Review: Jive Colossus At The Club Above

REVIEW MUSIC

Jive Colossus plays the recently remodeled Club Above

Jive Colossus plays the recently remodeled Club Above.

Ann Arbor-based Jive Colossus, an eclectic ten piece jazz-funk ensemble, played at The Club Above on Saturday, February 6. Unable to cram themselves all onto the small stage, keyboardist Mike Ager was relegated to the floor nearby, but no one seemed to mind, least of all the enthused crowd.

The band members are known to pick up various instruments over the course of a performance, including triangle, tambourine and maracas, but, along with the keys, Jive Colossus mainly features its talents on two guitars (played by Rich Wright and Ed Green), a trumpet (Ross Huff), a baritone sax (David Swain), a trombone (Asim Khan), a bass (Tony Ketz), and two sets of drums, played by Jim Predhomme and Keith Poncher, as well vocalist Shelley Catalan. The band members range in age, and the genuine enjoyment they get out of hearing each other - and themselves - play makes them a very fun band to watch.

The crowd for JC was older, but the energy was high until closing time. The band played mostly original songs, but did a few covers, including a cover of “Ride or Die” by The Budos Band, which was met with enthusiasm. Like any good ensemble band, Jive Colossus gave their different sections time to shine, allowing the horns, drums, and keys to all solo at different points in the songs, which was great fun.

The music of Jive Colossus is, unsurprisingly, great for dancing. Fast-paced funk beats laced with a little bit of a Caribbean feel kept the dance floor hoppin’ all night at The Club Above, the recently remodeled second floor of Heidelberg.

The vibe inside The Club Above is a little trippy, with space scenes painted on the walls and flat screen TVs showing slowly moving swirls of color, but the dance floor is big, and there’s a good amount of seating, both at hightop tables and on couches and lounges. The venue is definitely worth checking out, especially if Jive Colossus happens to be on the stage.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Review: Kaki King at The Ark

REVIEW MUSIC

Kaki King performed on a specially made projection guitar. Photo by Randy Gunter.

Kaki King performed on a specially made projection guitar. Photo by Randy Gunter.

On a frigid, January night in Ann Arbor, Kaki King warmed up The Ark with her unique brand of guitar theater. She currently tours with a projection guitar—images from a screen behind her mesh and mingle with similar moving images on her axe. Here is an artist who has embraced the visual age and incorporated our insatiable fixation with ocular stimulation into her performance.

Kaki King’s guitar work is singular. While stylistically divergent and favoring an acoustic, she is a virtuoso in the vein of Pat Metheny or perhaps Jaco Pastorius (who worked a bass, but you get the point). She finger-picks her instrument with artistry and technical precision—if she misses a note, it sounds intentional. Her textures range from experimental jazz to avant-garde folk to hip-hop. Dave Grohl has sung her praises.

King opened with some somber noise numbers—an inquisitive start to her performance-art narrative—then gradually intertwined musical sleight-of-hand with carefully selected moving pictures. She followed with some incredible noodling skills (almost unfair to use jam-band terminology, but words fail) with just a touch of funk and percussion. The performance crescendoed with a visual, captioned story about her ivory-colored guitar over a mellow hip-hop beat. The vignette also served as personal backstory for a musician who has clearly fought to assert her eclectic nature.

Her latest album, The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, released in 2015 on the Short Stuff label, is her eighth full-length album, and showcases an artist who is ever-evolving and ever-evading the status quo. Her earlier work was a bit more straight-ahead; she has preferred more uncharted corners of the musical universe since her first two albums (Everybody Loves You, Velour, 2003 and Legs To Make Us Longer, Red Ink, 2004).

While originally from Atlanta, King espouses a New Yorker’s sensibility. She has a song entitled “Carmine Street” (off her debut album) and the accompanying visuals for one song on the night were clearly of NYC mise en scene (including a sign for Carmine Street, which lies just north of Houston in Greenwich Village).

