Riot Grrls in Royal Oak: Sleater-Kinney Reunites


Sleater-Kinney comes to Royal Oak this Tuesday

Sleater-Kinney comes to Royal Oak this Tuesday

On Tuesday, December 8th, indie rock band Sleater-Kinney will be coming to the Royal Oak Music Theatre and sending riot grrrls everywhere into ecstatic dance-fits. The band was born in the heart of the Pacific Northwest’s 90’s indie rock scene, but this will be their first tour together since they announced their indefinite hiatus back in June of 2006.

The fact that I, a Sleater-Kinney novice, have heard the eager buzz about this event from all different directions really says something. And mainly that something is, “This is a really big deal.”

For those who, like myself, have little knowledge of the actual band (to the point of mumbling their name in conversation on the off-chance that I am pronouncing it wrong), the post-hiatus antics of the band members themselves might ring more bells:

After the dissolution of Sleater-Kinney, guitarist and vocalist Corin Tucker went on to form the Corin Tucker Band and released the albums 1,000 Years and Kill My Blues.

Drummer Janet Weiss joined the band Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and produced two albums with them before leaving and joining the short-lived band Wild Flag, alongside Sleater-Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein.

And, perhaps most recognizable, guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein went on to wear hilarious wigs and vaguely creepy mustaches alongside Fred Armisen on the satirical TV show Portlandia.

That’s right! Feminist bookstore, anyone?

Portlandia: Feminist Bookstore

That fact alone has made me a Sleater-Kinney fan-in-training.

Carrie Brownstein also just published a memoir in October, titled Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl.

Sleater-Kinney reunited in 2014 and released their first studio album in ten years, No Cities to Love, in late January of 2015.

Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and often asks if anyone wants to see her Master's degree at sporting events.

Sleater-Kinney plays the Royal Oak Music Theatre Tuesday, December 8, doors at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online from the theater.

I'm Dreaming of a Sing-Along Christmas


Busters and weirdsmobiles packed Michigan Theatre to sing along with White Christmas

Busters and weirdsmobiles packed Michigan Theatre to sing along with White Christmas

The Friday after Thanksgiving, there was no more festive place for a musical lover to be than the Michigan Theater for their annual White Christmas Sing-Along.

If you're not familiar with one of my favorite movies, that's ok--I'll tell you all the best things about it:
- The oddball phrases that Bing Crosby used in real life were added into the script, which is how his character comes to call a holiday celebration a "yuletide clambake" and refer to Danny Kaye's character as a "weirdsmobile."
- Vera Ellen's character only wears turtlenecks. Whether she's clad in an evening gown, a bathrobe, or anything in between, it's a turtleneck. She has about 30 costume changes. All turtlenecks.
- That indoor fireplace at the Columbia Inn
- Danny Kaye
- There's no bad guy. The film's primary antagonist is the lack of snow in Vermont.

The sing-along is a happy, silly, and friendly event, where people in the next row up offer to take a photo of you and your friends before the show starts. The jolly atmosphere is fueled in part by singing along with a selection of Christmas carols accompanied by the theater's prized Barton organ, and in part by the goodie bag given to each attendee, which includes an extremely stylish Santa hat that almost every audience member wears throughout the whole movie.

The emcee of the event wears a Mrs. Claus dress that looks like an update of the Haynes sisters' dresses from the Christmas tree finale scene. She sings along with the carols and the movie, and this year, conducted impromptu "fabulous holiday sweater" and "White Christmas costume" parades. After spotting many festively-dressed folks in the crowd, she invited holiday sweater-wearers up to the stage to show off their fashionable knitwear. But the crowd was most appreciative of the dozen or so White Christmas cosplayers. There was a gentleman wearing Danny Kaye's costume from the "Choreography" number, two very clever costumers dressed as the butcher and the cobbler from the civilian clothes finale of "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," and a couple who dressed in approximations of the "Sisters" wardrobe, one in the Haynes sisters style and the other inspired by Bob and Phil's famous lip-sync reprise.

The watching of the movie is punctuated with enthusiastic singing from the audience, with help from the lyrics captioning each musical number, and also with props from the goodie bags. They contained the following items:

-The aforementioned Santa hat - for establishing that this event is as cheerful as it is positively goofy
-A candy cane - for eating
-A snowflake sticker - for wearing
-Bubbles - to blow during the "Snow" song and at the finale
-Plastic horse - to trot out each time Betty mentions her knight-on-a-white-horse expectations of romance
-Blue feather - to garnish your personal rendition of "Sisters," which is played no fewer than three times
-Hand clappers - this plastic toy came in super-handy to chime in whenever there is on-screen audience applause, or an energetic bout of tap-dancing.
-Glow sticks - these red or green glow sticks were for swaying along with the ballads, most notably "White Christmas" but also "Count Your Blessings" and "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me"
-Popper - these tiny firecrackers accompany General Waverly in blowing out the candles on the cake celebrating the reunion of his admiring Army division
-A tissue - to pull out and emote along with Emma the busybody housekeeper. Pro tip: keep this tissue handy for whenever the General tells his men how much they mean to him

This is the kind of event best enjoyed with a group of friends, or your mom, or a group of friends and your mom, and what the hell, a group of your mom's friends too. It's a great time with a great crowd, and a great way to appreciate a classic holiday movie.

Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and she likes the song/dance number "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army" best.

Preview: The Seventh Westside Neighborhood Art Hop


Westside Art Hop logo

It's Art Hop time! Artists on Ann Arbor's Westside are opening their homes and studios to the public this Saturday, for viewing and sale of art and craft items. It's your chance to find that one-of-a-kind gift (and to enjoy the sun before Jack Frost comes to stay). Past Art Hops have featured everything from paintings and photography to 3D art–ceramics, wood sculptures, and blown glass. Items range in price from $3.50 to $350.00. Live music at some venues.

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

The Westside Neighborhood Art Hop is 11 am to 5 pm Saturday, December 5, 2015 in the neighborhood bordered by Liberty Street, 7th Street, Pauline, and Eberwhite Woods in Ann Arbor. The full list of artists is available on the Westside Art Hop site. More info is on their facebook page.

You're Dreaming of a Tuba Christmas


TubaChristmas in Boston

TubaChristmas Boston, 2013 / Photo from 3rd House Journal.

TUBACHRISTMAS was created by Master Tubist Harvey Williams in 1974 as a tribute to his Tuba Sensei, the legendary William J. Bell, who played for Sousa himself and was a foundational part of the rise of Tuba & Euphonium ensembles and repertoire. Now in its 42nd year, TUBACHRISTMAS is a low-stakes collision of Tuba and Euphonium players in 174 cities around the world to play Christmas music arranged for Tuba & Euphonium Ensemble. Irresistible, right?

Well, you'll get your chance to attempt to resist it this Sunday, December 6, at Kerrytown, as TUBACHRISTMAS Ann Arbor descends upon the Farmer's Market for a 2 pm performance, led by local Tubist George Thompson. The Observer covered the 2013 debut of TUBACHRISTMAS at Kerrytown, and they had to admit that "People who expect that a large group of tubas could only produce a loud, murky rumbling are in for a surprise."

TUBACHRISTMAS only comes once a year; don't miss your chance to be blown away by what Tubas can do!

Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director for the Ann Arbor District Library and was responsible for dubbing the Michigan Marching Band Sousaphone Section "The Great Hammers of Thor" after a throwaway line from an episode of Buck Rogers.

TUBACHRISTMAS Ann Arbor happens Sunday, December 6 at 2 pm at the Kerrytown Farmer's Market. Dress for the weather!

Preview: Wolverine State Brewing Celebrates its 5th Anniversary with Live Music and Special Brews


Dragon Wagon helps Wolverine State Brewing celebrate their fifth anniversary this weekend

Dragon Wagon helps Wolverine State Brewing celebrate their fifth anniversary this weekend

Wolverine State Brewing Company has been a popular addition to the Ann Arbor community since opening its doors five years ago. WSBC specializes in lagers, believing that Michigan was missing an easy-drinking, simple, approachable beer to consume on any occasion. Thus, founders Matt Roy and Trevor Thrall created the flagship Wolverine Premium Lager, and from there went on to create a huge variety of other lagers, including high-gravity ones (seems like an oxymoron, right?), lagers aged in bourbon barrels, and seasonal lagers featuring ingredients like pumpkin and coffee. WSBC also opened a full kitchen at their tap room last year, and they excel at both BBQ and Mexican dishes...sometimes managing to combine the two, as is the case with their (delicious!) smoked pulled pork burrito.

