While the exact origins of Morris dancing are not clear, historians do know that people have been participating in this lively step dance for centuries. Shakespeare mentioned it in his plays. Peasants enjoyed it along with their summertime ales in the 1600s. The first known written reference dates to 1448 when Goldsmiths’ Company in London paid seven shillings to Morris dancers for a performance.
And in the Ann Arbor area, dancers have gathered since 1976 to engage in this energetic form of folk dancing. Ann Arbor Morris dancer Carol Mohr enjoyed international folk dancing and fell in love with Morris in the late 1970s.
For anyone who believes in the power of pop music to communicate in a powerful, even transcendent way, the idea of Bettye LaVette singing the songs of Bob Dylan creates some pretty high hopes. On August 9, the Sonic Lunch concert series brought that pairing to downtown Ann Arbor, and the results were just as good as expected.
Local singer Antwaun Stanley and his tight band opened the show with a sharp, energetic set that brought a modern spin to a 1970s soul/funk sound. A couple of terrific covers -- Maze’s “Running Away” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” -- demonstrated his compelling stage presence and showcased his vocal range.
But the highlight of Stanley’s set was “Where Are We Now?,” a song he wrote with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Something of a modern-day “What’s Going On,” the song drew a huge response from the crowd. “Are we breaking through, or are we breaking down?” Stanley sang. “We’ve got to be the change; we’ve got to preach the change.”
LaVette opened her set with the title song of her recent Dylan album, Things Have Changed. One of the best of Dylan’s latter-day works, it carries a new, ominous impact in the current social climate, and LaVette brought all of that to her performance.
Maxim Vinogradov’s A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams is a series of snapshots featuring Williams’ encounters with celebrities, aspiring artists, and those closest to him -- memories, most of all, of the impact he had on them, for better or worse. Ferndale’s Slipstream Theatre Initiative has brought A Night of Stars to Ann Arbor for an August run at The Yellow Barn, with Bailey Boudreau playing Williams.
The play's scenes are sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and always well-written. Williams remembers, can’t remember, and hates remembering key moments from his past, which he has probably distorted anyway. We watch Williams cajole some actors into taking roles they don’t really want and bypass others. We see him with friends, family, and his most significant other. There are few surprise revelations to those familiar with Williams’ biography, though some of it is not remembered accurately enough to ring a bell. The fun is in the dialogue and in watching these figures come to life in brief scenes.
The producer has worked with a who’s who of artists in the Midwest including Slum Village, Supakaine, Nolan the Ninja, A-Minus, and BJ the Chicago Kid. As a producer, DaG balances the hard task of preserving old school sounds with modern swag in a way that sounds relevant to today.
The Ann Arbor-raised, Ypsi-based DaG is also a DJ, spinning at events in Washtenaw County and traveling around the country. One of his most recent and notable gigs was opening for hip-hop legend KRS One at the Blind Pig this spring.
Between spinning at concerts and producing hits for other artists, DaG is also an emcee in his own right, further proving that he is a multitalented artist. From his earliest project dionLoveSwing to his most recent work, Village Tales 3, he shows his versatility in style from funk and soul to hip-hop and jazz.
With new music due this fall, DaG is ready once again to show his listeners why he is a musical force in the 734 area code. I sat down with him to discuss his vintage sound, his take on Michigan hip-hop, what he’d be doing if he weren’t a musician, and more.
With eight different exhibits in its summer presentation, Gifts of Art continues to be an important part of the University of Michigan's creative ecosystem. The exhibitions, which run through September 9, serve as an important facet of the hospital, bringing the gallery experience to patients, staff, and visitors.
Starting August 10, Kerrytown Concert House will be host to the first in a continuing series of concerts hosted by longtime Ann Arbor resident and jazz bassist Paul Keller. This inaugural installation of “Paul Keller Presents” will feature the talents of singer and pianist John Proulx, a Grand Rapids-raised musician whose career has taken him from coast to coast before leading him back home to pursue a Master’s degree from Western Michigan University.
“He has a grasp of jazz language that I like to hear,” Paul Keller said of Proulx. “He has a grasp of the way that I like to present jazz. I’m proud to be on the stage with him because of those things.”
Performing as a trio, Keller and Proulx will be joined onstage by drummer Pete Siers, who is also an Ann Arbor resident. Siers, who will also be playing on the “Paul Keller Presents” concert of September 28, is a musical collaborator of Keller’s and performs in the Paul Keller Orchestra, a nearly 30-year-old big band that performs every Monday at the Zal Gaz Grotto in west Ann Arbor.
In Pitchfork's review of Fred Thomas' new song and video, "Good Times Are Gone Again," Contributing Editor Jayson Greene notes the tune is "a little less agonizingly specific than Thomas’ usual fare."
That's true of the song's lyrics, but if you know Ann Arbor, the music video is filled with scenes that are very specific.
The promo clip is for Thomas' new album, Aftering, which comes out September 14 on Polyvinyl Records. The video features Thomas interacting with friends and strangers -- who immediately fall ill as if he passed on an instant plague, echoing the song's lyrics: "Bad things are happening now / Sharp days are wrapping around us."
It's the song of the bummer summer.
Ann Arbor is featured throughout the video: Thomas spends time walking alone through Buhr Park and strumming his guitar behind the long-running punk joint Far House; and he spreads his illness at Encore Records, The Hosting art space, Lab Cafe, a recording studio in Ellsworth Commerce Park, his bandmate Chuck Sipperley's home, and his own apartment where his wife, spoken-word artist Emily Roll, starts foaming toothpaste at the mouth.
Callie Feyen's new book begins with a kiss. But the writing of said book began with an essay -- one she wasn’t particularly keen to write.
“My editor at [T.S. Poetry Press] asked me if I wanted to write about teaching Romeo and Juliet to eighth graders. But at the time I thought it would be too painful.”
The longtime middle school teacher felt that way after she found herself at a school where lesson plans were scripted and tightly monitored; teachers received reprimands for going “off script.” After years of creative lessons plans and multisensory activities, Feyen was frustrated by being locked down in a specific teaching style and writing the essay would make her "remember how I used to be able to teach.”
Feyen’s editor then suggested starting with an essay about the classroom experience; that essay ended up becoming the first chapter in The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet. The book details Feyen’s many years of teaching the Shakespeare classic to middle school students.
When someone “gets down to brass tacks,” they’re focusing on the essentials -- and this is precisely what an Ann Arbor-based theater troupe, The Brass Tacks Ensemble, aims to do.
The company’s sets, props, and costumes are usually spare and simple in hopes of putting the spotlight on a play’s story and inviting audience members to fill in blanks with their imagination.
BTE’s latest offering, Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (playing August 2-4 at Kerrytown Concert House), will be in keeping with the company’s vision.
Building a month-long festival from the ground up is challenging enough when it focuses solely on one artistic discipline, such as music.
But last year's inaugural Rasa Festival was a multidisciplinary party with performing, visual, literary, media/films, and culinary arts from India, presented in various Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti venues.
It was a big achievement and the 2018 edition (September 1-October 7) looks to build on that success with more art exhibitions, dance performances, poetry readings, music concerts, film screenings, and a foodie event.
Here's the full calendar of events, many of which are free: