Designer Aaron Draplin brings Portland style to Ann Arbor


Orange you glad Aaron Draplin is coming?

Fresh off his appearance at this year’s TEDxDetroit conference, prolific graphic designer (and Michigan native!) Aaron James Draplin will be bringing his powerhouse personality to the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Friday, October 7, for a special mid-day talk that will start at 12:30pm.

Draplin’s passion for creating “good work for good people” combined with his bold independence is infectious and inspiring. You may have seen his work in any variety of short videos posted in recent years, like this logo design challenge (Vectors are free!), or his Skillshare classes, or his fantastic critiques of signage and design.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Aaron has been the sole proprietor of the Draplin Design Company since 2004. His clients range the full gamut from friends selling hot dogs (Cobra Dogs), Nike, Burton Snowboards, Esquire, Red Wing, Ford Motor Company, and the U.S. Government / Obama administration’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the USDOT TIGER program.

In addition to his client work, he has generated a massive amount of “merch” in his personal projects including retro-inspired Space Shuttle posters, “thick lines” posters, and “Things We Love” State posters. His collaboration with Jim Coudal produced the well-known Field Notes brand, inspired by the kinds of memo books used by farmers (and a product of his passion for “goin’ junkin’” and “rescuing stuff”).

Expect some robust storytelling about his career and the creation of his first book, Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything. From the contracts to the scheming, from the pagination to the design, from the tears to the nightmares, he’ll tell you what it’s like to cram your whole half-wit design career into 256 pages and live to tell the tale. He'll pack in stories from the run-up, release, and surreal fallout, as well as updates to other tricky ventures the DDC has been up to.

After Aaron’s whirlwind mini-tour of Southeast Michigan, he will be embarking on a national book tour in support of the book. Pretty Much Everything is a jam-packed, in-your-face retrospective of his work so far, including drawings that give insight into his inspiration and process. In addition to the work itself, you get stories, commentary, and priceless advice in Aaron’s distinctive voice about what drives him and his work. It’s a must-have book for any designer.

Draplin’s relentless pursuit of creativity is sure to give you a swift kick in the pants to get out there and do great work. Leave work for an early lunch and then head over to AADL to jumpstart your weekend at an event that is not to be missed.

And if that’s not enough, his entire presentation is dipped in his signature color—Pantone Orange 021.

Amanda Szot is a graphic designer at AADL, and will likely have to breathe into a paper bag when introducing Aaron at his talk on Friday. She’s that excited.

Aaron Draplin will be at the AADL Downtown Library, 343 S Fifth Ave, on Friday, October 7 at 12:30 pm. This event (like all library events) is free of charge.

Preview: Judy Banker emerging as a premier singer/songwriter


Judy Banker Band

Judy Banker Band

By day she's a therapist and the Executive Director of the local Center for Eating Disorders. But on more occasions lately, Judy Banker continues her ascent as one of the brightest stars on the acoustic music scene, writing her own songs, playing exuberant music on her guitar, and vocalizing lyrics that have a universal appeal.

It’s no stretch to say that Judy Banker is ultimately so happy when performing it all seems completely natural. Her enthusiasm and sheer elation while playing her music is infectious and evident. Her radiant smile and stage presence has made her popular, leaving her fans and admirers asking for more. She possesses that rare combination of charisma and charm, along with a healthy injection of musicianship that seems so organic and soul driven, not produced in any way, shape or form.

At the last three editions of Nash Bash in the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market, Banker has been a shining star, eliciting the remark from Kerrytown Concert House’s Deanna Relyea that she “now can’t imagine a Nash Bash without Judy Banker.” Singing as a member of the Bill Edwards group for a scant few years as she did at the recent Nash Bash, but also extensive time working with Jay Stielstra, she’s now become a leader in her own right with encouragement from Stielstra and friends who recognize her singularly unique talent and stage presence.

