Preview: Ingrid Racine Moving Toward Major Player Status


Ingrid Racine at the recent Ann Arbor Jazz Festival

Ingrid Racine, with Ben Rolston and Chuck Newsome, at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company during the recent 2016 A2 Jazz Festival.

Our local contingent of modern jazz improvisers is as substantial as those coming in from out of town. We’re fortunate to have them, considering the paucity of performance spaces for them to ply their craft.

One performer who seems to take it all in stride is trumpeter Ingrid Racine. Juggling motherhood in tandem with her mate, club DJ Alvin Hill, creating and exploring performance spaces, teaching, performing some administrative duties, and recently making her debut recording would be a bit overwhelming for anyone. Add to that the tricky parameters of playing a brass instrument and one has to admire how from day to day she fits all this in yet plays so beautifully, straddling the not so fine line between jazz tradition and her personal brand of modernity that appeals to a mostly younger -- but some older, universal -- jazz demographic.

She has listened to and incorporates many aspects of the 100 years of jazz; she embraces everything from early trad and swing to mainstream jazz, and be bop, fusion, folk forms, and even the hip hop of her generation.

It's rare for a jazz musician to be born, raised, and continuing to live in Ann Arbor. Racine graduated from the jazz program at Community High School, guided by Mike Grace in 2000. She obtained her BFA in Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan where she was instructed by the great Detroit saxophonist Donald Walden, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra and jazz trumpeter Bill Lucas.

By graduation, Racine was entrenched as a member of Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings, Mady Kouyate’s Heat of Africa, and the Detroit-based all female jazz group Straight Ahead. She toured and recorded with the Afro Beat large ensemble NOMO from 2003-2009, recording for the West Coast based Ubiquity label. In 2007, she returned to University of Michigan to study with vaunted jazz piano star Geri Allen while completing her Masters Degree in Improvisation. She also curated for three years the summer outdoor series of shows on the patio of the Gandy Dancer.

Other associations include collaborations with Marion Hayden, the Paul Keller Orchestra, Wendell Harrison, the Heather Black Project, Jesse Kramer's Juice Box and Ethan Davidson. She’s also been heard with the Gin Dandies.

Ingrid Racine was working professionally during her days as a student. Her playing has fit in with trad jazz groups like P.O.R.K - Phil Oglivy’s Rhythm Kings led by James Dapogny, the Paul Keller Orchestra and Women In Jazz ensembles. While far from petite, Racine handles her brass trumpet with a savvy that has recalled veterans twice her age such as Freddie Hubbard, Jack Walrath or Valery Ponamarev, while also adding some of the ethereal qualities of the late Kenny Wheeler.

As a composer, Racine is also asserting herself, as evidenced by the release of her independent Kickstarter funded debut CD Concentric Circles. She’s a little on the funk side of jazz, can swing as hard as she needs to, and sings on occasion delightfully. Her recent hit performance at the A2 Jazz Fest with her regular quartet, numerous club dates, and her regular gig every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer has shown her to be a reliable player that delivers consistently. In a world dominated by male instrumentalists, Racine is proving she is a leader among women or any gender in jazz, a contingent that is finally ascending with rapid and overdue recognition.

Her regular band with guitarist Chuck Newsome, bassist Ben Rolston, and drummer Rob Avsharian are proving that practice does indeed make perfect, especially hearing the quartet at the Gandy Dancer. On the CD she’s joined on select tracks by rising star keyboardist Ian Finkelstein and veteran trombonist Vincent Chandler.

The fluid motion of her horn lines belies the fact that hard metal pressing against teeth and lip skin embouchure is no easy task, and can eventually be damaging, yet she takes care of business on all of these levels to emerge as perhaps the premier female jazz player in this era and this region.

She recalls her early days listening to funk and ska music. “In ninth grade it was the British second wave - The Specials and English Beat. Then I went backwards to the Jamaican stuff. There were strong Community High school bands back then. I played in an all-female punk band Vomica, named from the homeopathic remedy, and The Brewts, whose drummer was Barrett Miller, Ben Miller from Destroy All Monsters’ son.”

The unlikely bridge between the harder edged music and jazz was Chet Baker. “My brother was in the CHS Jazz band and the rockabilly group Lucky Haskins. Justin Walter and Ben Jansson were in his band - great jazz players. It started for me with Chet Baker on records, something that was accessible to me, and someone singing, and the playing. I heard a Thelonious Monk compilation record which I listened to death. Then I was in Sandy Machonochie’s jazz band at Tappan Middle School and she made me take improvised solos against my better judgment."

