It was a dark and stormy night.
Dreary gray clouds dragged themselves across a dreary gray sky. It was cold. It was raining.
Inside there was a shuffle of feet. The scrape of a door. A slight sense of…apprehension? And a sound. A peculiar sound. A murmur of hundreds of voices. A whisper of a thousand turning pages. A low hum. What was that peculiar, whispering, humming sound?
Oh. It was the sound of 500 podcast-obsessed book nerds vibrating in their seats waiting for the Welcome to Night Vale book tour to start.
On October 24th, the city of Ann Arbor opened wide its many sets of alien arms to welcome Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, creators of the popularly creepy and creepily popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast to town. The show is about a fictitious desert town where werewolves, ghosts, and mysterious lights in the night sky are familiar and routine, the weather is music, and the sleepy town’s supernatural goings-on are all calmly broadcast over the radio for everyone to hear.
Hosted by Literati Bookstore, Fink and Cranor came to Ann Arbor for an hour of questions, answers, and a brief reading as part of a nation-wide tour for their newly released novel Welcome to Night Vale.
Included in the price of the ticket were the following essential items:
-One seat (mostly for sitting, but possible for use as a shield against wild beasts, unknown hooded figures, or existential crises)
-One copy of the new book to take home and read to yourself, to your family, or loudly to strangers at the bus stop
-Human contact (optional)
In the auditorium of Emerson School, the authors took their seats on stage and faced the terrifying horde: hundreds of Night Vale fans wearing their most intricate costumes, their most supportive Night Vale T-shirts, screaming their sincerest screams of excitement.
For a fandom that prizes the mysterious, eerie, and monstrous so highly, it was probably the friendliest event I’ve ever been to.
Singer, rapper, and host Dessa Darling provided most of the questions and all of the enthusiasm allowed by law. She opened the event with a simple question for creator Joseph Fink: “If I were to corner your grandmother in an elevator, what would she have to say about Night Vale’s success?”
From there, it was pretty much a delightfully wacky journey from hilarious anecdotes about Welcome to Night Vale's narrator doing podcasts in his underwear to some Super Heavy Serious Metaphysical Stuff.
This was what impressed me most about the event. The questions, the authors' answers, and the brief reading of the book itself all proved the depth of feeling and philosophical thought that the Night Vale universe both creates for and evokes in its listeners.
I don’t know if you knew this, guys, but despite being pretty funny, Welcome to Night Vale is some deep shit.
Sure, the Q & A included questions as simple as “Do you think this book is going to be banned?” (to which Fink replied, “I hope so!”). But there were also questions as complex as asking the authors what it means to have a body, a physical form as a catalyst for all of your interactions with the world, and if our bodies ultimately determine our destinies.
Yeah. See? Deep.
As an occasional Night Vale podcast listener at an event that seemed to consist entirely of fans who had already heard all 80-or-so episodes and devoured half the book in the fifteen minutes between the hardback hitting their palms and the two creators appearing onstage, I realized one thing pretty quickly: the Night Vale fandom is one that makes you want to be pulled down into its gaping maw. The fans at this event cheered at everything. They clapped at everything. They laughed at everything. They told the guy who took to the microphone before the event had even started—the dude who was only up there to tell them the boring rules of safety and not to trample each other on the way out—that they loved him.
They screamed this. Repeatedly. And they meant it.
Between the positively-charged atmosphere of the event, the clearly devoted and downright pleasant fans, and the creators who have put way more thought into their writing than you might imagine, it was enough to make you wonder: Can I please take a bus to this Night Vale place, or do I need to be dropped from a mother ship into their town square?
Based on the brief 3-page reading done by Jeffrey Cranor and the 20 pages I got through while waiting for the show to start, readers of Welcome to Night Vale can expect the usual dark humor, a cast of strange and mysterious characters, an equally mysterious double-mystery, shape-shifters, sentient houses, and a lot of made-up quotes from famous people.
But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “This is the end of the article.”
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library. She prefers her meat rare and has never been seen at work on a full moon.
“Grease is the word,” sang Barry Gibb nearly 40 years ago. It was 1978 and John Travolta had just discoed his way to superstardom in Saturday Night Fever. This time he’d spark some summer lovin’ and help spin the 1971 stage musical Grease into a cult film and a staple for high school musical theater programs across the county.
This weekend Pioneer High School’s Theatre Guild offers its take on Rydell High’s class of 1959, with direction by Matthew Kunkel, University of Michigan Directing Major.
