Playwright Joseph Zettelmaier takes center stage with three regional productions

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joseph Zettlemaier

Joseph Zettelmaier is a busy man.

The playwright teaches at Eastern Michigan University, is executive director of a theater company, and will soon have three of his numerous plays on stage locally.   

Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre production of Northern Aggression opened May 17; The Roustabout Theatre Troupe production of All Childish Things opens May 31 in Milan; and The Penny Seats Theatre production of The Gravedigger: A Frankenstein Play opens June 14 in Ann Arbor. 

Zettelmaier has written more than a score of plays that have been staged regionally and as far away as Calgary, Alberta, and Dublin, Ireland. He’s written comedies, dramas, science fiction, mysteries, and horror.  

“I am an insatiably curious human being,” Zettelmaier said. “I have these little rules I’ve come up with for myself as a writer and one is never tell the same story twice and another is if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not challenging your audience either.”

Rocking the Roots: Jim Manheim spins polka, country & bluegrass on WCBN

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jim Manheim by Doug Coombe

Jim Manheim by Doug Coombe.

Jim Manheim has the unique distinction of hosting both one of WCBN's most popular shows -- and, arguably, one of its most obscure. Since 1989 Manheim has co-hosted The Down Home Show, a classic country music program that often raises the most or second-most money during station fundraisers (WCBN's closest equivalent to more traditional listenership metrics). He also co-hosts a popular bluegrass program, Bill Monroe for Breakfast. But in three stints from 1996 to 1999, 2008 to 2011, and 2014 to the present, Manheim has also regularly graced WCBN's airwaves with the Drivetime Polka Party

Currently airing Wednesdays at 6:30 pm, the Drivetime Polka Party is a joyful and educational trip through the once popular, now largely forgotten art form of polka. While the music itself doesn't fit into today's sonic landscape, it's still difficult to resist its buoyant rhythms and surprisingly wild sense of experimentation. (For one particularly mystifying example that caught this writer's ear on a recent Polka Party, check out this hillbilly-polka crossbreed cover of "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra.) 

Manheim is a charming and engaging guide throughout this weekly journey, projecting a light-hearted, good-humored personality that matches the music (and is inspired by Buffalo, N.Y., polka DJs). He's also a treasure trove of information, providing background on each song while also placing it in the broader historical context of the genre. We chatted with Manheim on why he started the show, what keeps him coming back to the polka genre, and what his plans are for his WCBN shows as he mulls a move to Indonesia.

Endless Time: Chris Smither at The Ark

MUSIC REVIEW

Chris Smither by Jeff Fasano

Chris Smither by Jeff Fasano.

The first time I heard Chris Smither I was on a road trip from Ann Arbor to Alabama, helping my cousin move so she could begin her master’s in creative writing. It was late at night and we were somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee. There were no other cars around and the road kept curving and curving. The windows in the car were down and the muggy air was streaming in. We were feeling slow and sleepy, so my cousin put in Chris Smither’s CD #Leave the Light On#. I heard Chris Smither’s voice for the first time: low and rough, singing, “If I were young again / I’d pay attention / To that little-known dimension / a taste of endless time / it’s just like water / it runs right through our fingers / but the flavor of it lingers / like rich, red wine.” 

It’s almost impossible to describe the full effect of good music, music that reaches deep. But I can tell you that I started thinking about time that night in a way that I hadn’t considered before. When you’re young, time feels endless, and what a privilege that is.

Overpowered by Funk: Disaster Relief lift you up by gettin' down

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Disaster Relief

Check it out now: Darrin James, Ross Huff, Rob Avsharian, Molly Jones, Brennan Andes, and Tim Haldeman (not pictured) are the funk-soul brothers and sister who provide Disaster Relief.

Since 1967, The Meters have created ultra-greasy syncopated grooves that induce spontaneous boogie. The New Orleans funk legends' catalog is stuffed with influential jams, such as "Cissy Strut" and "Look-Ka Py Py," that are the very definition of rump shakers.

Even if The Meters' name doesn't invoke the immediate recognition of fellow funk pioneer James Brown, the band's influence looms large and has spread from the Crescent City to every booty-shaking band in the world, including Ann Arbor's Disaster Relief.

Led by guitarist-organist Darrin James, Disaster Relief recently released its self-titled debut, which features nine dancefloor fillers. But it's not just New Orleans second-line funk that has seeped into Disaster Relief's sound. The spirit of Afro-beat is present, too ("August Addiction," "Too Soon for June," "March Wind"), as well as Motown and Memphis influences ("October, Who's Sober?"). But tracks such as the opener, "Downtown F#@karound," and "January Junk" bring New Orleans to the heart of Washtenaw County.

Disaster Relief's musicians are also active participants in southeast Michigan's jazz scene, so there's also plenty of improvisation from James, Brennan Andes (bass), Rob Avsharian (drums), Dan Bennett (baritone sax), Molly Jones (tenor sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), and Ross Huff (trumpet).

I chatted with James over email about how this serious singer-songwriter came to lead a party-ready funk band.

Poet Keith Taylor reaches for ecstatic destinations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Keith Taylor

Photo by John Smolens.

