Dust Never Sleeps: The Dustbowl Revival threw a party at Top of the Park

MUSIC REVIEW

The Dustbowl Revival

Zach Lupetin fell in love with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and its free, outdoor Top of the Park concerts during his time as a University of Michigan student. Wednesday evening, some 11 years after graduating, he returned as a performer, leading his LA-based acoustic band The Dustbowl Revival in a joyous, spirited set.

Recalling his U-M years, when he led an earlier local band called the The Midnight Special, he spoke of the community’s deep appreciation for live music. “People come together no matter what,” he said mid-show. “It’s an honor to play music here.”

The Dustbowl Revival made a name for itself more or less in the Americana genre, with some flavors of old-time jazz and western swing woven in. The band’s latest album expands its sound further, and Wednesday’s set started with a trio of songs -- the sexy “Call My Name,” the clever and danceable “Gonna Fix You,” and the intense “If You Could See Me Now -- that incorporated more elements of rock, soul, and funk.

Dig This: Los Gatos swing from pure salsa to Latin jazz on their new album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Los Gatos

Los Gatos have kept the Latin music flame burning in Ann Arbor for some 20 years, with essentially the same lineup most of the time. But there have certainly been some changes along the way.

For one, the band has outlasted two of its important homes for regular gigs, the now-defunct Bird of Paradise and the Firefly Club. It’s also undergone a shift in musical styles: Originally conceived as a purely Latin jazz ensemble, in later years the band has found itself getting deeper into salsa.
In fact, the Los Gatos recently released a new album, Guarachéate! -- its third ever, and first since 2007 -- that focuses primarily on the band’s salsa side. It’s a great snapshot of the band’s current sound and it displays their reverence for the music, their instrumental skills, and their joy in sharing what they love.

“I don’t think we could have predicted the band would last this long,” says pianist Brian DiBlassio, recently reflecting on their history.

Dreamgate brings a homegrown immersive virtual-reality game to Ann Arbor

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Dreamgate VR

In a quiet corner of Briarwood Mall zombies are being destroyed, robot attacks are being fought off, and an Ann Arbor-based startup company is showcasing the potential of virtual-reality video gaming.

Dreamgate VR involves up to four game players in a 400-foot arena. Virtual-reality headsets transform the courtyard near Sears into a completely new world -- either a futuristic cityscape or an apocalyptic war zone. 

The company bills itself as “the first free-roaming, multiplayer virtual reality experience” in Michigan. And in less than a year since launching, the effort is already a success, with plans in the works to add a third game and expand to other locations.

Dreamgate founder and CEO Craig Albert has had an affinity for computers since his family bought one when he was in first grade. Growing up, he taught himself how to build web pages and do graphic design. And he played a lot of online games.

Shakespeare in the Arb gets to the roots of "Romeo and Juliet"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Shakespeare in the Arb's Romeo & Juliet

Flower children: Romeo and Juliet make eyes in the Arb.

It’s perhaps a little surprising that over the 18 years that the University of Michigan Residential College has presented a Shakespeare play in Nichols Arboretum, this year’s production is the first time for Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, it’s one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works, packed with some of his most memorable lines and phrases. Certainly, any play with romance at its core has a place in the idyllic Arb. So whatever the reasons that it hasn’t been done before, the important thing is that it’s being done now. For fans of Shakespeare, of the Arb, and especially of both, it’s a treat.

To the Moon & Back: Nashville's Moon Taxi kicks off Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Moon Taxi at Sonic Lunch

Liberty Plaza was put into lunar orbit by Moon Unit in the kickoff concert of the Sonic Lunch series. Photo via Sonic Lunch.

The weather, the vibe, and the music all felt like summer on Thursday for the first concert in this year’s Sonic Lunch series, as rising pop-rock band Moon Taxi brought its infectious sound to Liberty Plaza.

Although past Sonic Lunch shows have occasionally had an opening band, this year for the first time every show will feature two acts. Thursday’s opener, Nadim Azzam, is a talented Ann Arbor singer-musician-songwriter who combines indie folk and hip-hop -- and some other genres -- into a seamless mix. “Out of Air” highlighted the enjoyable five-song set, in which saxophonist Jacob LaChance backed Azzam.

Moon Taxi leader Trevor Terndrup greeted a crowd that easily numbered several hundred, and under a cloudless sky, the band launched into “Let the Record Play,” the title track from its major-label debut album, released earlier this year by RCA. The reggae flavorings of the song came to the forefront a bit more in concert than on the studio version.

Still Righteous: Ani DiFranco kicked off the Ann Arbor Summer Festival at The Power Center

MUSIC REVIEW

Ani DiFranco

Folk-punk icon Ani DiFranco opened the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on Tuesday with a show full of feeling and fire.

The concert at The Power Center opened with talented young singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx. Her original songs featured inventive imagery, warm vocals, and expressive guitar. She also showed an offbeat sense of humor, introducing one song as being about “how we’re all going to die, and that’s OK.”

DiFranco hit the stage in a burst of energy that barely let up throughout her set. When she momentarily got lost in the lyrics of her opening song, she and her band -- bassist/keyboardist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terrence Higgins -- literally didn’t miss a beat, quickly recovering and leading DiFranco to joke, “Thanks for coming to rehearsal.”

The Lucky Nows celebrate their debut album at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Luck Nows

Jen Cass has been developing a following as a singer-songwriter dating back to appearances at The Ark’s open mic night while she was a student at the University of Michigan. Since then she’s released three albums and done a considerable number of live shows.

But in 2013, she started dating fellow musician Eric Janetsky, and naturally, they started performing music together. That was the start of The Lucky Nows, which started as a duo but evolved into a full band. Now they are releasing Rise, their debut album as a group, complete with a release party at The Ark on May 31 -- which also happens to be the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary.

Michigan favorites Steppin’ In It celebrate 20 years at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steppin' In It

Photo by JDC Photography.

Years ago in Lansing, a group of guys got together and formed a roots-music band that combined vintage sounds and modern sensibilities. Called Steppin’ In It, the band built up a devoted audience and critical respect in Michigan and beyond as its sound and its songs deepened and matured.

Now, the band itself has become somewhat vintage: Steppin’ In It is marking its 20th anniversary and doing a short concert tour to celebrate, including a May 20 date at The Ark. 

In recent years, the band’s core members have established very successful individual careers. In particular, lead singer/guitarist Joshua Davis has become well known as a solo act, notably placing third in NBC’s singing competition The Voice and becoming the first contestant to sing an original composition on the show. Bassist Dominic John Davis, meanwhile, has worked extensively with rocker Jack White, among others. In fact, the members have become so busy individually that they no longer perform together as Steppin’ In It very often, so the current tour is highly anticipated by their still-loyal fan base.

Joshua Davis and Dominic John Davis recently answered a few questions from Pulp via email.

Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder put on a clinic in classic bluegrass at The Ark

MUSIC REVIEW

Ricky Skaggs

He is just so good. They are all just so good.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder played The Ark on Saturday, March 3, for a concert to benefit the Breakfast at St. Andrews. And the sold-out crowd enjoyed an absolutely first-rate bluegrass show that transported the spirit of Kentucky fully intact to Ann Arbor.