The story centers on Danny Zuko, a too-cool-for-school hot-rodder who reluctantly crosses clique lines and kills it at the high school dance for his sweetheart, Sandy Dumbrowski, who in turn is negotiating her own way among the bad girls. At its core are the timeless high school high jinks and teen angst that make Grease the perfect high school musical.
Peer pressure played out by duck-tailed T-birds and gum-smacking Pink Ladies? What’s not to like?
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Grease opens Friday, November 7, at 8:30 pm and runs through Sunday, November 15, at 2 pm. Tickets are $10 (students, Seniors 65+, and PHS staff) and $15 adults. For more information, visit Pioneer Theatre Guild's webpage.
Southern band The Avett Brothers will play Hill Auditorium on November 6th. I stumbled into The Avett Brothers purely by accident: I bought their album Emotionalism solely based on the cover art, which was printed with silver ink (what can I say? I have simple, glittery tastes). Luckily for me, I actually liked the music in addition to the sparkle. The Avett Brothers play folk rock with a bluegrass twist, which translates to plenty of banjos AND indie rock lyrics.
Between the band’s experience (they’ve been playing together since 2000) and the fantastic Hill Auditorium acoustics, this show is sure to be wonderful.
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Avett Brothers play Hill Auditorium this Friday, November 6, at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.
Still working on your Halloweekend plans? Tonight, the Ark welcomes The Ragbirds back to their hometown stage. The hard-working and hard-touring band is built around Erin Zindle, a musician who is as comfortable singing-while-playing violin as she is wielding an accordion.
This last year, Zindle and crew have been hard at work on their fifth studio record with Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and this show gives fans a chance to hear much of that material prior to its 2016 release.
The Ragbirds often go all-out to celebrate this spooky holiday, and accordingly, this year’s performance goes beyond just a “show” — it’s a full-on masquerade, for the band and fans.
Come already decked out, or arrive early — there will be a special souvenir masquerade mask for the first 250 people.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Ragbirds' Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, at the Ark. Doors open at 7:30 pm, show starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online in advance until 3pm or at the Ark Box office.
In the summer of 1975, a number of patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor suffered sudden respiratory failure. Several patients died as a result. The FBI investigated and two Filipina nurses, Leonora Perez and Filipina Narcisco, were eventually convicted of injecting patients with a drug intended to incapacitate and kill them. This little-known story is the focus of That Strange Summer, a documentary by journalist and associate professor Geri Alumit Zeldes.
In interviews in the film, co-workers express doubt about the pair’s guilt, and question why another co-worker, who was obviously unstable, was not considered as more of a suspect. A victim’s family recounts the shock of these attacks, and the struggle to understand what had happened. An investigator shares the circumstantial evidence used to justify official suspicions. Throughout, the nurses stand by one another despite their shock at the accusations and the gravity of the situation. Their conviction met with protests, and on appeal, their conviction was overturned and the nurses were freed.
Filmmaker Zeldes unfolds this complicated story through archival news stories, FBI documents, and eye-opening interviews with investigators and former VA employees. The film examines stereotypes and perceptions that may have influenced the outcome of the investigation and trial. People in the film keep coming back in amazement that such a thing took place in Ann Arbor -- underlining that distrust of foreigners can exist anywhere, and the story of Narcisco and Perez shows just how far that distrust can go.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Fall is fully upon us with the falling leaves, colder temps, and strong winds, but it's still a fantastic time of year to be outside and soak up everything that Ann Arbor's parks have to offer! There are now sculptures located in four of Ann Arbor's parks: Broadway Park, Gallup Park, Island Park, and Bandemeer Park. Canoe Imagine Art (CIA), which debuted in August, is a unique partnership created by The Arts Alliance, in cooperation with the City of Ann Arbor (the City) and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC). CIA repurposes retired canoes and celebrates everything about the Huron River and the City's extraordinary park system. Four works of art were selected through a juried and public vote process.
The "Turbine" sculpture in Broadway Park is a kinetic piece that uses the canoes to create a visual wheel that spins and was inspired by the movement and occasional turbulence of the river. Gallup Park has a "Canoe Fan" that evokes the feeling of a rising sun. This piece really showcases the shape of the canoe and heightens it to a different beautiful form. Island Park is home to "Canoe-vue", turning two canoes cut in half into a functional place to sit - sitting in art to observe the art of nature. Lastly, Bandemeer Park is home to "Tulip" - 10 canoes standing vertically and meeting at one point in the middle. This piece celebrates the shape of the canoe while emulating a shape found in nature.
Before the rains turn to ice and the snow we're all hoping doesn't come (fingers crossed, El Nino!) covers the canoes get out there and explore the natural and sustainable art!
Erin Helmrich is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library - when it comes to water she prefers kayaks.
