John Prine, Aimee Mann & more shine at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival


Aimee Mann

The day after playing the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, Aimee Mann's album Mental Illness won the Grammy for Best Folk Album.

There was a sense of things coming full circle Saturday at Hill Auditorium for the sold-out second night of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

There was Joe Pug, who first became known to Ann Arbor audiences via a well-received one-song cameo at the 2009 festival; since then, he’s become a very popular singer-songwriter and this year returned as the festival’s MC. (Pug will play The Ark on March 9.) There was Mountain Heart, the terrific young bluegrass band that has developed a special affinity for Ann Arbor, even recording a live album here in 2007. And most of all, there was John Prine, headlining the 41st edition of the festival just as he did the very first one back in 1976.

But that’s not to imply that the festival -- which is a fundraiser for Ann Arbor musical institution The Ark -- is stuck in the past. On the contrary, Saturday proved again just how vital, vibrant, and compelling roots-based music can be in 2018 and beyond.

Lift Every Voice: "Out of the Silence" honors African-American classical artists


Out of the Silence collage

Clockwise from top left: William Grant Still's music will be played by pianist Leah Claiborne, Ivalas Quartet, and harpist Patricia Terry-Ross.

William Grant Still didn't write his three-part suite "Ennanga" in 1956 to be performed on the Ugandan harp for which it's named. But it's telling that Grant, one of the most important African-American classical composers of the 20th century, chose to name this gorgeous piece after an instrument from the motherland but have it performed on the more common European harp, alongside piano and a string quartet. He was blending musical inspirations from two far-away continents into a uniquely American sound.

"Ennanga" is just one of the pieces that will be performed at Out of the Silence at UMMA on Jan. 26 as part of a "narrated concert to honor black classical musicians of the past." But the composition is illustrative as an example of the two worlds African-American artists inhabit as they navigate the primarily white classical-music universe.

Surreal Songs Say So Much: Platonic Boyfriends


Platonic Boyfriends

Left to right: Isaac Levine, Noor, and Klayton Dawson are Platonic Boyfriends.

Have you ever heard a band and just been confused?

That's the effect Ann Arbor's Platonic Boyfriends had on me the first time I listened to the trio's debut album, Pee on These Hands.

That confusion stayed through the second listen. And the third. And it's continued unabated through subsequent spins. But I keep listening, and listening, and listening, which is a testament to Platonic Boyfriends' puzzling uniqueness.

Noor (bass), Klayton Dawson (guitar), and Isaac Levine (drums, lead vocals) create a kind of countrified, performance-art-inspired, lo-fi indie rock that is smart, surreal, funny, disjointed, and sui generis. My simple brain wants to put Platonic Boyfriends in a genre box for easy categorization, but Pee on These Hands doesn't allow it.

Platonic Boyfriends will celebrate the release of Pee on These Hands (CD, cassette, Bandcamp) with a record-release show on Friday, Jan. 26, at a secret location (that you can find on the band's Facebook page). I emailed with Ahmad and Levine about the band's origins, influences, and the serious message behind their song "Don't Move."

Live Review: Best Exes and Human Skull at Mittenfest


Human Skull and Best Exes

Human Skull (left) and Best Exes were two of 21 bands who helped raise money for 826Michigan last month at the three-day Mittenfest.

Dec. 29, 2016

It's cold outside, zero degrees, and snowflakes are falling fast, covering downtown Ypsilanti in powder. Everything is quiet and slow. Tonight is the first night of the three-day Mittenfest, the annual music-festival fundraiser for 826Michigan, an organization that supports literacy in children and teens primarily through tutoring and after-school programming.

When I reach Bona Sera, the Ypsilanti restaurant where Mittenfest is being held, I walk down a flight of stairs into a crowded basement. The audience is young, almost everyone is in their 20s or 30s, and most people are wearing flannel. There’s an energy of anticipation.

