There ain’t nothin' like the blues.
Perhaps that is why in 1969, a group of University of Michigan students created a gathering in an open field on the banks of the Huron River to listen to some blues from the likes of Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters.
They created not only the first blues festival in Michigan but the first electric blues festival ever.
While the exact origins of Morris dancing are not clear, historians do know that people have been participating in this lively step dance for centuries. Shakespeare mentioned it in his plays. Peasants enjoyed it along with their summertime ales in the 1600s. The first known written reference dates to 1448 when Goldsmiths’ Company in London paid seven shillings to Morris dancers for a performance.
And in the Ann Arbor area, dancers have gathered since 1976 to engage in this energetic form of folk dancing. Ann Arbor Morris dancer Carol Mohr enjoyed international folk dancing and fell in love with Morris in the late 1970s.
For anyone who believes in the power of pop music to communicate in a powerful, even transcendent way, the idea of Bettye LaVette singing the songs of Bob Dylan creates some pretty high hopes. On August 9, the Sonic Lunch concert series brought that pairing to downtown Ann Arbor, and the results were just as good as expected.
Local singer Antwaun Stanley and his tight band opened the show with a sharp, energetic set that brought a modern spin to a 1970s soul/funk sound. A couple of terrific covers -- Maze’s “Running Away” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” -- demonstrated his compelling stage presence and showcased his vocal range.
But the highlight of Stanley’s set was “Where Are We Now?,” a song he wrote with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Something of a modern-day “What’s Going On,” the song drew a huge response from the crowd. “Are we breaking through, or are we breaking down?” Stanley sang. “We’ve got to be the change; we’ve got to preach the change.”
LaVette opened her set with the title song of her recent Dylan album, Things Have Changed. One of the best of Dylan’s latter-day works, it carries a new, ominous impact in the current social climate, and LaVette brought all of that to her performance.
The producer has worked with a who’s who of artists in the Midwest including Slum Village, Supakaine, Nolan the Ninja, A-Minus, and BJ the Chicago Kid. As a producer, DaG balances the hard task of preserving old school sounds with modern swag in a way that sounds relevant to today.
The Ann Arbor-raised, Ypsi-based DaG is also a DJ, spinning at events in Washtenaw County and traveling around the country. One of his most recent and notable gigs was opening for hip-hop legend KRS One at the Blind Pig this spring.
Between spinning at concerts and producing hits for other artists, DaG is also an emcee in his own right, further proving that he is a multitalented artist. From his earliest project dionLoveSwing to his most recent work, Village Tales 3, he shows his versatility in style from funk and soul to hip-hop and jazz.
With new music due this fall, DaG is ready once again to show his listeners why he is a musical force in the 734 area code. I sat down with him to discuss his vintage sound, his take on Michigan hip-hop, what he’d be doing if he weren’t a musician, and more.
Starting August 10, Kerrytown Concert House will be host to the first in a continuing series of concerts hosted by longtime Ann Arbor resident and jazz bassist Paul Keller. This inaugural installation of “Paul Keller Presents” will feature the talents of singer and pianist John Proulx, a Grand Rapids-raised musician whose career has taken him from coast to coast before leading him back home to pursue a Master’s degree from Western Michigan University.
“He has a grasp of jazz language that I like to hear,” Paul Keller said of Proulx. “He has a grasp of the way that I like to present jazz. I’m proud to be on the stage with him because of those things.”
Performing as a trio, Keller and Proulx will be joined onstage by drummer Pete Siers, who is also an Ann Arbor resident. Siers, who will also be playing on the “Paul Keller Presents” concert of September 28, is a musical collaborator of Keller’s and performs in the Paul Keller Orchestra, a nearly 30-year-old big band that performs every Monday at the Zal Gaz Grotto in west Ann Arbor.
In Pitchfork's review of Fred Thomas' new song and video, "Good Times Are Gone Again," Contributing Editor Jayson Greene notes the tune is "a little less agonizingly specific than Thomas’ usual fare."
That's true of the song's lyrics, but if you know Ann Arbor, the music video is filled with scenes that are very specific.
The promo clip is for Thomas' new album, Aftering, which comes out September 14 on Polyvinyl Records. The video features Thomas interacting with friends and strangers -- who immediately fall ill as if he passed on an instant plague, echoing the song's lyrics: "Bad things are happening now / Sharp days are wrapping around us."
It's the song of the bummer summer.
Ann Arbor is featured throughout the video: Thomas spends time walking alone through Buhr Park and strumming his guitar behind the long-running punk joint Far House; and he spreads his illness at Encore Records, The Hosting art space, Lab Cafe, a recording studio in Ellsworth Commerce Park, his bandmate Chuck Sipperley's home, and his own apartment where his wife, spoken-word artist Emily Roll, starts foaming toothpaste at the mouth.
Building a month-long festival from the ground up is challenging enough when it focuses solely on one artistic discipline, such as music.
But last year's inaugural Rasa Festival was a multidisciplinary party with performing, visual, literary, media/films, and culinary arts from India, presented in various Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti venues.
It was a big achievement and the 2018 edition (September 1-October 7) looks to build on that success with more art exhibitions, dance performances, poetry readings, music concerts, film screenings, and a foodie event.
Here's the full calendar of events, many of which are free:
When I came across a blog post recently that referenced rare Neil Young tapes from Canterbury House, I assumed it was an old story related to the Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968 album that came out 10 years ago.
But it turns out there might be another tape from the Nov. 8-10 stand Young had at Canterbury House's 330 Maynard St. location. (It's now at 721 E. Huron St.)
Sugar Mountain is made up of recordings from Nov. 9 and 10, so it's possible the Nov. 8 performance was found. But Young also played Canterbury House on Oct. 16, 1969 -- the final time he played the venue -- so perhaps it's that show.
Over the first four years of its existence, the Broken Branch Breakdown roots-music festival has established itself as a truly grassroots event in the Ann Arbor community.
Admission is free. The vibe is casual and family friendly. The music itself is rootsy, mostly falling somewhere into the Americana/folk/jam-band genres.
It’s almost like somebody just invites all of Ann Arbor over to relax and listen to some tunes in the backyard. And in fact, that’s exactly what happens.
Over more than 40 years making music together, Mustard’s Retreat has established a reputation around the region as a talented and entertaining folk duo -- two guys and two guitars.
However, the group actually started out as a trio -- and for a new album and current concerts, original member Libby Glover has rejoined David Tamulevich and Michael Hough. Her presence brings a whole new dimension to the Mustard’s Retreat sound, yet the transition sounds just like it feels -- perfectly natural.
“When David and I first began singing together, something happened. We didn’t have the words to articulate what it was, but we both felt it was important. Then when Libby and David began singing together, something more happened,” Hough says of the group’s 1970s roots. They soon started working as a trio and found a special sound. But life took Glover out of state and Mustard’s Retreat made its reputation as a duo.