Her insistence on free-flowing jazz and artistic reverie can be infuriating, even inaccessible, but her mastery of her craft must be appreciated. The house was certainly entranced and intrigued and stuck around for her annotations afterwards. King rarely features vocals (when included, they are often from guest artists), so it almost seemed like breaking the fourth wall when she spoke to the audience after her set. Kaki King offered an unpredictable art installation alongside her music—her work and live performance are equally compelling.


M.F. DiBella contributes to Current Magazine and Found Magazine, and blogs at 1lessblog.com

Preview: Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North

PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO MUSIC

Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North.

Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North.

My guess is Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s unnerving, primal singing style isn’t exactly what filmmaker Robert Flaherty had in mind to accompany his silent masterpiece, Nanook of the North (1922). But when she was commissioned in 2012 to provide a soundscape to Flaherty’s legendary cinematic landscape, Tagaq, an outspoken advocate of aboriginal rights, was put off by the film’s racial stereotypes and so conceived a soundtrack meant to reclaim the film with a 21st-century filter.

Flaherty’s documentary methods, including some staged sequences, have come under criticism over the decades. But the landmark film, still stunning nearly 100 years on, has an authenticity that overrides these complaints. (And to be fair, there was no documentary or ethnographic film-making to speak of before Flaherty; he can arguably be said to have invented the genres. And as such, there was certainly nothing remotely resembling later-day Cinéma vérité.)

Above all, the miracle of Flaherty's achievement in Nanook of the North - aside from the fact that he pulled it off with one camera and no lights in the freezing cold - is in documenting a remote way of life never seen before during a decade of the 20th century noted for ratcheting up nationalistic fervor and suspicion of outsiders across the globe. In her upcoming performance, Tanya Tagaq’s evocative style, full of throaty breathing and influenced by electronica, industrial, and metal, should lend as much to the stunning beauty of Nanook’s arctic landscape as it does in calling out the film’s racially charged clichés.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.



"Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North" takes place on February 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University, Ann Arbor.

History In The Making: The River Street Anthology

INTERVIEW MUSIC

Lights and Love by Robert de Jonge [digitally-modified color photography</a>

Matt Jones was ironically hatless at his River Street Anthology Listening Party on Saturday. (Photo by Doug Coombe)

Matt Jones wears a lot of hats—songwriter and bandleader for Matt Jones & the Reconstruction, drummer for Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful as well as Loose Teeth, Civil War expert/aspiring Gettysburg National Park Ranger, and EMU Historical Preservation student. Yet his newest hat is the most ambitious. He’s becoming the Alan Lomax of Michigan with his new project The River Street Anthology.

Lomax made extensive field recordings of American Folk Music from the 40’s through the 60’s. He covered a vast range of musical idioms with his recordings. They are not only a major historic document, but an endless font of musical inspiration for generations. From Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes to the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, the list of music inspired by these recordings is staggering. Jones aims to do something similar—just a little closer to home—by capturing a multitude of musicians across genres throughout the entire state of Michigan.

The River Street Anthology had humble beginnings in spite of its now ambitious scope. Matt explains:

It started out as a way to get my musician friends together. There aren’t a whole lot of venues in Ypsi. I felt more often than not, I saw my musician friends just sitting around on bar stools—myself included—not playing on stage, and I just wanted something to do. The idea had been there for years—ever since Fred Thomas put his Ypsilanti Folk Singers compilation together back in 2006/¬07. That project was so fun, that I wanted to do the same, and I even asked him if he minded me using the same title (he was happy to let me use it—a sort of Volume II). It started off as a little 10 or 15 person compilation from Ypsi. Within an hour (of posting it to Facebook on February 6, 2015) it turned into 60 people.

It’s turned into my dream job that I don’t get paid for. I want this to be a legitimate historical document. It’s always been my goal to get something into The Library of Congress. I’ve been trying to weasel my way into history for years. This is even better because I can take everybody with me. It’s a way to get everybody on the books.

Frontier Ruckus

"This is even better because I can take everybody with me. It’s a way to get everybody on the books." Photo by Doug Coombe.

In the process the project birthed in the basement of his River Street home in Ypsilanti has changed him.