Making her way from her native Manitowoc, Wisconsin west of Milwaukee to Ann Arbor, Banker is living proof that life’s lessons and feeling one’s own share of personal blues can turn into positive messages and the kind of music anyone can relate to - no matter their lot in this human condition of America. Inspired by similar artists of the 1960s, Banker writes songs with a more creatively complex vision, yet with simple and easy to understand lyrics. She’s already written several that could be considered classics, like the tune prompted by a comment from her son, the title track on her debut CD Devils Don’t Cry, “If You Could Read My Mind” (not the Gordon Lightfoot hit), “Feet Of Clay,” and the deeply poignant “Regrets." Devils Don’t Cry is a complete compendium of the twists and turns anyone might face, turned into a delightful and at times heart-weary mix of cautionary tales and tonics for the troops. The initial CD could perhaps see a follow-up soon - she has more material laying in wait - but her first effort could easily be issued on any major folk music label. It’s that good.

Banker's support group is perfect for what she attempts and accomplishes as an artist. The band includes renowned slap bassist and vocalist David Roof, violinist/vocalist Greta Mae Barnard, lap steel, dobro, and slide guitarist Tony Pace, and drummer/percussionist Stuart Tucker.

Initially Influenced by the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Banker’s music is neither stern nor ethereal, yet she retains threads of some of those values, along with a heart that professionally and musically wants wrongs to be righted. She is also not strictly urban or rural, but takes in elements of simplicity and sophistication to make music that is clearly all her own.

In a recent interview, Judy Banker talked about the inspiration behind her personalized story/songs. “I want to express this complex of emotions in a thought. It’s continually fascinating to me how right and wrong are so hard to decipher - it’s all a point of view. It isn’t really hard to pick a subject. I will look back on something that I’m stuck on or can’t figure out."

As a player, she started on a cheap guitar, and, along with her older brother, took lessons. “We played piano as kids. We learned chords in the key of C and G, then our teacher said that was all he knew. Then we had a cover band in middle school.” She also mentioned Joni Mitchell and had all of her albums: “Her writing is incredible, but I didn’t play her songs because I didn’t know the chords. It was outside of my Mel Bay music book. Some of my melodies have that feeling."

When asked where her songwriting can go she admits this is an early foray, as she’s been doing it for only four years. “What I imagine - the area that I’ll branch off into - is working on other people’s stories more. I hear people’s stories all the time - the battles that women go through all the time. I haven’t written anything political or about disenfranchised groups. I wouldn’t rule that out, it’s something I’m passionate about and care about - people who are being battered by our culture."

Banker is delighted with her audience response, feeds off it, and is interested in taking it to a higher level. Once again, her happiness quotient on stage is shared with her listeners. “I would love to channel bringing joy to people’s lives in a substantial way instead of, say, buying them a new toy. Helping people clear out some of the gunk and have better lives - I’ve dedicated my whole life to that."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

The Judy Banker Band performs at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 6 at Johnny’s Speakeasy, 2923 Dexter Ave. on Ann Arbor’s far west side. E-mail only for reservations at Seating is limited. The neighborhood has little if any local parking, so promoters are providing a shuttle between Plum Market in the Westgate Shopping area and The Speakeasy to easily access the show. Board from 6:30-7 pm. E-mail a reservation for the shuttle at judithbanker@gmail .com.

Review: "Mr. Joy" at Theatre Nova


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Matthew Webb is Mr Joy.

While watching Daniel Beaty’s play Mr. Joy at Theatre Nova, I immediately thought of Yong Kim, the owner of Mary’s Fabulous Chicken and Fish in Ann Arbor, who was robbed and brutally beaten with a plastic milk crate while walking to his car from the restaurant in 2014. Kim was 74 at the time of his attack, and the assailants turned out to be two teenage boys.

According to press reports, Kim managed to do something many of us would struggle mightily to do: he forgave his attackers.

Mr. Joy tells a similar story, through the prism of one actor playing several characters. In the play, longtime Harlem shoe repair shop owner Mr. Kim is robbed and beaten one night, but he won’t tell the police who his attacker was. And while Mr. Joy is the play’s nucleus, we never actually see him. Instead, we hear perspectives from those whose lives he’s touched: a homeless former painter; an 11 year old girl from the projects with AIDS, Clarissa, who considers herself his apprentice; Clarissa’s feisty grandmother; Clarissa’s schoolyard boyfriend, Peter; a young poet, DeShawn, who finds hope at church; Mr. Joy’s Ivy League-educated, real estate dealer son; the son’s rich, black Republican boss; the boss’ white girlfriend, who yearns for a child; and the boss’ transgender, flight attendant daughter, Ashes.

