Judy Banker has been a mainstay of the local country and folk music scene for more than a decade when, along with her late husband, John Sayler, she began accompanying the well-known Michigan singer-songwriter Jay Stielstra on guitar and harmony vocals.
Banker continues to accompany Stielstra on stage, but after her husband passed away she also began recording and performing her own songs with a rotating lineup of musicians. Her new album, Buffalo Motel, is a significant departure from her previous two CDs.
While she again recorded at Dave Roof's Rooftop Recording Studio in Grand Blanc and worked with some of the same musicians who have been accompanying her in concert for years, Buffalo Motel, has a more “muscular” sound than her previous albums, to quote her co-producer and son, Ben Sayler. The instrumentation and musical arrangements of Buffalo Motel have a country-rock feel and are both more varied, full than her previous country folk-tinged recordings.
Banker celebrates the release of Buffalo Motel with a concert at The Ark on Thursday, January 9. I asked Banker about the new recording and her songwriting.
Musical Scrappers: Akropolis Reed Quintet's Together We Sound Festival showcases the group's penchant for outside-the-box collaborations
The Akropolis Reed Quintet's second annual Together We Sound Festival begins May 28 at Cass Tech High School in Detroit and continues in various spots in the city before moving to Ann Arbor on Friday, June 7, at Kerrytown Concert House (KCH). It concludes June 8 back in Detroit. Over the course of fest, Akropolis will also play two evening concerts in Detroit and Hamtramck, plus three lunchtime workplace concerts, six K-12 school presentations, a side-by-side student concert with an Akropolis concerto, and two pop-up events in public spaces. featuring world premieres by Akropolis in collaboration with local and national artists.
Founded in 2009, Akropolis members Matt Landry (saxophone), Kari Landry (clarinet), Tim Gocklin (oboe), Ryan Reynolds (bassoon), and Andrew Koeppe (bass clarinet) met when they were students at the University of Michigan. Since then the quintet has won numerous national awards, has premiered more than 50 reed quintet works, and has released three recordings. In 2014, Akropolis became the first-ever ensemble of its makeup to win the prestigious Fischoff Gold Medal chamber music award.
Akropolis will premiere a new work, Sprocket: A Scrap Metal Sextet, at the KCH concert, a collaboration combining the music of composer Steven Snowden, and a rideable percussion bicycle designed and built by Detroit metal artist and Kresge Arts fellow Juan Martinez. Percussionist Zac Brunell will join Akropolis and ride/play the tricycle which will make familiar and unusual sounds powered by the gears attached to the pedals.
I interviewed Landry, who is also Akropolis’ executive director, and Juan Martinez, the creator of the musical tricycle for Sprocket, via email to talk about the quintet's work, Together We Sound Festival, and commissioning new compositions.
The crowd for the third annual Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark on August 16 was not large -- maybe 50, 60 people -- which was perfect. It allowed Watroba to invite us all to bring our chairs to the flat area in front of the stage and form a large circle. It also allowed him to ignore the microphone that had been set up on the stage and instead move around inside that circle, and lead us in singing without using any amplification.
He didn’t need it.
When Tom Paxton played The Ark two years ago as one of the final stops on what was advertised as his national farewell tour, it was hard to believe that he’d really retire. Yes, he had just turned 78, had been writing and performing his songs for nearly 60 of those years, and had earned the right to get off the road. But he still looked like he was having a good old time on stage, his voice sounded great, his guitar playing was as clean and crisp as ever, and he had a new CD of his recent songs.
Yes, he did say he was sick of airports, but was that reason enough to stop touring? Apparently not.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Paxton has kept going and he returned to The Ark again on October 13 with a couple of new collaborators, The Don Juans, some new songs, and even plans for the foreseeable future.
When Jonathan Edwards’ song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” came out in 1971, it seemed to speak to the anger and the frustration that many felt at Nixon, the war in Vietnam, and other aspects of the establishment. But it did it in a memorable, catchy, almost joyful way.