The juxtaposition of working simultaneously with James Dapogny a.k.a. Phil Oglivy, and NOMO as a bridge between Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington to Fela Kuti might seem disconnected, but Ingrid Racine considers it a blessing. “For NOMO, it was cool kids playing at dance parties, but when I was hungry for gigs I sat in and got my butt kicked for the first two years with P.O.R.K."

Her career path has led her to the long overdue solo recording Concentric Circles, the culmination and an offshoot of her 12 year, regular Sunday brunch gig at the Gandy Dancer, where she has honed her playing and singing. “I feel like writing-wise I go through phases. I’ll book a gig and challenge myself to write all new tunes. So this batch of music with this band goes back to 2012 at The Raven’s Club. I knew the vibe I wanted to go with. So over the course of a few years we only played it a few times. Then there was music we did at the Elk’s Lodge. So the CD is an amalgamation of two writing periods."

“I’m not a big wailer, a high note player. My approach to the instrument is more forgiving. Just the way I hear things is more lyrical. I even didn’t want to think about it being a so-called jazz record, because I didn’t want that pressure of being virtuosic."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

Ingrid Racine & Friends perform every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer, 401 Depot St., from approximately 10 am - 2 pm. For dining reservations, call 769-0592. Ingrid also performs every Sunday with the Heather Black Project at the Ravens Club, 207 S. Main St., from 8 pm - 11 pm.

Ingrid is also leading an ongoing Music Production workshop presented by All Arts Access at AADL on Tuesday, October 25, November 8 and 22, 2016 at the Downtown Library.

Preview: Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers at the Blind Pig


Rainbow Seekers

Someday you'll find it, Rainbow Seekers.

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers were just in Ann Arbor a couple months ago to play a rousing show at Sonic Lunch, and they’ll be making the trip across the state again to play the Pig on October 21. Spread out all over Michigan, from Kalamazoo to Lansing to metro Detroit, all the band members have day jobs and then travel together most weekends to perform. It makes for a hectic lifestyle, but they don’t seem to mind. In an interview this summer, Hertler poked fun at the popular phrase, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” “It’s bullshit,” he said. “We work our asses off, and it's hard work, but we think it's worth it."

The band boasts of their ability to “make a sprightly young groove doctor out of anyone,” and with their folksy, funky, Motown-like jams, it’s a promise that they can uphold. The seven-man band traces their roots back to 2008, when lead singer Joe Hertler dropped out of music school at Central Michigan and started trying to put together his own band. He met guitarist Ryan Hoger and bassist Kevin Pritchard in Lansing in 2010 and with that, the Rainbow Seekers began to assemble. Saxophonist Aaron Stinson, violist Joshua Holcomb, and drummers Micah Bracken and Rick Hale all felt the pull of the rainbow and joined the band over the next four years.

Joe Hertler et al believe in providing their audiences with a true “experience,” which is why they don’t only play songs from their albums, the most recent of which, Terra Incognita, came out last year. Instead, they play a mix of old and new material, and improvise on stage, too. Typically dressed in bright clothing and costumes—Stinson sometimes puts a giant sunflower in his sax—Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers instill their infectious energy and good cheer into the audience, often accompanied by a giant inflatable rainbow that they drag on stage with them. Audience members are always encouraged to dance, clap and sing along. “Having a good time is contagious, and we try to spread that,” Hoger said earlier this year. At their Sonic Lunch performance this summer, they got almost everyone up to the front of the stage to dance to “Future Talk,” one of the best songs off of Terra Incognita.

The band is planning to release as-yet-unnamed new album, which Hertler claims will be their best yet, in early 2017.

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

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers are playing at The Blind Pig on Friday, October 21. Doors are at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $15. Ages 18+. For more information, visit .

Review: Detroit Public Theatre's Murder Ballad Slays


Murder Ballad

Murder Ballad hits it off with audiences.

The Detroit Public Theatre hit the ground running less than a year ago, after the vision of creators Courtney Burkett and Sarah Winkler finally came to fruition. The DPT shares its home with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, in the Max M. Fischer Music Center in the heart of Midtown. Now in their second season, the DPT offers audiences four new plays, all new to Michigan and all, the company believes, relevant to Detroit audiences. The first of these, running from September 28 to October 23 and directed by Burkett, is Murder Ballad, a rock musical about love, lust, rage, passion, obsession, and jealousy that got its start at the off-Broadway Manhattan Theatre Club.

