Over the first four years of its existence, the Broken Branch Breakdown roots-music festival has established itself as a truly grassroots event in the Ann Arbor community.
Admission is free. The vibe is casual and family friendly. The music itself is rootsy, mostly falling somewhere into the Americana/folk/jam-band genres.
It’s almost like somebody just invites all of Ann Arbor over to relax and listen to some tunes in the backyard. And in fact, that’s exactly what happens.
Imagine you love a sport. You live that sport. You follow that sport and know the players and the stats and the plays.
And then you move to a place where that sport is not only not revered but is called by the wrong name.
That’s what happened to Gary B. France 23 years ago when his physiotherapist job brought him from Lancashire, England, to southeast Michigan. He found himself starved for information on soccer (football) in general -- and more specifically, Manchester United, aka The Red Devils, aka The Reds.
“We are so used to 24/7 coverage these days that we might not remember that there wasn’t much back in the '90s," France says. "All I had was my own passion and the drive to remain connected to the sport.”
In those days France got his sports fix during transatlantic calls to his father and from two-week-old British newspapers that he found in the Little Professor bookstore in Dearborn. By chance, he found an old shortwave radio and got BBC World Service, which gave coverage of the second half of one game once a week on Saturday mornings. “I just had to hope it was my team!” laughs France.
Over more than 40 years making music together, Mustard’s Retreat has established a reputation around the region as a talented and entertaining folk duo -- two guys and two guitars.
However, the group actually started out as a trio -- and for a new album and current concerts, original member Libby Glover has rejoined David Tamulevich and Michael Hough. Her presence brings a whole new dimension to the Mustard’s Retreat sound, yet the transition sounds just like it feels -- perfectly natural.
“When David and I first began singing together, something happened. We didn’t have the words to articulate what it was, but we both felt it was important. Then when Libby and David began singing together, something more happened,” Hough says of the group’s 1970s roots. They soon started working as a trio and found a special sound. But life took Glover out of state and Mustard’s Retreat made its reputation as a duo.
“Sometimes a play calls out for a staged reading,” said Carla Milarch, Theatre Nova’s founding artistic director.
This is precisely why the Ann Arbor-based company -- which specializes in producing new work and is located in the Yellow Barn on Huron St. -- is hosting its Michigan Playwrights Festival for a third year.
“We’ve configured it differently over the years,” said Milarch. “At first, we crammed all the plays into one big week. But we tend to find a lot of plays we really like and want to see read, so we decided to break it down into two installments. … We pick 10 plays and space the festival out so we have one week in the fall and one in the spring. This [July 25-29] will be the second installment of last year’s submissions.”
Marlo Broughton, aka MarloBro, is an artist and designer whose work ranges from pop culture to social issues like police brutality to love and friendship. He's been involved with Detroit's creative scene since 2007 and steadily built his portfolio in the city’s streets and galleries. His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in the area and he works with agencies including 1XRun, Playground Detroit, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
He’s also been a part of the creative group Finally Famous with Tommey Walker, his cousin and founder of the Detroit Vs. Everybody clothing line. This group helped drive rapper Big Sean’s artistic projects into motion and allowed Broughton to have a hand in mixtapes and branding during Big Sean’s indie career.
Kathy Asheton’s voice was cracking.
“It’s all very sensitive,” she said, the sentence trailing off to silence.
She’s recalling her brothers, Ron and Scott, the guitarist (and later bassist) and drummer for The Stooges.
Ron died in 2009 at 60 and Scott in 2014 at 64, and their younger sister still struggles with their loss.
The Facebook page Kathy runs for the Ron Asheton Foundation is filled with personal remembrances and family photos taken in their West Ann Arbor home near Weber’s Restaurant. Her mom bought the house from Herman Weber in 1964, and it's still owned by Kathy.
The modest 1,400 square foot structure, with its brick facade on the lower half and siding on top, doesn’t look like the sort of place that would launch a musical revolution. But the band that helped plant the roots for punk rock, The Stooges, began its life here, all with the blessing of mother Ann Asheton.
“She was not only accommodating by letting my brothers practice -- that’s where the band literally started, in the family home,” Kathy said. “But she could also rip and say, ‘Don’t drink out of the milk cartons!’ and let us have it. She was a mom in the true sense. She yelled at them like she yelled at us.”
“Them” includes the MC5 and other bands who passed through the Asheton home, and it was Iggy who Ann yelled at for drinking out of the milk carton. Momma Asheton’s support was repaid in song.
Some people seem destined to be stars.
Sunflower Bean is fronted by a supernova.
The New York-based Julia Cumming (bass, vocals), Nick Kivlen (guitar, vocals), and Jacob Faber (drums) flew to Ann Arbor specifically to play Sonic Lunch on July 12, and their 13-song spirited performance under sunny skies turned Liberty Plaza into a rock 'n' roll club.
"Are you guys here for a good time?" Cumming said. "Just because it's noon it doesn't mean we can't rock." She then taught the crowd to sing along with the "no, no, no" part of the chorus for "Crisis Fest."
The Ravens Club loves seasonal cocktails. Right now you can get the Donga Punch, As You Wish, Judge Holden, and The Filby Cocktail.
But come fall, the drinks will change with the leaves.
For the past year, though, at least one thing’s been constant at the club on 207 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor -- and I’m not talking about the 150 whiskeys on the menu. Every Monday night from 9 pm-12 am you can find the Rick Roe (keyboards), Rob Bickley (bass), and Jesse Kramer (drums) trio performing a mix of originals, jazz standards, and a whole lotta Thelonious Monk.
But the most intriguing part of the trio is its dedication to exploring Disney’s music.
Five of the songs on the group’s new CD, Heliosphere, are Disney tunes, with the other six coming from Roe. The trio will celebrate its release with a gig at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, July 14.
Ken Vandermark is a method musician.
The Chicago-based saxophonist/clarinetist likes to construct scenarios and systems for his various bands and then write material that fits whatever methods he's devised. It's rigorous work that forces Vandermark and his musicians out of their comfort zones, but it has led to a voluminous and varied body of work that is among the most impressive in modern jazz and composition.
Vandermark's latest creation, Maker, came to Kerrytown Concert House on July 9 and ripped through a four-song, 75-minute set that touched on avant-garde jazz, funk, drones, minimalism, and Afrobeat.
The world wide web can do many things: find the recipe for that cookie you had at camp that one summer, identify the weird rash you have on your arm, and tell you the name of the band that sang "Life in a Northern Town."
But there are many things that an algorithm simply cannot provide and many of those things can be found in bookstores like Ann Arbor's Aunt Agatha’s, home of new and used mysteries, detection, and true-crime tomes: the smells of old books that have been opened, read, and reread by many loving hands; stacks of dog-eared novels waiting to find their reader; sounds of pages turning, people murmuring over what they are reading.
I love this author! I’ve read all of her books -- isn’t she great? She is so underrated.
Since 1992, Robin and Jamie Agnew's Aunt Agatha’s is the place that finds the authors you haven’t heard of before and makes you a lifelong fan, a store where writers who are at the beginning of their career blossom into major forces.
And it all ends this August.