Lineup announced for the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival

MUSIC PREVIEW

Calexico and Iron & Wine, Nathaniel Rateliff, Ingrid Michaelson, Bettye LaVette

Top: Calexico and Iron & Wine. Bottom: Nathaniel Rateliff, Ingrid Michaelson, Bettye LaVette.

The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a fundraiser for The Ark, returns to Hill Auditorium on Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1, 2020. A combined performance by Calexico and Iron & Wine headlines the first night and a solo Nathaniel Rateliff tops the second evening.

Calexico and Iron & Wine released the collaborative album Years to Burn last year, but the groups' artistic relationship stretches back to the 2005 EP In the Reins.

Rateliff is leaving his soul band the Night Sweats at home and will perform songs from his earlier, folk-based albums (but don't let that stop you from shouting out requests for "S.O.B." -- the audience can handle the hand-claps).

Check out the rest of the lineup below along with videos for each of the artists.

Last Dance: The Bang! Must Die! is one last boogie down production for this long-running party at The Blind Pig

PULP LIFE PREVIEW REVIEW

The Bang! poster collage

It's the last dance -- last dance for love.

Yes, it's the last chance for romance Saturday night.

After 18 years, The Bang! dance party needs you to hold and scold -- and get so, so bad -- at The Blind Pig as it waves goodbye with one final blowout: The Bang! Must Die!

Founded by artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner, the first Bang! party was held in 2001 at the now-shuttered Half-Ass Inn (Halfway Inn) in U-M's East Quad. The following year it moved to The Blind Pig -- with occasional visits to Ypsilanti and elsewhere -- and it eventually became a monthly event for a long while, getting more and more elaborate over the years as The Bang! crew went wild building elaborate props that supported the dances' playful themes.

Filtered through Wheeler's distinctive, retro-cool aesthetic -- which you can see in the posters above -- The Bang! encouraged people to dress up in outrageous clothes, shake off their everyday grime, and get dirty on the dancefloor. Perusing a photo archive on Flickr from older Bang! throwdowns, you can all but smell the PBR pouring out of the pores of the revelers. As the sweaty, open-mouthed ravers cut through the humid club air, The Bling Pig took on the look of a thrift shop on acid, where all the VCR tapes and '80s aerobic leotards suddenly rediscovered their worth on Earth.

Silly sexual japes abounded at The Bang! and the photo gallery is rich with crotch shots. One hirsute gentleman even figured out how to don a thong at most every Bang!, no matter the theme. 

We rooted through thousands of pics and chose some of our favorites, which you can see below, along with a short documentary on The Bang! and some other video footage. But first, read these two oral histories of The Bang! -- then wish it well in the afterlife by donning a crazy costume and dancing your face off on October 26:

➥ "The Bang! Must Die: the History of the Sweatiest Dance Party in Town" [Damn Arbor, October 22, 2019]
➥ "After 18 years of dance-party madness, here's why The Bang! must die" [Concentrate, October 16, 2019]

The Comic Opera Guild focuses on the funny in "Follies"

MUSIC PREVIEW

Comic Opera Guild logo & singer Tiffany Thorpe

Tiffany Thorpe is one of the singers who will perform at the Comic Opera Guild's Follies. Photo by Larri Slade Photography.

The Comic Opera Guild was founded on the premise that the operetta (or comic opera) was the perfect vehicle to introduce people to opera and the thrill of listening to classically trained voices. Comedy makes everything approachable. Comic songs were common in the last century, either as pop music or taken from Broadway shows. Unfortunately, the comic song is uncommon now, and so we decided to produce a show that brought this idiom to people's attention.

On Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location, the Guild presents Follies, a revue-concert featuring high-spirited and comic entertainment reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies. Classically trained singers and instrumentalists will cross over into light-hearted music from the 1920s to the present day, from shows, Vaudeville, and even Tom Lehrer and Eric Idle.

Turn and Face the Strange: Cartoonist Casey Nowak's big life changes have invigorated her art

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Carolyn Nowak

The two years since Casey Nowak last answered questions for Pulp have been filled with personal changes and critical success. Followers of Nowak’s on Twitter may also have noticed her using the platform to discuss her own experiences with sexuality, divorce, mental health, and recently a series of tweets discussing her name change from Carolyn to Casey. 

