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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bid adieu to 2015 and welcome 2016 in with Mittenfest X: the 10th annual installment of the five-day music festival that raises funds for local creative writing nonprofit 826Michigan. Starting December 29th and continuing through January 2nd—including shows on New Years Eve and New Years Day—Mittenfest X will be held for the first time this year at Ypsilanti’s Bona Sera café. The opening night lineup partially and purposefully mirrors the lineup of the first ever opening night of the original Mittenfest 10 years ago: Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful, the high-energy “stomp and holler” folk of Frontier Ruckus, and Fred Thomas are all back a decade later to kickoff the festival. All the performers are from Michigan, with most hailing from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, and a few coming across the state from Grand Rapids to play. With 7 acts each night, the first going on at 8:30 pm and the final act taking the stage at 1:00 am, Mittenfest is known for its fast pace and wide variety of music. What can attendees look forward to this year?
Detroit band Bonny Doon released their debut EP last winter under local label Salinas. The four band members, most of whom also play in one or more other Detroit-based bands, have described their music together as “subdued punk.” Sometimes even delving into a country rock sound, the band jams loosely on stage, experimenting with their songs and preventing things from getting too precise. The band often plays with Fred Thomas who, as mentioned above, will be one of the headliners on Mittenfest X’s opening night. They’ll play on the second night of the festival, December 30th, at 1:00 am.
2015 will come to a close to the sounds of sunny basement rock (yes, that can be a thing) duo Gordon Smith and Allison Young, better known as The Kickstand Band, who take the stage at 11:30 pm on December 31. They first got together in Detroit in 2011 and released their debut album Puppy Love. Since then, they’ve put out an EP and another full-length album is in the works. It remains to be seen if they’ll be bringing their homemade lightshow (!) along to Mittenfest X (it has come along to several outdoor music festivals in the past), but lightshow or no lightshow, The Kickstand Band's performance ought to open 2016 with a bang.
One of the bands making the trip across the state to play Mittenfest X is The Bootstrap Boys, who are currently just finishing up a tour playing at various Michigan breweries. They just banded together in early 2015 and have a rollicking repertoire of four-part-harmony country songs which, they claim, will have you asking: ‘Y’all like to shoot whiskey?’ Their EP, Country Songs for Sale, was released in October.
Indie folk singer and songwriter Chris Bathgate, a staple on the local music scene for over a decade now, will close Mittenfest X, taking the stage at 1 am on January 2nd. He’s released 5 studio albums, and has received national acclaim performing at SXSW and recording an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. His newest EP, Old Factory, is set to be released in early 2016. Bathgate is sometimes compared to folk musician Sufjan Stevens, who completed an entire album about Michigan. Somewhat similarly, Ann Arborites will want to listen for references to local sites in some of Bathgate’s songs.
You can view the whole Mittenfest X lineup here.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Mittenfest X runs Tuesday, December 29, 2015-Saturday, January 2, 2016 at Bona Sera Café, 200 W Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti, MI, 41897. Performers play from approximately 8:30 pm-2 am every evening. $10 cover per night.
Fred Thomas & Mike Dykehouse were two of the DJs at this year's Elks Pratt Lodge Deep Freeze
The majestic Elks Pratt Lodge looms over Ann Arbor from its perch at the top of a grassy (or sometimes by the time of DEEP FREEZE, snowy!) hill on Sunset Road. Nestled in Water Hill neighborhood, the Elks members made the decision in the late 2000s to allow the community to book events there that are open to the public. Since then, various live music and DJed concerts and dance nights have been held over the years, as well as barbecues and social justice events. Minimal décor and a cash-only bar keep events there simple, but a typically eclectic crowd is unfailingly enthusiastic for whatever is going on.
On Saturday, December 12, Elk members and the public attended DEEP FREEZE, a winter dance night featuring prominent local DJs and other special guests. Fred Thomas, the frontman of indie pop band Saturday Looks Good to Me, was one of these DJs. He just released a new album this past year, All Are Saved, which fans loved and even Pitchfork reviewed favorably! Mike Dykehouse, another prominent local artist who achieved wide acclaim after playing at the first ever Detroit Electronic Music Festival, was also one of the DJs that performed at the Elks Lodge on the 12th. Dykehouse played on Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International’s summer 2002 tour, and even has ties to the Ann Arbor District Library; he DJed at our Mini-Moog fest this past July. His 2004 full-length debut album is titled Midrange. DJs Chuck Sipperley, who’s performed at Top of the Park, Mittenfest and many other local events in the past, and Jason Lymangrover, were also there for DEEP FREEZE.
One of those most fun things about events at the Elks Lodge is the way that the building is lit up. Strings of lights are hung on the porch and from the rooftop, making the mansion a sort of beacon as you approach it from any direction. Upon entering through the back of the lodge, guests are ushered downstairs to the bar, and nearby, the dance floor. A lot of the music was dance mixes of 80s and 90s tracks, which suited the crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings perfectly. The dance floor was fun, friendly and active for much of the night, and when people weren’t dancing, groups still enjoyed the music in the deep booths that surround the floor. With so many DJs, there was never a break in music and guests trickled in and out, enjoying the unseasonably warm night on the porch of the Lodge, and then wandering back in to dance more or grab another drink.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.