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reWorking Michigan: Kitty Donohoe takes on new role as the Wine Gypsy

By Gretchen Millich, WKAR News


EAST LANSING, MI – http://wkar.org/images/library/programs/REWMI-120.jpg
To cope with the slow economy, a Michigan singer-songwriter is using her talents in new ways. She says it's like introducing two good friends who've never met. Kitty Donohoe has been writing and performing folk songs for most of her life. Her work reflects her values and her talent for storytelling. But like many artists in this stalled economy, lately Donohoe has had to improvise to keep working and pay the bills. Donohoe's latest venture combines two of her favorite things: music and wine. | SKIP down to article

Kitty Donohoe has always loved wine. And not just drinking it. For her, a good wine is a work of art. She's taken classes on wine and worked as a wine steward at a grocery store in Ann Arbor. "I kept thinking there must be some way that I can combine the two things I'm best at and music is one and wine is the other," says Donohoe. "I had a vision one day, as I tend to do, and I thought that would be the way to do it. Make it a combination Kitty Donohoe concert, kind of a mini-concert and a wine tasting."

Enter the Wine Gypsy

Earlier this month, Donohoe held a wine tasting in DeWitt. She brought a selection of wines ranging from very dry to quite sweet, and paired her songs with the wine.

"Like Abrazo, it's a Spanish word for hug, I might do kind of a romantic song for that one," she says. "Or my song "Dangerous Boys" I sometimes do with the Sassy Rose, or a seasonal thing. I did "Summertime", and it works with some of our summery white wines."

As a songwriter, Donohoe has a lot of slower, thought-provoking songs. She soon found out those were NOT what people wanted to listen to while they're tasting wine.

Most folks love to hear her songs about Michigan. Her "Lighthouses" song goes with a wine called "Port in a Storm". "Ode to the Pasty" pairs well with any wine.

Entrepreneur at Heart

Throughout her career, much of Donohoe's work was funded through grants. But that's all changed. "You know the grants funding has all but disappeared in many sectors," says Donohoe. "A lot of the clubs or coffee houses where I used to work regularly are closing. To really survive, you need to expand on what you think you can do, and I always had an entrepreneurial side to me. So I decided it was time to put those things together and be true to who I am as an artist, and I think it's been a good combination."

It all came together when Donohoe started working at the Sandhill Crane Vineyards near Jackson. Heather Price is part of the family that runs the winery. "We hired her to work in the tasting room to help supplement her income and poof! She had the wine. She already had the concept," says Price. "And it's just through all of her creativity that she's come up with this."

Sandhill Crane is one of several wineries that have opened in southern Michigan within the last few years. Wine is one of the few businesses that have really grown in this sour economy.

Price says they're selling even more with the Wine Gypsy. "Kitty understands it all," she says. "She has a really strong wine background. And yet she also has this wonderful musical background, and they just are natural pairs. They really go well together. As much as wine tasting is fun, tasting wine and listening to Kitty is even more fun."

Neat, Folksy Show

"She really just connects everything," says Bettye Donohue, who hosted the wine tasting at her home. "It has a flow to it. You feel like you're at a really neat, folksy show. She has a way of telling you about the wines that is just like telling a story, like her songs."

The guests are a bit reserved at first, but pretty soon they warm up and are coaxed into singing along. "For one thing, there is a certain built-in snobbery about wines, which really needs to be dispelled because it shouldn't be that way," says Donohoe. "Wines should be fun."

It is fun and it is helping Donohoe pay the bills. Not only does she sell wine, she's also bringing new fans to her music. By the end of the evening, the wine tasters are buying her CD's and signing up on her mailing list.

reWorking Michigan
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan

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