The Ann Arbor cartoonist feels these experiences, both good and bad, have influenced and increased her confidence in her work. 

In late 2018, Top Shelf released Nowak’s collection of short stories, Girl Town. These previously released stories, along with one unpublished work, secured Nowak some of her best critical reactions to date. Girl Town finished the year on numerous “Best of” lists, was nominated for an Eisner Award (akin to comics' Academy Award), and last month won Nowak her third Ignatz Award, which recognizes excellence among self-published or small-press creators.

Previously, Nowak had an acclaimed 12-issue run as the artist for the popular series Lumberjanes, and in 2017 she published Chad Agamemnon, an all-original comic for the Ann Arbor District Library's annual Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). (AADL cardholders can download the comic here.)

Nowak has also released the first two volumes of her middle-grade Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and ventured into erotic comics with the release of No Better Words, which also scored an Eisner nomination for the cartoonist. Earlier this year, Nowak started a Patreon site, which allows fans to subscribe at various tiers to gain access to exclusive content from Nowak including works in progress and exclusive mini-comics like last month’s Duh! Ha-Ha! 

Nowak was kind enough to answer a few emailed questions for Pulp. 

Oasis in the City: Juno-winning alto saxophonist Allison Au brings her pastoral jazz to Blue LLama

MUSIC PREVIEW

Allison Au Quartet

Saxophonist Allison Au said her 2016 album, Forest Grove, was inspired by the Toronto neighborhood where she grew up. But it's not city life she's referring to; it's a place where trees and nature provided the vista, not concrete. 

The pastoral spirit of the Forest Grove neighborhood runs deep through Au's alto on all three of her records. She tends to play relaxed, melodic phrases that reinforce an ensemble sound rather than firing up solos that race over the harmonic foundation of her compositions. Keyboardist Todd Pentney, bassist Jon Maharaj, and drummer Fabio Ragnelli have plenty of freedom to explore Au's tunes and they feel essential to her vision, not just a backing band. 

Forest Grove won a Juno award -- the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy -- for best jazz album and her latest, 2019's Wander Wonder, was nominated as was her debut, The Sky Was Pale Blue. Au self-released all of the albums, so to garner this type of recognition for independent releases is a testament to her talent.

You can see the Allison Au Quartet at Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, October 23. Below are some videos of the band in action and you can listen to her three albums. 

Michigan Made: Theatre Nova’s Playwrights Festival puts the spotlight on new works for the stage

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Theatre Nova's yellow barn building

Theatre Nova's yellow-barn home. Photo courtesy of Theatre Nova.

Part two of Theatre Nova’s semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival has an added evening that gives more opportunities to shine the spotlight on new playwrights. In addition to staged readings of four full length plays, the festival will set aside an evening for the presentation of six 10-minute plays.

The Michigan Playwrights Festival is in its fifth season, part of Theatre Nova’s focus on new plays and playwrights. Twice a year, a committee selects four plays for presentations in staged readings. The festival will present a play each night Oct. 24-27. The Evening of 10-Minute Plays will be presented Oct. 23.

The four plays selected for the regular festival are The Lion’s Share by Catherine Zudak, Dear Camp by Lisa MacDonald, Silo Tree by Sam Collier, and Blight by R.D. Wakeman.

Playwright Sarah Elisabeth Brown is coordinating the evening of 10-minute plays for Theatre Nova.

“The evening is new to the festival and comes out of a group I started in conjunction with Theatre Nova about a year ago called the Nova Lab, which is designed as a resource to playwrights of all levels who would like to develop their craft,” Brown said in an email interview. “Our signature event is called Prompts for Playwrights and we meet on Sunday evenings when the theater is dark.”

Common Cause: The long-running experimental music event Edgefest fosters a sense community

MUSIC PREVIEW

Edgefest

The 2019 Edgefest (Oct. 16-19) has been on my calendar for months and I've been meaning to write a preview of this Ann Arbor experimental-music institution for weeks.

This year's theme, "OUT West," focuses on "the rich historical contributions of West Coast artists in the development of avant jazz improvisation and new music." That quote is from the website of Kerrytown Concert House, which is Edgefest's hub, even if all the October 17 concerts are at the sparkling Blue LLama Jazz Club and the large-ensemble finale on October 19 is at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. You can't have Edgefest without the Concert House.

