council, telling them that I objected. Instead, I sent a note back to the man who had contacted me, saying that, as a person from Kentucky, I didn’t find the association all that objectionable.

Apparently, however, some well-intentioned folks in the community feel otherwise. Some, it would seem, think that this is going to send Ypsi into a tailspin from which it can’t recover… To listen to them, you’d think that it wasn’t the prostitution, or the crime, but the word “Ypsitucky” that’s keeping good, honest, hardworking people from our community. (Believe me when I tell you, having talked with a number of people in Ann Arbor about why they don’t visit Ypsi, it has absolutely nothing to do with their fear of confronting a barefoot person in overalls, playing a fiddle.)

So, long story short, the City has called a special meeting of the Ypsi Human Relations Commission for May 18, 2009 to discuss it. (The meeting is to be held at City Council Chambers, located at One South Huron Street, at 7:30 PM.) I’ll have to go check my notes, but I don’t think this commission was even called together when an unarmed David Ware was shot in the back and killed while fleeing from undercover police during a drug bust a few years back. So that should give you some idea as to the overwhelming magnitude of this issue.

Those of you who have been spending time here on the site for a while might remember that I got swept up into the Ypsitucky mess myself some time ago, when I came to the defense of Zingerman’s for using the term to promote a Harriette Arnow tribue dinner celebrating the Appalachian heritage that many of us here share. Well, as you may recall, holy hell broke loose. Someone even went so far as to suggest that it was a hurtful term because Kentuckians were kidnapped and brought here against their will in the 1940s to work in the factories of Ypsilanti. (As you might recall, this particular city leader claimed to have heard personal accounts, but, when asked for details, could never provide them.)

So, what’s my point?

My point is that, even if the word Ypsitucky was used as a pejorative decades ago by people outside of Ypsilanti, it doesn’t have that meaning today. And, even if it did, who’s to say that we can’t embrace the term and transform it in the process? Maybe my judgment is clouded, as my roots are in the Bluegrass State, but, in an era when so much around us seems fake and manufactured, I like that our beloved city has even a tenuous claim to an authentic American culture of some kind. Granted, it’s not sophisticated, but it’s real, and I think that resonates with people.

So, I know there are lots of people out there encouraging folks to complain, and I might be the only person other than Erik on the other side of the fence, but I’d like to ask you to really give it some thought before you do. The term, in and of itself, isn’t bad. The term is what we make it. When I hear it, my mind doesn’t conjure up images of Ann Arbor snobs laughing over glasses of merlot and pointing to the east. Instead, I’m reminded of the really wonderful people from Kentucky who I used to meet on Saturday mornings at the old Freighthouse, in front of the wood stove, listening to Ken and his friends play their banjos. And, I don’t see any reason why others can’t be encouraged to develop similar positive associations of their own. It’s for that reason I think that the Ypsilanti Bluegrass Festival might be a very good thing indeed.

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  1. ypsilistener
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Maynard Krebs-
    Thank you, thank you, and amen.

    I wondered how long it would take to bring the Braves issue back into this. Of course it’s the same story, just change the names.

    I need to correct your first sentence, as it was not the school board that instigated that issue; they just addressed it once it was clear that it wasn’t going away.

    It’s almost amusing the way you are directing your anger about that decision at me, simply because I brought up the school issue. Are you trying to say that, just because “90% of the population” is “pissed off” by the mascot issue, that we should just let the schools fail? I know people who feel that way, and it’s both shocking and disheartening.

    If I was not clear in the first place, let me try again. I acknowledge the importance of the discussion. I don’t think the issues are “either/or,” EXCEPT for the fact that both meetings occur at the same time tonight. I just find it disappointing that the Ypsitucky meeting will probably draw all sorts of fired-up citizens, and the impacts will likely be limited, whereas the superintendent meeting will likely have a meager crowd, and I already know how dramatically this decision can impact the greater community.

  2. Posted May 18, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink


    I have to confess. I have very little interest in the public schools. Whenever I have bothered to take an interest in the past, I’ve been told that my opinions dont matter because I dont have children. And there is something to that. My own opinions about education are not very mainstream. If I were to suddenly put a lot of energy into changing how YPS does things, I suspect that a lot of parents would be upset. Understandably too.

  3. EOS
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink


    Wasn’t intending to direct my anger at anyone – I’m not even angry. Was just making an observation. I actually agree with you very much that the selection of the new school superintendent has far more importance than whether any individual in the community might feel “bad” because the term Ypsitucky is used. Or maybe, with the school system going bankrupt, the community might consider hiring no one, selling off all assets and joining a more solvent school district. The schools have already failed, the MEAP test scores are among the worst in the state. The question is how much more money do you invest in a sinking ship?