I lost my edge. I think that I had developed a sort of reputation around here for being a little dark, sarcastic, and quick to judge. Quick to plunge the knife in. I don't think that is necessarily ever who I really was, but we settle into playing out roles. Sometimes doing what is expected is easier than showing your real hand—vulnerability and all that. I learned real quick that there was no room for that edge in this project. I realized that to make the RSA, I would have to have support basically growing out of my armpits, up to my eyeballs and I found that I liked it. Then I found that everyone deserves it and that people thrive with it. I sit here, a foot away from people and watch/listen to them do what they love doing most. They are excited about taking part in this project and they play their hearts out. If you can seriously sit there, that close to someone pouring it out, and not love it too, I'd say you just might be a sociopath.

Frontier Ruckus

"If you can seriously sit there, that close to someone pouring it out, and not love it too, I'd say you just might be a sociopath." Photo by Doug Coombe.

The beauty of Jones’ recordings is his stripped down approach. He uses one inexpensive microphone, a preamp for the mic, and a digital recorder. That’s it. And he doesn’t do a lot of takes. He tells artists it’s one take—even though it’s not always so. The end result is a great—and quick—spontaneous take that leaves him time to record a lot of other artists in a session.

At first, I wanted it to be one mic, one song, one take—I think just because it had a real nice, punk rock ring to it. I still have just the one mic, and I still only want one song... and it would be reeeeallly nice if people could pull it off in one take. But truth be told, I only tell people "one take" anymore so they rehearse before they get to my house. Usually people get in and out in under a half hour, BECAUSE THEY PRACTICED BEFOREHAND. Thing is—I have never really truly enjoyed the recording studio because it's one of those places where I can't have total control all the time. I don't pretend to be a recording engineer—I want to be a historian, not an engineer. I don't want to sit there while you work your parts out, and decide which lyrics to sing, and have second thoughts about that ending or that intro. We aren't making your next record—we are making a historical document of What You Sound Like Today. So hopefully, when I tell people “one take,” it scares ‘em enough to rehearse prior, in order to get that one take, and get themselves down on tape, and hopefully, into history the fastest way possible. History doesn't wait—you either get in it or you don't.

Frontier Ruckus

"The beauty of Jones’ recordings is his stripped down approach. He uses one inexpensive microphone, a preamp for the mic, and a digital recorder. That’s it." Photo by Doug Coombe.

All of which brings us to last Saturday. Matt had his second River Street Anthology Listening Party down the street from his house at Cultivate Coffee & Taphouse on River Street in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. Alternately insightful and funny, Matt gave the backstory on his project and shared 10 audio recordings as well as several videos done by Charlie Steen and Mostly Midwest from his project so far. To date Matt has recorded over 200 artists in 7-plus towns in both peninsulas of Michigan.

Frontier Ruckus

Charlie Steen / Photo by Doug Coombe

Frontier Ruckus

Matt Jones / Photo by Doug Coombe

Frontier Ruckus

A rapt audience / Photo by Doug Coombe

Frontier Ruckus

Erin Zindle / Photo by Doug Coombe

The evening wound up as Matt added another recording to the anthology—live in front of the hushed audience, Jones recorded Erin Zindle of The Ragbirds (along with percussionist Randall Moore) in one beautiful take.

He took about a minute to position the microphone and get the levels right and hit record. The rest is history.


Doug Coombe is an Ann Arbor and Detroit based music and editorial photographer. He's been a photographer for the Detroit's Metro Times, Concentrate Media, and Urban Innovation Exchange Detroit.


This Sunday Jones continues the project, recording 20 musicians in Kalamazoo.

Review: Ann Arbor Symphony's Mozart Birthday Bash

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE MUSIC

The A2SO celebrates as Mozart turns a spry and youthful 260 years old.

The A2SO celebrates in style as Mozart turns a spry and youthful 260 years old.

Last Saturday, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra celebrated Mozart’s birthday in style, with a performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio at the Michigan Theater. Opera is all about spectacle—elaborate sets, a cast of thousands—but the A2SO made a deliberate decision to highlight Mozart’s excellent music, which underpins the story. The A2SO brought in incredibly talented lead vocalists to round out the presentation of the opera, but decided to present a semi-staged version of the piece. The overall effect was that this was a performance for music lovers, with an emphasis on the songs within the opera, rather than the drama of the story.