But this and that happened, time got away from me, and I never got around to writing the preview.

Thankfully, longtime music writer and Edgefest musician Piotr Michalowski wrote the festival's program, which is an excellent primer on the dozens of musicians and various ensembles performing at this year's edition. You'll find Michalowski's write-up below, but first, I want to share a story about one specific event at Edgefest -- and why I think it defines the festival as a whole.

Locked-Up With Laughter: A2 Civic Theatre’s "My Three Angels" is a sharp family comedy

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

My Three Angels

L-R: Dillon Roseen, Theo Polley, Jim Sullivan, and Ellen Finch in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's My Three Angels. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

When Barbara Mackey King proposed directing My Three Angels for this season at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, she had two goals in mind. One was for actors and the other for audiences.

“I was in another play at Civic Theatre and everyone was talking about how there weren’t a lot of great plays for older actors,” she said. “I thought I can help with that and I remembered My Three Angels, which has some very fine parts for older, experienced actors.”

She was also looking for a play that would appeal to a diverse audience.

“I chose this play because it’s what I would call a good family comedy,” she said. “By that I mean not Leave It to Beaver or something like that, not for tiny kids. But something that the whole family can enjoy. It’s not too salacious or suggestive or anything like that. It’s something you can bring older kids to.”

She said that’s important for the future of live theater.

A Place to Resist Apathy: “Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City 1980-2000” at Lane Hall Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sylvia Plachy, Graffiti Under the Williamsburg Bridge, black and white photograph]

Sylvia Plachy, Graffiti Under the Williamsburg Bridge, black and white photograph.

Big town civil disobedience meets big-time photojournalism in Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City 1980-2000 at the University of Michigan Women’s Studies Lane Hall Gallery.

The exhibit features 40 artworks by renowned national and international photographers Nina Berman, Donna Binder, Donna Decesare, Ricky Flores, Frank Fournier, Lori Grinker, Meg Handler, Lisa Kahane, Gabe Kircheimer, Carolina Kroon, Meryl Levin, TL Litt, Dona Ann McAdams, Thomas McGovern, Thomas Muscionico, Brian Palmer, Clayton Patterson, Sandra-Lee Phipps, Sylvia Plachy, Alon Reininger, Richard Renaldi, Joseph Rodriguez, Linda Rosier, Q. Sakamaki, Catherine Smith, and Les Stone.

Lending a timely coherence to this sprawling history are curators Tamar W. Carroll of the Department of History at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Meg Handler, photographer and former photo editor of The Village Voice; Michael Kamber, New York Times photographer, adjunct faculty of the Columbia Journalism School and founder of the Bronx Documentary Center; and Joshua P. Meltzer, assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

As the Women’s Studies exhibit gallery statement tells us, “New York’s streets were turbulent and often violent in the 1980s and 1990s, as residents responded to social changes in their city as well as national and international developments. These photographs highlight both the key roles of activists and journalists in enacting democratic social changes, and invite viewers to reflect on how theses social issues, as well as social movements and the practice of journalism, have evolved in recent decades.”

Moon Hooch explores consciousness with a knockout combo of jazz and dance music

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Moon Hooch

Moon Hooch's music has all the manic energy of a city. The Brooklyn group's drums-sax-sax lineup rumbles like the New York City subway system, where the trio spent many hours busking when it formed in 2010. The way the band combines dance beats and avant-garde jazz is akin to a metropolis' relentless forward rhythm that's being intersected by speeding cabs running red lights.

But the nervous energy Moon Hooch exudes in its simultaneously catchy and edgy music is in direct opposition to the way drummer James Muschler and saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen live their lives off the stage.

Or even in their touring van.

Moon Hooch's members are avid meditators and they use this practice to stay mentally and physically fit during arduous tours across the U.S.

"Yeah, it’s not easy," McGowen said of touring. "Meditation, Qigong, and breathing exercises are what keeps me going. I try to transmute stress through present moment awareness. I don’t succeed always, but when I am enough present I can stay calm even if the situation is challenging. We usually get together every morning, sit in a circle, breath together and share how we feel. We aren’t doing that every day, but whenever we do it, it really uplifts the group dynamic."