All in all, Wolverine has a lot to celebrate, and so they are! They’re throwing a party for their fifth anniversary, starting at 6 pm on Saturday, December 5. They’ve brewed a brand new beer for the occasion called Vers l’avant, a golden lager made with Bartlett pears from Michigan and aged in white wine barrels. Their special reserve beer, 2014 Massacre, will also be on tap at the event, along with other special brews. Brewery tours and giveaways will also be a part of the festivities on Saturday.

Local band Dragon Wagon will play at 9 pm, making them one of the first ever live bands to play at WSBC. The six-member band has been compared to The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show, or, as they describe themselves, “bluegrass-folk rock with a shot of Irish Whiskey.” Dragon Wagon is comprised of not only the expected guitar, drums, and bass, but also mandolin, fiddle, and other instruments. Always a fun and lively performance, they’re sure to get the crowd at WSBC up and moving.

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

Wolverine State Brewing Company is located at 2019 W. Stadium in Ann Arbor. The 5-Year Anniversary Celebration will take place from 6 pm until close on Saturday, December 5, with Dragon WAgon taking the stage at 9 pm.

Preview: Once Upon An Ever After, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Jr.


Fairy tales get muddled in A2CT Jr's Once Upon an Ever After

Fairy tales get muddled in A2CT Jr's Once Upon an Ever After

What might happen if Goldilocks, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood were to stray from the forest path and into each other’s stories? Find out in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s Junior Theatre presentation of Once Upon an Ever After, a fun-filled mash-up fairy tale featuring dwarves, bears, princesses, and surprising plot twists improvised by a talented ensemble of 22 kids ages 6-15.

Director Andrea Klooster collaborated with her cast to produce the script, which developed from brainstorming sessions and improv games - an idea she came upon while teaching a drama class at Interlochen Arts Camp in 1991. “I had recently seen Into the Woods for the first time, and I thought it would be fun to see what my students would do if we mixed some stories together. Once Upon an Ever After is a much more involved version of that idea.”

After the brainstorming sessions, the kids improvised their way through various scenes playing different roles each time, while the assistant director took notes of great ideas and dialogue that Klooster would eventually incorporate into a final script.

The result is both a play that didn’t exist before and an organic process for the actors, mixing familiar characters with unexpected and off-the-wall ideas performed by the very people who came up with them. “Because we didn't cast anyone in a specific role until after the script was written, the actors all experienced many of the roles and can see their own ideas throughout the show.”

Klooster had loads of fun and is proud of the kids’ efforts: “I was hoping the performers would unleash their creativity and create something awesome, and they have exceeded my hopes! This show is full of ideas that I would never have had, and is so much better than it would have been if I had just tried to write it myself.”

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

Performances of Once Upon An Ever After are December 4-6, 2015, at the Children’s Creative Center (1600 Pauline Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103). Friday night’s performance is at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday performances are at 1 pm and 3:30 pm both days. Tickets are $5 for children and $8 for adults, and seating is general admission. Tickets available at the door or by calling the A2CT box office at 734–971–2228. Additional information is also available at Appropriate for ages four and up.

Preview: 39th Ann Arbor Folk Festival / Saturday Night Lineup


Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: Joan Baez, Darlingside, Rose Cousins, Joshua Davis, Alan Doyle, The Accidentals, and Cooder – White – Skaggs

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: Joan Baez, Darlingside, Rose Cousins, Joshua Davis, Alan Doyle, The Accidentals, and Cooder – White – Skaggs

About this time of year, buzz begins to build among music lovers inside and outside of A2 as the lineup is announced for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and the 39th edition slated for January 29-30, 2016 at the Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be another blessed event. A brilliant stew is being cooked up for appreciative audiences of old and new music, mainstream and off-beat, regional, national, and international artists. Hosted by MCs David Mayfield (Friday) and John McCutcheon (Saturday), the Folk Festival 2016 lineup sets the bar very high.