Described as “a dark thriller with a razor’s edge,” the musical stars Arianna Bergamaschi as Sara, a broken-hearted New Yorker trying to rebuild her life, only to have her former love, Tom (Rusty Mewha, a current Resident Artist at the Purple Rose Theatre) continue to haunt her dreams and ultimately, her reality.

The play opens ominously: as the audience takes their seats in the small Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Hall where the DPT shows take place, a single spotlight shines down on a pool table at the center of the room with a baseball bat lying across it. A live band, comprised of Shawn Neal on drums, Mike Shriver on bass, and Jeff Sufamosto on guitar, is set up at the back of the stage and starts the show off with a crash of rock music. It’s great fun to see the band throughout the whole show, and they offer a dramatic backdrop to the scenery in the foreground.

The main conflict takes place quickly: Sara and Tom are in love (demonstrated by a series of sexy scenes where they crawl around on top of a bar and a pool table), but he breaks her heart. Stumbling home drunk and devastated, Sara meets Michael (Eric Gutman), who comforts her and the two eventually marry and have a child (This child, “Frankie” is invisible throughout the play, although the characters engage with it frequently, which is mildly off-putting.). Sara can’t get Tom off her mind though, and the two reconnect years later with disastrous results. Hint: the baseball bat makes a reappearance.

The highlight of the show is actually the nameless Narrator, played by Arielle Crosby, who takes audiences breath away with her hugely powerful voice. Fed up with all the other characters, she alternately encourages and discourages their actions through song and movement, wielding the baseball bat as a prop, although the others rarely interact with her. Bergamaschi also has a strong voice, although her attempts to mask her native Italian accent seemed ill-advised, as they somewhat affect her ability to sing to her full potential and it would not have detracted from the show for her character to have a non-American accent.

Overall, Murder Ballad is a fun performance to watch despite its somewhat predictable storyline and a lack of truly memorable music. The excellent set design and choreography keep the show moving, and the buildup to the climax of the show is well-executed, with everything concluding in a neat 75 minutes. And of course, who doesn’t love a little murder, passion and rock’n’roll?

Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library who only likes to use baseball bats to play baseball.

Murder Ballad runs from September 28-October 23, 2016 at the Detroit Public Theatre in Detroit. Tickets and more information are available at their website. DPT's second season will continue with Dot, running November 16-December 11, 2016, The Holler Sessions, running February 1-26, 2017 and The Harassment of Iris Malloy, running May 3-28, 2017.

Preview: Katie Geddes Serves Music Community On Several Levels


Preview: Katie Geddes Serves Music Community On Several Levels

Katie Geddes / Katie's debut album We Are Each Other's Angels from 2010.

There are many musicians, promoters, and support staff who thrive on service to the community. They tirelessly and with inadequate recompense give of themselves for the greater musical good. Then there’s Katie Geddes, who fills that bill beyond the call of duty.

A premier singer in our midst for some three decades, Geddes (pron: Ged-us) makes appearances at The Ark, the Green Wood Coffee House, smaller clubs, nursing and direct care facilities, the occasional festival, and even hosts house concerts. Her profession as a financial planner feeds her monetarily enough to be able to take music and acoustic folk art to as high a level as any local musician.

She also programs the shows at the Green Wood Coffee House in the First United Methodist Church at Green Road on Ann Arbor’s near north side. The series has been active since 1995. Recent performers have or will include Melanie (which was sold out), Chuck Mitchell, Don Henry, Mary McCaslin, Chuck Brodsky, Lou & Peter Berryman, Don White & Christine Lavin, John Ford Coley, Laurie McClain, Jeremy Horn, Sally Barris, and of course Geddes. In a room capacity of 200, most patrons hearing big name folk acts while not being church parishioners, is impressive.

We have breaking news: Katie Geddes has plans to record as many as six new CDs in the coming years. One will feature Melanie singing on it and producing it; as well as a tribute to Carly Simon. “I can’t believe no one has done that," she said in a recent interview. “Don Henry will produce that one.”

She’ll also do a solo album, another alongside her vocal trio All About Eve, plus a gospel, and a Christmas album. Whatever project she finishes first will be released first. She hopes all will be done in the next several years. “I would like to think so, but it takes me a long time because music is my side project.” When asked if she is a perfectionist she says no. “I do things over, but the time that goes between my recording sessions might be six months. David Mosher is very patient with me. He keeps my hard drive right there in his studios so when I do show up he’s ready."