Every month crowds gather at Circus for The Moth StorySLAM, Ann Arbor's live, local version of the hugely popular NPR radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Just like the show, Ann Arbor's StorySLAM features true, personal stories told by people of all ages, backgrounds, and storytelling skill-levels--as long as they've got the guts to get up on stage and tell.
At this past Tuesday’s Ann Arbor StorySLAM, storytellers had to bring twice the guts--because “Guts” was also this month's theme. Satori Shakoor, creator, producer, and host of The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was StorySLAM's enthusiastic host, welcoming storytellers to the stage and reading brief “times I chickened out” anecdotes submitted by the audience in between stories. Storytellers displayed a wide range of abilities as they shared a diversity of "gutsy" stories. Opener Karin Lindstrom told a dramatic tale of having to kill a beloved horse, while eventual winner Lauren Trimble shared a tearful story of having to identify the body of her dead brother. Other storytellers interpreted “guts” more literally; KT Doud told a story of offending international hosts by refusing to eat intestine soup… and then accidentally furthering the offense with too many tequila shots.
Circus makes a great venue for the event, with its raised stage and combination of tables, chairs, and standing room. It’s fun to see the different abilities of the storytellers and their individual interpretations of each monthly theme. For those who don't faint dead away at the thought of public speaking, it's actually pretty easy to join in on one of these StorySLAMs. Those who wish to tell a story submit their name and 10 random storytellers are chosen to share their 5-minute story with the crowd and with a panel of judges. The StorySLAM winner continues on to compete in a larger GrandSLAM, a storytelling event with winners from StorySLAMs around the country.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Ann Arbor's StorySLAM is sponsored by Michigan Radio and is held on the third Tuesday of every month at Circus. The event will be back on November 17, with the theme “Gifted,” and on December 15, with the theme “Joy.” Tickets are $9 each for nonparticipants, and you can buy them online in advance or at the door. For more information and Detroit dates, visit the Moth events website.
POP•X is real art in real time. And it’s an idea that’s been long overdue as Ann Arbor’s been inching its way towards this sort of event for some time now. After all, in the sphere of local music, Water Hill’s now established spring music festival has shown us how this sort of spirited activity can be handled on what is a seemingly near ad hoc basis. In this instance, POP•X is telling us in quite vivid terms: Create and they will come. During a recent midday visit at the start of the event, I saw Ann Arborites of all ages, all incomes, and all backgrounds; all crafting, browsing, and participating in what would have seemed an unlikely set of circumstances just days before.
Using Liberty Plaza as its base, POP•X effectively has melded a cluster of arts activities that have been percolating historically. But it’s also done so with a bit of Tree Town spirit.
For one of the most dispiriting effects of the 20th century visual arts has been the progressive commodification of aesthetics. Read any report about art anywhere and there’s either a subtle (or often not so subtle) reference to the monetization of the visual arts. It’s no secret that big art can wheel about untold millions of dollars with the stroke of a pen or the slam of an auctioneer’s gavel and it’s very often seemed as though this is meant to be the end product of the artistic activity.
As a result, this reification of art’s value has put a price tag on all artful activity with a grimness that squeezes joy out of the market. Art can be big business and engaging in art can be to participate in big business. It is not accidental that someone with as clever a sense of humor as Andy Warhol decided in his time to reflect this ultimately simple-minded commodification.
Well, to use a telling cliché, POP•X puts paid to this notion. Like Water Hill Music Festival—and unlike the now merchandizing effort of each summer’s local art fairs—this event is a free-for-all of artistic opportunity. Granted, it took a consortium of like-minded individuals at all levels of the regional arts market to gather themselves towards this end. And it ultimately took the nuanced and steely courage of professionals and visionaries like Omari Rush and Lucie Nisson to organize the event as well as seek and/or provide the funding. But the synergy once released has taken on a community-tinge that’s unmistakably organic.
For example, the very nature of the buildings crafted to house the individual projects in POP•X is unmistakably, and deliberately, unrefined. And the repurposing of these structures after the event ends calls into mind this very orientation: Waste not, want not.
But even more astute is the nature of the project itself.
POP•X isn’t an under-conceptualized happenstance; rather, the very nature of the project follows a clearly delineated path of artful logic in modern and post-modern art that’s been percolating for decades now. The event mirrors two of the more outrageous innovations of mid-20th century Neo-Dada—the notions of the Happening and Environmental Art.