Saturday, January 30th

Joan Baez

For those who may mistakenly believe that after a 55 year career and 30 albums, Joan Baez has ceased to be relevant, one should only visit her latest original music in a recent album, Day After Tomorrow. You’ll understand that her voice, her words, her music are just as emotionally powerful today as they were in the 60s--yet wiser, richer, more circumspect, and just as damned beautiful as they were in that golden age.

Joan Baez recorded her first solo LP for Vanguard Records in the summer of 1960. Known more as an interpreter of songs than a songwriter, songs she introduced on her earliest albums would find their way into the repertoire of 60s rock stalwarts, like "House Of the Rising Sun" (The Animals), "John Riley" (The Byrds), "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" (Led Zeppelin), "What Have They Done To the Rain" (The Searchers), "Jackaroe" (Grateful Dead), and "Long Black Veil" (The Band), to name a few.

At a time in our country's history when it was neither safe nor fashionable, Joan put herself on the line countless times, and her life's work was mirrored in her music. She sang about freedom and Civil Rights everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks in Mississippi to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963. That was also the year she helped introduce Bob Dylan to the world, continuing a line of folk royalty beginning with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others that dared to challenge that which they knew in their hearts was wrong or flawed.


Ricky Skaggs has often said he’s “just trying to make a living” doing what he loves to do, which is being one of the best mandolin players in the world and an icon of Bluegrass and Country music. Since he first collected a paycheck as a 7-year-old on Flatt and Scruggs’ TV show in 1961, Ricky has been doing just that...and creating marvelous collaborations with some of the world’s best musicians in and out of the country categories. Singing, songwriting, and playing--not only on mando but fiddle and guitar as well--he helped bring back a sense of tradition and history to the scene beginning in the 1980s. Chet Atkins once said that Ricky Skaggs “singlehandedly saved Country Music”.

As a “musician’s musician”, it’s easier to tell you who Ry Cooder has NOT played with than to tell you whose music he has made immeasurably better. Cooder's trademark slide guitar work has graced the recordings of such artists as Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman, Little Feat, Van Dyke Parks, the Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal, and Gordon Lightfoot. More than a dozen film scores also grace Cooder’s résumé, including Crossroads and Primary Colors.

Sharon White, who happens to be married to Ricky Skaggs, comes from a lineage of bluegrass and country singers since starting her career in the early 70s with her parents’ family band, The Whites. She has since forged a 40+ year career singing with her sister Cheryl as The Whites and reuniting with her parents Buck and Pat in bluegrass and gospel collaborations.

And now, Ricky Skaggs joins with Sharon and Ry to deliver a revelatory program of blues, gospel, and bluegrass music. They will be joined by Joachim Cooder (son of Ry) on drums, and Mark Fain on bass. I caught this supergroup in Nashville in September at the AmericanaFest, and you can tell, beyond any stage smiles, that they are having an absolute blast playing together.

Joshua Davis

I first heard Josh Davis playing with one of Michigan’s favorite roots bands, Steppin’ In It, in 2008, and since then I’ve been waiting for them to blow up. They haven’t, but front man Joshua Davis caught a break on The Voice and found himself in the TV series’ finals last spring. Since then, Joshua’s infectious smile and genuine voice have earned him a wide following and a place on Saturday’s Folk Fest slate.

Davis has released three critically acclaimed solo albums, five albums with Steppin' In It, and a record of jazz standards with Shout Sister Shout. His most recent album, A Miracle of Birds, is inspired by his travels in the Palestinian West Bank with non-profit organization On the Ground. About the album, Revue magazine says, "His heartfelt documentation of 'people as people' offers up compassionate songs of hope, darkness, and perseverance."

A pair of the most expressive (and twinkly) eyes you’ve ever seen will draw you into Joshua, and you will realize why America came to love him on The Voice. His musicality, songwriting, and passion will convince you that he’s no media heartthrob of the moment.

Alan Doyle & The Beautiful Gypsies

Alan Doyle last took the stage at the Ann Arbor Folk Fest in 2000 as the lead singer and co-founder of Great Big Sea, one of Newfoundland’s most renowned musical exports. GBS made its latest return to Ann Arbor to a packed house of rabid, lyric-screaming fans at the Michigan Theater in 2013. He released a first solo album, Boy on Bridge, in 2012, and has followed up in 2015 with his latest, So Let’s Go.

