Review: Highlights from the Hop

REVIEW VISUAL ART

Westside Art Hop Highlights.

Art Hop directional lawn sign (top left), glass wind chimes by Sharon Linden of Ideal Glass (top right), pottery by Oran Hesterman (center left), sculptures by Larry Nisson in their backyard (bottom).

A rainy and colder-than-typical May Saturday didn’t stop people from checking out the Westside art scene. Ann Arbor is home to many artists in hiding. Bet you didn’t know that your neighbor moonlights as an artist! The Westside Art Hop is your chance to realize that art is all around as you stroll through the Old West Side of Ann Arbor with leisurely stops in homes, studios, porches, and yards. It happens twice each year, once in May and again in December. You'll find painting, photography, glass, metal and wood sculpture, jewelry, cards, mosaics, fiber arts, and crafts. There really is something for everyone, ranging from reasonably priced objects for daily use to museum quality pieces.

Larry and Lucie Nisson are well known advocates for the arts in Ann Arbor. If you walked by or interacted with the Pop•X event at Liberty Square last October, you’ve encountered one of the manifestations of their advocacy. It should come as no surprise to find that the Nissons helped bring about the Westside Art Hop as well. At its inception in 2012, the Art Hop featured 4 venues featuring 13 artists. The hop has grown to 11 venues and nearly 40 artists displaying their work. Conceived of as a neighborhood event designed to support local artists and provide a new slice to the Ann Arbor art scene, the Art Hop unambiguously frames artists as members of the community and gives the community a chance to support local arts.

The art advocates are artists themselves, and the work of both Nissans were on display at the Art Hop. Larry’s glass art was a collection of wonderfully organic sculptures that used light and gravity as a dancing partner, as well as drinking glasses composed of dream-like swirls of colors and patterns.

Larry Nisson and drinking glasses by Nisson.

Larry Nisson and drinking glasses made by Nisson.

Lucy Nisson’s mosaics offered abstract and playful interactions between shape and color, but also some representational images that used texture and depth to invite a deeper investigation. At every turn of a corner one found more mosaic and glass art integrated into the home. Their backsplash was created by Lucie. They drink from Larry’s glasses. Their art isn’t adornment, it is a fully integrated part of their lifestyles.

Oran Hesterman’s work was shown at the Nisson’s home. By day, Hesterman is president and CEO of Fair Food Network, a national nonprofit that increases access to healthy food in underserved communities. By night he is a potter. His work is functional – bowls, vases, and mugs – meant for daily use. Hesterman has been a potter since he was 16 and realized that he had a talent for centering clay on the potter’s wheel. He and his wife Lucinda Kurtz collaborate on some of the pieces, her beadwork embellishes his designs.

Hallie Levine’s copper and enamel jewelry was shown at Gretchen’s House on Mt. Vernon Avenue. Her delicate looking jewelry consists of flat, organic shapes cut from copper and enameled in smooth muted tones. Many of her pieces are also embellished with subtle textures and delicate line pattern designs.

In front of Gretchen's House, and sheltered from the rain by a tent was Kim Ensch. Her layered paper and fiber collages create dreamlike landscapes with hidden messages and meanings. If you look closely, you can find faces and messages hidden within the organic lines. The tree imagery might give one the sense of being rooted in the family or stuck in the past.

Jewelry by Hallie Levine and Endeavor paper collage by Kim Ensch

Copper and enamel jewelry by Hallie Levine (left), and Endeavor paper collage by Kim Ensch.

Sharon Linden, a glass artist, was also showing her work at Gretchen’s House. She makes custom stained glass windows, which you may have seen if you’ve ever visited Boot Jack Tavern in Manitou Beach, Michigan. Her wonderful window design for the tavern incorporates Northern Michigan copper as the leaves of the trees. Linden was selling beautiful glass wind chimes made of pieces leftover from her larger stained glass works.

Across the street from Gretchen’s House, Sue Fecteau was set up under a tent in the rain with Sue’s Flying Fish. Fecteau creates Flying-Fish-on-a-stick and colorful mobiles to liven up your home and garden. Liz Davis, whom many of you may recognize from Old Town, was selling her prints on Liberty. Totally a People in Your Neighborhood moment.

If you missed the Spring Westside Art Hop, don’t fret! Another one is happening this December. Be sure to bookmark their website or follow them on Facebook to get the exact date and time in the months to come.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library


The 8th Westside Art Hop was Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 11-5 pm in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. Mark your calendar for the next one in December!

Review: Lesley Stahl Discusses What's So Grand About Becoming Grandma

REVIEW WRITTEN WORD

Review: Mary Norris, Comma Queen.

Lesley Stahl talked about the joys of grandparenting and the horror of trying to make kids sit still for a book cover.

Don’t be fooled by the idyllic cover of 60 Minutes star Lesley Stahl’s new book, Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting.

“[My granddaughters] usually love to be read to, except on this particular day,” Stahl told a crowd gathered at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater to see her on Monday evening. “Eventually—this was so unbelievably frustrating—we put an iPhone inside the book I was holding and put on Frozen.”

Stahl’s talk, co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and Michigan Radio, focused on what she learned while researching her book; the sexism she faced early in her television journalism career; and answering questions from the audience.

But she kicked things off with a joke. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who watches 60 Minutes?’ I said ‘Who?’ ‘Old people and their parents.’”

Stahl quickly pointed out, though, that just as Baby Boomers have influenced every facet of American culture, as they’ve marched through each stage of life, they’ve also altered our sense of how we must look and act as we age.

“Grannies don’t have permed gray hair anymore,” said Stahl. “We’re all blonde. And we’re going to the gym three or four times a week.”

And unlike previous generations, aging people may now reasonably expect to live another 30 years beyond retirement.

“One person said, the first 30 years of life are focused on education,” said Stahl. “The next 30 years are about having a family and making money. And the last 30, we don’t really have a plan for. … The best way to spend this bonus time is not sitting at home watching television and being bored. It’s spending time with our grandchildren.”

Stahl argued, in fact, that science has demonstrated that involved grandparents reap significant health benefits, and that not spending time with grandchildren actually disrupted the natural order. The earliest human families had a mother and a father that hunted and gathered food during the day, while grandparents cared for babies; and a similar structure carried over into pre-urban agricultural societies.

“Now we have the nuclear family, but it’s not natural to not be a part of our grandchildren’s lives,” said Stahl, noting that just as a woman's brain is re-wired after giving birth, a grandmother's brain is also re-wired. “When we don’t see them—even when it’s just been 3 hours—we crave them.”

Stahl said her book was inspired by the euphoric feeling—“like falling in love”—that washed over her when she first held her baby granddaughter. “It’s different from the love you have for your own children,” said Stahl. “You’re distracted by worry, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. … When you’re a grandparent, we don’t have that. We love that child completely, without any distraction.”

This is why, Stahl said, “no matter how strict we were as parents—sit up straight, do your homework, eat your vegetables—we flip from being a disciplinarian to a mushball.”

Stahl said her book was inspired by the euphoric feeling that washed over her when she first held her baby granddaughter.

Stahl said her book was inspired by the euphoric feeling that washed over her when she first held her baby granddaughter.

Grandparents also now spend more on their grandchildren than any previous generation has. “Grandparents today are spending seven times more than grandparents did just 10 years ago,” Stahl said, citing big ticket costs like health care and daycare (and in her case, a piano).

Regarding her early work as a journalist, Stahl told the story of the Senate hearings on Watergate, which were broadcast daily on all three networks; Stahl was asked to be part of a panel of analysts that would discuss, each night, what had happened at the hearings that day, but her fellow male panelists talked over her and never let her speak. Her boss, after receiving viewer complaints—accusations that the men were being rude to Stahl—finally told the male reporters that they had to let her speak, or the whole thing would be shut down.

The moderator of the broadcast that followed threw out a question regarding the gossip surrounding a D.C. figure, and Stahl sat back, deciding she’d let the men deal with the gossip question.

“They sit there, and there’s dead silence,” said Stahl. “It was excruciating. Then Daniel Schorr jumps in and says, ‘You asked for gossip—well, we have a woman here.’ I was so angry. I started talking, but nothing sensible came out of this mouth.”

This related to Stahl’s analysis about working mothers of her generation struggling to work out a work/life balance. “We were just struggling to get into the workplace,” said Stahl. “We wanted to prove we could do the job as well as men, and that led to us trying to be like men. Men didn’t breastfeed, so we didn’t breastfeed, either.”

Stahl is still working, of course, and while her granddaughters aren’t particularly impressed that Grandma’s on TV—“They think you’re all on TV. To them, it’s just what grandmas do,” said Stahl—the oldest was at least wowed when Grandma got to meet Taylor Swift.