The Abduction from the Seraglio is somewhere between a tragedy and a comedy. It tells the story of a pair of lovers, Belmonte and Constanze, and their servants, Pedrillo and Blondchen. The opera opens after Constanze and Blondchen have been kidnapped and taken to the titular seraglio (which turns out to be a harem) of Pasha Selim, Sultan of Turkey. The Pasha has fallen in love with Constanze, who resists his advances and remains true to Belmonte. Blondchen, meanwhile, has attracted the attention of Osmin, who guards the seraglio. The opera centers on the trials of the lovers as they try to find a way to escape the seraglio. There is a lot of singing about the pain of being separated from a lover and how painful love can be. Our heroes are ultimately released by a suddenly benevolent Pasha, who is moved by the strength of the love between Constanze and Belmonte.

A narrator verbally bridged the action between each song, providing background information and a quick summary of the plot. It was a clever device that allowed the focus to remain on the music of the opera, and, perhaps more importantly, it was an entry point for opera newbies. Those not previously familiar with The Abduction from the Seraglio might have had a difficult time following the action and emotion through lines of the opera, particularly since it was performed in German. Between the narrator and the lyrics projected on a small screen above the orchestra, there was no need to have memorized the entirety of the opera beforehand.

The real standout stars of the opera, among the vocalists, were the female performers Jeanette Vecchione and Suzanne Rigden. Vecchione played the part of Constanze with a wonderful gravity. Vecchione was also remarkable in her ability to keep pace with the full orchestra immediately behind her. There were moments, particularly in fire and brimstone songs, where the vocalists could get a little drowned out by the full orchestra directly behind them. This was not so with Vecchione, a testament to her skill as a vocalist. Rigden brought a wonderful lightness and humor to the stage, and was a real joy to watch. All of the vocalists deserve mention for excellent performances.

I haven’t said much about the orchestra itself, and that’s because the performance was essentially flawless. The orchestra blended into the background, supporting the vocalists’ performances, which is what you want in this sort of setting. It was interesting to get a sense of the music through the movement of the bows on the stringed instruments, however it was impossible to resist the action of the story communicated through the vocalists on stage.

The close quarters of the semi-staging helped to underscore the natural humor written into The Abduction from the Seraglio. Pushing all of the vocalists into close quarters helped up some of the dramatic tension. The downside was that the actors didn’t always have much to do, but this performance was always focused on the music of the opera. The performance was a joy to watch, and proved to be an accessible entry point into the world of opera.


Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at the Ann Arbor District Library and has never seen an opera before.


The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's next Main Stage event will be Harp Magic on March 12 at the Michigan Theater.

Preview: Performing Arts Technology Seminar: DJ Carl Craig

PREVIEW MUSIC

DJ Carl Craig

DJ Carl Craig will give a talk at the Walgreen Drama Center, Stamps Auditorium.

This Wednesday Carl Craig, Detroit-based producer of techno music and one of the most influential members of the second generation of Detroit techno artists, will give a talk at the Walgreen Drama Center, Stamps Auditorium on the North Campus of the University of Michigan. He founded the Planet E Communications label and, through this, has provided support for many young techno artists from Detroit and beyond. Craig's talk promises to be a free-flowing perspective, in a Q&A setting, touching on techno’s past, present, and future.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Craig's talk begins at 7:30 pm at the Walgreen Drama Center, Stamps Auditorium, University of Michigan North campus, 1226 Murfin Ave. Free - no tickets required.

Preview: Matthew Dear at the Blind Pig

PREVIEW MUSIC

Matthew Dear

Matthew Dear is back in Michigan.

In the past year or so, Matthew Dear has returned home in many ways. He's got serious Ann Arbor roots, as the first artist to sign to Ghostly International in 1999, and the Blind Pig is a familiar place for him. He grew up in Texas, but moved to Michigan to pursue a degree at the University of Michigan, where he met Ghostly’s founder, Sam Valenti. For me, as a local and an employee of the label, it’s wonderful to see him back in the town where his musical career began to take off.