Her debut studio CD We Are Each Others Angels was issued in 2010 and was made at Mosher’s Lake Studios in Brighton and Big Sky in Ann Arbor. The Live At Green Wood with The Usual Suspects dates back to 1999. It’s safe to say these new ideas have had plenty of time to germinate and now they are getting ready to sprout wings.

Because of the specific use of guest artists, most times Geddes has to wait until they come to town to book them at Green Wood. Her personal producer is a constant. “Now David Mosher is a wizard on all different kind of instruments, so I would lay down vocals and he would record a mandolin or a fiddle, then I’ll decide whether to keep it or not. The one I’m doing now has Robin McNamara, then a good two years later Jonathan Edwards added harmonica. That’s how I work.”

The guest artists become friends through her booking them at Green Wood. She also interprets other folks' music exclusively. “I do no song writing. I did write a book of poetry that maybe someday someone will put to music. They’re not really formatted."

“I cover songs and I think I'm pretty good at choosing songs and interpreting them. I like to ‘folkify’ pop - I’m a big fan of 1970s radio pop. I’ll countrify it or add a yodel, or harmony where there was not one before. By chance I’ll hear something I haven’t heard in forever and it’ll be stuck in my and really need to redo it. Or we’ll do something in church like Joe South’s 'Games People Play' because it was perfect for the service that day. It’s very relevant. We used Hammond organ on that.”

Some of the artists songs she has covered include Nanci Griffin, Gillian Welch, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, J.D Souther, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, and John Prine.

She mentions songs in church done by Mary Gauthier or Susan Werner, emphasizing the lack of hymns or strictly spiritual music. "We don’t do church music at our church.” As far as dream artists to book or collaborate with, she listed Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, Jennifer Warnes, and Dion.

Then there was the sold out show in the late 2000s with the recently deceased Rod McKuen. “We knew ahead of time we would have had too many people for the room so we put it in our downtown location. His fans had been waiting decades to see him. They came from all over the country."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

Katie Geddes performs at 8 pm, Saturday, October 8, at the Interfaith Center For Spiritual Growth in Café 704, 704 Airport Blvd. off State St. For reservations e-mail Al Carter at or call (734) 327-0270.

Preview: Judy Banker emerging as a premier singer/songwriter


Judy Banker Band

Judy Banker Band

By day she's a therapist and the Executive Director of the local Center for Eating Disorders. But on more occasions lately, Judy Banker continues her ascent as one of the brightest stars on the acoustic music scene, writing her own songs, playing exuberant music on her guitar, and vocalizing lyrics that have a universal appeal.

It’s no stretch to say that Judy Banker is ultimately so happy when performing it all seems completely natural. Her enthusiasm and sheer elation while playing her music is infectious and evident. Her radiant smile and stage presence has made her popular, leaving her fans and admirers asking for more. She possesses that rare combination of charisma and charm, along with a healthy injection of musicianship that seems so organic and soul driven, not produced in any way, shape or form.

At the last three editions of Nash Bash in the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market, Banker has been a shining star, eliciting the remark from Kerrytown Concert House’s Deanna Relyea that she “now can’t imagine a Nash Bash without Judy Banker.” Singing as a member of the Bill Edwards group for a scant few years as she did at the recent Nash Bash, but also extensive time working with Jay Stielstra, she’s now become a leader in her own right with encouragement from Stielstra and friends who recognize her singularly unique talent and stage presence.

Making her way from her native Manitowoc, Wisconsin west of Milwaukee to Ann Arbor, Banker is living proof that life’s lessons and feeling one’s own share of personal blues can turn into positive messages and the kind of music anyone can relate to - no matter their lot in this human condition of America. Inspired by similar artists of the 1960s, Banker writes songs with a more creatively complex vision, yet with simple and easy to understand lyrics. She’s already written several that could be considered classics, like the tune prompted by a comment from her son, the title track on her debut CD Devils Don’t Cry, “If You Could Read My Mind” (not the Gordon Lightfoot hit), “Feet Of Clay,” and the deeply poignant “Regrets." Devils Don’t Cry is a complete compendium of the twists and turns anyone might face, turned into a delightful and at times heart-weary mix of cautionary tales and tonics for the troops. The initial CD could perhaps see a follow-up soon - she has more material laying in wait - but her first effort could easily be issued on any major folk music label. It’s that good.

