A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett.
Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.
Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.
French dance company Ballet Preljocaj performed its new full-length contemporary ballet, La Fresque, at the Power Center on March 26 and 27. Ballet Preljocaj, presented by UMS, was in Ann Arbor for the fourth time and as usual, the company did not disappoint. (I was at the March 27 performance.)
La Fresque is based on the Chinese myth of a man who is drawn into a painting of young women. The man falls in love with and marries one of the women but is thrown out of the alternative universe by the woman’s guardians. The ballet ends with him looking at the painting again. Nothing has changed except the hair of one of the subjects, which is now up in a bun, with a flower in place to symbolize their marriage.
Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy
Sometimes you're just too close to a situation to write a clever lede.
Blue Jeans features the married couple Tim Sendra (guitar) and Heather Phares (bass) with David Serra (drums). The Ann Arbor indie-rock trio's second album, Adult Hits, was produced by Fred Thomas and released on his cassette via his Life Like label.
Down MF featured Scott Sendra, Tim's brother, and a cast of friends and family members who helped the late guitarist and singer bringing his singular vision of strong-song-based noise-rock to hiss-filled vinyl. Last year, Thomas assisted Tim in bringing together Down's 7-inch singles for a compilation LP, Critically Acclaimed, released on the Loch Alpine label, named after the Dexter subdivision where the Sendras grew up. (Read an interview about Down's history here.)
I've known the Sendra brothers for 33 years, performed in bands with both of them in the early '90s -- I played bass on the first two Down singles and was in Veronica Lake with Tim -- and have recorded with everybody named in the preceding paragraphs aside from Serra (though it seems inevitable). I grieved intensely when Scott died of brain cancer in 2017. I was deeply thankful for Tim and Fred's efforts to honor Scott's sui generis talent by compiling Critically Acclaimed. There is no journalistic distance between me and these humans. I love them and their art -- and you should, too. That's it.
Blue Jeans rarely perform live, but the group will shake off the rust on Saturday, March 30 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti to celebrate the release of Adult Hits, which is also coming out on vinyl via the Spanish label Bobo Integral. I talked to Tim Sendra about Blue Jeans' sound, Down MF, and the future of his Loch Alpine label.
With two Blues Music Award nominations and a new album, Sugaray Rayford has made 2019 his year -- and it isn’t even April yet.
As part of a concert series supporting this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival (August 16-19), the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based Rayford and his band will be making their first visit to Ann Arbor, promising a fabulous night of blues at Club Above on Sunday, March 31, in support of their recently released album, Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records).
The entire album is the perfect vehicle for Rayford’s incredibly authentic voice and charisma. The record grabs the listener by her collar and takes her across the Mississippi Delta, through Chicago, to West Coast Swing, down to Texas, and back again. Described as having an “old school vocal style” reminiscent of such musicians as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding. and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford seems tailor-made for the songs that appear on the album.
Teens often feel unheard and misunderstood. Their brains are still developing, life is changing quickly, and they're trying to make sense of being on the edge of adulthood.
TEDxYouth@AnnArbor is a platform where students get to express themselves freely about social and political issues, in a well-produced setting using the popular TEDx style of presentation, which has spawned numerous viral videos.
This year's TEDxYouth@AnnArbor takes place Saturday, April 13, at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor. I emailed with Eugene Lee, a senior at Skyline High School and the youth curator for TEDxYouth@AnnArbor, to find out about this year's event.
Well, that may not be exactly accurate. What really happened was that after sitting transfixed in front of our TVs as news broke that Mueller had finished his report, many of headed out to see the fabulous satirist perform. Some of us weren’t feeling very good. We had just learned there would be no more indictments, a blow to those who would like to see the Trump family behind bars. But Rainbow knew how to lift our spirits and save the country: He threw paper towels into the house.
And the very funny entertainer took a moment to be serious. “There aren’t going to be any more indictments,” Rainbow said solemnly. “So let’s enjoy the ones we already have.”
Quite the Panorama: The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" is a joy-inducing song and video about overcoming sadness
The opening lyrics of The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" make it sound like it's going be a song about the devastation of depression:
Underneath all of the smiles
Lies an emptiness that eats her alive
Masked by all the joy and the laughter
Is a voice screaming, "I'm not alright!"
But by the time the band hits the pre-chorus and chorus, the soaring song shifts into an anthem for overcoming:
She puts her hand around me
Well, maybe we should go
Girl, raise your voice up high
Run run run
Till we're all out of breath
Sun sun sun
Beating down on our neck
Look at the horizon
Quite the panorama
Don't you ever worry
"'Pollyanna' is kind of a mixed story influenced by multiple people in my life," said singer-guitarist Peter Kwitny. "So many people struggle with things on the inside and put on brave faces to hide what they are really feeling, and I wanted it to be a song that people could relate to on a deep level."
Named after the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Ann Arbor quartet is made up of U-M students Kwitny, drummer Josh Cukier, guitarist Evan Dennis, and bassist Liam O'Toole. (The band plays a free concert at Lo-Fi in Ann Arbor on Thursday, March 28.)
"Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City" documents the artistry and symbolism during the city's golden age
Due to a fortunate confluence of water, geography and entrepreneurial vision, Detroit at the end of the 19th century was poised to experience unprecedented growth. Even before the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, Detroit was a major industrial center and transportation hub. All this commercial activity and prosperity led to a building boom of incredible proportions at a time when the most popular architectural styles were Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival, and Art Deco. Each of these styles typically required extensive ornamentation and because of this, Detroit became a treasure trove of architectural sculpture.
Jeff Morrison’s new book for Wayne State University Press, Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, documents these incredible features in a city that began as a small frontier fort and quickly grew to become a major metropolis and industrial titan. Morrison will be at Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm for a presentation where he'll share more than 100 spectacular close-up pictures of architectural sculpture from throughout the city of Detroit. You will also learn about the symbolism behind the ornamentation and hear some of the untold stories of the artists, artisans, and architects involved in its creation, all drawn from the book.
Below is a sneak peek of 10 photos from Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City:
In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sought help from an immigration lawyer to extend their visas by six months so that Ono could continue to make her case in custody proceedings for her 8-year-old daughter.
They were put in touch with a mild-mannered, admittedly “square” immigration lawyer who had never heard of John Lennon, though he did know a little about The Beatles. Leon Wildes would find himself drawn into the muck and mire of the Nixon administration, a landmark immigration case, and a friendship with the mercurial, brilliant, and troubled rock star, cultural icon, and political activist.
New Yorker journalists Ronan Farrow and Ken Auletta came to the University of Michigan on March 19 to discuss their work in breaking the Harvey Weinstein story. In particular, they spoke about what changed between 2002, when Auletta first attempted to write the story, and 2017, when Farrow succeeded. Farrow and Auletta were here on behalf of journalism powerhouse The Wallace House, and the crowd was full of noteworthy journalists. I waited in a long, snaking line to enter Rackham Auditorium and felt slightly inadequate.
For his writing on Weinstein and other powerful harassers, Farrow, along with The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer joins a long list of Farrow’s other accomplishments: he graduated (yes, graduated) from Bard College at 15, earned a Yale law degree, worked for the State Department, and wrote the New York Times bestseller War on Peace: the end of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence. At some point in there, he also had a cable news show, became a Rhodes scholar, and is currently finishing a PhD from the University of Oxford. Ken Auletta is no slouch either, with 11 books and more than 25 years writing for the New Yorker under his belt. All of this is enough to make anyone feel that their life has been nothing but a pointless meandering of time.