Another song on that first Edwards recording, “Shanty” is still played by many classic rock stations around the country on Friday afternoons as a way of signaling and celebrating the beginning of weekends. (“'Cause we gonna lay around the shanty, mama / And put a good buzz on.”)
Edwards still tours and plays in Ann Arbor regularly, and he’ll be at the Green Wood Coffee House on Friday, October 6 at 8 pm. I spoke with him on the phone recently.
Theater-goers in Southeast Michigan will soon have four chances to see a unique production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, the foundation of his later expanded work Camino Real. The National Theatre of Ghana -- aka Abibigroma, the Ghanaian name of the theater troupe -- will perform the one-act play at outdoor venues in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit in a performance style known as Ghanaian Concert Party.
David Kaplan, the production’s director and also the curator of the annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival in Massachusetts, said he “learned about Ghanaian Concert Party in 1997 from someone in the Peace Corps who had seen performances in Ghana. Concert Party is a form of outdoor theater that combines African stock characters, clowning, singing, and dance -- and social satire. I love clowning that delivers insight."
Kaplan "thought for years about a suitable text" to adapt for a Ghanaian Concert Party "and it seemed a perfect fit for performing Ten Blocks on the Camino Real. The American actor Greg McGoon, who had worked with Abibigroma, introduced me to the ensemble. It fit their mission, too, performing popular theater as a way to build community.”
“NashBash is basically a block party,” says local musician Bill Edwards, who, along with founders Deanna Relyea and Whit Hill, organizing the 11th annual NashBash to be held on Thursday, August 17. Relyea puts it this way: “This is a music festival that really focuses on the music, which is always of the highest quality.” And Hill says, “Every year it seems to get better: more people, more energy, a really loving and supportive vibe.”
Each of them is right. For one night in August, the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market turns into the site of a block party/music festival. Areas usually crowded with shoppers and vegetable stalls become the stage and audience seating, while the adjacent parking lot is transformed into an outdoor restaurant and dance floor.
Jay Stielstra will be receiving a Michigan legislative tribute at The Ark on Tuesday, August 15. Many Michigan music fans will agree the award is well deserved and long overdue. Few musicians command more respect and affection than Stielstra, 83, who has been writing and singing about his beloved Michigan for nearly five decades.
State Senator Rebekkah Warren will present the award, which honors Stielstra’s lifetime of artistic contributions to the State of Michigan, and former State Senator Lana Pollack will introduce Senator Warren and will also make brief remarks. After Stielstra is presented the award, the music will begin. A large group of musicians will be on hand to help celebrate Stielstra by performing and/or accompanying his songs, which shouldn't take too much practice: His songs are a part of the repertoire of many musicians throughout the state.
Individually, all three members of The Moxie Strings have played at The Ark many times before, backing other musicians, but on Sunday, August 13, they will be making their headliner debut there as a trio.
Diana Ladio, Alison Lynn, and Fritz McGirr have long been sought after as accompanists and sidemen by bands and musicians who play in a variety of styles, but for the last six years have put most of their energy into teaching, touring, and recording with the unique brand of contemporary Celtic-influenced, rock-inflected music that is their trio’s trademark. Think Riverdance, and then think again.
Michigan's Troubadour will make a stop at The Ark on Sunday, June 11, at 7:30 pm. And, no, Michigan’s Troubadour is not a fanciful title, it’s Neil Woodward’s official designation, given to him several years ago by the Legislature of the State of Michigan in recognition of his more than four decades of presenting concerts of songs and stories of Michigan and the Great Lakes States in countless settings throughout the Midwest.
Woodward’s show at The Ark will celebrate the release of his 10th recording, My Huckleberry Friends. Woodward has long been the unofficial artist in residence at Flint’s Crossroads Village, a 19th-century historical town, and the songs on this CD celebrate the Village and one of its highlights, the Huckleberry Railroad. I asked him to tell us about his life in music, about this recording, and about the concert at The Ark.