Banker's support group is perfect for what she attempts and accomplishes as an artist. The band includes renowned slap bassist and vocalist David Roof, violinist/vocalist Greta Mae Barnard, lap steel, dobro, and slide guitarist Tony Pace, and drummer/percussionist Stuart Tucker.

Initially Influenced by the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Banker’s music is neither stern nor ethereal, yet she retains threads of some of those values, along with a heart that professionally and musically wants wrongs to be righted. She is also not strictly urban or rural, but takes in elements of simplicity and sophistication to make music that is clearly all her own.

In a recent interview, Judy Banker talked about the inspiration behind her personalized story/songs. “I want to express this complex of emotions in a thought. It’s continually fascinating to me how right and wrong are so hard to decipher - it’s all a point of view. It isn’t really hard to pick a subject. I will look back on something that I’m stuck on or can’t figure out."

As a player, she started on a cheap guitar, and, along with her older brother, took lessons. “We played piano as kids. We learned chords in the key of C and G, then our teacher said that was all he knew. Then we had a cover band in middle school.” She also mentioned Joni Mitchell and had all of her albums: “Her writing is incredible, but I didn’t play her songs because I didn’t know the chords. It was outside of my Mel Bay music book. Some of my melodies have that feeling."

When asked where her songwriting can go she admits this is an early foray, as she’s been doing it for only four years. “What I imagine - the area that I’ll branch off into - is working on other people’s stories more. I hear people’s stories all the time - the battles that women go through all the time. I haven’t written anything political or about disenfranchised groups. I wouldn’t rule that out, it’s something I’m passionate about and care about - people who are being battered by our culture."

Banker is delighted with her audience response, feeds off it, and is interested in taking it to a higher level. Once again, her happiness quotient on stage is shared with her listeners. “I would love to channel bringing joy to people’s lives in a substantial way instead of, say, buying them a new toy. Helping people clear out some of the gunk and have better lives - I’ve dedicated my whole life to that."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

The Judy Banker Band performs at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 6 at Johnny’s Speakeasy, 2923 Dexter Ave. on Ann Arbor’s far west side. E-mail only for reservations at Seating is limited. The neighborhood has little if any local parking, so promoters are providing a shuttle between Plum Market in the Westgate Shopping area and The Speakeasy to easily access the show. Board from 6:30-7 pm. E-mail a reservation for the shuttle at judithbanker@gmail .com.

Review: Marc Cohn Takes Us Back at The Ark


Review: Marc Cohn Takes Us Back at The Ark

Mark Cohn makes music in his cohn of silence.

On Wednesday night at The Ark, Marc Cohn dialed us all back about 25 years, reprising his eponymous debut album and firing a host of emotional synapses throughout the appreciative near-capacity crowd.

Marc Cohn burst upon the pop music scene in 1991 with the release of Marc Cohn, going platinum and providing Mr. Cohn the recognition he justly deserved after 10 years of honing his craft as a struggling musician and performer. He was nominated for three Grammys that year and took home the Best New Artist award. Cohn followed with successful follow-up albums The Rainy Season and Burning the Daze… establishing him as a pre-eminent pop singer-songwriter, composer and instrumentalist in the mid-1990s. I was a big, big Marc Cohn fan back then, and though his subsequent work hasn’t achieved the commercial success of his early efforts, he continues to perform, collaborate and create new music for a legion of fans still emotionally bonded to his songs of love found, love lost and love reclaimed.

Last night – the first of two performances at The Ark on Wednesday and Friday – was purely nostalgic as for song selection. Many artists of Cohn’s era have recently dusted off their past works and re-played them in live commemorative tours. This silver anniversary tour began in March, continued through the summer including an overseas segment opening for Bonnie Raitt in Europe, and continues through May 2017. Wow. 57 year-old Marc Cohn evidenced no road weariness over the course of the evening, though his voice became raspier in the final third of his set.