Woven Together: Threads All Arts Festival returns for 2018

Threads All Arts Festival

The Threads All Arts Festival has finally been rescheduled. The second edition was originally set for August 2017 at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, but when the city put a temporary kibosh on live events at the artisanal spirits space due to parking issues, Threads was called off. It took the U-M student-run festival a while to reorganize, but it has now found a home in Ypsilanti’s Historic Freighthouse and will present its rangy mix of live music, dance, film, poetry, and art on March 10-11.

The idea for Threads began in 2015 when Nicole Patrick (U-M 2016, percussion and jazz and contemporary improvisation) and her friends "wanted to find a way to share, with many people, all the amazing art they saw coming out of their friends and neighbors," they told Pulp contributor Anna Prushinskaya for piece meant to preview the 2017 edition.

But along with the break came a new mission statement that shows Threads has expanded its focus:

Ann Arbor Favorite Corndaddy Celebrates 20 Years at The Ark


Local Americana band Corndaddy celebrated its 20th anniversary at The Ark on Thursday in a birthday party that perfectly showcased some of the reasons for its longevity.

The well-paced show highlighted the different sides of the band’s musical personality, starting with a rock-oriented set, followed by a more country-flavored interlude; a purely acoustic, no-drums set; and a fitting finale wrapping everything together. Old songs met new songs, dedications were made, and tributes were paid. And the band sounded great throughout.

A well-done opening set from another longtime local favorite, Paul’s Big Radio, perfectly set the stage for the headliners -- partly because talented bass player Jerry Hancock anchors the sound of both bands.

AADL 2017 Staff Picks: Books, Movies, Music & More



Ann Arbor District Library's Pittsfield branch at night, 2007.


Ann Arbor District Library's Pittsfield branch at night, 2007.

The list below is a collection of books, music, movies, and more that made an impression on our eyes and ears in 2017.

Funky Flights: Chirp to welcome 2018 with a new album


"This is for all you strutters out there," announced Jay Frydenlund midway through Chirp’s headlining set at the Blind Pig on Saturday. On cue, the Ypsi-based quartet of fusion rockers launched into a swaggering, deep-pocket jam ("Dickerville") that sent an obvious ripple through the crowd as folks remembered what they came for and got their boogie on.

Sonic Sculpture: Adam Shead's "Adiaphora Music," a master's recital


Adam Shead

Adam Shead's mix of punk, free jazz, and university-trained music gives his compositions a combination of raw grit and deep study.

As someone with a bachelor's of music in percussion performance from Columbia College Chicago and, soon, a master's degree in improvisation from the University of Michigan, drummer Adam Shead sounds like an academic. But while growing up in South Bend, Indiana, it was hardcore punk that first informed Shead's attitude and artistic aesthetic. That combination of academic rigor and raw energy is what makes Shead's drumming such a potent force, which he'll get demonstrate live on Friday, Dec. 8, at U-M's Duderstadt Video Studio when he presents his master's recital, Adiaphora Music. The seven-part suite features 11 musicians along with Shead exploring his influences, which run from Chicago visionaries AACM, Ken Vandermark, and Tim Daisy to South Africa's Dudu Pukwana, and contemporary classical giants Morton Feldman and John Luther Adams to H.R., lead singer of the groundbreaking punk band Bad Brains. We talked to Shead about his philosophy, sound, and the meaning of Adiaphora Music.

Ebird & Friends celebrate the holidays & A2’s musical diversity at The Ark


Erin Zindle, Ebird & Friends Holiday Show

Erin Zindle's annual Ebird & Friends Holiday Show is a December tradition.

Growing up, Erin Zindle -- leader of the Ann Arbor global-roots band The Ragbirds -- loved her extended family’s Christmas Eve gatherings. Her “very large and very musical family” would traditionally gather to perform Christmas songs together. “It was my favorite thing all year round. Honestly, it was better than the presents,” she says. “I was known for making everyone sing all seven verses of everything. I didn’t want it to end.” That’s the spirit she and her fellow musicians will re-create at the annual Ebird and Friends Holiday Show at The Ark Dec. 7-9. “It was just a real natural extension of that childhood experience,” Zindle says. And indeed, the holiday concert has become a tradition all its own, now marking its 10th year.