And Stahl explained that although 60 Minutes may appear to be still heavily skewed toward men, by way of the show’s correspondents, “Many of the producers are women. When I go to work, it doesn’t feel like a male enclave…Women do pretty well in journalism…I never felt like I was not one of the group. It’s a wonderful place to work. I love what I do, and they haven’t asked me to leave yet.”


Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Review: My First Time at Motor City Comic Con

REVIEW WRITTEN WORD VISUAL ART

Little LEGO cosplay — impressive!

Little LEGO cosplay — impressive! Photo: andrea_l_clark, Instagram

Comic fans and cosplayers swarmed Motor City Comic Con this past weekend in Novi. The event draws tens of thousands of people and features elaborate costumes, comic book and art sales, and the opportunity to meet celebrities from various TV shows and movies of the past seventy years. Although the only comic books that I grew up with were about Betty and Veronica fighting over Archie, and I only know superheroes from the Avengers movies, I gamely dressed as Captain America and went to this year’s Comic Con to see what it was all about.

Even attendees who are more familiar with the comics world than I are often most excited to see the fantastic cosplays (comic con abbreviation for “costume play”) that people create to wear to the convention. For me, people watching and admiring the elaborate costumes of my fellow CC participants was definitely the best part, too. Although I wasn’t able to recognize some of the more obscure characters, the time and effort that went into many of the costumes was awesome to see.

Of course, there were lots of Harley Quinns, Game of Thrones characters (particularly Daenarys), and Captain Americas — my DIY costume paled in comparison to the people in full vintage Army gear carrying the original Captain shield — but there were also a number of female Lokis, a team of people dressed as Fallout fighters, and someone who we initially thought was Prince Robot from the Saga series, but turned out to be from the webcomic RGB Property of Hate. Not all the costumes were comics or gaming related, either. Two men were dressed as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, seemingly for no other reason than that they looked shockingly like the two actors. The open, welcoming atmosphere is one of the best parts of Comic Con; people were more than happy to pose for photos and strike up conversations with one another about their costumes. People staged lightsaber and bow and arrow battles, Dr. Whos posed with blue TARDISes, and Storm Troopers and Red Shirts together bemoaned their laughingly quick and easy deaths.

MCCC is also a mecca for people seeking — of course — comic books. The cavernous space in which the convention is held was over half-filled with aisles of comic book vendors, selling issues ranging from $1.00 for four to over $500 for a single rare back issue of a Batman comic. To truly peruse all the comic book stalls would require spending the entire weekend at MCCC… and even then one might feel rushed. I was a particular fan of the art booths at the festival as well. Dozens of artists—including local artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner—showcased their art in various mediums. The art often featured unique interpretations of various well-known characters and emblems from comics and films, and included hand-sewn Chewbacca puppets, blown-glass Game of Thrones dragon eggs, steampunk pocket watches and paintings and posters of all types. Oddly, I even acquired a 1970s print of the state of Michigan with elaborate watercolor-esque images of various Michigan-related things surrounding it, so even for those of us who weren’t necessarily there for anything comic-related, there was worthwhile shopping!

8-bit collectibles.

8-bit collectibles. Photo: fortyeight209, Instagram

One of the bleak areas of the convention was actually the portion where one could wait in line to meet celebrities. Aside from the exorbitant price to have a minute-long conversation with any one celebrity, many of the more obscure people sat forlornly as no one approached their table. Sure, there were long lines for Lena Headey (of Queen Cersei fame), but it was depressing to see people like Tara Reid and Adam West sitting alone for hours as people wandered past without giving them a second glance. It was almost surreal to walk along the empty aisles, while the “stars” sat about 30 feet back from the main thoroughfare against a backdrop of white curtains staring disinterestedly into space, guarded unnecessarily by bored-looking security personnel in neon vests. I escaped that portion of the convention as quickly as I could.

Overall, I was surprised and pleased by how much fun I — a first-time attendee at a comics convention who really doesn’t know much about comics — had at Motor City Comic Con. If nothing else, the people watching is truly worth the price of the ticket. I’m already planning my cosplay for next year. Hopefully it involves wings.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. Captain America is her favorite Avenger.


Motor City Comic Con happens each May at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Although the con is over for this year, the organizers host other smaller conventions and shows throughout the year.

