The Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series has existed since 1998, presenting some of the world's greatest creatives and thinkers. Since 2013, the talks have been recorded and most of them posted to YouTube for those who couldn't attend the free events in person at the Michigan Theater.
But now that nobody can attend any events, the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series is cutting to the chase and broadcasting its events live in partnership with Detroit Public Television and PBS Books.
The fall 2020 series kicks off Friday, Sept. 18 and continues through Dec. 4. All the talks begin at 8 pm and can be viewed on dptv.org and Penny Stamps Series' Facebook page. The talks will continue to be put on YouTube as long as the speaker as given permission.
The fall 2020 season includes:
Edgefest, the annual explosion of avant-garde jazz in Ann Arbor centered on Kerrytown Concert House, was in its final planning stages when Covid-19 shut down the world. The festival was canceled soon after and it looked like Edgefest's 24th year would have been a lost one—just as 2020 has been for everyone.
But it turns out, Edgefest will happen this year—and it will last six months.
Beginning October 23 and continuing through March 26, the Edgefest virtual concert series will be a once-a-month show streamed on the Kerrytown Concert House website featuring some of the artists who were supposed to play the 24th edition of the fest, which had a brass-heavy theme.
Each concert will begin with performances by Michigan-based musicians, followed by national artists. All the concerts will be free to view but links to donate to the festival and artists will be provided.
"The local opening sets will be streamed live from the Concert House (artists from the SE Michigan area) with no live audience except the KCH staff/crew, but the national artists will stream from their location," wrote Abby Dotz, administrative liaison and events manager at Kerrytown Concert House, in an email. "We're trying to bring the atmosphere of KCH to the screen, but still respect what is safest for everyone during these times."
The Edgefest 24 virtual concert lineup includes:
Are you a parent who just went through a week of trying to work from home while also playing IT consultant to your children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a teacher who just went through a week of teaching other children from home while also playing IT consultant to your own children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a human being who likes music made with electronics?
Are you human?
If you grunted in the affirmative to any of the aforementioned questions, then the five artists below have something good for you to hear.
Check out recent synth-based music by local musicians Fred Thomas, John Beltran, and Doogatron, as well as a new one from former Ann Arbor-ite Heathered Pearls, and an EP by a young German producer that came out on none/such, a burgeoning electronic-music label out of A2.
Ann Arbor trio Towner created the terrific power-pop album "This Is Entertainment" during quarantine
The Ann Arbor trio of bassist Jason Horvath and guitarists Kris Ehrig and CT James recorded 12 songs for the LP and every tune could be single. Towner originally intended This Is Entertainment to be an EP, but the musicians were so happy with the results, they just kept recording at home, with Ehrig programming the drums. This Is Entertainment isn't exactly lo-fi, but there's a distinct bedroom-pop ambience to the record and that intimacy and warmth serves the band's songs perfectly.
"We had plans to record the 'normal' way in a studio in April," Ehrig wrote in an email, "but that got canceled for quarantine. At that point, I started recording a few songs on my own that weren't going to be on the record just to pass the time and keep myself sane. Then our drummer [Alex Molica] dipped to Vermont and everything got thrown out the window. Instead of scrapping it and starting over, or quitting altogether, we looked at a recording process that was working and switched to the material we had originally planned."
Towner's combined sound is reminiscent of the most melodic Guided By Voices songs, with Ehrig's tunes edging more toward those of The Only Ones -- mainly because of his slightly snarly singing, though he's a much stronger traditional crooner than Peter Perrett -- and James' compositions yanking out the catchier aspects of Weezer's music and leaning into them while discarding the annoying stuff (basically, being Weezer). I say this with peace and love as a Weezer non-fan and as someone who was knocked out by This Is Entertainment, but the way Towner plays with doo-wop-y harmonies and 1950s and 1960s rock 'n' roll vibes under its modern, hazy, indie-rock top layer frequently reminded me of the sorts of things Rivers Cuomo toys with in his songs.
Ehrig answered some questions about how Towner put together This Is Entertainment.
Over the past year, University of Michigan student and Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) member Jordan Stanton has put together three smart, stylish videos: one traced the history of electronic music in the city (Impulse Ann Arbor), another documented the work of one of the genre's most important local artists (58AAFF Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinix), and a new music video features the two recent artists on the scene, producer Scary Steve (Steve Klingbiel) and rapper by A.N.G.E.L.I. (Kamryn Thomas).
The video blends computer-generated landscapes and real-world places -- a Michigan forest in the fall, an Ann Arbor alleyway, Club Above -- along with the deadpan delivery of A.N.G.E.L.I. delivering a speedy rap over Scary Steve's skittering beats.
The song and video are both excellent, so have a look and listen.
Jazz pianist, Juno Award winner, and U-M professor Andy Milne guides us through his new album, "The reMission"
When jazz pianist Andy Milne moved to Ann Arbor in 2018 to become an assistant professor of music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation at the University of Michigan, he didn't know he would win the 2019 Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year by a group for The Seasons of Being record with his Dapp Theory ensemble.
But Milne did know he had survived prostate cancer in 2017, so winning Canada’s Grammy equivalent was a nice side note to, you know, being alive.
After recovering from cancer but before moving to Michigan, Toronto-area native Milne, who had lived in New York City since the early 1990s, also started the Unison trio featuring drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert, composing stripped-down music that is the opposite of Dapp Theory’s fractured-funk polyphony, which features a multitude of instruments and voices. The trio released its debut album, the contemplative The reMission, in April and had planned a tour for May, which the coronavirus pandemic wiped out.
