They’re gone now, but, before they left, I had an opportunity to talk with Casey and Ryan Dawson about their decision to pack up, leave Ypsilanti, and recreate themselves on the west coast. What follows is their official exit interview.
MARK: How soon after I had you both on the Saturday Six Pack as guests did you decide that you needed to get out of Ypsi? Was it pretty immediate, or did it take a few days?
RYAN: If my memory serves, it was immediate.
CASEY: We literally ran to the car.
RYAN: I blame the strength of the AM radio waves emitted from the AM 1700 studio.
MARK: Seriously, when did you know that it was time to go? Had you been thinking about it for a while?
RYAN: Last year I was thinking about a change, but I wasn’t sure what kind. The kids are grown and doing well, and it seemed like there was an opportunity to try something new. I let it go, but then Casey had this opportunity for a promotion that would take us out of Michigan. It felt like good timing, and it was a place we were really interested in.
MARK: And that place is Portland, correct?
RYAN: Yes, Portland, OREGON.
MARK: Why the CAPS? When you tell people that you’re moving to Portland, do they respond by asking, “Which Portland?” Do they think you mean Portland, Ohio, which is just below Long Bottom, and above Racine?
RYAN: I thought your readers might get confused because of the popular IFC show, Mainelandia.
CASEY: He’s a comedian.
MARK: Yes, I’ll miss his humor… So, Casey, what’s the job?
CASEY: Assistant Director of Administration for an organization that does cancer research through Oregon Health and Science University in beautiful downtown Portland.
[This and the following photo are courtesy Kate de Fuccio and Ypsilanti’s AM 1700 radio.]
MARK: If, when you get to Portland, someone asks you to describe Ypsi, what will you tell them?
CASEY: Ypsi has so many great things going on. I’d tell them that Ypsi has a great, low-key vibe that surrounds it. It’s comfytown! It’s got a good amount of grit, with a lot of beauty and a ton of potential. We’ve seen lots of positive changes over the years and I’m so excited for what’s to come for this community.
MARK: Why is it, do you think, that so many Michiganders seem to wind up in Portland? The last time I was there, I was just sitting at a bar by myself, in the middle of the day, and some people sat down next to me and struck up a conversation with the bartender, asking for advice as to where they should live. They said that they were moving out from Michigan. And, as coincidence would have it, the guy behind the bar was from Michigan too. I know it’s a super small sample size, but, based on that exchange, and the fact that I was in Portland visiting an old friend from Michigan, I’ve convinced myself that everyone in Portland is a Michigan expatriot.
CASEY: First things first, maybe Michiganders need to explore why they’re all sitting in bars in the middle of the day… But, yeah, it’s beautiful there. Oregon kind of looks like northern Michigan, but with mountains… Now, can you tell me where the bartender said we should live?
MARK: I think, half joking, he told them to stay in Michigan, but I can’t remember. I believe there may have been some talk or rents going up, as a result of people moving there, or something.
RYAN: We noticed that there were a lot of people from Michigan as well… and the midwest in general. We’ve talked to some Portland natives, and they’ve confirmed as much. They said there’s been a huge migration over the past ten years. Portlanders seem quite welcoming, though. Unless you’re from Los Angeles. Then they hate your guts.
MARK: Do you have friends out there?
CASEY: The few folks we know out there are great.
RYAN: We knows some folks out there, but not super well. A few acquaintances and such. One of my best friends, someone that I’ve played music with most of my life, lives in Seattle, which, as it turns out, is closer to Portland than Ypsilanti, so I’m pretty stoked about that.
MARK: Are you pretty confident that you can make new friends there?
CASEY: I have amazing friends here in Michigan, so my standards are pretty high, but I’ve had great experiences with the people I’ve met when I’ve visited. And we’ve got a lot of hobbies that will connect us with people, so I’m hopeful.
RYAN: I’d say that Casey and I don’t usually have a hard time meeting people and establishing relationships. I’ve heard weird stuff about people who grew up out there being space cadets and clique-y, but I really hate going into this with an idea like that in my mind. So I’m just going to be open and see what happens. I think the abundance of midwesterners won’t hurt the process though.