Most of Marc’s sidemen have been playing with him for many years, and the sound was tight and expertly blended. Drummer Joe Bonadio did not have a conventional drum kit on stage, but it was never missed as he used a large African djembe drum, cajon and other percussion pieces to lay down the beat. Organist Glenn Patcha brought volume and depth to the music – he’s toured and recorded with Sheryl Crow, Bettye Lavette, Roger Waters, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Loudon Wainwright and the great Levon Helm, to name a few. (In fact, the one song Cohn inserted into the playlist that was not on his first album was an homage to Helm: Listening to Levon, from Cohn’s 2007 album, Join the Parade.) Patcha channeled his best Garth Hudson organ style to take us back to The Band’s best days. Though I could barely see him hiding behind Cohn’s piano, guitarist Kevin Barry demonstrated not only his solo prowess but also his ability to achieve a seamless blend of sound with the other musicians…a craft honed over 40 years of masterful lap steel and guitar performances.

The album Marc Cohn played for us is unique to its genre for its variety and consistent excellence, varied in its emotions, and powerful in both words and music. After 25 years of playing these iconic songs, Marc Cohn – perhaps for the sake of his own sanity – has introduced chord variations, melodic departures, new riffs and improvisations that refreshed every song for us, yet still allowed us all to mouth every word of the songs that so many of us knew so well. The typically respectful Ark crowd would never sing along unless asked to (and we were) but as I looked down my row I would see most of my row mates mouthing the words right along with me.

The concert started (as does the album) with Walking in Memphis – the hit that catapulted him to fame. Cohn spoke of meeting Muriel Wilkins at the Hollywood Café in Memphis while on a trip to see Graceland. Inspired by her and his visit, Cohn wrote the largely autobiographical song. Throughout the night, Cohn continued to add meaning to the familiar music by explaining the personal core and impetus for his writing.

There was the song about his dad that makes me think about my dad: Silver Thunderbird. Dammit, Marc. Then a song that makes me think I’m 20 again: Perfect Love. C’mon, Marc. The last song of the album reminds me of good times with my ex-wife: True Companion. Marc!!! Judging from the sniffles in the audience, most of the 11 songs on the album touched deep memories for the largely middle-aged crowd. Well, I guess we asked for it; we even paid good money to be reminded of those times when music, memories and heart met in our lives.

I think often of performers like Marc whose light burned so brightly and then dimmed. Though he certainly wasn’t a one-hit wonder, his first hit was his biggest hit, and it would appear to less interested observers that he is riding his past fame from the early 90s until today. Nothing could be further from the truth; Cohn has continued to perform, collaborate and make new music over the last 25 years. To a more interested observer, and to all the true fans who showed up on Wednesday night, it wasn’t all about Walking in Memphis. It was about an album that has held up for 25 years, song for song, as one of the best pop albums of its era. It was about a musician’s career and the unusual arcs and twists it takes as he continues to work their craft, earn a living and perhaps exorcise some demons. And finally, it’s about firing those synapses to remember where we were, what we were doing and why we are so touched by Marc Cohn’s songs.

Just a few words about Seth Glier, who opened for Cohn last night with his sideman Joe Nerney. Glier has previously headlined at The Ark and brings a sweet tenor and sharp musical sensibility to any show, whether his own or as an opener. Glier paused for quiet moments during a couple of his songs, and you could have heard a pin drop – highly unusual for an opener while patrons are scuffling around looking for their seats. That’s why I love The Ark’s Ford Listening Room, and why I truly enjoyed Wednesday’s performance.

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

Marc Cohn plays at The Ark again Friday night, September 30th, and tickets are still available. Buy them here. Check out all of Marc Cohn’s music on Spotify. Check out Seth Glier’s music on Spotify.

Preview: Kamasi Washington at the Michigan Theater


Kamasi Washington.

Kamasi Washington toots his own horn at the Michigan Theater September 30.

There was a lot happening on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, but Kamasi Washington’s saxophone still stood out, causing him to be touted as “the high priest of sax” and “jazz’s newest savior.”

Washington seems unfazed by these dramatic new labels. The 35-year-old Californian has been playing jazz saxophone for decades—since he was 13, to be exact, when he picked up his father’s saxophone, left lying in the living room. As a sophomore at UCLA, Washington toured with Snoop Dogg and joined the orchestra of Gerald Wilson.

Over the next twenty years, Washington recorded, performed and toured with dozens of musicians and quietly formed his own band, The Next Step, comprised of anywhere between 10 and 15 people at a given time. The Next Step, along with a string orchestra and a full choir, backed Washington on his first solo album, released last year, and appropriately titled The Epic—it’s three discs and 172 minutes long. The Epic received the inaugural American Music Prize, which is awarded to the best debut album of the previous year in any genre.