Matthew Dear has left an indelible imprint on the fabric of popular music history that Ann Arbor has woven. He has been a part of the newer breed of musicians building a career after getting their feet wet in this college town that’s always been supportive of musicians who are a bit left of center, like Commander Cody, Mayer Hawthorne, the Chenille Sisters, Iggy Pop, Pity Sex, Scott Morgan, Andrew W.K., and Wolf Eyes, among others.

Since leaving town, Dear's been busy. He's made moves to Detroit and New York, gotten married, started a family, toured with Depeche Mode, performed both as a solo artist and with a band and as a DJ, performed a seemingly endless string of live dates, and now, Dear has actually moved back to the Ann Arbor area. This show may be a bit of a homecoming of sorts, an expansion and translation of the sets he DJ’d for parties while attending school, honed by nearly 20 years of experience on the road, soundtracking delightful evenings for his fans.

I’m hoping you’re as excited to see his blend of experimental and front-forward dance music as I am. It's been ages since I've seen Matt perform, and I’m just as giddy about his return to The Blind Pig's familiar stage as I was to hear him play at the first Ghostly show I attended, years and years ago.


Jeremy Peters is Music Publishing Director for Ghostly International and Ghostly Songs, and Co-Founder of Quite Scientific.


Matthew Dear will perform at the Blind Pig on Saturday, January 23, 2016, doors at 9 pm.

Review: Juggernaut Jug Band takes us through a musical wormhole and back again

REVIEW MUSIC

The Juggernaut Jug Band (jug included)

The Juggernaut Jug Band (jug included).

I’ve lived in Arbor for three and a half years now, and for someone who calls himself a “small music” fan, I haven’t gotten out often enough to visit all the great venues we have in and around town. The Green Wood Coffee House has been on my must-go list for some time now, and Friday night I walked in. Located at the United Methodist Church on Green Road, it’s an Ann Arbor institution of great live folk, roots, and Americana music, and the performance by the Juggernaut Jug Band did nothing but burnish that reputation.

I’d never heard of “JJB” or their music before last night, though I confess to being a lapsed practitioner of the washtub bass (it was a high school thing). There was no washtub there, but JJB frontman Stu “Roscoe P. Goose” Helm had at his disposal more than a dozen jug band instruments, most of them clamped to a red 4-foot step ladder. The star of the rhythm assortment was Roscoe’s ancient-looking crockery jug – a gallon-sized model – equipped with a 21st century wireless mic. This video provides a nice intro to JJB.

Louisville, Kentucky is considered the birthplace of jug band music: a goulash of Dixieland, honky-tonk, blues, jazz, minstrel, and swing that first bubbled up in the late 1800s. JJB’s primary calling is to preserve the jug band tradition and to expand the envelope of this sub-genre with modern musical infusions. Channeling past jug band ghosts like the Dixieland Jug Blowers, Whistler’s Jug Band, the Mud Gutters, and Ballad Chefs, JJB covers the best of traditional jug music, complete with washboard, cowbells, tin cans and nose flute.

But wait… there’s more! In addition to those original sounds, JJB samples modern rock in a jug band format that has the audience’s senses and sensibilities reeling – in a good way. Consider "Pinball Wizard"… played to the tune of "Folsom Prison Blues". Or a Led Zeppelin medley of "Heartbreaker", "Kashmir", and "Stairway to Heaven". These guys know how to turn a genre on its head, whether it’s theirs or any other. If you’ve not heard a jug band cover of "People Are Strange" by Jim Morrison and The Doors, you must seek this out immediately.

Before you write off JJB as a bells-and-whistles novelty group, you need to know that these guys are accomplished and talented multi-instrumentalists. Roscoe Goose surprised me by setting aside his washboard thimbles for a song and pulling out a muted silver trumpet in mid-set. Greg “Frankie” Lentz displayed his fretboard skills on an electrified Fender dreadnaught. Pat “Slim Chance” Lentz (Greg’s brother) strummed and picked a masterful electric jazz guitar of his own making – and alternated with a Dixieland banjo, while the newest member of the group, James “Jug Band Jimmy” Brown anchored the group with his stand-up bass. Members of the band have changed since its inception in the early 1960s, but the tradition, original sound, and corny jokes carry on. Roscoe Goose has been raking the washboard for JJB for more than 50 years.

