For the group that puts the Ann Arbor Russian Festival together every year, it’s about much more than simply having a fun time, it’s about sharing their culture.
“Nobody knows what is Orthodox church,” laughed Leta Nikulshina, the festival’s entertainment director. “People think, ‘Are you Catholic?’ ‘No, we’re not.’ Or, ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘No, we’re not.’
“Its kind of the way to open up who we are and bring us closer to everyone else,” she said.
The festival’s beginnings also had a slight ulterior motive.
There’s an interesting look that Freddy Cole sometimes gets when he’s playing. It’s not a faraway look, exactly, but it’s as if he’s not fully present, not completely in the moment. Sitting behind the keyboard, he stares off into the audience, looking at them but not really seeing them. His hands move across the piano keys seemingly with a mind of their own, coaxing out chords and picking out melodies. It’s like he’s somewhere else.
At least that’s the impression I got last Thursday at Kerrytown Concert House, where the Freddy Cole Quartet gave a pair of evening performances. Made up by Cole on piano and vocals, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums, the quartet offered a refreshing and skillful taste of straight-ahead classic jazz.
The crowd for the third annual Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark on August 16 was not large -- maybe 50, 60 people -- which was perfect. It allowed Watroba to invite us all to bring our chairs to the flat area in front of the stage and form a large circle. It also allowed him to ignore the microphone that had been set up on the stage and instead move around inside that circle, and lead us in singing without using any amplification.
He didn’t need it.
Every August for the last 12 years, a bit of Nashville has visited Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown District Association’s Nashbash music festival.
Thursday’s edition of the event coped with extensive road construction around its location at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, along with threatening weather for much of the day. But by the time the festival kicked off, the weather was flawless, the fans dodged the construction barrels, and the smell of barbecue filled the air.
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.