Washington uses his music to get messages across, saying that the “whole point” of playing music is to convey a message. In his case, these messages are often political, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and praising one of his early heroes, Malcolm X. An entire track on The Epic is a eulogy to the black leader.

“Music and politics are so connected,” Washington said in an interview in May. “Politics are policies that govern people. Music is the expression of thoughts that govern ourselves. It should go hand in hand, because one definitely affects the other.” Washington is influenced by early jazz pioneers like Gerald Wilson and John Coltrane, but also strives to maintain his own sound in his work and his performances, saying that he loves to play jazz music because there is always something new to try with it.

Washington’s live performances are similar to that of his album: epic. His stature and wardrobe choices (he wore a bright blue dashiki at a recent performance in Toronto, and a floor length purple coat at another) would make him eye-catching even without his mind-blowing saxophone performances. At his September 30 performance at the Michigan Theater, The Next Step will be with him, making for what will surely be a crowded and lively stage. Washington says that he is on a “lifelong quest discovering the many wonders of music”—the opportunity to join him on this journey, even if just for the night, is certainly one not to be missed.

Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. Clarence Clemons is her favorite saxophonist, but Kamasi Washington is a close second.

Kamasi Washington performs at the Michigan Theater on Friday, September 30 at 8 pm, presented by UMS. Tickets range from $24-$58 and are available here.

Interview: Mark Mothersbaugh on Pee-Wee Herman, Thor, and America's ongoing de-evolution

Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo

Devo, with blue hats, 2010. // Solo, no hat, 2016.

Mark Mothersbaugh is best known for his indelible contributions to pop music as the frontman of Devo, but his work with the darkly humorous New Wave group represents just a fraction of his diverse artistic output. Since the late '80s Mothersbaugh has composed music for hundreds of movies, TV shows, video games, and commercials. His visual art includes thousands of pen-and-ink postcard-sized drawings, rugs, sculpture-like musical instruments, and eyeglasses. This broad body of work, including the music and early music videos he created with Devo, is the subject of a new traveling museum exhibit, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia. The exhibit currently is not scheduled to stop in Ann Arbor, but in a way we'll be getting something even better. Mothersbaugh will appear at the Michigan Theater on September 29 for the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, engaging in conversation with Adam Lerner, who curated the Myopia exhibit and wrote the accompanying book.

In advance of his Ann Arbor appearance, Mothersbaugh chatted with Pulp about maintaining a sense of subversiveness despite corporate interference, his enduring friendship with Pee-Wee Herman creator Paul Reubens, and Todd Rundgren's enviable fashion sense.

Q: You'll be in conversation here at the University of Michigan with Adam Lerner, who curated the new retrospective exhibition of your work and edited the accompanying book. As you've had these opportunities to look back on your work recently, have you had any new realizations about your evolution as an artist over time?

A: [Laughs.] You know, yeah. You do pick up information along the way of being a human, I've found. To me, when I walk through the show ... it's kind of interesting to see what things are the same and what things never change. When I look back at the arc of all my visual art, I can say, "Well, in a way it's permutations on a theme." It really goes back to when I was at school at Kent State. I hated public school. The first 12 years of my life in school were horrid. I was at odds with other students, with the teachers, with everybody. It was just totally unpleasant and I almost ended up at Kent State on a fluke, but it turned out to change my life in a lot of ways. I gained a respect for education, among other things, and I just loved having access to tools that I never had access to before ... There was very limited art teaching in public schools in the '50s and '60s, so it was kind of this amazing world that got opened up to me when I all of a sudden found out about all the things you could do, all the empowerment that came with being in college. I loved it.

But at that time period, I was there for the shooting of the students at Kent State. We had all joined [Students for a Democratic Society] and we were going to help end the war in Vietnam and then things took a dark turn. ... That was in my sophomore year, and [I was] questioning that. I was collaborating for about a year before that with a grad student that was an artist at Kent State named Jerry Casale. Questioning what we'd seen, we decided that what we'd seen was de-evolution, not evolution. I understand that there's different ways for artists to evolve and mature and to fall apart or to build. I think in my case, I think my life as an artist has always been kind of seen through the eyes of someone that was always kind of hopeful, but paranoid at the same time. Or worried about it. Hopeful, but concerned. We saw de-evolution as a vehicle to talk about the things that we were concerned about on the planet, and I feel like my work has been sort of permutations on that theme.