The hands-down best thing about Mr. Joy is seeing actor Matthew Webb embody each of the play’s characters with tremendous focus, care, and zeal. With an assist from director Billicia Hines’ guiding hand, Webb uses minimal costume changes and props – a notebook, a blazer and briefcase, a pair of red pumps, etc. – and efficient physical cues, like posture and gait, in addition to vocal inflection, to delineate the transitions between characters, and the effect is powerful. Despite the number of characters, and despite a couple of them earning a tenuous-at-best place in the narrative, Theatre Nova’s production never lacks clarity, and Webb’s performance is truly gripping to behold. (Those who previously saw the actor perform in TN’s I and Thou will leave Mr. Joy a much deeper appreciation for his talents and versatility.)

That said, Beaty’s play itself doesn’t provide much that’s bracing or new or thought-provoking regarding our ongoing national discussion of race, class, and inequality in America. Yes, there are moments of both sweetness and pain in the show; and DeShawn, in one scene, performs an impassioned performance poem that taps into the rage and fear and frustration of the community.

But we also hear familiar banalities from Grandma Bessie about faith, and how important it is to make the effort to talk to people; we see a character who will forever define himself by his own worst act – yet it’s hard to believe he even committed the crime, based on the short glimpses we’re shown of him, so the play’s “big reveal” feels instead like an unsatisfying, unearned authorial shortcut.

And finally, we have a politically conservative black man’s self-imposed estrangement from his child, born a son, because he chooses to undergo surgery to become a woman. This level of emotional complexity demands a play unto itself, frankly, in order to really dig into the issues involved; getting the drive-by version inevitably falls short.

Set designer Kelsey Nowak keeps things simple, with a busted brick wall backdrop (in front of a screen for occasional projections), a bench, milk cartons, a stool, a coat stand, a store sign, and a raised corner for Mr. Joy’s regular customers to leave shoes as a kind of prayer for his recovery. Daniel C. Walker lights the show beautifully, signaling character and mood transitions. And costume designer Carla Milarch (who also designed the show’s sound) found clothes that were neutral, but also wholly appropriate, for Webb to wear as he navigates between a broad variety of characters.

I’ll confess Theatre Nova’s design elements, paired with Webb’s powerhouse performance, had me seduced as the lights came up; but the more I thought (and wrote) about the play, the more I couldn’t overlook the script’s shortcomings. For unlike Ta-Nehisi Coates’ invigorating, harrowing, brutally honest book Between the World and Me – a letter to Coates’ son about growing up as an endangered black man in America – Mr. Joy never takes the risks necessary to push us into new, uncharted territory in regard to talking about race; and that’s precisely where we need to go if anything’s going to change.

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Mr. Joy runs through October 23 at the Yellow Barn, 410 W Huron St, Ann Arbor. Visit for tickets.

No Tickets Needed: A Free Dose of Culture


Nix pix.


Ann Arbor is a city that has plenty to offer, but sometimes the cultural highlights may be a *little* beyond the budget for those of us who may not have the most regular of paychecks. So for those of you who are looking for an arts experience while still saving $$$, look no further! This piece of blog is here to share the local arts events you can attend FOR FREE! 
The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance is a great source of low-or-no-cost access to displays of incredible talent. The UM-SMTD events calendar, lists concerts, lectures, and master classes taught by visiting instructors or guest faculty. This calendar has a $ symbol on events that have a cost, but thankfully those symbols are few and far between.

Earlier this month, I participated in an open-to-anyone master class led by a guest instructor in the dance program. I arrived and grabbed a seat, which turned out to be right beside the guest speaker, Anita Gonzalez. This was less awkward than it might have been because she was soon on the floor, warming up with the rest of the dancers. Gonzalez called the class to attention as the dancers stretched and flexed and effortlessly made shapes with their bodies. As she led activities, she explained the connection between breath, voice, and movement. Eventually, the dancers created moving historical vignettes of African American slaves working in the fields, with lumber, or on the railroads – singing the songs that kept them from despair and connecting them through their common goal of freedom. It was amazing to watch.

