The coronavirus has forced clubs and restaurants to figure out ways to survive under duress. Some places struggled and have gone out of business; other places have figured out how to make their businesses work in a reduced capacity.
But almost from the start of the pandemic, Ann Arbor's Blue LLama Jazz Club has navigated the situation with confidence and creativity.
Blue LLama started coping with the new normal by streaming archived concerts from the club -- all performances there are recorded -- and moved into curbside delivery, new live performances streamed from the empty club, and offering free meals to laid-off workers in the community. As Michigan entered Phase 4 in the reopening plan, Blue LLama resumed serving food and having concerts in the club, but it has continued to live stream shows and offering contactless food pickup for those who aren't yet comfortable with hanging out inside with others. (*This writer raises his hand and touches the sun to make it clear he is not ready to be anywhere in public right now.*)
The latest Blue LLama community outreach project during the pandemic is a benefit concert for the Jim Toy Community Center as part of Pride Month.
The best ideas often come with pizza.
That's the edible the Michigan Quarterly Review staff usually scarfs -- along with Hershey Kisses -- during its annual end-of-the-academic-year gathering to brainstorm plans.
But with the coronavirus raging, the MQR brain trust couldn't meet in person over a shared pie in 2020, but the staff did follow up on an idea from the previous year. The result is MQR Mixtape.
"We call it the Dream Session, and here, we throw our ambitions on the board," writes MQR Mixtape guest editor Elinam Agbo in the introduction to the first issue of the online journal. "Last year, one item on the list was a new imprint, a way to feature the experimental and the eclectic. How could we lean into the flexible and highlight new forms while furthering the journal’s mission to publish diverse emerging voices?"
The first issue of MQR Mixtape is titled Becoming and features the poetry of Nadia Alexis and Jasmine An and the fiction of Morgan Thomas, Sabrina Helen Li, M.E. Bronstein, Piper Gourley, Ama Asantewa Diaka, and Yohanca Delgado. There's also photography by Nadia Alexis, Chante Lasco, and Chelsea Welsh, and art by Sena Moon.
Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dani Darling and her bandmates were recording a new EP in a studio when the Covid-19 stay-at-home order began. The Reverie EP is still on track for release this summer, but the first single, "S+M," features Darling solo.
"I found myself with those sessions and more to say, so I went back to doing my bedroom pop, late-night studio sessions," Darling said. "The beat is by a London producer GC Beats. Really just sounded like Dani when I heard it."
"S+M" features jazzy guitar chords over a slow-groove R&B beat with Darling's ethereal voice floating over the mix. She sings playful puns to tell her tale about what it feels like to be a musician in lockdown.
"'S+M' is a snapshot of my experience during the stay-at-home order -- my music career on hold indefinitely, feeling social media shift from a strength to something sinister," Darling said. "If felt like a scramble for the airwaves, like either you shut down and take time for yourself or you dive right in and try to make a wave, make a difference. I wanted to do that because I don't think of my music as purely entertainment -- it's a way to connect and healing is a big theme in this project. So I wanted to make an impact, but it started to feel like an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes you go online and you know you shouldn't; sometimes you go look at someone's [social] media knowing it will hurt and do it anyway. Sometimes people form an unhealthy relationship to you as fans."
Pulp received an email on May 7 from representatives of WSG Gallery, the longstanding Ann Arbor artist collective that had space at 306 S. Main St., saying, "Our landlord notified us that he has already contracted with construction people to dismantle walls and etc from the interior of the gallery on 5/27. He plans to put a 'FOR RENT' sign in the front window."
The email went on to discuss surprise and dismay on behalf of the WSG artists, and I asked some follow-up and clarifying questions in order to write a post. But after saying they would discuss my questions and get back to me, I never heard back from WSG.
But that's not because anything had changed with WSG's sudden eviction; it's because the gallery decided to press ahead with its new life online.
"At this point we are dedicated to moving forward," wrote WSG Gallery president Valerie Mann in a June 18 email. "We are out of our old space and busting our tails with our online gallery. We are having great success with sales so far and are really pleased! Our strength is really in our people. I mean, I have 83 year olds learning how to build web pages!!!"
The Ghostly record label -- founded in Ann Arbor and based in New York City -- and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have a long history of curating compilations and releasing exclusive singles dating back to 2009, and the past seven months have brought us three new collaborations.
The Ghostly Swim 3 comp came out digitally in December 2019, but the vinyl isn't expected to ship until July 2020. It features 14 tracks, including "Ikat" by X-Altera (the drum 'n' bass handle for Ann Arbor producer Tadd Mullinex) and "onesix-four" by Superstructure (Ypsilanti's Todd Osborn).