With musical roots in his native land’s lyrics, melodies, and rhythms, Doyle mixes traditional Newfoundland music with a fresh pop sensibility, and presents a variety of lyrical and musical platforms in his latest work, from the whiskey-scented shanty sounds of "1,2,3,4" to the urbanized Canuck country pop of "Sins of Saturday Night". Doyle and his talented supporting band Beautiful Gypsies are sure to keep the Folk Fest faithful chanting, rocking...even standing (OMG), conjuring musical images of a Barenaked Ladies / Enter The Haggis mashup.


After six years of playing together and a decade-plus of knowing each other, the collaborative process for Darlingside has evolved side by side with their friendships. “We’ve become intimate with each other’s childhoods, families, fears, goals, insecurities, and body odors,” says violinist/mandolinist Auyon Mukharji. The four Connecticut-based musicians and singers opened for Patty Griffin at the Power Center on October 10, and my buddy Stan had tickets waiting for us. We were cautioned by friends familiar with Darlingside to be sure to be seated for the opening act. That was a challenge, considering that we had to double-time it on foot from the Big House after the Northwestern game to make the curtain in time.

The quiet yet powerful vocals of the group are what first capture you. It’s clear that these guys have been singing together--tightly and sweetly--for about a decade to expertly blend complex harmonies as they do. Birds Say is their second album effort, or third if you count their 2010 EP, and forms the backbone of their live set. Their vocal and instrumental mastery is at evidence on every track, from the haunting "White Horses" to the perplexing "Harrison Ford" (the latter about a meeting/fantasy with a man who looks like their personal hero, Harrison Ford).

We will definitely warm to Darlingside at the 2016 Folk Fest...and Patty Griffin will soon need to find a new opener.

Rose Cousins

Rose Cousins is another Canadian import to the festival, originally from Prince Edward Island and now living in Halifax. This singer-songwriter has captured nearly every significant honor and award that her native country has to offer for her craft, and, here in America, her latest recorded work, We Have Made A Spark, was named to NPR’s Top 10 Americana & Folk Albums of 2012.

Rose will be sure to bring a quieter, more contemplative tone to the Folk Fest...she is often a solitary figure at a gently played piano. Or, she’ll surprise you with a lilting, curiously waltz-tempo version of Tina Turner’s 80s classic "What’s Love Got To Do With It". First reaction: huh? On second thought: a new appreciation for that pop song.

The Accidentals

Seldom have I been as excited--nor heard as much buzz--as I have for these two brilliant young women. The Accidentals are Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, supported by percussionist Michael Dause. Katie and Savannah are little more than a year out of high school--albeit the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy. They play no less than 12 instruments between them during a typical live set. Their lyrics are wiser than their years. And together, these Traverse City natives may be one of the acts most likely to succeed in a big way in the next few years.

Of all the artists I have written about for the Folk Fest, I have the hardest time describing the kind of music they play. I’m not even going to try. Just consider The Accidentals to be at a very special nexus of genres and generations that makes them much, much more than the sum of their very musical parts.

The Ann Arbor Folk Fest is well known for bringing lesser-known Michigan-based acts into the national spotlight. Thing is, The Accidentals may not need the help. They’re touring out west right now, and when they’re through, the Hill won’t be able to hold all their new fans.

For samples of what you'll hear at Hill, check out this Spotify mix of the latest releases from all the Ann Arbor Folk Festival artists.

Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor Folk Festival comes to Hill Auditorium January 29 & 30. Tickets go on sale for the general public starting December 1 and can be purchased online, by phone at 734-763-TKTS, or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and The Ark box office.

Preview: 39th Ann Arbor Folk Festival / Friday Night Lineup


Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: The Oh Hellos, City and Colour, Ben Daniels, Yo La Tengo, Penny and Sparrow, Nora Jane Struthers, with Richard Thompson in the center of it all.

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: The Oh Hellos, City and Colour, Ben Daniels, Yo La Tengo, Penny and Sparrow, Nora Jane Struthers, with Richard Thompson in the center of it all.