MARK: What do you look for when you’re assessing someone as a potential friend? What traits, in other words, make someone friend-worthy, in your eyes?
CASEY: I’m drawn to people who are laid back and easy to be around. Adventurers. People who inspire me and challenge me to be a better human. People who crack me up.
RYAN: I like warmness and openness. I like a sense of adventure. I like people who get out of their comfort zone, and inspire me to get out of mine. I’m definitely not drawn to overt pretension, and “fitting in” with the cool kids, and that kind of stuff.
MARK: OK, let’s talk about Michigan. How long have you each lived here?
CASEY: I was born in Alabama and did a short stint in Chicago as a toddler, but I’ve been in Michigan most of my life. I’ve got lots of love for Michigan.
MARK: What kinds of memories do you have of Alabama?
CASEY: I left Alabama at a very young age so I don’t have too many memories of living there. I’ve visited a couple of times a year for most of my life, though, and I do have a connection. The south has a lot of horrible baggage and I’ve definitely felt that. I’ve always been in tune with a sort of heaviness that fills some spaces there, even as a young kid. It’s flawed, but it’s also a beautiful state. My family there are some of the most kind hearted and genuine people I’ve ever known. They’re good people and I have a ton of respect for them. Wish the rest of Alabama, and ‘Merica, could get their act together!
MARK: And how about you, Ryan, where are you from?
RYAN: Born and raised in Livonia in the mid 70’s. I moved to Georgia for a couple of years in the ‘90s. I lived in both Atlanta and Athens before moving back. I hated Atlanta. Athens was a great town, but I couldn’t find a job. I actually lived with Jim Cherwick’s older brother and some bohemian types for a couple of months. I think this would have been before Jim was even born, but I’m not 100% sure about that.
MARK: I would give anything to travel back in time to attend Jim’s birth.
RYAN: It seems like a weird choice, given all of the things you could go back in time and experience, but whatever floats your boat.
MARK: I’d just like for Jim to be looking through family photos one day, and to see me standing there, beside his mother’s hospital bed. But, yeah, if I could only make one trip to the past, I should probably try to do something like stop World War II by killing baby Hitler, right?
RYAN: [Just stares silently.]
MARK: So, where do you both live now?
RYAN: We live really close to the Key Bank on Washtenaw and Hewitt. It’s a cool location because you can walk to Walgreen’s when you need hormone filled milk and band aids.
CASEY: You can also get your flu shot at Walgreens.
MARK: Have you sold your house yet?
RYAN: Sale Pending. So far, it’s been a super smooth process.
CASEY: WOOT WOOT!
MARK: What will you miss about Ypsilanti?
RYAN: Not in any particular order: Our friends, Krampus, Wurst Bar’s Mr. Peanut, Haab’s happy hour, the Border To Border trail and the abundance of dirt roads to ride my bike on, the beer selection at Sidetrack and Cultivate, Powell’s karaoke, the Who guy, Totally Awesome Fest, Huron River canoeing, Murray Lake hangs. I love the intimacy of Ypsi… It’s a small community that’s pretty tight. Grittiness.
CASEY: Aw, Ryan’s answers make me smile… I will miss those things. I’ll also miss Depot Town Tattoo and Ypsi Studio. But I’ll miss my people the most.
MARK: What won’t you miss about Ypsilanti?
CASEY: The skunks. The smell when you cross over the Huron River Bridge by Washtenaw Community College.
RYAN: I really don’t have any complaints honestly. Places are what you make ‘um. It would be cool to have a good music venue, though.
CASEY: You’ve done your homework! We’ve had countless jam sessions in the Fairfield basement with some of this area’s greatest talents. I played bass with Ryan in The Riots, United Space League and Yellow Rail Family. And I’ve had the pleasure of playing with my other besties in Modern Lady Fitness and, most recently, Van Houten.