  4. Posted May 18, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    EoS believes that the solution to improving the schools is to get rid of the Jews, the blacks and the children of gay people.

  5. EOS
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Dude thinks that we won’t need schools if we just ended all pregnancies in abortions. Not all communities are capable of raising kids, right Dude?

  6. Posted May 18, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Actually, that’s a great idea. We could save lots of public money. I think you’re on to something.

  7. McKechnie
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    While speaking to an Ypsilanti business owner, in store, the term Ypsitucky came up: She is offended because, “We’re trying to make Ypsilanti more classy; the name YpsiTucky isn’t classy.” What wasn’t classy was her husband; business owner, board member, fun Governor, ‘artist,’ was in his bathrobe lounging around while cutomers were in the store.
    To people saying Ann Arbor laughs at Ypsilanti, (1. who fucking cares. (2. remember that ol’ saying, “Ann Arbor: Six square miles, surrounded by reality.”

  8. Posted May 18, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I just moved to Ypsilanti in April, and I’ve been enjoying Mark’s blog since that time. The comments on this post were particularly inspired, so thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a personal a topic.

    However, such an emotionally charged topic may be better suited to an intimate conversation between friends, or a physical setting where body language and inflection make our words human, not just English. We all believe what we believe for a reason and respecting that fact is the first step to intelligent discourse.

  9. Ytown
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Bunchofstring, why don’t you go and fuck yourself.

  10. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Uh oh, DiNero’s in town. Now we’ve done it.

  11. Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    So, did anyone go last night?

    I hear there’s going to be video up on the YpsiCiti site today, but, as of right now, there’s nothing there.

  12. Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    As for DiNero, I suspect he spent his evening at Mr. Mike’s. From what I understand, that’s where all of Hollywood’s elite like to drink when they’re in town.

  13. Kerfuffel
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The video is up on the Ypsi Citi sight now, and it’s hi-larious.

  14. Posted May 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I went. I thought it was a relatively interesting and mostly civil discussion.

    Oddly, I thought both sides more or less shot themselves in the foot using arguments that seemed to offer ammunition to the opposition. For instance, the organizers of the festival kept referring to how they knew the name would offend a some people, but that they decided to go with it anyway. I probably would have left that part out when pleading my case. On the other side, it seemed as if the opponents were a little too eager to equate “Ypsitucky” with the “N-word” in term of its power to dehumanize. The fact that one can actually *say* the word “Ypsitucky” in a public place I think says a lot about how empty that comparison is.

    There were maybe three or four people of southern extraction who got up and spoke, as well as several others claiming to be sympathetic to how injured those three or four must feel. I’m not sure I’m buying it, though, as it seems as if much of their motivation has more to do with how some of these community leaders want to “brand” the community and whether the term “Ypsitucky” is appropriate for said branding.

    Overall, people opposing the term outnumbered those supporting it, which is in direct contradiction with what I’ve heard as I’ve talked to people in the community. Not sure what this means.

    Oh, and I buried the lead. Here’s the real news: The Corner Brewery is going to start distilling Ypsitucky Barrel Bourbon.

  15. Tom Dodd
    Posted May 30, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark, for getting this discussion going. As usual, you touch the soul of Ypsi.

    Many contend that even “Ypsi” is an insiders’ sobriquet, never to be used casually by outsiders.

    I look forward to the September 2009 issue of The Depot Town Rag which will attempt to explain it all under the rubric of market branding.

    -Minister of Propaganda

  16. France Hilda
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Have you ever considered writing interesting blog posts on this site?

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Jamboman on April 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    […] just come to my attention that the folks behind the Michigan Roots Jamboree (formerly known as the Ypsitucky Bluegrass Festival), have rolled out an official mascot. His name is Jamboman, and, according to Facebook, he wants […]

  2. […] just come to my attention that the folks behind the Michigan Roots Jamboree (formerly known as the Ypsitucky Bluegrass Festival), have rolled out an official mascot. His name is Jamboman, and, according to Facebook, he wants […]

  3. By The abduction of Jambo Man on August 11, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    […] recall, got off to wobbly start a few years back, when it attempted to get off the ground as the Ypsitucky Jamboree, but, from what I’ve heard, things went well this time out at the newly rechristened Michigan […]

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