Everyday They Write the Books: Mittenfest XI Returns to Rock for 826michigan

INTERVIEW PREVIEW MUSIC

Mittenfest

Mittenfest celebrates readin', writin' & rock 'n' rollin'.

Mittenfest is the annual three-day music festival benefiting 826michigan, the nonprofit center at 115 East Liberty St.
in Ann Arbor that helps school-aged kids express themselves through creative writing. 826michigan also offers drop-in tutoring, after-school programs, and help for those learning English.

Basically, it's good people doing good things, which is why 21 bands are playing for free to raise money in support of 826michigan.

Mittenfest returns for its 11th iteration, December 29-31, and it’s again taking place at Bona Sera in downtown Ypsilanti.

We did interviews with four of the bands playing the fest:

The Belle Isles
The Avatars
Blue Jeans
JUNGLEFOWL

And below is the full festival lineup, plus sound samples, dates, and times for all the Mittenfest bands:

Mittenfest: The Belle Isles

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The Belle Isles

Oh, bella!

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Avatars interview
Blue Jeans interview
JUNGLEFOWL interview

The Belle Isles is a new band years in the making. The quartet features guitar, drums, bass and baritone sax, and is a fascinating conglomeration of long-time Detroit area musicians who combined have played in more than 20 bands, including the Detroit Cobras, Saturday Looks Good to Me, Viv Akauldren, Gore Gore Girls, Outrageous Cherry, Detroit Party Marching Band, and more.

The group’s sound is somewhere between gritty garage rock and grimy Detroit R&B, all played with the sort of party-rocking joie de vivre that will make for a great close to the first night of Mittenfest.

Pulp spoke with Richard Wohlfeil, The Belle Isle’s founder, lead singer, and guitarist about how The Belle Isles came to be, their plans for the future, and how Detroit has influenced their sound.

Mittenfest: The Avatars

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The Avatars

The Avatars have returned to their bodily form for one last show. Photo by Doug Coombe.

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Belle Isles interview
Blue Jeans interview
JUNGLEFOWL interview

The Ann Arbor-based rippin’ rock band The Avatars had a four-year run starting in 2003 that included one 7-inch single and a kickass album, Never a Good Time (2006). Then real life got in the way for guitarists Chris "Box" Taylor and Charlie Lorenzi, drummer Claudia Leo, vocalist Mariah Cherem, and bassist Theresa Kiefer, and the garage-rockin’ power-poppers broke up in 2007.

But The Avatars reformed in October to play a single show in Hamtramck opening for a friend’s band. The show ended up being so much fun, The Avatars decided to do one last gig near their Ann Arbor home base. (Though Lorenzi won’t be appearing.)

Pulp caught up with Kiefer (and at the end, Taylor) before The Avatars play their ultimate show at Mittenfest on December 29.

Mittenfest: Blue Jeans

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Blue Jeans

Santa Monica Swim & Dive Club are back in denim.

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Belle Isles interview
The Avatars interview
JUNGLEFOWL interview

Blue Jeans takes the minimalist hooks of Buddy Holly, marries it to the stomp of glam rock, and sweetens the deal with just enough indie pop to make it a super-fine hybrid of genres and eras.

Formerly known as Santa Monica Swim & Dive Club, earlier this year the group came out with its first full-length album, Songs Are Easy, under the new-ish name Blue Jeans. The group recorded it with Ann Arbor superstar Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me, etc.), and he kept the cymbals-free album stripped down and crunchy, just like vocalist-guitarist Tim Sendra, bassist Heather Phares, and drummer David Serra intended.

Blue Jeans, we just met a band called Blue Jeans -- well, at least Phares, who answered some questions for Pulp before the group plays the final day of Mittenfest.

Mittenfest: Junglefowl

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Junglefowl

Welcome to the Junglefowl.

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Avatars interview
The Belle Isles interview
Blue Jeans interview

JUNGLEFOWL’s goal is to “redefine cock rock,” and the duo goes about achieving it with an extra fuzzy psychedelic blend of garage-rock and post-punk.

Comprised of married couple Melissa Coppola on drums and vocals and Stefan Carr on guitar, JUNGLEFOWL released its first EP, STRUT in 2015, and this year will play Mittenfest XI on New Year's Eve, just before the midnight champagne toast. Coppola and Carr have been playing music their whole lives and are both music teachers when they’re not blasting out JUNGLEFOWL tunes in their basement.

Pulp talked with the couple to get a feel for their sound and influences and to find out what’s next for the rock duo in 2017 after their year-ending Mittenfest show.

Jazz, Not Ethio Jazz: The Blue Nile & Louis Johnson Serve Up Ethiopian Food & Great Music

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Louis Johnson

Louis Johnson brings American ambiance to Ethiopian fare.

Ann Arbor is well known for its wide variety of ethnic restaurants. From South American, Caribbean, Asian and African cuisine of all stripes, the offerings are all high quality. But very few of these venues also feature any live music, much less classical or jazz.

So, when you think of jazz being played at an Ethiopian restaurant, your first thoughts might turn to the long-running Ethiopiques CD series that did so much to promote the Ethio-jazz style throughout the world.

But at Ann Arbor’s the Blue Nile restaurant, you won’t hear Ethio jazz, which was created by vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke and mixes traditional Ethiopian music with jazz, funk, and Latin rhythms.

Instead, every Friday and Saturday night, the restaurant on 221 E. Washington Street offers top-notch music courtesy of Louis Johnson and a small ensemble of rotating musicians who pull from the Great American Songbook, Brazilian music, the repertoires of Duke Ellington and Horace Silver, and many other jazz standards.

