I remember it; if you were a kid who grew up in Ann Arbor you do, too. The nights you spent in the hot summer air with cold lemonade, and the smell of the food trucks, the times you sat in the grass looking up at the sky, listening to bands on the main stage. It felt like a dream.
Top of the Park has been around now for 35 years and I've gone to it almost every year that I've lived in Ann Arbor. But this was the first time that I went alone to review a band. It's funny how being alone can sharpen your thinking and make you a keener observer.
By the time Chirp took the stage on June 30, the park had filled out. People stood or sat in chairs in front of the stage, while others sat in the grass or under the beer tent. Bassist Brian Long, guitarist-vocalist Jay Frydenlund, guitarist Ken Ball, and drummer John Gorine mix styles freely, touching on rock in their guitar work, jazz with the drum and bass solos, and soul through Frydenlund's voice.
KRS-One is a hip-hop legend. The man born Lawrence Parker left home at 16 to start making music and experienced a lot of hardships, including homelessness and the death of his friend and Boogie Down Productions cohort DJ Scott La Rock. After La Rock died, KRS-One stopped rapping about drugs and violence in favor of more politically conscious material, and he also led the Stop the Violence Movement. KRS-One persevered through the adversity and has released more than 20 albums and three books.
The crowd was buzzing as early as 9 pm before Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone's May 23 show at The Blind Pig. KRS-One didn’t play until around 11 pm, but several hip-hop artists took the stage for the first couple hours. My favorite was Ann Arbor's own Nickie P, who rapped about love and loss and the importance of respect and honesty in relationships. Another Ann Arbor MC, Duke Newcomb, took the stage and immediately connected with the audience, saying 15 years ago he was one of us, one of the audience members at a KRS-One show, thinking he was too old to start rapping. "Remember that tonight I am you," he said. "You are me."
The first time I heard Chris Smither I was on a road trip from Ann Arbor to Alabama, helping my cousin move so she could begin her master’s in creative writing. It was late at night and we were somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee. There were no other cars around and the road kept curving and curving. The windows in the car were down and the muggy air was streaming in. We were feeling slow and sleepy, so my cousin put in Chris Smither’s CD #Leave the Light On#. I heard Chris Smither’s voice for the first time: low and rough, singing, “If I were young again / I’d pay attention / To that little-known dimension / a taste of endless time / it’s just like water / it runs right through our fingers / but the flavor of it lingers / like rich, red wine.”
It’s almost impossible to describe the full effect of good music, music that reaches deep. But I can tell you that I started thinking about time that night in a way that I hadn’t considered before. When you’re young, time feels endless, and what a privilege that is.
When I got to the gig there were around 40 people milling about, mostly men in their 20s and 30s. As the night went on, more people arrived and the room filled up until we all standing shoulder to shoulder.
"Self Portrait with the Ashes of My Baby Blanket":
Ashes because she set fire to it in the burn barrel.
Leave her alone, with your newfangledness.
I was a clingy, fearful thumb-sucker, and she knew I needed reinventing.
She tore it away and I screamed and she burned it.
Begone, soft, pale yellow. She knew if I kept it I’d stumble over it
The rest of my life, how far I would travel without it,
And how many strange birds I would trap
in the story of its burning.
At a Literati reading this past Friday, poet and professor Laura Kasischke introduced Diane Seuss by reading one of her poems, “Self Portrait with the Ashes of my Baby Blanket.” The poem centers on Seuss’ mother, who is an important figure in her new book of poems, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. The first and last poem, "I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise” and “I Climbed Out of the Painting Called Paradise,” introduce the reader to a heavenly, creative world that Seuss is able to inhabit but one that her mother, who is not a writer, cannot. Seuss “leaves” the painting to rejoin her family at the end of the book.
Theo Katzman's show at The Blind Pig sold out weeks before the show date. When I say that people were excited to see Katzman's return to Ann Arbor, I mean it: The line at The Blind Pig was already snaking its way down the block 20 minutes before doors opened.
Theo Katzman studied jazz at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s. Since then Katzman has toured with the band Ella Riot, created the trio Love Massive, and released his first album, Romance Without Finance, in 2011. Katzman is also a prominent member of the funk band Vulfpeck, which has toured with Darren Criss and played on The Late Show with Steven Colbert. In 2017, Katzman debuted his latest album, Heartbreak Hits.
Katzman's no stranger to playing The Blind Pig and fans were happy to have him back. I spoke to one woman who said that she hasn't missed one of Katzman's shows since she got her license in 2012. Once, she saw Katzman play at The Blind Pig and then drove to Chicago the next day to see him again.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Machado is one of the best books I've read in the last few years.
You'll find Machado's book in our Science Fiction section, though her books have elements of classical fiction, magical realism, science fiction, and horror. Critics have had difficulty categorizing this book, which encompasses so many themes and genres. I would encourage you to look beyond this book's genre if you are not usually a science fiction reader.
The first story in the collection, "The Husband Stitch," is a retelling of a folk tale that many of us remember from our youth, the story of the girl with the green ribbon around her neck.
"The Husband Stitch" follows a young woman throughout her life and marriage. The world that this character navigates is very much like our own, except for that women here have a ribbon tied to a part of their body. We are not sure what this ribbon symbolizes but we know that it is a uniquely female trait, and it seems to be a source of fear for women. At one point in the story the narrator has coffee with a friend. She says, "We do not discuss the specific fears of raising a girl child. Truthfully, I am afraid even to ask." The narrator has a male child and she is so relieved that she begins to weep. The narrator fiercely guards her ribbon from her son and her husband. The ribbon causes conflict in her marriage.
Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, is a powerful book of short stories. Each story is well written, finely crafted, mysterious, suspenseful and eerie. These stories have feminist themes, the author explores the implications of being a woman in this world, and the world that Machado has created.
Written by Nicole Holtzman
Dec. 29, 2016
It's cold outside, zero degrees, and snowflakes are falling fast, covering downtown Ypsilanti in powder. Everything is quiet and slow. Tonight is the first night of the three-day Mittenfest, the annual music-festival fundraiser for 826Michigan, an organization that supports literacy in children and teens primarily through tutoring and after-school programming.
When I reach Bona Sera, the Ypsilanti restaurant where Mittenfest is being held, I walk down a flight of stairs into a crowded basement. The audience is young, almost everyone is in their 20s or 30s, and most people are wearing flannel. There’s an energy of anticipation.