About this time of year, buzz begins to build among music lovers inside and outside of A2 as the lineup is announced for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and the 39th edition slated for January 29-30, 2016 at the Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be another blessed event. A brilliant stew is being cooked up for appreciative audiences of old and new music, mainstream and off-beat, regional, national, and international artists. Hosted by MCs David Mayfield (Friday) and John McCutcheon (Saturday), the Folk Festival 2016 lineup sets the bar very high.

Friday, January 29th

City and Colour

"There's a line that I'm trying to find, between the water and the open sky," sings Canadian Dallas Green on "Friends", the penultimate track off of his fifth release as City and Colour, If I Should Go Before You. For someone like Green, it's hard to imagine that there's much left to search for – he's traversed the globe on tour, released numerous albums (one most recently as You+Me with Alecia Moore, aka P!nk) and collected scores of accolades. Though Green is a musician, he doesn't make a show of things: that's the songs' job.

The name having been derived from Dallas Green’s first and last name, he began recording as City and Colour in 2005, with Sometimes, followed by 2008’s Bring Me Your Love and 2011’s Little Hell, and has experienced huge success both on the charts and the road.

Richard Thompson

Throughout a career spanning six decades, Richard Thompson has drawn accolades such as this from the Los Angeles Times, “the finest singer-songwriter after Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Hendrix. He was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time.

Having co-founded the groundbreaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 60’s, Richard Thompson and his mates virtually invented British Folk Rock. A wide range of musicians have recorded Thompson’s songs including Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, REM, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Patty Lovelace, Los Lobos, Tom Jones, David Byrne, Don Henley, Robert Earl Keen, and many others.

And I had never heard of him, until 2012. Thus began a journey of discovery as I soaked in as much of Richard’s musical and songwriting genius as I could, on a series of music festival cruises called Cayamo where he has often headlined, to an intimate performance at The Ark in 2014. He’s one of those artists that’s worth your time digging into his back catalog to find all the gold and precious gems there. Whether Thompson displays his formidable electric skills on "Sally B", or fingerpicks his iconic and acoustic "52 Vincent Black Lightning", you will be transfixed. I hope he does both.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo (Spanish for the outfielder’s cry of “I’ve Got It!”) originally formed in 1984, and today features a lineup that has played together since 1992. Their staying power is testament to a strong cult following and they have been called the “quintessential critics’ band”. YLT features Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), Kaplan’s wife Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). In 2015, original guitarist Dave Schramm rejoined the band and appears on their fourteenth album, Stuff Like That There.

Though they most often play original material, Yo La Tengo is known best for its encyclopedic repertoire of cover songs both in live performance and on record. Their latest album features Hank Williams’ "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry", among others.

The Oh Hellos

It is sometimes extraordinary, that which can be musically wrought through the mingling of sibling DNA (think Everly Brothers). The Oh Hellos are a 21st century case in point. They began in a cluttered bedroom, where Maggie and Tyler Heath (born and raised in southern Texas) recorded their self-titled EP in 2011. In the fall of 2012, the sibling duo released their debut full-length record Through the Deep, Dark Valley, an album full of regret and redemption, which they wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered themselves.

Their second full-length album, Dear Wormwood, is a collection of songs that tells the story of a protagonist trapped in an abusive relationship, by way of letters written to the antagonist. It was recorded, piece by piece, in the house where Maggie and Tyler live in San Marcos, TX, and much like The Oh Hellos' live performance, the album presents two alternating faces: at times delicate, intimate, affectionate; and at others, soaring and towering and joyfully explosive.

Their influences range from Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens to The Middle East and the Muppets, bending and blending styles and genres into a unique mixture of eclectic folk rock. The rhythms, the chording, the vocals--they are unique, varied, compelling, and worthy of a prestigious AAFF invitation.

Nora Jane Struthers

I’ve been listening to this woman for the last hour and I haven’t heard an inauthentic song yet. Nora Jane Struthers comes to Ann Arbor hot off a triumphant 2015 tour, including a prominent showcase at the September 2015 AmericanaFest in Nashville, and she could very well become a prime example of what can save Country Music from itself.

Her 2015 album, Wake, is a powerful statement of her own rock-n-roll awakening. Backed by her band The Party Line, Struthers mixes pedal steel with robust guitar riffs and her own fearless voice, and evokes the realization that she can, as she says, "reconcile my love of both bluegrass and Pearl Jam". Her amalgamation of sounds is supported in the studio and on the road by Josh Vana on guitar; Joe Overton on banjo, fiddle, and pedal steel; Brian Duncan Miller on bass; and Drew Lawhorn on drums.