But wait, there’s more! The art of the written word is celebrated almost every day of the week at Literati Bookstore on Washington St! Just a few weeks ago I attended a (free!) reading at Literati of the new fiction bestseller The Nix by author Nathan Hill.

The Nix is Hill's first book that the Literati emcee described as “deceptively simple” but with the excitement of a “choose your own adventure story.” The major selling point for me was the claim that it was “a big book that reads fast.” Once Hill took the podium in that second floor Espresso Bar space, he explained The Nix was 10 years in the making, and once he started reading from the work, I had to agree that it was 10 years well spent. The reading he selected was from a chapter in which a student in the protagonist's logic class manages to include all 16 types of fallacy as they argue for a better grade.

The chapter is hilarious; my cheeks hurt by the end of the night from constantly smiling. Hill’s main character comes across as well-educated and flawed in relatable ways that make you want to keep reading. In this chapter, Hill also features a run-on sentence of epic proportions which required him to fortify himself with a drink water before reading it. It was truly a delight to hear this new author read, and I encourage readers to get their hands on a copy if only to discover why the words “aluminum” and “nuther” are so laughable.

Literati has tons of events, so check their calendar often to stay up to date. It is usually only their "ticketed events” that have an associated cost - most Literati events don’t cost a dime!

Liz Grapentine is a desk clerk at AADL. A graduate from Oakland University with a major in Music Education and a minor in English, Liz enjoys all the arts in every form. Liz is also a true Ann Arbor townie and a proud patron of the library since 1995.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #615


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #615

Referred to as The Dollhouse * by the Manhattanites, the Barbizon Hotel for Women is where aspiring models and secretaries who often come from small towns, try to make it on their own in the 1950s.

Darby McLaughlin arrived from Ohio to take up secretarial studies at the Katherine Gibbs School . Compared the glamors Eileen Ford housemates, she was plain, self-conscious, and homesick. Befriended by Esme, a Barbizon maid, she was introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs.

Over half-a-century later, journalist Rose Lewin is evicted from one of the Barbizon condos when her divorced boyfriend decides to reunite with his family. Rose is forced to take refuge with her reclusive downstairs neighbor Darby, one of the original tenants. As Rose's life implodes around her, she is consumed with the story behind the rumors that Darby was involved in the grisly death of Esme. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

"Darby and Rose, in alternating chapters, weave intricate threads into twists and turns that ultimately bring them together; the result is good old-fashioned suspense," (Publishers Weekly) by debut novelist Fiona Davis.

Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar was based upon her time working at Mademoiselle and living at the Barbizon (called The Amazon in the novel). This historical landmark, built in 1927 is now upscale condos under the name Barbzon 63.

Readalike: Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan (another FFF) and Suzanne Rindell's Three-Martini Lunch will captivate readers with a strong sense of time and place as the authors bring a legendary New York building to life and populates it with memorable characters who find themselves in unusual situations.

* = starred review

Review: Encore’s Full Monty delivers laughs and quiet emotions


The Full Monty

Giving audience members their monty's worth. / Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

The Encore Musical Theatre Company is taking it all off and going the Full Monty for a lot of laughs and a bit of introspection.

The 1997 movie The Full Monty was part of a long tradition of British comedies with a biting social message. It was hilariously funny and a bit naughty but it was also at times a poignant and carefully observed view of a steel town, Sheffield, England, in the throes of yet another economic downturn.

In 2000 playwright Terrence McNally moved the story from England to equally downtrodden Buffalo, New York, and replaced the lively Top 40 R&B soundtrack with an original score with lyrics and music by David Yazbeck. The musical doesn’t have the grit or the deeper sense of class alienation of the movie, but it does have a nice blend of good humor, touching drama, and a bright jazzy score, which Encore brings beautifully to life.

Jerry Lukowski and Dave Bukatinsky are recently unemployed steel workers. Jerry is divorced, behind in his child support and afraid of losing contact with his middle-school-aged son. Dave is overweight, uneasy with his body and his life. After seeing the excitement created by a Chippendales-style strip show among the local women, Jerry decides that they should create their own show with dreams of making $50,000 and getting their lives back in order. Knowing their bodies would not be a lure, Jerry tells some local women that they will go the full monty, totally nude.