RYAN: Suma, The Ashurst Project, Torpedo!, The Riots, Paw Paw, Ypsi Sisters, Electric Shark, United Space League, Yellow Rail Family. I have recordings of all of these projects, but most of them only played out a handful of times. The Riots was probably our most ambitious project between 2002-2006. I found a great review of our record the other day, if you’re interested. Electric Shark is definitely my favorite, though. It’s also the most sexy.
MARK: Does Yellow Rail Family, your husband-wife two-piece, have any gigs lined up in Oregon?
RYAN: Not yet. We’ve been too busy to think about it. I assume we’ill be spending some time on creative endeavors when we get settled, though… We’ll eventually get the itch.
MARK: Where did the two of you meet?
RYAN: Smoking cigs outside our place of work.
CASEY: We haven’t smoked for a long time, but I’m glad that happened. Ryan is my person! He’s the best husband, father, and best friend.
MARK: If he’s the best husband and father, what does that make me?
RYAN: Somebody once said that people almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof, but on the basis of what they find attractive, and I find that sentiment attractive.
MARK: So, what will you be doing in Portland, Ryan?
RYAN: Growing a mustache and riding a bike with weird handlebars.
MARK: My friend in Portland volunteers as a medic for the annual nude bike ride there. I’ll tell him to keep an eye out for a guy with weird handlebars.
CASEY: My new boss does the nude bike ride! He recently showed me photos.
MARK: I’m sure he did… As for the mustache, Ryan, have you given any thought to what kind you’ll be growing. It’s an important decision. And the bar is high in Portland when it comes to facial hair.
MARK: Going to a new town gives you an opportunity to recreate yourself to some extent. Ryan’s going to be growing facial hair and getting a bicycle with weird handlebars. What, if anything, will you be doing to change things up, Casey?
CASEY: Funny you ask! I’ve been discussing this at length with some friends. What is “new” Casey into? Well, for starters, I’ll learn to knit. I promised Ryan that, if he hauled my collection of knitting supplies, that I take out about once a year, all the way across the country, I’d use them. Plus, I’ve heard it rains a lot, so knitting sounds like a nice indoor activity. Other than that, I am just really excited about the opportunity to create new habits. I feel like I’ve got a lot of good stuff going on, so I’d like to prioritize all of that. More yoga, more adventure, more time spent with my sweet old beagles. More seizing the day and being active while we can. I may also adopt some sort of exotic accent.
MARK: What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time in Michigan?
CASEY: I have met so many wonderful people who have broadened my perspective and impacted my life. We’ve built a beautiful and rich community of friends here who are (and will always be) our family. I’m super proud of that. I’ve had the opportunity to teach yoga and fitness classes over the last handful of years. I’m proud of that accomplishment and thankful for those opportunities. I’ve got no shortage of items on my gratitude list. That’s something that I’m proud of. I have a really nice life.
RYAN: Living life fully where I’m at. This is really the first time I ever consciously hunkered down and tried to make the best of things where I was, and not go looking for happiness elsewhere. I always wanted to move away when I was younger, and saw myself doing awesome stuff somewhere else, like Portland, Seattle, etc. I don’t believe that there’s something magical about a place out there that will make you happy, though. Since I accepted that, my life with Casey has been nothing short of amazing. We made great friends, embraced Michigan’s winter wholeheartedly, played music, traveled, and adventured the shit out of Ypsilanti. That’s an accomplishment I can carry with me to this new place, which will probably not be too hard. I mean, it’s not like we are moving to Gary, Indiana. There is no amount of perspective I could embrace to cope with that.
MARK: If we were to erect a Dawson memorial statue somewhere, where would it be, and what would both of you be depicted doing?
CASEY: I would love to say that it would be somewhere like Riverside Park and we’d be depicted playing music, laughing and carrying on. It’s far more likely, though, that it would be out in front of Sidetrack and we’d be cheers-ing giant beers. We’ve been known to frequent that place.
[Curious as to why people are leaving this place we call home? Check out the Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]