Review: "Comma Queen" Mary Norris Talks Semi-Colons, Word Nerds, and Her New Book

REVIEW WRITTEN WORD

Review: Mary Norris, Comma Queen.

mary Norris, AKA,, "The Comma Queen', tAlks about her nEw book; and the Imp0rtance of Proper spelllling and punctuation.?

At one point during Sunday afternoon’s 90 minute talk at Ann Arbor’s downtown library, Mary Norris, an author and a copyeditor for The New Yorker, said, “I’m with my people.”

As if to paint this as a vast understatement, an audience member (and fellow copywriter), during the Q&A portion of the program, held up a box of Palamino Blackwing pencils – which Norris had just noted as her copyediting instrument of choice – and proclaimed, “Blackwing 602s rock!”

More than 100 people showed up to hear from Norris about her new book, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, and ask questions about semi-colons, non-gendered singular pronouns, “insure” vs. “ensure,” and more.

Norris began her talk by talking about her seventh grade English teacher, in Brooklyn, Ohio, who taught students how to diagram sentences, but didn’t like the way spelling was taught in school.

“He had a brainstorm about having us write a story every week that would incorporate words from our spelling list,” said Norris, who noted her book’s first chapter focuses on spelling, “My approach was, I wrote what I wanted and just inserted the spelling words where I could.”

Norris told the AADL crowd that her teacher, Mr. Smith, had them read their stories to the class each Thursday, and this consequently became her favorite day of the week. Another boy in her class, known for telling funny stories, had gained notoriety, and according to Norris, Smith said one day, “It looks like we have two writers in our midst.”

“That was more than an encouragement,” Norris said. “It was a blessing.”

Norris started her career at The New Yorker as an editorial librarian, and when she caught a misspelling in a Christmas food shopping list in the magazine – a “flower” that should have been “flour” – she earned the editors’ thanks and attention.

Of the semicolon, Norris said, “I make fun of it. … I say it’s unnecessary, but that’s probably because I got all the way through college without knowing how to use it. … People who love it find it thrilling. When they use one correctly, they feel like there’s nothing like it. When it’s misused, it betrays that you don’t know anything about language.”

Though Norris is clearly deeply invested in language and grammar, she admitted that before she became a blogger for The New Yorker, she was more interested in writing about other topics, like her transgender sister. But when a short essay she wrote, titled “In Defense of ‘Nutty’ Commas,” went viral, her fate was sealed, and she ventured into posting grammar-oriented videos.

“The fact that the book was coming out made me more agreeable to doing videos, but it’s like the Peter Principle, where you get farther and farther from the things you do best,” said Norris. “It’s like, ‘Oh, she can write! Let’s have her do videos.’ I’m glad people like them, but I can’t watch them.”

Norris finally spoke of being part of the last generation to use typewriters in college. “You give yourself away when you leave two spaces after the period,” Norris said, noting that there’s an organization dedicated to preserving this particular practice, “I was denounced by the Wide Spacing Society on Twitter.”

But given the turnout and enthusiastic reception Norris received in Ann Arbor on Sunday, my guess is that despite this splinter group's shunning, she will long continue her reign as Comma Queen of the word nerd kingdom.


Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Preview: Tarzan, Young People's Theater

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Preview: Tarzan, Young People's Theater.

Young People's Theater goes wild with Disney's Tarzan.

This weekend Young People’s Theater presents the musical Tarzan, based on the 1999 Disney animated film as adapted from Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1914 novel Tarzan of the Apes.

Disney’s Tarzan, unlike Johnny Weismuller Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie version, whose Tarzan confidently yodels his way through the jungle, is a coming-of-age story as well as a more sensitive exploration of what it means to be different. The musical traces Tarzan’s journey from infant boy orphaned on the shores of West Africa and raised by gorillas -- through young boy yearning for his ape father’s acceptance -- to young adult facing tests of love and loyalty after finally encountering humans like himself.

Tarzan features music and lyrics by Phil Collins, including the Grammy- and Oscar-winning song from the animated feature, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” with a book by Tony Award-winning playwright, David Henry Hwang.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Tarzan runs Friday, May 20 at 7:00 pm; Saturday, May 21 at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm; and Sunday, May 22, at 2:00 pm. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS or visit the UM Michigan Union at 530 S. State, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, Monday - Friday, 9-5 pm.

