The Saturday Six Pack: Community dialogue, one beer at a time

You could call "The Saturday Six Pack With Mark Maynard" a political affairs forum, a performing arts showcase, or a free-form auditory community collage. But if you stop by the AM1700 studio for an episode of the radio show some time, the best way to describe it is a wild weekly block party. 

People gather inside the studio building and on the street outside, watching, laughing and occasionally chipping in to the broadcast. Guests who have finished their stint on-mic with Maynard tend to hang around and enjoy the rest of the show, sometimes jumping in to participate in later segments. And conversely, an episode rarely goes by without at least one random bystander going on the air to chat with Maynard about something or other.

It's a vibrant little scene that's arisen every Saturday from 6-8 p.m. at the corner of Washington and Pearl in Ypsilanti, right next door to the Déjà Vu strip club. And it's especially remarkable when you take into account that "The Saturday Six Pack" has only been around for about four months. 

Maynard, best known for his long-running blog focusing on local and national politics, originally hatched the idea late last year while he was out for a few beers with AM1700 owner Brian Robb.

"I said, ‘Let's just go back to your place and turn on the transmitter and just sit around and talk,'" Maynard says. "So we get over there and I put on Facebook: ‘Call this number.' We had had a few beers and it was sloppy and messy."

But a few people called in even for that trial run, which planted the seeds of something bigger–but only a little less "sloppy."

"Between the time of [Maynard] walking from the station to his house, which is like two blocks, he had texted me saying he wants to do a show," Robb says. "He's interested in doing a show but he can't commit to more than four shows. And I think he's enjoyed it so much that we are where we are today."

In keeping with the show's slightly inebriated origin, Maynard decided to structure the new program around a boozy hook.

"With Brian's [station] I was thinking there's no definitive end time because there's no schedule," Maynard says. "There's no one-hour timeslots like at WCBN or something. It's basically just whenever. So I just said, ‘Okay, I'll come in with a six-pack and I'll basically just do it until the six-pack's done.'"

More than a gimmick or even just a pre-imposed endpoint for the show, the six-pack concept has given the program a sort of loose format. Maynard says he typically has more "difficult" conversations about politics or social issues during the first hour, when host and guests are both relatively sober. As the beers disappear, Maynard says issues of "food or sex or music" begin to take precedence.

"The stuff that happens in the 7:00-8:00 hour is sometimes kind of wacky, and that's where you find the magic," Robb says.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin discovered Maynard's eclectic blend of content firsthand when he appeared on the show in March. Irwin, a longtime fan of Maynard's blog, says his only regret about the experience was "refusing a second beer."  

"We had people call in and ask good, pointed questions about important matters of public policy," Irwin says. "Then there's people calling in doing silly things like playing clips from the Who, and Dr. Peter Larson calling in from Kenya with a song about some of the sub-optimal elements of the Michigan experience."

Ypsilanti puppeteer and musician Patrick Elkins, a repeat guest on the program, praises the "adventure and spontaneity" of Maynard's format.

"It seems like people are just kind of randomly showing up or listening in and it feels very participatory," Elkins says. "It's a show that, if you're listening to it in Ypsilanti, you could just walk down there and participate in the show if you wanted to."

In some cases those opportunities for participation involve good, weird fun. On one recent episode multiple audience members (including, in a regrettable turn of events, this writer) stepped up to the mic to participate in an a cappella variant on karaoke known as akioke. But in other cases Maynard has engaged random guests in unexpectedly serious topical discussions.

"If I think someone would be interesting I have them on," Maynard says. "We talked about the ‘Black Lives Matter' stuff and Tony, who is the guy who is just on the street with a ‘Fuck the Cops' sign, came on. We had a decent conversation about police activities and local response to the Aura Rosser shooting and stuff like that."

Maynard expresses appreciation for the wide-open forum that Robb's independently owned station provides. Unlimited by a set program schedule or advertiser demands, he's free to go where his curiosity leads. 

"I have some notes typed up, but it's more like surfing," Maynard says. "You're just doing this thing live, so it's performance. You're just taking what happens and trying to build on it."

It's hard to gauge how many people are listening, as Robb doesn't have exact numbers for either those who tune in on the radio or stream the program online. But even in just 16 shows, a community has evolved around the "Six Pack." Bands who are performing across the street at Beezy's have asked to come on the show after they play the café. The show has a group of regular callers (some pranksters), even one who has called in with a kind of homage to one of the other regulars.

"It started to be this self-supporting kind of thing, just another piece of this ecosystem that's already evolving," Maynard says. "It's just one more channel."

Robb says that's because the show "fills a niche that you don't see anywhere else" in Ypsilanti.

"There are no Ypsilanti podcasts and there are no Ypsilanti-centric radio talk shows," he says. "People were very excited about this before it ever started, so I think it's a good thing."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and a senior writer at Concentrate and Metromode.

All photos by Doug Coombe .

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