“I try to put myself out there and be vulnerable and trust that what people give me back is loving. I hope that people listen to these songs and are given some courage to take a risk, be vulnerable and brave, allow themselves to embrace imperfection. And I hope that that has a positive influence on the way that they are able to lead their lives and interact with people that they love.”

Penny and Sparrow

I went to the Penny & Sparrow website and Facebook page to try to learn more about them. This was all that was there: “Penny and Sparrow are Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke, from the heart of Texas. Previously roommates, the duo makes music influenced by The Swell Season, Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, and others. They also love musicals.”

That was it. No glowing reviews, no trumped-up biography announcing them as musical messiahs. Just that two-sentence blurb, a picture and...the music. Left to my own devices, I cued up a song of theirs called "Jeffery Allen", the first track from their latest album, Struggle Pretty. Oddly, it was a 1-minute instrumental introduction to the next track, "Serial Doubter" (yet another reason to listen to an album in whole as it was originally tracked). Words came to mind: haunting, driving, brilliant composition, rhythm, and harmonics.

Penny and Sparrow opened just a few weeks ago at The Ark for Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and I missed them both. It won’t happen again. Catch them at the A2FF January 29th.

Ben Daniels Band

When Chelsea’s own Ben Daniels decided he was going to be a musician, it was more than a career choice. A natural poet, this young songwriter went to school on Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, and Jack White, among others. His lyrics speak directly to a younger generation that hears, sees, and thinks about the very things he’s writing. From their opening song to the finale of their set, the Ben Daniels Band cuts through with their originality, musicianship, and a sound that spans Americana, Blues, Jazz, and Rock.

With George Merkel on guitar, Tommy Reifel on bass, Wesley Fritzemeier on drums/mandolin, and Amanda Merte on percussion/vocals, BDB’s live show never fails to take over the venue. With five CDs in the can, including their latest, Roll, the Ben Daniels Band has grown to be a formidable group that sounds pleasantly familiar, yet unforgettably unique.

Oh yeah… and he’s Jeff Daniels’ son. You know, that famous actor/neighbor of ours? Not that Ben and the band need the familial connection to be a legitimate force on the alt-folk scene. If you’ve not taken advantage of the numerous previous opportunities to see BDB in and around Ann Arbor, grab this one.

Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor Folk Festival comes to Hill Auditorium January 29 & 30. Tickets go on sale for the general public starting December 1 and can be purchased online, by phone at 734-763-TKTS, or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and The Ark box office.

Vulfpeck on the Late Show!


Vulfpeck on The Late Show

Vulfpeck on The Late Show

Did you catch the Ann Arbor funk band takeover on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last Friday? Vulfpeck, a self-described "half-Jewish post-geographic rhythm section formed in Southeast Michigan," appeared alongside Colbert's regular house band Jon Batiste & Stay Human.

Check out the band's performance of "1612" of their 2014 album with Antwaun Stanley's killer vocals:

Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and fell asleep too early but watched it later on YouTube.

Preview: An Almost British Christmas, Theatre Nova


British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

With the Holidays just weeks away, local professional theater company Theatre Nova will unwrap a delightful early Christmas present for local audiences.

An Almost British Christmas, based on popular British theatrical traditions of Panto or Pantomine, will blend elements of music, comedy, slapstick, and vaudeville. Audiences can boo the villain and cheer the hero in this family-friendly, fast-paced production, directed by Artistic Director Carla Milarch and featuring Wayne David Parker, Jennifer Graham, and Vicki Morgan.

This musical comedy, recommended for ages 5 to adult, will also highlight a special celebrity guest at each performance. Mayor Chris Taylor, Laurie Atwood of the Children’s Creative Center, local jazz singer Courtney Riddle, and the Gemini family are among those scheduled for a British Christmas visit. The guest list also includes Elsa from Frozen, and, of course, Santa Claus.

Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.

Performances of ​ An Almost British Christmas ​begin Friday, November 27 and will run through December 20, with performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. For information, visit, or call 734-635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at The Yellow Barn, 416 W. Huron in Ann Arbor.