I am very sad to report that Herb David died last night. Herbie was one of a kind, unique in every way. He was a very important influence on me and my love for folk music. I feel strongly that, if not for Herb and Herb David Guitar Studios, The Ark would have come and gone in the late 1960s or early 70s. But more than anything, he was a dear friend and I'm going to miss him greatly.
Originally from Chicago, David learned his trade at age 25 from a Detroit shoemaker named Sarkis "Sam" Varjebedian, who also repaired stringed instruments in his shop. They met because David had taken his own guitar there for repair. When Varjebedian died, David bought his tools, some of which were more than 300 years old and passed down generations in the family. Remarkably, David grew up playing the trumpet and never touched a guitar until a fellow soldier gave him a few lessons in the Army, which he enlisted in after graduating from Michigan State University.
According to this 1963 "local man" article in The Ann Arbor News, David left his career as a research psychologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at the age of 30 to begin his career as a luthier. David told the News:
Have you ever wanted to direct a play? Have you ever wanted to cast your kid in the leading role? Have you ever wanted to stage the whole theatrical event in your living room?
If your answer to every question is "no," that's reasonable because directing is a lot of work, nepotism is bad, and who wants to mess up an adequately clean living room?
But perhaps the Covid crisis has you saying "yes" to things you would've never considered before since you're running out of things to do in the adequately clean house you've been cooped-up in for five months.
Well, then, perhaps the idea of directing a play in your living room starring your kid is back on the table.
If you don't know which play to produce, you're in luck: U-M professor José Casas joined seven fellow playwrights who wrote commissioned scripts for California's La Jolla Playhouse. The works are free to access online for everyone and are aimed, respectively, at elementary, middle, and high school students. The plays can be performed with two to six people, depending on the story, with no requirements for costumes, props, or sets -- since we all know the set will be your adequately clean living room or even your mostly maintained backyard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below are the participating artists and some examples of their creations.
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
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.
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.