The Happening, a sort of odd participatory aesthetic has always been subversive in its insistence on the involved hands-on element of creativity. Rather than surrender to the notion that art must be respectful (in other words, passively sitting on a gallery wall or be passed around dollar for dollar), the accomplices of this art form yield to the collective experience of the event. A sort of late-blooming offshoot of Dada, the Happening sought to push the boundaries of art in much the same way that Luigi Pirandello and Bertholt Brecht sought to push the boundaries of theatrics: Participating in the event is the art form.
Likewise, another 1960s offshoot of Neo-Dada, Environmental Art, also sought to widen the physicality of art itself—and hence, the expansive nature of art. As POP•X happily shows us, the very creation of this environment lays a foundation upon which everything else rests. As such, in some of the units, professional artists have invited the public to participate in the creation of the art activity itself, while other groups or individuals have mounted installations through which we can participate.
The end result is a heady optimism that’s infectious and it’s this invigorating cheerfulness that most succinctly describes the atmosphere of this event. And like all environmental give and takes, what one encounters will be dictated by those who are there at the same time. It’s therefore going to be useful to visit the installation site occasionally—and certainly at differing times—to absorb the varied populations that inhabit this artistic fishbowl.
Just don’t expect POP•X to conform to the tried and (supposedly) true formula of the contemporary visual arts. For its multidimensional psychological and physical bearings embroider the varied elements of the contemporary arts. There’s going to be a bit something different here for everyone.
Little surprise then that yet one final cliché fits the parameters of POP•X.
Perhaps for the first time in a long time, our local proponents of the visual arts have banded together to acknowledge a fact about art that a city the size of Ann Arbor has seemingly been built to express: It’s taken a village to express Ann Arbor’s attitude about contemporary art.
Here’s hoping this remarkable achievement is but the first of many such activities that will take place in our future.
John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.
POP•X is an annual ten-day festival presented by the Ann Arbor Art Center. POP•X 2015 was Thursday, October 15 – Saturday, October 24, 2015 from 10 am to 8 pm at Liberty Plaza Park, 255 East Liberty St, Ann Arbor. To learn more visit popxannarbor.com or the POP•X Facebook event page. POP•X is free and open to the public.
“Oft have I digg'd up dead men from their graves, And set them upright at their dear friends' door….”
Just in time for Halloween (and running the following weekend), Ann Arbor High School’s Huron Players bring you Shakespeare’s most disturbing tragedy, Titus Andronicus.
In this blood-soaked drama -- one of Shakespeare’s earliest, written sometime between 1588 and 1593 -- Saturninus and Bassianus are vying for the title of Caesar when Titus returns victorious from war with the Goths. Titus is offered the emperorship, but instead confers the title on Saturninus, thereby setting in motion a revenge so shockingly graphic the play wasn’t performed for centuries. Let’s just say that in addition to the considerable bloodshed, Titus cornered the meat-pie market a good 400 years before Sweeney Todd.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Titus Andronicus starts Friday, October 30, 7:30 pm, with additional performances Sunday, November 1, at 2:00 pm, Friday, November 6, and Saturday, November 7, at 7:30 pm in Huron High School's Little Theater. General admission: $8, students and staff $6. Additional information available on the Huron Players website.
Sunday evening live music at the Old Town Tavern is a long-time staple for many locals. This Sunday’s show should be particularly rousing. Guitarist and singer Kyle Rhodes, from the local band Wire in the Wood is teaming up with Jay Lapp, frontman of the Virginia bluegrass band Steel Wheels to form an Americana duo playing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and indie rock. Mandolin fans in particular won't want to miss this show: both Rhodes and Lapp are accomplished mandolin players and we can expect the instrument to feature prominently in Sunday's show, too.
Wire in the Wood, first formed in 2008, also features Billy Kirst, Jordan Adema, and Ryan Shea. Formerly known as The Bearded Ladies, the band got their start when Kirst put an ad on craigslist seeking bandmates for the “Best String Band Ever.” Rhodes was the only one who answered the ad, and Wire in the Wood was born. The band frequently plays at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti.
The Steel Wheels is also comprised of four young musicians who first met when they were in school at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. The four band members—Lapp, Trent Wagler, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker—were all raised in Mennonite families. The band played informally together throughout the late aughts, while also working day jobs and starting families, and released an LP in 2007. In 2010, they finally came together as The Steel Wheels, and have been releasing albums ever since, including their most recent one Leave Some Things Behind, which came out this past May. The band puts on the Red Wing Roots Music Festival every year in Virginia. 2015 was the third year of the festival.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes will begin their set at Old Town at 8:00 pm this Sunday, October 25. Old Town features live music every Sunday, from artists of all types, as well as live jazz music on Tuesday evenings. You can find out more about upcoming shows and performers here.