What I absolutely did not expect from this group was the level of vocal skill and harmony-making reminiscent of good barbershop groups. Roscoe possesses a sweetly natural lead voice, and ranges easily down to the bass notes required for the jug. All of JJB’s members join in often for the choruses, and the lead singing role is occasionally thrown to “Slim”.

Catch Juggernaut Jug Band on their next trip through town (they promised), since no studio recording quite captures the look on Roscoe P. Goose’s face when he’s playing the nose flute on "Stairway to Heaven". Visit this Spotify link to sample their stuff. If you like it, BUY their music at the Juggernaut website. And thank you, Juggernaut Jug Band… for keeping musical history alive… and kicking!


Don Alles is a marketing consultant, journalist, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.

Review: Mittenfest X – Night One

REVIEW MUSIC

Mittenfest X was December 29, 2015 to January 2, 2016

Mittenfest X was December 29, 2015 to January 2, 2016.

Midway through Mittenfest X’s opening night on Tuesday, December 29 at Bona Sera Café, singer-songwriter Fred Thomas asked how many of the evening’s attendees had also been present for the original Mittenfest nine years ago. Those who raised their hands were in the minority (this writer not among them, although he has been present for several Mittenfests since). But the number of original Mittenfest attendees was significant, and it contributed to a remarkable sense of reunion as Mittenfest kicked off for the year.

Of course, the annual music festival and fundraiser for 826michigan always feels like something of a reunion in the first place. Year after year, it’s become the biggest annual gathering of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti bands (Ypsi’s wild and woolly Totally Awesome Fest is also a local band extravaganza, but the underground nature of that house-show-based event makes it smaller by necessity). This year’s Mittenfest featured 35 local bands before it wrapped up on January 2. Attendees of the original Mittenfest may have been a significant minority in Tuesday’s audience, but not onstage: opening night for Mittenfest X exclusively featured artists who also played Mittenfest’s inaugural one-day event in 2006.

And in so doing, it was difficult not to observe just how far some of them have come in the intervening near-decade. Thomas, a longtime Ypsi and Ann Arbor resident who recently moved to Montreal, called attention to that evolution most blatantly by repeating the exact same set he performed at the original Mittenfest. Thomas’ music has become both musically and lyrically more complex since 2006, as is clearly evident on his excellent recent release “All Are Saved,” but he took the stage alone with a single acoustic guitar. Although Thomas has certainly improved with age, the old stuff still worked and many in the audience sang along fervently.

Frontier Ruckus

Frontier Ruckus / Photo by Sean O'Kane

Several of the bands who returned to perform Tuesday night have grown their ranks–and their fanbases–considerably since the original Mittenfest. Ypsilanti folksinger Misty Lyn Bergeron, who played the original event simply as “Misty Lyn” with three accompanying musicians, appeared with her four-piece band The Big Beautiful. A 2006 826michigan blog post about the first Mittenfest noted that the “up-and-coming” Detroit “bluegrass” trio Frontier Ruckus “blew everyone away”; that group returned to Mittenfest X as a nationally recognized quartet whose sound has expanded far beyond basic bluegrass. Ypsilanti songwriter Matt Jones has made perhaps the most dramatic transformation since his first Mittenfest, when he performed with just violinist Carol Gray and cellist Colette Alexander. Gray and Alexander are now part of Jones’ seven-piece ensemble, The Reconstruction, which performed tunes from their lushly orchestrated, critically acclaimed 2014 album “The Deep Enders.”