This production gets off to a great start by having two excellent actors in the lead roles. Eric Parker as Jerry brings energy, a bit of self-conscious swagger, and a sensitive change from macho to humane. Parker makes Jerry a full human being in search of who he really is. He isn’t a great singer but he gives real authority to tough songs like "Scrap," comic songs like "Big Ass Rock" and the gentle reflection of "Breeze Off the River," a love song to his sleeping son.

Greg Bailey’s Dave is a lumpish, dragging, sad-eyed mess as Dave. He’s good-hearted but unhappy with his body, his discomfort in what should be a happy marriage, and his loss of a job. Bailey captures just the right amount of languor and hangdog expression to make his transformation toward the end all the more triumphant.

The entire ensemble gives it their all. Dan Morrison is Harold, the laid off manager with the expensive wife. Morrison gives the character a nervous energy that goes from unease to “what the heck” let’s do it charm. Matthew Pecek is the mama’s boy Malcolm and he first appears as a suicidal mess, his thin body tightly wrapped, and then he opens up as he finds himself and love. Pecek, also, has a fine singing voice.

Jordan Harris plays Horse, a black man with the dance skills. Harris brings some extra zip to the dance numbers and some sly comedy when dealing with a certain black stereotype. The last member of the dance group is Ethan, a man obsessed with Donald O’Connor’s ability to climb walls and possessing a special asset for a stripper. Brendan Kelly is funny and also brings a good singing voice to his duet with Pecek.

Gayle Martin is Jeanette, the tough talking piano accompanist who has seen it all and played for the best of them (or so she says). Martin has some great lines, which she delivers with deadpan perfection.

A wilder bit of comedy is served up by the rubber-faced Sarah Briggs who plays Harold’s money loving wife. Briggs is a gifted comic actress who lights up the stage on "Life With Harold," a rollicking affirmation of love, and lets it all out in a later scene where her love shines through.

Alejandro Cantu has the difficult role of Nathan, Jerry’s long-suffering son. He loves his dad and his mom and he kind of likes his mom’s nerdy boyfriend. Cantu is a young actor who understands these conflicting emotions and just what they can do to you. His performance is direct, sensitive, and never “cute.”

In the small role of Keno, a studly Chippendales dancer, Colby Orton proves charming and captures the dancer’s sincere good intentions.

Thalia V. Schramm, who co-directed with Matthew Brennan, does double duty as Dave’s concerned wife, and provides the right amount of warmth when things get low.

Schramm and Brennan keep the comedy within the range of reality enough to make the serious moments have resonance. This is a comedy with serious content, from body image to economic justice to the plight of divorced fathers, and it plays them with some degree of respect.

Brennan is also the choreographer and he has the chore of directing some deliberately bad choreography in the beginning and then a triumphant Act One closer on "Michael Jordan’s Ball," a dance inspired by the great Bulls forward.

The small ensemble under musical director R. Mackenzie Lewis gives fine support from their perch. Yazbek’s score is serviceable, with some jazzy moments and a lively "Let it Go" ensemble number at the giddy and satisfying ending.

This is not a show for everyone. It has some rough language and bared backsides. But the end result is not raunchy and the music and story are upbeat.

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

The Full Monty continues at the Encore Musical Theatre, 3126 Broad Street in Dexter through Oct. 22. For times and ticket information, call the Encore Theatre Box Office at (734) 268-6200 or visit

Review: The TEAM's "RoosevElvis," presented by UMS


The TEAM's RoosevElvis

Elvis and Roosevelt take a rowed trip.

One unforgiving truth of fame is that when you become larger-than-life, you’re also conversely diminished, so as to seem elusively inhuman.

Brooklyn-based The TEAM’s experimental theater production RoosevElvis, now playing in Ann Arbor by way of University Musical Society, begins with a scene that illustrates this very point. Theodore Roosevelt (Kristen Sieh) and Elvis Presley (Libby King) sit next to one another in director’s chairs, sharing a microphone between them as they take turns voicing odd autobiographical facts and anecdotes.

