Saturday Looks Good to Me discovered some live gems during lockdown

MUSIC

Saturday Looks Good to Me

Back in April, Saturday Looks Good to Me singer/songwriter/guitarist Fred Thomas was using some of his quarantine lockdown time to explore piles of cassettes he had featuring all manner of music from his various projects.

"I found this cassette that simply said 'Mar 11 2005' and was amazed to discover it was a show from one of Saturday's dreamier configurations during our peak touring times," Thomas wrote on the Bandcamp page featuring the live recording now titled March 11, 2005 • Champaign.

The "dreamier" Saturday sound on this tour -- compared to its more typically rollicking indie rock -- happened because Thomas didn't remember that drummer Steve Middlekauff couldn't come along for the tour until the night before. But rather than try to rope in a percussionist at the last minute, the group switched gears and adapted to the drummerless tour on the fly.

Strike Up the Bands: New music from Washtenaw County artists and labels

MUSIC

Washtenaw County map

I had originally titled this post like I did the previous eight in this series: "New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine."

That headline implied quarantine was for a limited period of time, but with the pandemic mishandled every step of the way by the federal government, there is no timeframe for the end of lockdown. <Insert 40,000-word diatribe>

The time of quarantine is now and for the foreseeable future.

It's how we have to live in order to stay alive.

Artists are resilient and they create because they have to, no matter the circumstances. So, this post is highlighting new music made by or released by Washtenaw County artists and labels -- the same as they did during normal times. Because our current time is our normal time even if it doesn't look like it did in the past.

Shoutout to the creators persevering through this mess.

Nevertheless Film Festival persists during the pandemic, goes virtual for 2020

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival 2020

Stills from three 2020 Nevertheless Film Festival features, clockwise from top: Asking for ItWaging Change, and First Vote.

This time last summer, Meredith Finch was in the final stages of debuting her Nevertheless Film Festival, held at the Michigan Theater July 11-14.

"I have my fair share of stories of being the only woman or underrepresented person on a film crew," Finch told Pulp last year. "To combat this lack of representation, film festivals around the world have announced their own initiatives to increase representation in their programming within the next few years, but what I found myself thinking a little over a year ago was, 'Why not now?'"

The inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival featured 26 movies -- narratives, documentaries, shorts -- and the 2020 edition, which runs July 9-12, will include a similar mix by womxn creatives. But you'll have to imagine sitting at the Michigan Theater while at home viewing the films.

Gutman Gallery reopens, features artists who were supposed to be in the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair

VISUAL ART

Gutman Gallery exterior

Photo courtesy of the Gutman Gallery.

The Gutman Gallery opened just in time to close.

The Guild of Artists & Artisans’ showcase spot at 118 N. 4th Avenue in Ann Arbor debuted in mid-February with the Amor: Looking Through the Eyes of Love exhibition, highlighting its creative members' takes on all things lovey-dovey.

A month later, the Gutman Gallery closed like everything else due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Guild that runs Gutman Gallery also produces the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, which is canceled this summer. So the group is opening its doors three days a week with limited hours to display works from 38 of the jury-selected 2020 Art Fair artists.

The Gutman Gallery has an online shop and offers virtual art classes, but the Art Fair show is its first physical exhibition since the shutdown.

Below are the participating artists and some examples of their creations.

Open Your Eyes: SculptureWalk Chelsea trusts viewers to cut through the clutter and take in the art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

sankofa-m-saffell-gardner

M. Saffell Gardner, Sankofa, steel, 12’ x 8’ x 4. Photo by Christopher Porter.

The 12th annual SculptureWalk Chelsea launched recently, and I spent a steamy Friday afternoon strolling through the downtown in search of not just art but a sense of calm and normalcy in a year that’s been anything but.

I’ve been in Michigan for almost four years, and I’ve been to Chelsea before, but I never made it to SculptureWalk. Or more accurately, since the sculpture is on display for a year, I never noticed there was sculpture on my walks.

This is a common thing with public art installations: they blend into the areas in which they’re placed, becoming part of the background with the trees and buildings. This doesn’t devalue these creations, or the communities who put in the work, time, and money to commission and display these pieces of art; it’s just a fact and one that must be overcome with purposeful viewings.

As I walked around Chelsea, I spent several minutes with the 14 creations featured in the 2020-2021 SculptureWalk, first considering them against their backgrounds -- whether a building, telephone, or the Jiffy plant -- and then narrowed my vision to the pieces themselves, ultimately finishing by focusing on the smaller details in each work.

But my mind kept returning to considering how the sculptures related to their backdrops and their placements along the walk, which stretches from M. Saffell Gardner’s Sankofa next to the Mobile Station at the corner of Main Street and Van Buren to Jeff Bohl’s Early Bird near the parking lot at Main and Buchanan Street, with several side-road stops along the way.

I guess I was less concerned about evaluating all of the sculptures -- which, reductively speaking, range from pleasant to excellent -- but rather my reactions to purposefully looking at the works after the three previous years of not even noticing them. These are some of the sculptures and scenes that stood out to me the most.

School of Music, Theater, Dance, and Jams: U-M SMTD faculty have been compiling mixtapes during quarantine

MUSIC

Cassettes photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels.

Late winter and early spring is usually a busy time for the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). Students have started working on their final projects, music performances fill the auditoriums of the Earl V. Moore Building, and theater and dance events abound. 

But since the coronavirus pandemic shut down all activity, the SMTD started engaging its audience by offering livestreams of discussions, archived performances, and even yoga classes.

My favorite SMTD offerings are the faculty-compiled mixtapes on Spotify.

Blue LLama and pianist Matthew Ball team up for Pride Month benefit concert for the Jim Toy Center

MUSIC

Matthew Ball

Matthew Ball promo photo.

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.

"Michigan Quarterly Review" launches "MQR Mixtape" to highlight new forms and writers

WRITTEN WORD

MQR Mixtape 1

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 GourleyAma Asantewa Diaka, and Yohanca Delgado. There's also photography by Nadia Alexis, Chante Lasco, and Chelsea Welsh, and art by Sena Moon.

A new single from Ann Arbor's Dani Darling takes on social-media weirdness during lockdown

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Dani Darling S+M single cover

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."

Ann Arbor's WSG Gallery lost its lease on Main Street and upped its online offerings

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

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!!!"