If one particular element stood out Tuesday night among all the diverse groups who performed, it was incredibly disciplined musicianship. Ypsi expat Emily Jane Powers found a tight groove with backing musicians Alec Jensen, Eric Brummitt, and Christopher Gilbert, jamming on some lively instrumental breakdowns that required rather nimble work from the entire group. Jones, Gray, and Bergeron’s voices intertwined gorgeously as always in varying configurations with The Reconstruction and The Big Beautiful. And Frontier Ruckus proved just how well their group has jelled since the early days, with David Jones pulling off some particularly graceful banjo solos while Zach Nichols juggled a trumpet, melodica, euphonium, and musical saw.

The evening was not without its hitches. Powers blanked on the words to one of her songs, a Mittenfest banner fell down on Jones while he was drumming with Ypsi band Loose Teeth, and Bergeron was confined to a chair throughout her performance due to her ongoing recovery from a car accident. But personality and professionalism shone through. Powers picked up her tune, Jones grinned while keeping the beat with rope and pennants draped across his wrists, and Bergeron came across as strongly as ever.

Overall, there was a sense of quiet triumph to the night, a sense of modest celebration of how far all of these performers have come since they got Mittenfest started nine years ago. Mittenfest celebrates Michigan-made music–and when you look at the 28 bands performing over four days, the scope and talent of the local scene is remarkable. Of the 19 newcomers among this year’s lineup, it’s intriguing to wonder who might be present for a reunion show at Mittenfest XX–and just how far those groups might have come by that point. If anyone asks that year how many audience members were present for Mittenfest X, this writer will be proud to raise his hand.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


Mittenfest X was December 29, 2015 through January 2, 2016 at Bona Sera Café and is an annual music festival that serves as a fundraiser for 826michigan.

The Other Kind of "Pop" Music: A2SO's Holiday Pops

REVIEW MUSIC

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops concert

"Pop!" went the music as Measure for Measure joined A2SO's Holiday Pops performance.

On December 11th the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra celebrated the Christmas season with their 4th annual Holiday Pops performance. Combining music, song, and some audience-provided sound effects, the show captured all the best things about the holidays: cheer, togetherness, and good music.

I went in expecting the good music, so I wasn’t surprised when they started with some classic wintery waltzes, ballet pieces, and a host of other refined orchestral numbers that made me feel like I should have worn fancier clothes. It was beautiful and stirring and, after getting over the amazing sight of the instruments at work, I listened to most of it with my eyes closed. But I was pleasantly surprised a few songs in when the show revealed itself for what it really was—pure holiday ridiculousness in a fancy suit.

The conductor took a break from his straight-laced conducting for some charming holiday banter, ironically reminding the audience to go out and play in the snow and to see the heart-warming holiday film “Krampus.” Then he and the orchestra launched into a second wave of pieces that were just as beautiful, but far jollier. One song that perfectly combined the feeling of sophisticated symphony with festive silliness was the “Champagne Gallop,” an upbeat piece that included regular pauses for an exuberant “pop!” sound, mimicking the popping of a champagne cork. Technically, this sound was supposed to be made by the percussion section—but what fun would that be? Instead, the conductor asked the audience to create the popping sound themselves with the trusty finger-in-the-mouth trick. Suddenly, a song that would have been a pretty good time all by itself was made even better by the hilarious sound of 500 audience members making popping noises every time the conductor waved his hand in our direction. It was, in a way, like being a part of the orchestra—if there was a section of the orchestra designated to ridiculous sounds you can make with your mouth.

But generally speaking, there is not. I checked.

Partway through the program, the orchestra opened its doors and ushered in a flood of choirs: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor, Measure for Measure, the Skyline High School Choir, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale, and the Greenhills Choir. The orchestra’s performance was made all the more buoyant by the addition of song as each choir took its turn and, finally, joined the audience for a good, old-fashioned holiday sing-along. As the evening ended with the audience belting out verses of "Jingle Bells," "O Christmas Tree," and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," the performance went through one last transformation, taking on the feel of a fun and cozy family get-together—complete with cheerful, off-key singing in my ear and children kicking the back of my seat.

Ah, Christmas.


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian and she actually has no idea how to make that finger-in-the-mouth popping sound.


The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's next big event will be their Mozart Birthday Bash at the Michigan Theatre on January 16th. Tickets are available online from their website.