Sounds Around Town: Third Place [MusicFest] spreads experimental music in venues across Ann Arbor


2023 Third Place [MusicFest] logo

Third Place [MusicFest] is named after a behavioral science term, but you don't need a Ph.D. in sociology to understand where the organizers are coming from.

"Each show on the festival is hosted in what is called a ‘third place,’ which is a sociological term. A ‘first place’ is your home, a ‘second place’ is your work, and a ‘third place’ is a neutral, community-centered environment," says saxophonist and improviser Kaleigh Wilder, one of Third Place’s directors. “The festival is open and welcome to anyone. It's a really unique slice of our creative community here; no other festival programs this eclectic mix of local artists.”

The festival’s programming features a range of jazz, contemporary classical, free improvisation, ambient, indie folk, and singer-songwriters, all presented in nontraditional spaces. This year's Third Place [MusicFest] will bring live performances to nine Ann Arbor locations from Wednesday, May 17 to Saturday, May 20. 

The 2023 festival features performances at TeaHaus, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Cahoots Cafe, Bløm MeadworksLiberty Plaza, Argus Farm Stop, and Canterbury House. Kerrytown Concert House is the only full-time music venue in the festival because, Wilder says, “They have a really great room and a really beautiful piano.”

The lineup includes:

➥ Leith Campbell, Bridge Bassoon Duo and Friends, Balance (TeaHaus, May 17, 7:30 pm)
➥ Ginastera Duo, Kaysen Chown, Jonathan Blanchette's Time-Jump (Kerrytown Concert House, May 18, 7:30 pm)
➥ The Regenerate! Orchestra (Ann Arbor Farmers Market, May 19, 7 pm)
➥ Cutter / de Leeuw / Tripathy, Harmolodics Trio, Matthew Daher's Kinetophone (Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, May 19, 8 pm)
➥ Signal Quartet, 4Friends Quartet (Cahoots Cafe, May 20, 12 pm)
Ezra Gans, witchpucker (Bløm Meadworks, May 20, 3 pm)
➥ parade with The Regenerate! Orchestra (Liberty Plaza, May 20, 6:15 pm)
➥ Elisabeth Pixley-Fink, Annick Odomo & Friends (Argus Farm Stop, May 20, 7 pm)
➥ Faith Quashie and Ben Crino, I-R, Estar Cohen's Poetry Ensemble (Canterbury House, May 20, 9 pm)

Third Place [MusicFest] is organized by three University of Michigan alumni: Wilder, trombonist and composer Clay Gonzales, and cellist Wesley Hornpetrie, who founded Third Place in 2018 as a concert series.

“Wesley and I knew each other, Clay and I knew each other,” Wilder says, “and Wesley wanted to turn the concert series, which happened about once a month, into a [venue] traveling festival." 

Wilder grew up in Indiana and came to Ann Arbor in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree in contemporary improvisation. After graduating in 2019, Wilder moved to Detroit, and she regularly performs jazz and other kinds of improvised music around the area.

“I do a lot of project-based work,” Wilder says. “I play in a lot of different recording sessions. I’ll be the side-person on someone else’s gig, or do a studio session here and there.”

In 2021, she also released her debut studio album, Placemaking, another word rooted in sociology.

Wilder is not performing at this year’s Third Place [MusicFest], but she looks forward to being a listener.

“I’m super-excited to hear Balance, which is a duo of pianist Michael Malis and saxophonist Marcus Elliot, who play on Wednesday, May 17,” Wilder says. “I’m also really excited for The Regenerate! Orchestra’s performance at the Hands-On Museum on Friday, May 19. Their work is always very interactive, creative, and unique.”

Tickets for individual concerts and festival passes are available on Third Place’s website, and Wilder is proud that “our ticket model is a pay-what-you-can sliding scale. ... If you just want to see a couple of shows, you can spend $6 and hear amazing music.

"It is very accessible to anyone."

That's the nature of a community-focused festival in third-place environments.

Garrett Schumann is a composer and music scholar who teaches in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Sciences & the Arts. His other writings have been published in The New York TimesGrove Music, and VAN Magazine.

Third Place [MusicFest] runs May 17-20 in various locations in Ann Arbor. Visit for tickets and more information.