Her Story: Joanna Sterling Chronicles a Trans Woman’s Journey on “Queen of Wands” Album


Mel Clark, Adam Har-Zvi, Joanna Sterling, and Anthony Marchese stand in a grassy meadow with a wetland in the background.

Joanna Sterling, center, shares her experiences as a trans woman on Queen of Wands and features collaborations with Mel Clark, Adam Har-Zvi, and Anthony Marchese. Photo courtesy of Joanna Sterling.

For Joanna SterlingQueen of Wands represents an emotional journey filled with self-discovery, authenticity, and courage.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter reveals her inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a trans woman on her sophomore release.

“It’s very autobiographical, and I did have to cultivate a lot of courage to even write some of these. If you had asked me five years ago would I ever open an album with my boy name before I transitioned—like no, absolutely not,” said Sterling about her new folk-pop album.

“I wanted to open with that song ‘Joey’ because it took a lot for me to be like, ‘You know what, I want to accept my full self, not just me as a post-transition woman, but also who was I before and how that person is still very much a part of who I am today, and my journey that I had to take to become the woman that I am.’”

Sterling documents that journey through 13 cathartic tracks—which range from confessional ballads to rallying cries to melancholic tales—on Queen of Wands. She connects with listeners through honest lyrics, nature-filled imagery, and folk-inspired instrumentation.

“I feel like a lot of the themes that are explored on this album aren’t just about being transgender. They’re really about the journey we all have to take in order to accept ourselves,” she said.

“I feel like I was able to strike a balance by being really honest about some of the specific things I’ve been through, but also make them accessible and relatable to others potentially.”

We recently spoke to Sterling about her background, the album’s tarot-inspired title, the stories behind several of the album’s tracks, her collaboration with producer Chris DuPont and other local musicians, her album release show, and plans for new material.

Make the Trek: "Return to the Forbidden Planet" reimagines "The Tempest" as a campy sci-fi musical


Penny Seats Theatre Company's Return to the Forbidden Planet

If you’re drawn to the idea of outdoor theater and goofy jukebox musicals that combine elements of Shakespeare and Star Trek—well, Scotty, the Penny Seats Theatre Company is currently staging a show in Ann Arbor's Burns Park that will likely beam you right up.

Return to the Forbidden Planet, by Bob Carlton, first hit London stages in the 1980s, and the show comically reimagines The Tempest with an assist from pop songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, as well as the campy sci-fi film classic Forbidden Planet (1956). 

Captain Tempest, played by a Shatner-esque Cordell Smith, has just launched with his crew (and the audience, otherwise known as the ship’s “passengers”) when the ship, the Albatross, finds itself in a meteor shower—thus cueing up “Great Balls of Fire,” naturally—and then drawn to the planet D’Illyria. There, a long-marooned father and daughter, Doctor Prospero (Will Myers) and Miranda (Ella Ledbetter-Newton), come aboard, as does their robot assistant, Ariel (Allison Megroet). Prospero tells his back story while pleading/singing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Soon, a huge, tentacled monster attacks the ship; past relationships come to light; schemes are hatched; a love triangle develops; and a grand sacrifice is made—conveyed via cardboard cutouts on sticks, in a kind of whimsical puppet show.

Friday Five: Marc Taras & "Cuban Fantasy," Kat Steih, DJ FLP, Cowgirl, Mike C521


Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features a tribute to WEMU radio host Marc Taras, punky rock by Kat Steih, electronica from DJ FLP, Americana via Cowgirl, and hip-hop by Mike C521.

Retired Eastern Michigan University Professor and Ypsilanti Sculptor John Nick Pappas Dies at 88


John Nick Pappas commissioned sculptures for companies, hospitals, universities, and other public places in southeast Michigan. Photo taken from WEMU-FM's website.

John Nick Pappas commissioned sculptures for companies, hospitals, universities, and other public places in southeast Michigan. Photo taken from WEMU-FM's website.

John Nick Pappas, a retired professor of sculpture and drawing at Eastern Michigan University, died on July 6. He was 88.

Throughout his career, Pappas created sculptures in his Ypsilanti studio for Ann Arbor’s Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital (now Trinity Health Michigan), the University of Michigan’s Medical School campus, Detroit’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan headquarters, and other hospitals and public places. He also created a program at EMU to have student art installed on campus.