“I'm always trying to challenge the musicians to play something different, and they always rise to that challenge,” Johnson says. “I can't stump them.”

Jazz has been a staple at the Blue Nile going back to a time when saxophonist Doug Horn played there several years running prior to Johnson's current stint, which is going on five years.

Say Qua?! New DVD Features the Best Shorts From 2016's Ann Arbor Film Festival

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Remember back in October when Saturday Night Live did a parody of the kinds of artfully shot and totally nonsensical movies you often see at film festivals?

SNL called its film qua -- which was being screened at the, ahem, "Ann Arbor Short Film Festival" -- and it had Emily Blunt running through a forest dotted with the number 3 and ended with her being forced to face her own self ... with her own self.

After the screening, the audience bolted to the stage -- since the crowd was made up entirely of the movie's huge cast and crew, save for one unlucky woman who was forced to ask qua's makers multiple questions about their terrible film.

Awkwardness ensued, comedy was had.

Sadly, qua did not make it onto the new DVD featuring 10 highlights from the actual Ann Arbor Film Festival's 2016 expansive short-film program. But this 9th collected edition of the festival’s best works includes films by:

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #623

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In the same vein as fictional biographies such as Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen; The Paris Wife by Paula McLain; and Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea - in which intelligent women whose own aspirations and contribution were marginalized in favor of their spouses. Marie Benedict's debut gives us the story of Mileva Maric, a brilliant physicist and an extraordinarily gifted mathematician.

In 1896, before she was The Other Einstein, Mileva Maric´ was the only woman studying physics at Zurich Polytechnic and easily fell under the spell of a charismatic fellow student. Their courtship was kept secret not only due to the disapproval of the social-climbing Einsteins, but also for disappointing her father who held great hopes for her. An unplanned pregnancy, and failed qualifying exams sent Mileva home alone without any support from Albert.

Michigan Movie at the Michigan: "The Pickle Recipe"

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Fermented foods are a form of pickling, but pickles can just be ... pickles, straight up.

See, sauerkraut and yogurt are fermented foods that engage in a form of pickling, with the preservation caused by lactic acid fermentation.

But straight-up pickling is the process in which a vegetable -- in this case, a cucumber -- is preserved by vinegar, an acidic.

In the The Pickle Recipe, a new film set in Detroit, whatever secret ingredients have been added to Grandma Rose's pickling process -- whose dill-icious concoction has had patrons flocking to Irv’s Deli for years -- is the driving force behind Joey Miller’s desperate attempt to steal the recipe from her.

In other words, this ain't no straight-up pickle.

Miller is a DJ/MC for weddings, bat mitzvahs, and any other party that needs its roof blown off. But Miller (played by Jon Dore) is in debt and he loses his only source of income when all his sound and lighting gear gets destroyed by accident. He turns to his sneaky Uncle Morty (David Paymer) for a loan, who agrees to give Miller the dough -- on one condition: That he steal Grandma Rose’s (Lynn Cohen) pickle recipe, a secret creation she’s long sworn to take to her grave.

Hijinks ensue and viewers are treated to comedic caper flick with more than a touch of heart.

Director Michael Manasseri and writers/producers Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson are Michigan natives, and nine of the cast/crew members attended the University of Michigan. The Pickle Recipe is playing at the Michigan Theater through December 22, and we caught up with Manasseri, Cohn, and Wolfson in an email interview, whose questions they answered as a group.

Prêt-à-Potter: Avant Garden — Matthaei Botanical Gardens 2016

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Get ready to shop deep local at craft fairs the weekend of December 9–11.

“Succulent Dress” (different species of Echeveria, Sedum, Sempervivens, and Senico) and “Moss Suit” (Green Mountain Moss, Ginkgo Leaves, Birch Bark, Spanish Moss, Air Plant).

With the coldest temperatures of the year forecast for this week, you’ve surely noticed that winter has finally arrived in Ann Arbor.

If you’re not quite ready to accept the frigid temps or crunchy snow underfoot and are still in the denial about the transition to winter (which, by the way, officially arrives on Wednesday at 5:44 am EST), treat yourself to a visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens for a respite in the lovely Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Avant Garden: Weaving Fashion and Nature Together exhibition. (Fun fact! Alden Dow designed the Conservatory in 1964, and he also designed the original part of the Downtown Library building at 343 S. Fifth Avenue.)

Avant Garden is a whimsical convergence of planting design and fashion design in the form of seven “fantasy outfits.” I asked Bob Grese, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, about the exhibit and the use of plants in unexpected ways. He said, “The exhibit is a playful look at plants as a direct material for the fashion industry, with fantasy use of plants for dresses, vests, and suitcoats. Beyond the artistic use of plants in the exhibit, the real message is that we rely on plants for a variety of things in clothing—fibers, dyes, and representation on fabric patterns.” (Full disclosure: Grese was one of my professors in the Landscape Architecture program at U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment)

Part of the joy in this exhibit is wandering through the Conservatory to find each of the creations. The Conservatory is separated into three “Houses,” each replicating a different climate: Tropical, Temperate, and Desert. The dresses are thoughtfully placed within each of their respective garden spaces and the feeling of discovery and exploration is part of the exhibit experience. The shades of green and variety of textures in each of the plant selections bring richness to each design. Each dress has a different style, and all are charming and elegant. I particularly enjoyed the bromeliad dress, which comes complete with a fascinator hat.