A brand new Ghostly digital-only mix came out via Adult Swim this month as part of the Stimulus Swim project, which was created to support musicians who were supposed to be touring now but can't because of Covid-19. The comp features unreleased cuts and selections from Ghostly's catalog. The sampler points fans toward the artists' Bandcamp pages so they can buy the music, with all funds going to the musicians.
The new doc "Your Friend Andrew W.K." gives a brief but entertaining overview of the Community High grad's life
A new 48-minute documentary, Your Friend Andrew W.K., hit YouTube on June 13. It doesn't appear that Italian filmmaker Flavio De Feo interviewed W.K. for the film; instead, he uses clips from other interviews -- from MTV and Vice to Larry King and Glenn Beck -- to tell the story of the Community High grad who's known for three things: uplifting pop-metal music, motivational speaking, and partying hard (in a positive way).
The film is stylized -- with flashy edits and images overlaid as W.K. speaks -- and entertaining, but if you know a little bit about W.K.'s story, there won't be any revelations. And, yes, they do go into the whole "Steev Mike" thing that started in November 2004. It was claimed in various anonymous blogs and even in an alleged hack of W.K.'s site that he was, in fact, merely one of several actors playing the Andrew W.K. character, which was created by a group of creative individuals known as Steev Mike.
The woman is in a red shirt, white sneakers, and blue shorts, her outfit unintentionally matching the colors of the American flag. She's on the West Park bandshell in Ann Arbor, painting on a large white sheet taped to the wall between the stage-left doors.
The first thing she writes on the sheet is "Black Lives Matter" in blue.
The time-lapse video she later posted to YouTube shows her fleshing out the mural with protestors presented in a stencil-style, the BLM slogan crafted into pixelated form, and the old rising-sun flag of the Imperial Japanese Army painted behind everything.
Ann Arbor artist T'onna Clemons is the person who created this graffiti-inspired piece and it just about encompasses everything in her style: politics and pop-art mixing with Japanese imagery and the African-American experience.
Detroit Center for Design + Technology's climate change exhibit and symposium features five Ann Arbor artists
The project is called Yeah, What Lester Said, is named for Lester Brown, a pioneering environmentalist pioneer who was one of the first people to sound the alarm about global climate change. “Saving civilization is not a spectator sport," Brown said -- and the artists in this exhibition are anything but spectators.
Yeah, What Lester Said, which runs June 1 to August 15, explores climate-change impacts through architecture and built environments, exploring how the art and design worlds are addressing the issue. It was supposed to be held at the Detroit Center for Design + Technology but was moved online due to Covid-19.
The Ann Arbor artists exhibiting in Yeah, What Lester Said include exhibit co-curator Leslie Sobel, Paul Hickman, Brenda Miller, Margaret Parker, and Dominique Chastenet de Géry. Here's a sampling of some of their work in the exhibition:
More Fun: A soundboard recording of the original Stooges lineup's final concert is coming out on Third Man
The breakup of The Stooges' original lineup is always pinned one person and one event: bassist Dave Alexander was fired from the band after he showed up at Michigan's Goose Lake Festival in Jackson County too drunk to play.
But a newly discovered soundboard recording of The Stooges' concert shows that Alexander not only held down the low end for the entire show, he mostly played just fine, including the band's full performance of the Fun House album, which came out almost exactly a month before.
Third Man Records is going to release The Stooges' Live at Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970 album on August 7, and preorders are open now.
The label states that the 1/4” stereo two-track soundboard tape of the show was found "buried in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse amongst other tasty analog artifacts of the same era." It could be more Jack White & Co. mythmaking, but it's certainly possible. I've heard rumors of master tapes and other "analog artifacts" by the likes of Blackfoot and Brownsville Station in the basement of 312 S. Ashley, which was the former location of the recording studio under Nalli’s Music Store. (The current tenant is Ann Arbor Music Center.)
You can hear the radio edit of "T.V. Eye" from Live at Goose Lake above, and below is some rare footage from the concert featuring The Stooges performing "1970."
I hate winter. Especially Michigan winters. Gray, muddy, relentless ugliness.
But in the hands of Jared Van Eck, a recent Michigan winter day was turned into beautiful art.
Actually, it wasn't even winter -- see the word "relentless" up there -- it was on April 15, 2020, when the snow visited us again.
Van Eck, who's the technical director for the Michigan Theater Foundation, grabbed his fiancée's iPhone 11 Pro Max and a gimbal on that day, went to a west-side Ann Arbor nature preserve, and filmed the snow falling on fields, trees, and a pond. He edited the footage together, added some subtle effects, and composed a dreamy score on his iPad using the Cubasis and Korg Gadget apps.
The result is The Motions of Stillness, a lovely black-and-white, 60-minute meditation on nature.
The film is available to view for $3 via the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room or free for members.
I asked Van Eck about the inspiration for the project, his soundtrack, and some of his influences.