While Milne was disappointed he wasn't able to promote The reMission, he's used the downtime to get acquainted with Ann Arbor now that his wife, the singer and Oberlin College and Conservatory educator La Tanya Hall, was finally able to join him in Michigan.
Plus, he looking forward to diving into what the University of Michigan has to offer in terms of combining his interests in pairing music with science and research.
“I realized when I came here, my primary focus was like, ‘Oh, I’m coming to Ann Arbor to take this teaching position and really embrace a role in the university community,’ both within [the school of] music, theater, and dance and just exploring where my path and where my place would be in the university,” Milne said. “So, I’ve been collaborating with faculty and researchers in different areas of the university for public health and these kinds of things. I’m finding where my zone will be inside of that.”
Combining music with other disciplines has long informed Milne’s work, including Dapp Theory’s The Seasons of Being, which coalesced around ideas he learned while treating his cancer with homeopathy, and the documentary soundtracks he’s composed for Capt. Kirk himself, William Shatner. (The reMission’s “Vertical on Opening Night” is named after something Shatner said in one doc.)
Being at a large research university like Michigan means Milne can continue to explore cross-disciplinary creativity, all in a town he finds welcoming and easy to navigate.
“I think it’s probably just the proximity of everything,” Milne says of Ann Arbor. “The fact that I’m living close to my work, and people are super-friendly here, and there’s great restaurants. I mean, it’s a really livable city, and I’ve been able to get out and enjoy riding my bike and exploring neighborhoods and things like that. I like the feeling here.”
While Milne wasn't able to go out and promote The reMission, he did give us a song-by-song tour of the new album, which you can listen to below on Spotify as you read his commentary.
Like a lot of museums, the University of Michigan Museum of Art shifted exhibitions online as it became evident the pandemic would be dragging on for the foreseeable future. But versions of both exhibits UMMA posted had already been produced for its galleries: Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs, which ran in Fall 2019 (Pulp review), and Cullen Washington Jr.'s The Public Square, which ran from January 25, 2020, to March 13 when all of Michigan shut down.
And because the coronavirus crisis looks to drag on ad infinitum thanks to the federal government's gross abdication of responsibility, UMMA just moved ahead and produced its fall exhibitions with both online and in-person versions in mind. While there are no in-person opening dates for the three exhibits -- UMMA is working on some kind of staggered, socially distanced protocol that it will announce later -- you can check out all of them right now at umma.umich.edu.
The three exhibits:
New films by or featuring two Ann Arbor-ites -- and conversations with both of them -- are landing at the Michigan Theater.
Writer and filmmaker Kevin Smokler seems more comfortable in a different era; maybe one from 30 to 40 years ago. Or at least Smokler's really comfortable covering a different era -- and we liked his book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies so much we interviewed him twice (October 2016 and June 2017).
Smokler's new film, Vinyl Nation, is about the past decade-plus revival of LPs, which no matter their cult popularity now, are still totems of the pre-CD '80s.
As an Ann Arbor native, Smokler was blessed with numerous fantastic records stores here while growing up, and he's lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years, another place where vinyl records never truly went out of style. Vinyl Nation is co-director and co-producer Smokler's love letter to the vinyl format, and the film is coming to his hometown starting Friday, August 28, at the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room.
Smokler and Vinyl Nation co-director and co-producer Christopher Boone will also do a virtual Q&A about their documentary on Wednesday, September 2, 7 pm (Facebook event link).
The Fight documents the frontline lawyers for the ACLU fighting for abortion and trans rights, as well as trying to fight for the children and families who have been locked up thanks to the current administration's draconian immigration policy. You can also rent this movie from the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room, but first you can listen to an interview with one of the stars of The Fight, Brigitte Amiri, an Ann Arbor native and deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Amiri talks to the Michigan Theater's Behind the Marquee podcast about the ins and outs and ups and downs of her profession and being the subject of a documentary.
Check out the trailers for both films:
Back in January when the inaugural Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) was announced, the plan was to hold it at the Riverside Art Center, April 16-18.
We all know what happened next.
Between August 20-22, numerous short films curated by Juliet Hinely and Hafsah Mijinyawa will stream each evening at iffypsi.com, though the kick-off evening will be free on Facebook or your can go to the the Normal St. parking lot at Cross by the Ypsi water tower for a drive-in screening.
Here's the schedule and links to trailers for the films in IFFY 2020:
Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibit "Leon Makielski: Intimate Views" shows the portrait giant exploring Midwest landscapes
Leon Makielski is perhaps best known for his 1923 portrait of poet and fellow University of Michigan colleague Robert Frost. An Ann Arbor resident since 1913, Makielski was also known for the hundreds of other portraits -- from paintings to charcoals -- he did of other university bigwigs, from Michigan to Pennsylvania, as well as politicians, architects, engineers, conductors, and other members of the creative and ruling classes.
But the Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibition Intimate Views primarily features the kind of impressionistic landscape paintings that brought a young Makielski to study in Paris at the Academie Julian and Academie Grande Chaumiere in 1909. When Makielski died in 1974 at the age of 89, his family found 400 works in his studio, and 22 of those paintings are in Intimate Views.
While all the pieces in Intimate Views are viewable online as of 6:30 pm on August 14, you can also make appointments to see the paintings in person through September 26. While these visits might be more enticing to potential buyers of the paintings more than casual viewers, the appointments are available to all -- and it's an easy way to fill that gallery-sized whole in your art-loving heart.
Below are some of the images from Intimate Views, along with some articles from The Ann Arbor News archive on Midwest master Makielski.