Contemporary Celtic: The Moxie Strings at The Ark


Individually, all three members of The Moxie Strings have played at The Ark many times before, backing other musicians, but on Sunday, August 13, they will be making their headliner debut there as a trio.

Diana Ladio, Alison Lynn, and Fritz McGirr have long been sought after as accompanists and sidemen by bands and musicians who play in a variety of styles, but for the last six years have put most of their energy into teaching, touring, and recording with the unique brand of contemporary Celtic-influenced, rock-inflected music that is their trio’s trademark. Think Riverdance, and then think again.

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Cut Out for It: The Matisse Jazz Project explores the art of improvisation


The Matisse Jazz Project, Christopher Bakriges, Gwen Laster

Christopher Bakriges and Gwen Laster return to their native Michigan for three concerts by their Matisse Jazz Project.

In 2009, pianist Christopher Bakriges, a former student of Oscar Peterson, had the idea to compose music that corresponded to individual pieces in Henri Matisse’s Jazz series, which was published in 1947 and consists of 20 striking paper collages inspired by improvisation. It was 2012 when Bakriges finished all 20 compositions, and The Matisse Jazz Project was born soon after.

Prior to 2017, Bakriges had performed his Matisse-inspired compositions with violinist Stanley Chepaitis, but now the project features Gwen Laster on violin. The duo will play three shows in Michigan this weekend, including two concerts in Ann Arbor and one at the Detroit Institute of Art.

“It’s expansive. It stimulates the senses differently," Laster said about the Project. “Each piece has a distinct personality and flavor in your mind."

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New leader in place, UMS raises the baton for a new season


Ragmala Dance Company, Matthew VanBesien

Ragmala Dance Company's Written in Water sways into town Oct. 20. But new UMS president Matthew VanBesien is already in A2.

When the curtain rises on the new University Musical Society (UMS) season next month, for the first time in 30 years the venerable performing-arts presenting organization will do so with a new president. Matthew VanBesien comes to Ann Arbor from the presidency of the New York Philharmonic, but that’s not as big a leap as it might appear.

“I was born in the Midwest,” he explains during a recent interview. “I was definitely a product of good midwestern public school music education. I went to school at (Indiana University) for music. ... The times that I’ve been back in this part of the country, it always feels like home.

“Ann Arbor, of course, is a very special place. It’s hard to think of very many small cities in America that have the complete package the way this place does,” he adds. “I really value what’s here -- the environment, the spirit, the intellectual curiosity -- it’s terrific.”

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Encore offers diverting, funny, and timely ‘9 to 5’


Purple Rose Theatre, Harvey

Photo courtesy of Michele Anliker Photography.

A video projection of Dolly Parton hovers over the Encore Theatre stage. The always charming country singer/songwriter plays host to Encore’s production of 9 to 5, a Broadway musical of the hit movie 1970s comedy starring Parton, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman.

Parton teases that what we are about to see took place in 1979, a time of disco music, no internet and less enlightened thinking.

Unfortunately, last year’s presidential campaign made it clear that issues of gender equality and sexual harassment are still alive and kicking. And 9 to still gets a lot of knowing laughter about a workplace culture skewed to male privilege.

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Livin' Large: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at The Michigan Theater


Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at The Michigan Theater

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band filled up The Michigan Theater -- both on stage and with a sold-out house.

Fans of Lyle Lovett know a solo concert by the great Texas troubadour will be a reliably good time. But a show by Lovett with his Large Band, a 12-member ensemble of brilliant musicians -- well, that’s a real occasion, an event not to be missed.

The reasons for that were on full display Friday night at the Michigan Theater, as Lovett and his Large Band entertained a sold-out house for two and a half hours, exploring any number of different musical styles and evoking a full range of emotions.

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The Record Company lifted Sonic Lunch "Off the Ground"


The Record Company at Sonic Lunch

The Record Company doesn't need a guitar to rock Sonic Lunch. Photograph by Christopher Porter.

“We’re The Record Company, and we play rock-n-roll,” frontman Chris Vos said in opening and closing Thursday’s Sonic Lunch concert. He didn’t really need to say it, since any doubts about that would have been wiped out by the raucous and energetic hour of music in between.

Thursday’s show marked the public return of Martin Bandyke, popular local DJ for WQKL (107.1-FM) and longtime Sonic Lunch MC, who is recovering from recent heart surgery. Vos dedicated the show to him before the trio launched full force into the blues rocker “On the Move” -- one of the highlights of last year’s acclaimed and Grammy-nominated debut album, Give It Back to You -- with Vos punctuating his intense vocals with some equally intense harmonica lines. That led into their latest single, “Baby I’m Broken,” which if anything ramped up the energy level even further.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #648



Balli Kaur Jaswal was named Best Young Australian Novelist by Sydney Morning Herald for her hardcover debut, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. The book is set in the Sikh community of Greater London.

A great disappointment to her Punjabi immigrant family, a "westernized" Nikki Grewa tends bar at the local pub after dropping out of law school. She is bewildered that her sister Mindi, a nurse, is willing to try arranged marriage. While at the community center to post Mindi's dating profile, she impulsively answers an ad for a creative writing teacher.

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Variety Show: STAMPS's alumni exhibition "Ambiguities/Innuendoes? Go Fish"


Disney Room

A still from Alisa Yang's award-winning short film Please Come Again.

The 2017 University of Michigan Alumni Exhibition Ambiguities/Innuendoes? Go Fish features an eclectic collection of alumni works that engage, in varying capacities, with the terms “ambiguity” and “innuendo.” The annual exhibition allows STAMPS alumni to show their work. This year, work represented over 70 years of alumni from 1955 to 2016. This year, the exhibition featured juror Brian Kennedy, the president, director, and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art.

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Our Lady Georgie: Rhys Bowen's "On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service"


Rhys Bowen, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

For everybody's eyes only: Rhys Bowen visits AADL to celebrate the 11th release in her Royal Spyness series.

A lot happened in 1930s Great Britain: Neville Chamberlain became prime minister of England, the economy fluctuated as it tried to recover from the world war, and Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch, found herself broke and jobless forcing her to leave Scotland for London.

OK, the last part only happens in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series -- but what an amazing ride it has been for the titled but insolvent Lady Georgie.

To celebrate the release of the 11th book in the series, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, Bowen will appear at the downtown branch of the library on August 3 at 7 pm. The event, co-sponsored by Aunt Agatha’s, will present this New York Times bestselling author as she talks about the latest installment of her successful series.

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Brass Tacks' take on "Merchant of Venice" lets you decide who's a hero or villain


Brass Tacks Ensemble, The Merchant of Venice

The 2017 Brass Tacks ensemble is taking on three Shakespeare plays this season and stripping them down to their essence.

The Brass Tacks Ensemble has been performing shows in Ann Arbor since 1999. The company is known for stripping down its productions to the most basic elements of theater -- the text of a script and actors acting -- and eliminating as many distractions as possible so the audience's attention is focused on universal themes.

According to artistic director James Ingagiola, “The more you add to a production in terms of costumes, props, sets, etc., the more you lock it into a specific story about very specific people in a very specific time.” Put another way, Brass Tacks prides itself on being the antithesis of spectacle theater.

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