Review: Detroit ’67 Thinks Bigger with a Small Setting

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Review: Detroit ’67 Thinks Bigger with a Small Setting.

Production photos from the Public Lab production of Detroit ’67.

We usually think of the 1967 Detroit riot in big-picture terms: the 43 killed, the 7,000 arrested, the 2,500 buildings looted or burned, the way the event sparked white flight and economic troubles that continue to affect Detroit today. Given the nearly half-century that’s elapsed since the five-day uprising, it’s not often that we examine the event in any kind of personal way. Playwright (and University of Michigan grad) Dominique Morisseau realizes this and smartly counter-programs against it in her lively drama Detroit ’67. The smartly crafted and performed show bottles up the tension and strife of the riot in a single family’s basement while violence rages outside.

Detroit ’67 focuses on Lank (Amari Cheatom) and Chelle (Michelle Wilson), a brother and sister who run a dance club in the basement of their recently deceased parents’ Detroit home. Chelle’s levelheaded practicality often conflicts with Lank’s aspirations for the siblings to rise above their modest social status and open a proper bar, and the siblings’ outrageous friends Sly (Brian Marable) and Bunny (Jessica Frances Dukes) only stir the pot. Lank’s plot to purchase a neighborhood bar is derailed when he impulsively brings home Caroline, a badly injured woman (Sarah Nealis) who begs Lank’s help. Caroline, who is white, ignites a powderkeg of anxiety amongst the otherwise African-American characters–and that’s before the streets outside even start to burn.

The production is hauntingly intimate, never once showing us what’s going on outside but vividly demonstrating the way it affects our very small cast of characters. The most unexpectedly crucial element in this production by Baltimore’s Center Stage theater company, presented here by special arrangement with the Detroit Public Theatre, is the painstakingly detailed set. Scenic designer Michael Carnahan crafts an onstage basement that will be completely familiar to any Midwesterner, from the cinder-block walls to the chest freezer to the canned goods stored in the rafters. The period details, too, are impressive. Family photos hang alongside a vintage Tigers pennant, a photo of Malcolm X, and a World War II-era poster of Joe Louis which declares, "We're going to do our part...and we'll win because we're on God's side."

There’s an unquestionable veracity to the setting, and it heightens the actors’ achingly real performances. Whenever Wilson, Cheatom, Marable, and Dukes are onstage, there’s a completely genuine feeling of family between them. The actors breathe life into Morisseau’s already naturalistic dialogue, underpinning even the scenes of high conflict between their characters with warmth and love. Dukes and Marable slowly round out characters that initially seem to be mere comic relief, playing beautifully whether they’re delivering one-liners or tackling scenes of much more gravity. Cheatom has poise and grace as Lank, neatly underplaying the boiling frustration that feeds his character’s optimism. But Wilson is the true MVP of this cast, giving a deeply-felt lead performance that registers with absolute authenticity in every moment. In the play’s dialogue-free final moments, Wilson’s face summons decades of hope, happiness, and heartbreak in the incredibly affecting climax to a masterful performance.

The production’s weaker points are those where it tries too hard to drive already clear points home, ranging from smaller issues of character to larger ones of theme. Nealis’ Caroline never quite connects as a real character, partly because of the actress’ stagier performance and partly because director Kamilah Forbes blocks Nealis in almost constant motion. Forbes attempts to demonstrate the character’s skittishness, but Caroline comes off as too mercurial and unnatural as a result. Similarly, Morisseau occasionally goes a little too far in blatantly pointing out some of the broader themes of her story. And while the parallels between the Detroit riot and recent protests against police violence in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., are already all too clear, the production’s brief usage of projected footage from very recent news events borders on crass.

These are smaller problems, but they become more conspicuous because the show is otherwise so successful in what it sets out to do. It narrows our view of the riot to five characters in one basement, but in doing so makes the historical event–and the contemporary social problems that echo it–breathtakingly relatable. It rejects the big-picture view of the riot, but theatergoers–particularly white, middle- or upper-class theatergoers like this reviewer–will walk away with a much deeper understanding of the event. The fledgling Detroit Public Theatre has closed an impressive inaugural season with this show, and it could scarcely be more appropriate as a simultaneous tribute to Detroit and critique of long-running social issues here and throughout the nation.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer.


Detroit ’67 will run through June 5 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center’s Allesee Hall. Tickets are available online, by calling (313)576-5111, and at the Box Office before the performance.