Significantly, the back-and-forth doesn’t feel like two competitors trying to one-up each other – yes, Roosevelt stridently brags, but Elvis isn’t intimidated, blithely contributing his more modest memories with a laid back slouch. In this way, the exchange illustrates key differences between the two icons of American masculinity.

Sieh, decked out in Roosevelt’s trademark facial hair and glasses, as well as a fringed cowhide suit (Sieh designed the shows costumes as well), employs a sharp patrician delivery that echoes Katherine Hepburn. We hear about Harvard, and how he won an election at age 23. “What a great story,” she says often, congratulating herself.

King, as Elvis, wears blue suede shoes (of course), jeans, a white T-shirt, and a red, short-sleeved button down shirt, topped with a modest Elvis wig, of course. Far more retiring and relaxed than Roosevelt, Elvis talks about being an only child, moving to Memphis, and hearing his first record played nine times in a row on the radio.

But after this introduction, the green screen behind them disappears to reveal the drab apartment of Ann (King), a shy, lonely, 35 year old meat-packing plant employee in Rapid City, South Dakota. (During the transition, you see video footage of her at her workplace.) As Ann, King enters the apartment with a 6 pack, drinks a beer, and engages in a one-person conversation between herself and her idol, Elvis, about having, for the first time, connected with a woman via the Internet. Soon Brenda (Sieh), as a self-assured taxidermist who’s in town for a conference, emerges wrapped in an Elvis towel from the bathroom.

So yes, it takes a few minutes to get your bearings while watching RoosevElvis – and, fair warning, you likely never will completely. But that’s the aim of experimental work, of course. You have to let go of the desire/expectation for linearity and absorb all the ideas and trippy images that are playing out in front of you on stage.

Even so, there is at least a loose narrative at the center of RoosevElvis: Ann’s hopeful, extended date with Brenda – a Roosevelt fan, not coincidentally – turns sour as the two women take a road trip to the Badlands, including stops at Mt. Rushmore and Wall Drug. Though the show relies a bit too heavily on Andrew Schneider’s backdrop videos, the clips are often used in interesting ways. For instance, when Ann recoils from Brenda’s sexual candor in a diner, two video screens show the two women eating their meal in silence, thus underscoring the fact that what began as a hopeful adventure into love has ended in an uncomfortable, miserable stalemate.

Roosevelt and Elvis appear to have earned a place in Ann’s psyche because they embody ideals of masculinity, and as a woman who wears men’s Y-front briefs, and feels like “one of the guys” among the men working at her side at the meat packing plant, Ann is working through who she is, and whom she wants to be. Plus, her rough break-up with forthright, Roosevelt-like Brenda, who calls her “un-brave,” rattles her enough to drive her to take a solo trip to Graceland. Along the way, she leaves Roosevelt and Elvis behind in a hotel room, which they know bodes well for Ann; but when left with just each other, they clash and criticize each other, exiting with the classic line, “Let’s take this outside.”

There are many other delightful, strange, surprising moments in RoosevElvis, wittily directed by Rachel Chavkin: Sieh’s Roosevelt ballet, in which a gentle, beautiful grace is combined with showy muscle-flexing; a sudden, one-off Ann-Margaret moment; Roosevelt pulling on boxing gloves and calling for a TEAM member to start the footage from “Planet Earth,” so that he may punch at the bison individually on-screen (hysterical); Sieh’s funny, uncanny portrayal of a Spirit Airlines representative, urging Ann to stay on hold; the thoughtful use of rowing machines as a set piece (the set was designed by Nick Vaughan); and a Thelma & Louise tie-in that’s far more than a pop culture wink.

But King is the show’s emotional core, and she delivers a dignity, a humility, and a hunger that’s palpable, both in Elvis and Ann. That’s not to say that every part of the show hits its mark. With a running time of just over 90 minutes, the show feels oddly labored after a while, particularly following Brenda and Ann’s final, bracing phone conversation. And there’s a brief scene in which King and Sieh transform into diner waitresses for just a moment – and I still don’t know what purpose that served.

That’s OK, though. When an innovative theatrical company like The TEAM goes on an adventure and asks you to come along, I think it’s mostly worth the bumps in the road to experience the ride.

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

RoosevElvis runs through Saturday, October 1, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University Ave. Visit for more information and tickets, or call 734-764-2538.

