Rhiannon Giddens brought tough truths and stunning songs to the Power Center

REVIEW MUSIC

Artists have a long history of transforming pain (communal or personal) into something beautiful -- and right now, no one does that better than celebrated roots musician Rhiannon Giddens, who played an Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage show at the Power Center on Wednesday night.

Giddens, who first drew mainstream attention as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now appears on the TV drama Nashville, opened Wednesday’s two-hour set with her haunting take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Mary,” during which Giddens’ gorgeous vocal storytelling countered the song’s heavy, thumping drumbeat; and “The Love We Almost Had,” a jaunty chronicle of longing and regret that Giddens concluded with some grade-A scatting.

From "Lumberjanes" to Chad's Mom: Carolyn Nowak | A2CAF

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Carolyn

Carolyn Nowak sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Ann Arbor-based cartoonist Carolyn Nowak may have reached a larger audience with her work in 2015 on the critically acclaimed and award-winning comic series Lumberjanes, but it’s her funny, introspective self-published comics, such as Lazy and Girl Town, where Nowak truly shines.

Last year, one of those works, Radishes, received the Ignatz Award (named for the character in George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comic strip) at the Small Press Expo for Outstanding Minicomic, and Nowak herself was nominated for Promising New Talent. Radishes was a shift for Nowak into fantasy comics and tells the story of two teenagers, Kelly and Beth, who play hooky from school to visit a wondrous market filled with mysterious shops and a tiger hairstylist. Nowak’s follow-up from late last year, Diana’s Electric Tongue, is set in a futuristic society where people purchase androids for companionship, is her most mature work to date, and possibly her best.

Nowak will be joining over 50 other comic creators who are displaying, selling, and signing their work on Artist’s Alley at this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). The A2CAF is a free event starting on Friday, June 17, and running through Sunday, June 19, at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch. Nowak partnered with AADL to create the all-ages comic Chad Agamemnon for the recent Free Comic Book Day, and you'll also be able to get a gratis copy at A2CAF.

Nowak was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival.

From Lunch Ladies to Wookies: Jarrett J. Krosoczka | A2CAF

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Jarrett

Jarrett J. Krosoczka sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Like many illustrators, Jarrett J. Krosoczka set course on making his dreams come true at a very young age. His maternal grandparents, who had been raising Krosoczka since he was three, saw a desire in him to create, so they enrolled him in art classes at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In elementary school he wrote his first books, and as he got older his work began to be influenced by comic books, leading to him writing a comic strip for the school newspaper, and eventually being accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduation.

While still working on his degree at RISD, Krosoczka started submitting picture books to publishers, and after two years of rejection letters, Random House published Good Night, Monkey Boy in 2001. Over the past 16 years, Krosoczka has published numerous picture books, created the Lunch Lady and Platypus Police Squad comic series, and was recently tapped to replace Jeffrey Brown on Star Wars: Jedi Academy with his second book in that series, The Force Oversleeps, set to be released next month.

Krosoczka’s plate always seems to be full, but he still finds time to visit schools to promote literacy and creativity. He has also established the School Lunch Hero Day, which annually asks students to recognize the work done by their school’s nutrition staff, and the Platypus Police Academy, a community read-aloud program for police officers at their local libraries.

As the keynote presenter for this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown, Krosoczka will continue to be busy. On Saturday, June 17, from 3-4 pm he’ll demonstrate his story-making process, followed by a Lunch Lady event and signing. On Sunday, June 18, he’ll be making an appearance from 12:30-1:30 pm at Vault of Midnight on Main Street, and will have a signing later at 4 pm at the downtown library.

Krosoczka was nice enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp before this weekend’s A2CAF.

Unicorning: Samantha Irby & Scaachi Koul at Literati

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Samantha Irby, Scaachi Koul

Samantha Irby and Scaachi Koul induced some unicorns at Literati on Tuesday.

Unicorn should be a verb. As a verb, this would be what you do when you project all sorts of magical qualities onto somebody else. But I recently read an essay called “Samantha Irby Needs to Talk About Some Sh*t” and I was hooked. We’re talking immediate Google stalking. That’s how I knew that I could -- despite the title of her new release, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life -- meet her in real life. On Tuesday, June 13, Irby and Buzzfeed culture writer/essayist Scaachi Koul appeared at Literati where they read selections from their books and answered questions to a full house. I really, really tried not to unicorn them.

Pink Martini brought fearless musical exploration to the Power Center

REVIEW MUSIC

If you’re at a concert, and during the course of the evening, one of the performers says, “That last song was in Turkish, and this next song is in Armenian,” it’s a pretty sure bet you’re seeing world music super-group Pink Martini. (Lucky you!)

A sold-out crowd packed the Power Center on Tuesday night to see the 11-member, Oregon-based band, which filled the second slot in this year’s Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage season after Diana Krall kicked things off last week.

"Reach: A Stamps Faculty Exhibition" is a rich and diverse collection of art

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Anne

Metal. Anne Mondro constructs intricatley crafted human hearts and anterior organs out of copper, silver, and bronze wires. Photo by Elizabeth Smith.