Review: Abstraction and Reality in Seibren Versteeg's 'Like II' at UMMA

REVIEW VISUAL ART

Review: Seibren Versteeg's Like II at UMMA.

Siebren Versteeg, LIKE 2014, 2014, Internet-connected computer painting program with real-time recursive image search, © Siebren Versteeg. Image courtesy of the artist.

A new exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art is deceptively simple at first. As viewers enter the media room to see Siebren Versteeg’s Like II, all that one sees are three screens propped against the far wall. A computer generated algorithm slowly adds color to the screen on the far right. Stay in the room long enough, and the two screens on the left will change from a blank white to display an image. What’s going on here, exactly?

Brooklyn-based Versteeg created Like II to explore the concept of abstraction, but in the reverse of the sense that we usually explore it. As the computer “paints” an abstract image on the right, that image is uploaded every 60 seconds to Google’s “search by image” feature, and images that most closely match what has been created by the computer are displayed on the left two screens. Sometimes, they match shockingly well. Other times, it takes viewers a few moments to pick out what from the original piece made Google choose the images that are on display—maybe it was a splash of red in the upper right-hand corner, or a bright green area along the bottom of the frame. So, reality is being found through an image search that results from the abstraction of a code painting a random image.

Review: Seibren Versteeg's Like II at UMMA.

Siebren Versteeg, LIKE 2014, 2014, Internet-connected computer painting program with real-time recursive image search, © Siebren Versteeg. Image courtesy of the artist.

This piece is interesting because it is never the same: sure, sometimes the Google image search pulls the same images from the depths of the Internet a few rounds in a row, but throughout this the algorithm has been adding subtle changes to the original piece. There is truly constant motion. It’s especially fascinating because Versteeg really has little to do with what people actually see: he created the concept for this art piece, but, as he says, “As the nature of the images presented by the work is random, the artist assumes both all and no responsibility for the presence and content.”

Although Like II is technically a single piece of art, it’s one that visitors to the museum can spend a lot of time viewing without losing interest… and can even revisit more than once to see what has changed.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.


This unique installment is a treat to have here in Ann Arbor and is on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art's Media Gallery through July 24, 2016.

Interview: Olivia Mainville

INTERVIEW PREVIEW MUSIC

Preview: Olivia Mainville and The Aquatic Troupe

Mainville and company will swing at the Pig and Cultivate this weekend.

20-year-old Holland-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Mainville is busier than most musicians ten years her senior. In the past two years she played with the folk-rock band Watching for Foxes, collaborated with The Appleseed Collective and The Ragbirds, toured as a solo artist supporting Connecticut’s Caravan of Thieves, released a debut EP that was mixed in Nashville, volunteered as a programmer for Grand Rapids’ WYCE-FM, and started her own band, Olivia Mainville and The Aquatic Troupe.

Given the restless blur of Mainville’s career to date, it’s appropriate that her new band’s debut album — “Maybe the Saddest Thing,” which was recorded in April 2015 and released last December — resists categorization. Mainville cites Sufjan Stevens, Katzenjammer and Django Reinhardt as key influences, and her latest record also features splashes of folk, baroque pop, alternative rock and ragtime. With so many flavors in the mix, Mainville has had to coin a new term to summarize her band’s specific genre (or lack thereof): “gypsy swing folk.”

Mainville and her band will bring their rollicking live show to the Blind Pig this Saturday and Cultivate Coffee and TapHouse in Ypsilanti on Sunday. I caught up with Mainville to talk about going solo, managing her own band, and playing most of the instruments on her latest record.

Q: You played in various other bands before playing your own songs live and eventually forming the Aquatic Troupe. When did you decide to take the leap to start focusing on your own original material?
A: I joined a couple of other bands, but it never filled up the time like I wanted it to. We didn't have that many shows with the bands I was in. I wasn't really like totally into the music. It was one of those things where you're joining it because you can, and because they want you. It's not necessarily because you're super passionate about it. Obviously everybody's going to be a lot more passionate about their own craft, or at least most people. So in this case I was more passionate about my own craft, and I decided to pursue it on a new level.

Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play?
A: I started playing music in the fifth grade. I picked up the viola in orchestra. Basically I did it because I wanted to look really cool. I wanted to be one of those cool kids holding a viola case [laughs]. None of the other elementary school kids got to do that, unless you were in orchestra. I was in orchestra for four or five years, and I switched to the upright bass in high school. And then eventually I picked up the mandolin, which is actually in the same key as a violin, so it wasn't too different. And then I traded my upright bass for a violin. Then I picked up a guitar.