Pappas’ daughter Catherine Pappas revisited her father’s career in the winter of 2015 for Ypsilanti Gleanings:

“He still runs into former students, even though he’s been retired for many years now. I’ve been with him on more than one occasion when this has happened and I can tell you, it is pretty special. It makes me beam with pride when I see and hear about the incredible role he has played in the lives of many of his students. Back in the late 70’s, three of his graduate students; Ed Olson, Paul Mauren, Jeanne Flanagan and my oldest brother Nick worked with him in his studio to help create the Blue Cross piece, which took four years to complete.”

The rest of Catherine’s story, “My Dad, John Nick Pappas, Sculptor” can be read here.

Pappas also did an interview on September 27, 2022 with Creative Washentaw's Deb Polich for "creative:impact" on WEMU-FM 89.1.

A Sort of Homecoming: Fuzz Fest 8 and Deniz Tek


Deniz Tek and band on stage at Fuzz Fest 8, Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023

Deniz Tek (center), Chris "Box" Taylor (left), and drummer Al King at Fuzz Fest 8 in The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023. Photo by Christopher Porter.

It was homecoming night on Friday at this year's Fuzz Fest.

Except there were no fancy dresses or ill-fitting suits at this party and the regalia was a little less formal for this annual celebration of scuzzy hard rock and psychedelia. 

Fuzz Fest 8 ran August 3-5 at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, and while the opening and closing days had numerous fab bands with local connections, the most surprising homemade ingredients inside this rock 'n' roll sandwich were on Friday.

The nervy 1980s Ann Arbor post-punk band Nønfiction reunited with twins Laurence and Benjamin Miller; 1990s A2 noise-punks Barbed Wire Playpen got the gang together one more time; and Easy Action—essentially the hard-rock version of Detroit hardcore legends Negative Approach—returned to the venue of its first-ever concert. (It was also the first time Easy Action singer John Brannon, who lived in Ann Arbor during his days with Laughing Hyneas in the late '80s and early '90s, was back inside the Pig since he was kicked out of the club for some reason long ago.)

But the big get on the menu was Deniz Tek returning to play in the city where he was born and raised before moving to Australia and becoming a key proto-punk architect as the guitarist and primary songwriter in Radio Birdman.

Because at its core, Fuzz Fest is a townie party with feedback, always held in August before the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University students repopulate the area, and geared toward the year-round headbangers who fight through the endless warm-weather road closures every freakin' summer.

Friday Five: Deniz Tek


Deniz Tek stands in the door frame for Motown's Studio A. Photo by Anne Tek.

Deniz Tek stands in the door frame for Motown's Studio A. Photo by Anne Tek.

Friday Five is a weekly column that highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.


Ann Arbor produced one of the world's first punk guitarists, a person who channeled the speed and chaos of the I-94 rush-hour drive and influenced ax-wielders around the world.

And while The Stooges' Ron Asheton also fits this description, I'm talking about Deniz Tek.

The Ann Arbor born and raised Tek took everything he learned about Motor City rock 'n' roll in the late 1960s and brought it to Australia in the early 1970s when he moved to Sydney for his studies. There, he co-founded Radio Birdman, perhaps the greatest exponents of proto-punk mayhem this side of his buddies in The Stooges and another all-time Australian band, The Saints.

Over the past 50 years, Tek has continued to pound away on his guitar like a metal-stamping machine, producing steely riffs that draw on bluesy rock 'n' roll but played with linear propulsive power—like Chuck Berry playing a surf song on a buzzsaw.

Tek, now 70, has played in Ann Arbor many times since he left, but it feels especially fitting that he's the key act for this year's Fuzz Fest, the eighth annual celebration of the primordial punk sound the guitarist was essential in co-creating.

As always, Fuzz Fest takes place at The Blind Pig, and this year's edition runs Thursday, August 3 to Saturday, August 5, with Deniz Tek headlining the Friday, August 4 show. (See the full lineup below.)

If you're not familiar with Tek's career, this Friday Five will give you a tiny taste of the man's prolific output in a variety of bands.

But this is a bonus edition of the Friday Five, so in addition to my selections, Chris "Box" Taylor also weighs in.

Taylor, the main man behind Fuzz Fest and a member of Mazinga, will be holding down the bass for Tek at The Blind Pig gig—perhaps even playing some of the face-melting torchers he picked as some of his favorites.

In Short: Ypsilanti's Head Full of Ghosts Packs Powerful Sound Into Concise "654 Seconds" EP


Four men perform on a stage under purple lights at music venue.

Bryan King, James Henes, Geoff Loebe, and Ken Ball from Head Full of Ghosts perform at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti. Photo courtesy of James Henes.

Head Full of Ghosts packs a magnitude of sound into a short amount of time.