In his poems, Keith Taylor draws attention to what you might not notice and highlights its character and depth. In doing so, he does what identifying things by name achieves for him: helps us see and know living things, moments, scenes.

When he was working on a collection of poems, Marginalia for a Natural History, in his own form of eight nine-syllable lines, he serendipitously encountered a damselfly with a nine-syllable name. It was not just any insect but the ebony jewel-winged damselfly. 

His personal discovery was in line with his view of writing poetry as a demand of gods in whom he doesn’t really believe. “Those gods again. They’re out there. They give you these things,” he said at the “Exit Interview with Keith Taylor and Cody Walker” event at Literati Bookstore on Friday, April 20. The event celebrated Taylor’s retirement from the University of Michigan this spring. 

Film Studies: A preview of this year's Cinetopia movies in A2

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Cinetopia logo

Cinetopia's website states that its film festival, which features acclaimed movies from Sundance, Cannes, and more, was "created for the people of southeastern Michigan." 

That's cool, but for our Pulp preview, we're keeping it strictly provincial and have highlighted films playing in Ann Arbor at the Michigan and State theaters. (Click here for the full Cinetopia schedule.)

We've also embedded the fifth episode of the Michigan Theater and AADL podcast Behind the Marquee, which features hosts Nick, Caitlin, and Brian talking about all things Cinetopia, including some of their favorite films arriving this year.

Get out your calendars and plan your May 31 to June 10 cinematic experiences.

Patterns in the Process: “Sara Adlerstein: Ecologies, my true colors” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds.

Vivid, biomorphic expressions take imaginative turns in Sara Adlerstein’s Ecologies, my true colors at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery.

Adlerstein’s mixed-media Ecologies exhibit features biologically themed art crafted largely in dramatic three by four feet proportions. Her all-heart artworks are abstractions based on realism featuring nuanced, organic leitmotifs.

An applied aquatic ecologist and current faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Adlerstein hasn’t pursued formal training in the arts. Rather, she says she’s has been painting for as long as she’s been a scientist. “Art and science belong together as naturally as air and water,” Adlerstein wrote in her artist's statement

At the Crossroads: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet bridges the East and West on its debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

Around the Worlds Quartet: Mike List, Igor Houwat, Dr. Henrik Karapetyan, and Dave Sharp.

The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet is like Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge: a sturdy gateway between the East and West.

The group -- Sharp (bass), Dr. Henrik Karapetyan (violin), Igor Houwat (oud), and Mike List (percussion) -- transports listeners through Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Indian, and American music with reliable strength on its new album, Delta.

Sharp is a busy bandleader who heads up Klezmephonic (klezmer), RAKA (African fusion), and various sizes of world music and jazz groups, from duos to the Secret 7. The Worlds Quartet came together through a chance meeting when Sharp sat in with Wisaal, a Mediterranean fusion group out of Lansing. 

“I subbed on bass with Wisaal for a small number of gigs, where I met Mike List and Igor Houwat and really connected with their Arabic fusion sound,” Sharp said. “Igor also played a few shows with Dave Sharp’s Secret 7 and recorded oud tracks for the second DSS7 release, Worlds. Igor, Mike, and I played a few dates as a trio, and one night we invited [Klezmephonic co-leader] Henrik to sit in with us. Once that happened, we all had a “Wow!” moment and decided to assemble as a quartet.”

Michigan favorites Steppin’ In It celebrate 20 years at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steppin' In It

Photo by JDC Photography.

Years ago in Lansing, a group of guys got together and formed a roots-music band that combined vintage sounds and modern sensibilities. Called Steppin’ In It, the band built up a devoted audience and critical respect in Michigan and beyond as its sound and its songs deepened and matured.

Now, the band itself has become somewhat vintage: Steppin’ In It is marking its 20th anniversary and doing a short concert tour to celebrate, including a May 20 date at The Ark. 

In recent years, the band’s core members have established very successful individual careers. In particular, lead singer/guitarist Joshua Davis has become well known as a solo act, notably placing third in NBC’s singing competition The Voice and becoming the first contestant to sing an original composition on the show. Bassist Dominic John Davis, meanwhile, has worked extensively with rocker Jack White, among others. In fact, the members have become so busy individually that they no longer perform together as Steppin’ In It very often, so the current tour is highly anticipated by their still-loyal fan base.

Joshua Davis and Dominic John Davis recently answered a few questions from Pulp via email.

Liner Notes: Track by track through Ann Arbor Guitar Trio's debut album, "Tides"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

Three's company: Evan Veasey, Adam Kahana, and Alex Anest are the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio. Photo by Pink Moon Photography.

Alex Anest, leader of the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio (A2G3), enjoys the puzzle of arranging for three axes. No rhythmic accompaniment. No additional instruments. Just 18 amplified strings.

"There are so many tunes that I want to arrange for this group," he said. "I could quit everything and just arrange for guitar trios and probably be a pretty happy person doing it." 

The challenges, he said, are "figuring out how to blend and also how to get voices to stand out. I realize that those are opposite challenges but they both come up."

Adam Kahana and Evan Veasey are Anest's partners in Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, whose debut album, Tides, is out May 17, which is also the day the group plays Kerrytown Concert House.