Review: Marc Cohn Takes Us Back at The Ark


Review: Marc Cohn Takes Us Back at The Ark

Mark Cohn makes music in his cohn of silence.

On Wednesday night at The Ark, Marc Cohn dialed us all back about 25 years, reprising his eponymous debut album and firing a host of emotional synapses throughout the appreciative near-capacity crowd.

Marc Cohn burst upon the pop music scene in 1991 with the release of Marc Cohn, going platinum and providing Mr. Cohn the recognition he justly deserved after 10 years of honing his craft as a struggling musician and performer. He was nominated for three Grammys that year and took home the Best New Artist award. Cohn followed with successful follow-up albums The Rainy Season and Burning the Daze… establishing him as a pre-eminent pop singer-songwriter, composer and instrumentalist in the mid-1990s. I was a big, big Marc Cohn fan back then, and though his subsequent work hasn’t achieved the commercial success of his early efforts, he continues to perform, collaborate and create new music for a legion of fans still emotionally bonded to his songs of love found, love lost and love reclaimed.

Last night – the first of two performances at The Ark on Wednesday and Friday – was purely nostalgic as for song selection. Many artists of Cohn’s era have recently dusted off their past works and re-played them in live commemorative tours. This silver anniversary tour began in March, continued through the summer including an overseas segment opening for Bonnie Raitt in Europe, and continues through May 2017. Wow. 57 year-old Marc Cohn evidenced no road weariness over the course of the evening, though his voice became raspier in the final third of his set.

Most of Marc’s sidemen have been playing with him for many years, and the sound was tight and expertly blended. Drummer Joe Bonadio did not have a conventional drum kit on stage, but it was never missed as he used a large African djembe drum, cajon and other percussion pieces to lay down the beat. Organist Glenn Patcha brought volume and depth to the music – he’s toured and recorded with Sheryl Crow, Bettye Lavette, Roger Waters, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Loudon Wainwright and the great Levon Helm, to name a few. (In fact, the one song Cohn inserted into the playlist that was not on his first album was an homage to Helm: Listening to Levon, from Cohn’s 2007 album, Join the Parade.) Patcha channeled his best Garth Hudson organ style to take us back to The Band’s best days. Though I could barely see him hiding behind Cohn’s piano, guitarist Kevin Barry demonstrated not only his solo prowess but also his ability to achieve a seamless blend of sound with the other musicians…a craft honed over 40 years of masterful lap steel and guitar performances.

The album Marc Cohn played for us is unique to its genre for its variety and consistent excellence, varied in its emotions, and powerful in both words and music. After 25 years of playing these iconic songs, Marc Cohn – perhaps for the sake of his own sanity – has introduced chord variations, melodic departures, new riffs and improvisations that refreshed every song for us, yet still allowed us all to mouth every word of the songs that so many of us knew so well. The typically respectful Ark crowd would never sing along unless asked to (and we were) but as I looked down my row I would see most of my row mates mouthing the words right along with me.

The concert started (as does the album) with Walking in Memphis – the hit that catapulted him to fame. Cohn spoke of meeting Muriel Wilkins at the Hollywood Café in Memphis while on a trip to see Graceland. Inspired by her and his visit, Cohn wrote the largely autobiographical song. Throughout the night, Cohn continued to add meaning to the familiar music by explaining the personal core and impetus for his writing.

There was the song about his dad that makes me think about my dad: Silver Thunderbird. Dammit, Marc. Then a song that makes me think I’m 20 again: Perfect Love. C’mon, Marc. The last song of the album reminds me of good times with my ex-wife: True Companion. Marc!!! Judging from the sniffles in the audience, most of the 11 songs on the album touched deep memories for the largely middle-aged crowd. Well, I guess we asked for it; we even paid good money to be reminded of those times when music, memories and heart met in our lives.

I think often of performers like Marc whose light burned so brightly and then dimmed. Though he certainly wasn’t a one-hit wonder, his first hit was his biggest hit, and it would appear to less interested observers that he is riding his past fame from the early 90s until today. Nothing could be further from the truth; Cohn has continued to perform, collaborate and make new music over the last 25 years. To a more interested observer, and to all the true fans who showed up on Wednesday night, it wasn’t all about Walking in Memphis. It was about an album that has held up for 25 years, song for song, as one of the best pop albums of its era. It was about a musician’s career and the unusual arcs and twists it takes as he continues to work their craft, earn a living and perhaps exorcise some demons. And finally, it’s about firing those synapses to remember where we were, what we were doing and why we are so touched by Marc Cohn’s songs.

Just a few words about Seth Glier, who opened for Cohn last night with his sideman Joe Nerney. Glier has previously headlined at The Ark and brings a sweet tenor and sharp musical sensibility to any show, whether his own or as an opener. Glier paused for quiet moments during a couple of his songs, and you could have heard a pin drop – highly unusual for an opener while patrons are scuffling around looking for their seats. That’s why I love The Ark’s Ford Listening Room, and why I truly enjoyed Wednesday’s performance.

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

Marc Cohn plays at The Ark again Friday night, September 30th, and tickets are still available. Buy them here. Check out all of Marc Cohn’s music on Spotify. Check out Seth Glier’s music on Spotify.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #614


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #614

Monterey Bay *, a debut by Lindsay Hatton beautifully re-imagines the last days of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its memorable characters, real and fictional.

Accompany her entrepreneur father Anders, Margot Fiske arrives in Monterey Bay a confident, self-sufficient (exceedingly tall) 15 year-old, having traveled the world with him, looking after their businesses. An accident in the tide pool brings her into contact with denizens of Cannery Row, where her talent as an artist/illustrator immediately impresses Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist known as Doc, who, against Steinbeck's displeasure, offers her a job to sketch the specimens he collects.

Ricketts, a charismatic, hard-drinking bohemian/scholar, quickly becomes the object of Margot’s fascination and soon her lover. In the meantime, Anders is quietly amassing support for the most ambitious and controversial project to date: the transformation of the Row’s largest cannery into an aquarium, while making himself unpopular with the most powerful family on the peninsula.

Finding herself often alone and at odds with her father, Margot gets to know Steinbeck, Ricketts’s benefactor, who is hiding out from Hollywood; and other locals who would play a crucial role in transforming life in Monterey in the decades to come.

"Hatton, in her first novel, takes up a formidable challenge for herself, setting her story in one of American literature’s most famous locations. She does an excellent job of recreating the Cannery Row that no longer exists, honoring the memory of Steinbeck and Ricketts and all the workers who once toiled there, as seen through the eyes of a precocious teenage heroine." (Publishers Weekly)

Readers will undoubtedly want to revisit Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, the basis for the 1982 movie adaptation, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. To find out more about John Steinbeck's legendary voyage with Ed Ricketts that serves as a critical turning point in Hatton's novel, check out the documentary Journey to the Sea of Cortez.

* = starred review



Out of the Mud XV by Takeshi Takahara

Out of the Mud XV by Takeshi Takahara is currently on display at the WSG Gallery as part of the exhibition Imperfection. / Image courtesy of Takeshi Takahara, through the WSG Gallery.

KA Letts (of has written a great review of the WSG Gallery's current exhibition.

"Takeshi Takahara believes in the handmade, the one-of-a-kind, the idiosyncratic. This might seem a counterintuitive attitude in an accomplished master of intaglio printmaking, a medium which embodies the aesthetic of the multiple and reproducible. But in his first solo show at WSG Gallery he demonstrates that his unique, eco-friendly hybrid intaglio/woodcut process for creating small print editions (often only 5 to 9 per title) can deliver artworks that pack all the punch of a one-of-a-kind painting. Imperfection, a meticulously curated and well arranged grouping of prints on the theme of the lotus, is on view in the WSG gallery from now until October 22."

Visit to read the review in its entirety.

K.A. Letts is an artist and art blogger. She has shown her work regionally and nationally and in 2015 won the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award while participating in the TAAE95 Exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. You can find more of her work at

Imperfection will run at the WSG Gallery, 306 S. Main Street, through October 22, 2016. The WSG Gallery is open Tuesday-Thursday, noon–6 pm; Friday-Saturday, noon-9 pm; and Sunday 12-5 pm. For information, call 734-761-2287.