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.
The 16th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival opens Sunday, May 7, and runs through Thursday, May 11. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, planning for the five-day festival began in November 2016.
“We have a committee of 23 individuals who help decide on the films,” said Karen Freedland, the JCC’s cultural arts director and festival coordinator. “We start with a list of over 95 titles and whittle it down to 40 films we think look the strongest. From there we try to get from the distributors as many of those 40 films to screen, and we narrow it down to the 13 we have chosen.”
Save for one, the films in this year’s festival are very recent, most from 2016. "We try to get the most current releases available and that sets us apart from some other festivals who will show films that we had shown the year before," Freedland said. "We are lucky that we work with Brian Hunter from the Michigan Theater. He helps us source out some of the latest films that are geared for a Jewish film festival.”
Peter Mulvey is a monster guitar player, able to coax supple, intricate, highly ornamented melodies out of his acoustic six-string as well as spiky, serrated harmonies. He’s equally adept at pinging out soft, atmospheric harmonics or pounding rapid, rhythmic riffs and percussive, danceable grooves that make you crane to see where the bass player and drummer are hiding. His guitar does not merely accompany his singing, it also dialogs with it.
And then there’s his way with words.