Q: How do you describe the kind of music you play with your band?
A: I describe it as "confused” [laughs]. We're actually starting to get more of a defined genre, although it doesn't present itself too well in the music right now. We're more a swing, jazz, ragtime and surf party band, now more than ever. But we also have our old songs, which are maybe more indie rock oriented. We're definitely leaning more towards the whole swing vibe now.

Q: There are so many different styles of music on your most recent album. Is that all you, or do you open your songs up to influences from the other band members?
A: 90 percent of the record was my bandmate Andy [Fettig] and I. He did all the trumpet, flugelhorn, and I think he did some saxophone on there. And then we had Bleu, my trombone player, and at that time he wasn't really too much in the band so he only laid down a couple tracks. Other than that I did all the strings, the accordions, the guitars, and the vocals.

Q: That's surprising, because the record has such a full, immediate sound, like a full band in a room locked into a groove. Can you tell me more about the process of making the record, where you recorded it, and how long it took to put it all together?
A: Before we started to record, I had kind of a different band. We had one different member, and we were only playing as a three-piece. We got together, chose the songs we were going to play, and we got together 10 days before we went into the studio and we rehearsed the all songs every day, added parts, and figured out all the other stuff so we could have a successful recording session without wasting any time.

We recorded it over the course of four days, but we had some problems with our drummer so we had to kick him out of the band. We re-did a lot of the drum tracks. We actually got it done last year in April, but we kept going back, which postponed it until about December. We kept adding things to it, and we kept finding things we didn't like and wanted to make different. We kept going back into the studio.

JOlivia Mainville

Olivia Mainville & the Aquatic Troupe. Photo: Derek Ketchum

Q: Gerry Leonard, David Bowie's former musical director and lead guitarist, plays on the record. How did that come together?
A: I watched him a long time ago with Suzanne Vega, and I had talked to him a couple times as well and he was a really nice guy. I emailed him and I asked him if he would record on a track of ours. We decided that we wanted to make it an 11-track album, so I recorded the song "I Need Time" specifically for Gerry Leonard. I needed to write a song that worked with his style, and it was a great success. We actually just sent him the stem cells. He took it, recorded it, and it came back perfect.

Q: What else are you juggling in addition to your musical career? Do you have a day job? Are you in school?
A: I do a lot of yard work [laughs]. I also take lessons. I'm taking guitar lessons right now, and I'm about to take vocal lessons, because you can never stop learning. I'm also the booking agent for my band, so I book all the gigs. We're not run under any management, so all the money stuff and whatnot is all up to me. I book, I order the merch, I pay for the recording sessions, all that other stuff.

Q: That's impressive. Was there anybody who helped you along and showed you the ropes for how to do all of this yourself?
A: When I was 17 I got invited to go on a little tour with a band called The Accidentals. I played as their merch girl and roadie, so I helped them pack up, I help them load in, I sold their merch, and all that. I learned from them for a while and then I got invited to live with them for a summer and play a bunch of shows and stuff. Their manager Amber showed me the ropes and told me how to pretty much run a business. Everything was pretty strict and serious, which is what it should be, and I learned a lot. It definitely played into how I run things now.

Q: Are there any plans to take your band outside of Michigan or the Midwest in the near future?
A: Just a month ago we went out on an East Coast tour. We went to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and a lot of other places. We're going to Wisconsin this summer, and we have two tours in September. We have a Southern tour, and we have a West Coast tour. We'll be hitting up Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and we're going to try New Orleans. And then we're going to to the West Coast, so we're going to hit up Colorado, Iowa, all those places.

Q: What's it like performing outside of the safety net of your home state, away from your friends and family and the local musical community? Is that intimidating?
A: If I think about it too much it seems a little intimidating. It's always different. You never have the same crowd for any show. It's always interesting. You definitely play some not-so-great shows when you're out on tour, but we've also played some pretty nice ones where we had a really good response from people. But you get those ones where you get three or four people show up [laughs]. Every band has to go with that, unless you're super famous.

Q: What do you see in the future for your band? Do you have any kind of plan for where you want to take your sound, or how you might approach your next batch of songs?
A: We're definitely more for a rowdy crowd. In the future I would love to play to a lot bigger crowds, jazzy themed bars, stuff like that.