In March of this year, University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art and Design opened the Stamps Gallery on the first floor of the McKinley Towne Centre, 201 S. Division. The new space offers an accessible art-viewing experience in downtown Ann Arbor and features large glass windows, which particularly impacted my viewing of the sculptural works on display by Anne Mondro as part of Reach: A Stamps Faculty Exhibition.

Her hanging sculptures, intricately constructed from tiny copper, silver, and bronze wires, represent various human hearts and anterior organs. Three hearts hang austerely in a row in the front of the gallery, which immediately drew my interest. I visited in the evening, on a sunny day, a perfect time to catch these sculptures illuminated by the setting sun.

Double, Double, Fun and Trouble: Penny Seats Theatre Company's "The Renaissance Man"

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Penny Seats Theatre Company, The Renaissance Man

Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Renaissance Man is modern rewrite of Macbeth.

Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Renaissance Man is a lot of fun, but that’s to be expected. After all, this is a play about a Renaissance festival, with actors traipsing about Ann Arbor's West Park dressed as pirate knights and gypsy elves. And if you’ve ever seen any Penny Seats show, you know before reading this that you’re in for a good time.

“First and foremost, I want people to walk away having had fun,” said Joseph Zettelmaier, playwright and director of The Renaissance Man, which is a modern comedy based on Macbeth. “I said from the jump that I want people to watch the play, and even if a Renaissance faire isn't their thing, I want them to get why people would want to do it. There are other themes throughout, but I'd rather people see it and decide what they are for themselves.”

What comes as a bit of a surprise, though, is that The Renaissance Man is overtly a play about the importance of fun. It bounces nimbly between wit and philosophy, but that fun is tempered just a touch by something more melancholy and far more beautiful. (Full disclosure: I have worked with the Penny Seats on its past couple of shows, including The Renaissance Man, in minor capacities.)

Past Imperfect: Parisa Ghaderi & Ebrahim Soltani at YES!

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Underdog

The manipulated photographs of Ebrahim Soltani (left) and Parisa Ghaderi help explore the messiness of memory.

Photographs are haunting; they are aching evidences of our relations with those who are gone. However, through photographs, we do not remember the past: we invent the past.” --Parisa Ghaderi & Ebrahim Soltani

For the month of June, YES!, an experimental gallery located at 8 North Washington St. in Ypsilanti, will host Waiting for the Past, an installation of videos and photographs created by visual artist Parisa Ghaderi in collaboration with social scientist, writer, and photographer Ebrahim Soltani. The exhibition is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation and will provide the space with permanent sound and lighting equipment to support future public art projects at the gallery.

Waiting for the Past is the first collaboration of this creative team. Asked if they plan to work together in the future, Soltani replies with an enthusiastic “Absolutely!” They say they particularly enjoyed writing the poetry that dots the wall of the gallery and they hope to continue to create work for a publication.

Clutch of Grit: Keith Lesmeister reads from "We Could Have Been Happy Here" at Literati

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Keith

In We Could Have Been Happy Here, Keith Lesmeister puts characters in impossible situations to see how they react.

Keith Lesmeister's debut collection, We Could Have Been Happy Here, features a "gritty, emotionally sensitive clutch” of short stories, according to Kirkus Reviews.

That description that can be applied to a lot of Midwestern writers and Lesmeister fits the bill. He grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and currently lives in Decorah, which he describes as “much smaller -- a rural community located in the far northeast corner of the state.” The author's life experiences hum in the background of this collection, but the stories aren't autobiographical. What he learned from diving deeply into Iowa, he said, is how to better connect with people whose experiences are immensely different than his: “I spent a lot of time with characters whose lives are unlike mine in many ways -- I’ve never driven around with my suicidal grandmother; I’ve never experienced a deployed parent; I’ve never felt betrayed by a twin brother; and so on and so forth.”

On June 16, Lesmeister reads from We Could Have Been Happy Here at Literati. We chatted with him about Iowa, what makes a good short story, and more. Spoiler: Lesmeister’s so excited to read in Ann Arbor that he might even bake a cake.

Pages From the Past: Book of Love returns to Necto 30 years later

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The last time Book of Love played Ann Arbor, the Necto was the Nectarine Ballroom and The Michigan Daily led its preview of the show with a Walkman reference.

That concert was March 3, 1987.

Now, 30 years later, the melody-driven synth-pop group is returning as part of an ongoing tour that kicked off last year with the release of MMXVI – Book of Love – The 30th Anniversary Collection.

“We call them anniversary shows,” said primary songwriter Ted Ottaviano who tours with singer Susan Ottaviano (no relation). “We’ve had reunion shows where we’ve had the (founding) four members, but that’s not easy to pull off. We’ve only done three of them and we specifically did them in the three major cities throughout our career.”

The other original members, Lauren Roselli (keyboards, vocals) and Jade Lee (keyboards, vocals), are still a part of Book of Love officially, but with busy lives outside the band, they can’t hit the road with the other two. “It essentially works because you have the lead vocalist and I’ve been the main songwriter, so the essence of the group is intact,” Ottaviano said.