The Ypsilanti quartet of James Henes (vocals, rhythm guitar), Geoff Loebe (bass), Ken Ball (lead guitar), and Bryan King (drums), shares hard-hitting, alt-rock instrumentation across a concise EP aptly titled 654 Seconds.

“When we initially got the EP finalized, it came out to 654 seconds [or about 10 minutes in length],” said Henes, whose band also released its debut EP, 321 Miles, in 2021.

“Once again, it's another testament to time-stamping [in terms of] where we are as a band at this moment. We have always enjoyed when things have a reoccurrence, so the number thing will most likely be a part of us as we move forward.”

Head Full of Ghosts also incorporates prog-rock sensibilities throughout 654 Seconds, which features three contemplative tracks about authenticity, inner struggles, and change.

To learn more, I talked with Henes about the EP’s tracks, the creative process for the EP, the band’s new lineup and electric sound, the band’s musical influences, and upcoming plans.

Flow State: Katie Hartsock’s Poems Fluidly Move from One Place to the Next in New "Wolf Trees" Poetry Collection


A book cover featuring a large solitary tree is on the left and a woman with long brown hair surrounded by tree leaves is on the right.

Katie Hartsock’s poetry collection, Wolf Trees, surveys what persists amidst trials that must be weathered. One poem defines the titular term as, “A tree that is the forest that is / the island.” A wolf tree is also, “A tree to lean / against and think, I’m there.” 

Hartsock, a professor at Oakland University, connects the mundane and discouraging aspects of one’s personal and family life to the natural world and also to different points in time. In the poem “Decent Seas,” the setting is a Chicago harbor. The poet instructs us to, “Think of a desire turned into a satisfaction turned into a joy / turned into a joke. That’s how to name your boat.” Whether the topic is boats, local parks, wolf trees, art, or Greek mythology, Hartsock has, “my gaze trained / on earth’s colors as they shift, / ready for invention.” The poet’s attention to nature leads the reader to new associations and even new ways of being in this world. 

Hartsock’s poems take sweeping journeys through the woods, as “you see something and think of something else.” The poems’ lines make sharp observations about having children, managing a chronic health condition, and traversing both regular days and other countries. “It’s all a little Sisyphean,” Hartsock writes. 

Things to See: Pulp Art Exhibit Roundup for August


Dan Plummer uses stereoscopy to show depth as a major compositional element in the “American Landscapes in 3D” at Ypsilanti’s 22 North.

Dan Plummer uses stereoscopy to show depth as a major compositional element in American Landscapes in 3D at Ypsilanti’s 22 North gallery. Photo taken from 22 North's website.

While we're entering the final stretch of summer, there’s still time to catch several vibrant and innovative art exhibits this month in Washtenaw County. Check out this comprehensive list of exhibits featured at local galleries throughout August.

The (m)Organic Process: Inhale. Exhale. Art.
August 2-13
CultureVerse, Ann Arbor

The (m)Organic Process: Inhale. Exhale. Art. spotlights the creative process and original work of local artist Morgan Burgard. Visitors will experience the process of making art, what it means to Burgard, and what it means to them through a physical exhibit and a virtual experience.

Portraits of Feminism in Japan
Through August 4
Lane Hall Exhibit Space, the University of Michigan’s Institute on Research for Women and Gender, Ann Arbor

The exhibit features original portraits of feminists who have shaped the landscape of women's rights and gender rights in Japan and beyond. Portraits of Feminism in Japan features portraits and accompanying texts from nine contemporary artists in Japan and the U.S. that challenge simplistic understandings of feminism. 

The artists also highlight a diversity of experiences, needs, and activism within Japan and cover the history of Japanese studies at the University of Michigan in conjunction with the Center for Japanese Studies’ 75th anniversary.

Featured artists include Elaine CromieJenClare B. GawaranTakatoshi Hayashi, ivokuma (いぼくま), Nami Kaneko (金子奈美), Kang Jungsook, Lisa Taka MiyagiNancy Nishihira (西平・ナンシー), and Shigeki Shibata (柴田滋紀).

Friday Five: Allan Harris, Gvmmy, Fantishow, Othercast, Choke Uno & Foul Mouth with Tru Klassick & J-Classic


Friday Five cover art

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features jazz vocalist Allan Harris, hyperpop hip-hop by Gvmmy, electro-IDM by Fantishow, spooky trip-hop by Othercast, and hip-hop by Choke Uno & Foul Mouth featuring Tru Klassick & J-Classic.