We're actually writing new songs now. We have four new tunes we're working on recording. We already have two down. We want to come out with another 10 song album, hopefully before December. We want to work with a guy named Adam [Schreiber] from Jack & the Bear. He does a very cool style of recording, very old sounding. It kind of works with the new genre we're going with. We already have one of our songs recorded. We're waiting for it to get mastered, and we'll release it out to the public.


Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Olivia Mainville & the Aquatic Troupe play the Blind Pig on Saturday May 14, supported by Sedgewick, Jason Dennie, and Nadim Azzman. Doors are at 9 p.m. The Blind Pig is located at 208 N. First St. The show is 18 and up, and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

The band will also open for Sedgewick at Cultivate Coffee and TapHouse on Sunday, May 15. Cultivate is located at 307 N. River in Ypsilanti. There is no cover, and the show will run from 5-8 p.m.

Preview: As You Like It, Young Actors Guild

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The Young Actors Guild rehearses their new production of Shakespeare's As You Like It.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows to go see YAG's As You Like It. Pictured above are shots from rehearsals.

All the world's a stage this weekend when The Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild presents one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, As You Like It, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

After fleeing the many injustices surrounding her usurping uncle's court, Rosalind (disguised as a boy) and her cousin Celia encounter love, adventure, and a band of outsiders as they travel through the mythological forest of Arden to where her father and his friends live in exile. Much wit and romance abounds between Rosalind, perhaps Shakespeare's most inspiring female character, and Orlando, her beloved, with many quotable assists from the jester Touchstone, the melancholy Jacques, and others.

The themes of the play celebrate the healing power of nature, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Recommended for all audiences.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances are Friday, May 13th and Saturday, May 14th at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 14th and Sunday, May 15 2:00 pm, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets: $7.00 for students through college; $12.00 for adults; and $15.00 for reserved seats in rows one and two, any age. Tickets available online or at the door.

Review: Alejandro Escovedo at the Ark

REVIEW MUSIC

Review: Alejandro Escovedo at the Ark.

Alejandro Escovedo and his trio rocked the Ark last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo took to The Ark's stage, joined by his longtime cellist Brian Standefer and keyboardist/harmony singer Sean Giddings as the Alejandro Escovedo Trio. The trio’s performance was part of an ongoing tour to promote the vinyl reissues of his first two albums, 1992’s Gravity and 1994’s Thirteen Years, which were released on Record Store Day last month.

Escovedo likes sharing stories with his audience during his shows, and this show was no exception. He gave a shout-out to his early producer, Chuck Prophet, who he met while working at Waterloo Records and who shepherded him into the Austin music scene. He also shared the story of his young wife’s suicide many years ago, leaving him behind with two young children.

Then he opened the show with a plucky rendition of "Five Hearts Breaking." The cello brought a heartbeat-like sound to the music as a fine alternative to percussion. Next, they performed with rocking fervor Tom Waits’ "Bottom of the World." Jamming to the dark lyrics of "Sally was a Cop;" the singer said it “goes out to Trump”, to which the audience cheered. The poignant ballad, "Rosalie," Escovedo sang about the longing of two lovers separated by thousands of miles. This is a story Escovedo often shares; the two young almost-lovers meet while Rosalie is visiting her aunt in California and the young man so taken by her that he writes her letters everyday for years until they are able to be together again.

Next, they performed "Chelsea Hotel ’78" conjuring punky sounds and images from the Real Animal album released in 2008. The singer mentioned his earlier band, Rank and File which he aptly described as a George Jones & Clash mash-up.

At one point the singer said he was going to make “some Detroit-style noise” and started on some familiar notes to The Stooges’ “Wanna Be Your Dog”...but it was just a tease. Upon playing Sister Lost Soul, Escovedo spoke of the recent losses of David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and Prince. Sheila Escovedo, aka Sheila E., is the performer’s niece, so the loss of Prince was a personal family one.

Escovedo performed 11 songs total with one encore: the rocking "Castanets." To top it all off, he told the backstory of that tune, divulging who it was that he "likes better when she walks away." The night was full of rocking music and great stories and, despite a fairly mellow audience, both Escovedo and his special guest Lucette couldn’t say enough great things about the gem that is the Ark in Ann Arbor.


Beth Manuel is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library and one of her favorite Alejandro songs is Velvet Guitar.