Ebird & Friends celebrate the holidays & A2’s musical diversity at The Ark


Erin Zindle, Ebird & Friends Holiday Show

Erin Zindle's annual Ebird & Friends Holiday Show is a December tradition.

Growing up, Erin Zindle -- leader of the Ann Arbor global-roots band The Ragbirds -- loved her extended family’s Christmas Eve gatherings. Her “very large and very musical family” would traditionally gather to perform Christmas songs together.

“It was my favorite thing all year round. Honestly, it was better than the presents,” she says. “I was known for making everyone sing all seven verses of everything. I didn’t want it to end.”

That’s the spirit she and her fellow musicians will re-create at the annual Ebird and Friends Holiday Show at The Ark Dec. 7-9. “It was just a real natural extension of that childhood experience,” Zindle says. And indeed, the holiday concert has become a tradition all its own, now marking its 10th year.

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Thanksgiving Tradition: Matt Watroba at The Ark


Matt Watroba

Matt Watroba's annual post-Turkey Day shows at The Ark have become an Ann Arbor institution.

Thanksgiving is all about traditions. And over the last couple of decades, one tradition that has taken root in Ann Arbor is Matt Watroba’s Day-After-Thanksgiving Concert at The Ark.

The well-known Michigan performer, songwriter, and radio host isn’t exactly sure how long he’s been doing the concert on the day after the holiday, but he estimates it’s been about 25 years. It’s become his most popular annual gig, and he knows some families incorporate it into their regular holiday plans.

“It has taken on a real community feel,” he says. “People are actually making it a tradition.”

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Open Season: Ann Arbor Concert Band starts with "Afternoon at the Opera"


Ann Arbor Concert Band, March 6, 2016 concert at Hill Auditorium

Photo courtesy AACB from its March 6, 2016 concert at Hill Auditorium, featuring the Pioneer, Huron, Skyline, and Brighton High Shcool choirs.

The Ann Arbor Concert Band holds a special place among the area’s musical groups. Following the classic concert-band tradition, it’s an ensemble consisting almost entirely of wind instruments.

So as the band prepares to open its new season at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, the theme for the concert may seem a bit surprising: a selection of opera works, which we’re accustomed to hearing performed by singers with an orchestra.

“I chose this theme because it's rarely done by concert bands, and it's a nice contrast to a typical program that has only marches and Broadway medleys,” says James Nissen. “My job as conductor is to expose the audience to the vast wind ensemble repertoire, and there are so many great opera overtures that translate well for wind instruments. Also, there are so many instances where a composer wrote an opera that was soon long forgotten, but its overture survived as a masterpiece. I don't want these overtures to be forgotten!”

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Blaster in the Flatlands: Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore at The Ark


It might seem like Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore come from very different places musically.

Alvin is best known as a core member of the roots-rock band The Blasters, often considered part of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene. Gilmore is a Texas troubadour who helped start the alt-country/Americana movement as a member of The Flatlanders. But the two came of age loving the same kinds of authentic folk and blues music -- and today, they’re both comfortable working in a laid-back singer-songwriter format.

In fact, they’ve been friends for more than 30 years. So when Alvin suggested the two start doing some shows together -- including on at The Ark on Oct. 30 -- it seemed like a natural pairing.

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Hot Fight, Hot World: Environmentalist Bill McKibben at U-M


Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben believes the Great Lakes deserve and need better environmental stewardship.

Bill McKibben has long been sounding the alarm about our changing climate.

The renowned environmentalist and author (including the landmark The End of Nature) founded 350.org, a worldwide organization dedicated to climate-change issues. He will speak at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 5, on the topic “Down to the Wire: A Hot Fight in a Hot World.”

If it seems like the fight has gotten more difficult lately, given the current federal administration’s refusal to even acknowledge the problem, McKibben isn’t about to give up. He says it’s still possible to take significant action.

