Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.

Communal Music: Ann Arbor Concert Band preps for its season finale

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Annie Li and Ann Arbor high school band conductors

Ann Arbor high school band conductors Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) join clarinetist Annie Li (Pioneer) for the Ann Arbor Concert Band's season finale on May 6.

For the past 39 years, the Ann Arbor Concert Band has prepared for a season finale. That's a lot of successful seasons for a community band consisting of non-professional musicians. Their love for performing will be obvious at the group's latest season finale, "Symphonic Broadway," which will feature music from Mozart, Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, and a selection of works by Jerome Robbins. 

I talked to Phillip Rhodes, president of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, about the group's history, scholarship, and season-ending concert, which happens May 6 at the Michigan Theater.

BYO Radness: Camp Totally Awesome Fest returns for its 14th year

MUSIC PREVIEW

Camp Totally Awesome Fest 14

Dogs, tarantulas, and human children are encouraged to come to the 14th Camp Totally Awesome Fest.

In fact, everybody is welcome at this annual Ypsilanti event, but last year Awesome Fest’s guiding force, Patrick Elkins, specifically said dogs, tarantulas, and human children should come hear some jams, and I’m just going to assume the offer stands for this year’s throwdown since the Facebook event post says, “Free! All Ages! All Species!”

Spread over April 27-29 at six venues, Camp Totally Awesome Fest is primarily about music -- there are about 45 bands and a few DJs and performance artists on the lineup -- and the genres span R&B and indie rock to hip-hop and modular-synth electronics.

Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Brass Tacks' "39 Steps" has giddy fun with the Hitchcock classic

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Brass Tacks Ensemble's The 39 Steps

Daniel Bizer-Cox, Dory Mead, Isaac Ellis, and Maegan Murphy make the most of their invisible car in Brass Tacks' minimalist take on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

The bare-bones thrust stage in a playroom at the Children’s Creative Center is the perfect setting for the Brass Tacks Ensemble’s production of Patrick Barlow’s playful The 39 Steps

Barlow turns Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller into an imaginative comic romp. While staying true to Hitchcock’s script, the play lets four actors engage is theatrical play as giddy as many days of child’s play at the Creative Center. 

Out of the Ether: Nancy And Beth conjure musical beauty from the fifth dimension

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nancy and Beth

Most of us know Megan Mullally as boozy, unapologetically solipsistic Karen Walker on Will & Grace, and also perhaps as Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman’s real-life partner, but not as a former dancer and Broadway performer. 

This is likely why you’d be surprised to learn that Mullally, in recent years, has teamed up with another multi-talented artist, Stephanie Hunt (who played lesbian bass-player Devin on Friday Night Lights), to form a music duo called Nancy And Beth, which will perform at The Ark on Monday, April 23

Where did the arbitrary names Nancy And Beth come from (complete with a capitalized And)? The answer will tell you a great deal about the two women’s soulmate-like friendship.

“The ether,” said Mullally.

“I was going to say ‘the ether’!” cried Hunt.

Loud and Clear: Marcus Wicker's socially conscious "Silencer" poems are anything but quiet

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Poet Marcus Wicker and his book Silencer

Marcus Wicker's poetry doesn’t mince words. He keeps it real.

Mixing hip-hop rhymes with poetic prose, Wicker's books deal with tough topics such as racism, classism, and police brutality -- subjects American society swiftly tries to hide from. Wicker, an Ann Arbor native, challenges those in power with every phrase he puts on the page. 

A Pushcart Prize winner and two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, Wicker received fellowships from Ruth Lilly and Cave Canem to name a few and has written articles that have appeared in The Nation, Oxford American, and Boston Review. He currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis and is the poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review.

All accolades aside, the most impressive things about Wicker are his ability to call readers to action and his ability to mix modern communication and hard-hitting wit within his work. He even injects humor as a great contrast to the serious topics. 

Smooth Souls: Cory Wong, Antwaun Stanley & Jacob Sigman at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

Cory Wong

After seeing Theo Katzman at The Blind Pig a few weeks ago, I had been restlessly awaiting the concert there by a couple of his Vulfpeck bandmates, guitarist Cory Wong with vocalist Antwaun Stanley

When I got to the gig there were around 40 people milling about, mostly men in their 20s and 30s. As the night went on, more people arrived and the room filled up until we all standing shoulder to shoulder. 

Generation A: U-M's United Asian American Organizations feted the diaspora in song & dance

MUSIC REVIEW

Minji Kim by Brian Lin

Minji Kim of Seoul Juice on stage at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Photo by Brian Lin.

On April 7, over 500 of the University of Michigan’s Asian Pacific Islander America (APIA) students gathered in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre for the 23rd annual Generation APA Cultural Show. Organized by the student-run coalition United Asian American Organizations (UAAO), GenAPA is a pan-Asian cultural show that features traditional, modern, and fusion performances of different Asian backgrounds to celebrate the dual diversity and unity within the Asian diaspora.

This was my fourth year attending and the second year performing as a part of Seoul Juice, a Korean-American singing and instrumental cover group, alongside performances like Vietnamese and Chinese fan dances, Korean traditional percussion and pop, Indian classical dance and song, Mongolian instruments, spoken word, hip-hop dancing, and more. 

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra closed its season with a Spanish tinge

MUSIC REVIEW

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra logo

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra wrapped up its 2017-2018 schedule on April 17 with a sonic Spanish tapas along with an exploration of a once-controversial French piece steeped in Germanic influences.

This was my first time in the magnificent Hill Auditorium. While I was reading the program before most of the orchestra came out, I heard a deep, stirring, bellow of a note from the stage. As a bass clarinetist myself, I recognized it as one of the lowest notes that can be played on the instrument. For me, the sound signified that it was going to be an enjoyable night.