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Deep in the Roots: The Low Voltage plugs in to a sound that's both earthy and haunting


The Low Voltage

Colin Simpson, aka The Low Voltage.

Colin Simpson was a veteran of bands in Oregon and Washington before returning to his home state of Michigan a few years ago. He arrived in Ann Arbor with no job and no connections to the local music community. But he did have an idea that he wanted to try something a little different.

“I knew I wanted to continue with music, but I also knew I didn’t want to just be the guy at the back of the coffee shop with a guitar,” he recalls now. So he created the concept of The Low Voltage to play out his musical ideas, adding a kick drum and some electric guitar -- and, later, a musical partner, singer-instrumentalist Emily Fox.

The result is a remarkably distinctive sound, sitting somewhere in the realm of Americana/folk/indie rock but managing to find its own unique niche. The sound is effectively evoked by the name The Low Voltage.

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Come Together: A2 Jazz Fest will showcase the region's rich talent


A2 Jazz Fest

2017 A2 Jazz Fest performers include (clockwise from left) Dan Bennett, Sean Dobbins, Tristan Cappel, and Janelle Reichman, among many others.

Although the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area is certainly home to many talented jazz musicians, sometimes it might seem that they fly a little under the radar. The A2 Jazz Fest is out to change that.

The free admission, two-day festival returns for its second edition Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9. Friday evening’s venue is the First Congregational Church, while on Saturday the festival takes over LIVE nightclub. (This is a change from the initially announced location at the Ann Arbor Distilling Co.)

“Currently jazz is featured at a number of restaurants and bars, once or twice a week, but there is no longer a dedicated jazz club in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti," says Dave Sharp, local bassist, bandleader, and organizer of the A2 Jazz Fest. "UMS and the Kerrytown Concert House certainly feature amazing jazz groups, but not on the scale or frequency of a jazz club or jazz festival."

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UMS's season starts with Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9's new spin on New Orleans jazz


Butler, Bernstein & The  Hot 9

Henry Butler, Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9 promise a U-M-worthy take on Jelly Roll Morton's "Wolverine Blues."

New York meets New Orleans in Ann Arbor on Friday, Sept. 8, as Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 bring their unique twist on classic jazz to a special concert at Downtown Home & Garden/Bill's Beer Garden.

The show, which opens the new season of the University Musical Society, continues a successful partnership of the great New Orleans pianist and singer Henry Butler with Steven Bernstein, the accomplished New York trumpeter and bandleader known for working in a number of different styles with various ensembles.

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Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers concluded Sonic Lunch with summer vibes


Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers  at Sonic Lunch

Photo by Leisa Thompson, courtesy of the Bank of Ann Arbor and Sonic Lunch. See the full gallery here.

The 2017 season of the Sonic Lunch free concert series wrapped up Thursday with Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers playing to an appreciative crowd.

Over its 10-year history, Sonic Lunch has become a key part of summer in Ann Arbor, and the band provided a laid-back, seasonally appropriate sound, blending jam-band rock and neo-soul with accents of ’70s pop and funk.

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Nature's Way: Chris Bathgate's "Dizzy Seas" is simultaneously ethereal and earthy


Chris Bathgate

Chris Bathgate hasn't lived in Ann Arbor or this state for a decade, but his songs still evoke the idea of "Michigan music."

The release of a new Chris Bathgate album is a major occasion for fans of great songwriting and enticing sounds -- especially in Michigan, where he has strong ties.

He released the Old Factory EP last year, but this spring’s Dizzy Seas is Bathgate’s first full-length album since 2011’s acclaimed Salt Year. (All came out on the Ann Arbor-based Quite Scientific label.) The songs on Dizzy Seas are as strong as ever, presented in a sound that’s simultaneously rich and stripped down. And although Bathgate now lives in California, Michigan has definitely left an impression.

He agreed to answer a few questions via email about the new record, the themes of his songs, and Michigan music.

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