Even kind of shifting into the belly of the beast and moving into Hollywood and scoring films and television, between Devo kind of slowing down at the end of the '80s, I started doing gallery shows. I did about 125 or 140 shows at mostly smaller pop-up galleries and street galleries, just because being in Hollywood made me distrustful of organized entertainment, so to speak. I've found all the smaller galleries to be, a high percentage of them, filled with authentic people that loved and were concerned about art and reminded me of what it was like to be in Devo when we were starting it. We thought we were doing an art movement. We thought we were doing Art Devo. We were like an agitprop group who worked in all the different mediums and were spreading the good news of de-evolution around the world. That was our original goal.

When we signed with Warner Bros. and Virgin Records, they kind of did as best a job as they could of shoving us into a little box that they could understand. ... Even in the late '70s, it was a struggle to convince them to let us make our short films. They had no idea why we wanted to make films with our songs. There were so many things that were a struggle that were needless. As Jerry would say, we were the pioneers who got scalped. But it was like the early days of people recognizing artists that put ideas in front of the actual techniques that they used. A technique was just a vehicle to help you solve a problem or create a piece of art. Being a craftsman was less necessary than ever before in our culture.

Now it's totally amazing how far it's gone. Kids that have ideas now about art, they don't have the barriers that we had or I had. The Internet is such an amazing, wonderful gift and tool for kids. I'm so jealous I'm not 14 right now. I watch my kids – they're 12 and 15, and I watched them make little movies on an iPad when they were even younger. It's totally transparent to them and they're laughing and running around the house. They're making a movie like a little kid would make, but they don't even know that 30 years ago – was it 30? '76, that's like, what, 40 years? Jesus. Forty years ago. It took a year of work first to make the money to pay for $3,000 worth of material and then to find time in editing bays where we could go in and make our seven-and-a-half minute film. And it's not just my kids. It's all over the world. Cell phones and iPads, things like that, are so inexpensive now that you see kids in the Amazon playing with this stuff, taking pictures of things around them and making music on iPhones. You not only don't have to own a guitar or a piano or a set of drums. You don't even have to know how to play it. My kids found this app where they could play drums by just making drum sounds into their phone and it would translate that into one of 30 different drum kits. ... Art has become so democratic. On some levels it's astounding. Anyhow, I don't know how I got to that after you were asking me about my art, but there you go. That's the danger of talking to me after a cup of coffee.

Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh, 1964 –Monument to the Conquerors of Space, 2012, ink jet on paper.

Q: That's okay. It was an interesting answer. I want to ask you a little bit more about the concept of de-evolution, since that was of course so important to the formation of Devo. How has that concept played out for you as time has gone along? Do you see de-evolution continuing to play out? Is that concept still as relevant to you as when you were younger back in the '70s?

A: I think all you have to do is look at this current election season in the U.S. It's like Idiocracy has arrived, for real. It's not even ironic or funny anymore. It's reality. It's kind of impressive and depressive at the same time, because we were never in support of things falling apart or the stupidity of man getting the upper hand. We just felt like, if you knew about it and recognized it, you could be proactive and change your mutations carefully, choose them on purpose instead of just letting them be pushed on you and accepting them.

Q: I want to ask you about a couple of more recent projects. You most recently scored the new Pee-Wee Herman movie. Did Paul Reubens bring you back in on that project personally, and did you guys remain in touch in the decades since you worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse?

A: It's kind of funny. ... Right when he was first creating the Pee-Wee Herman character, we'd already met. This was '70 – I don't know what, '70-something – and my girlfriend at the time, her parents, her mom was instrumental in starting a comedy group out in Los Angeles called the Groundlings. Her name was Laraine Newman. She was one of the original cast members for Saturday Night Live. She would take me to the Groundlings and I saw Paul while he was working on developing this character. We kind of knew each other and he had asked me to do his first movie, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but I was so deep into Devo and we were touring. I didn't do Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but he called me up after that and said, "Well, okay, how about now? Would you do my TV show?" It just happened to be that Devo had signed a bad record deal with a record company that was going bankrupt. We were just like rats on the Titanic, along with about 20 other bands that were just sitting on the bow. It seemed like the perfect time to work on a TV show.

I'd been in this situation where I was writing 12 songs, rehearsing them, then go record them, then make a film for one or two of the songs and design a live touring show, and then we'd go out on tour and a year later we'd come back and write 12 more songs. When I started doing Pee-Wee's Playhouse they would send me a three-quarter-inch tape on Monday. Tuesday I'd write 12 songs. Wednesday I'd record them. Thursday I'd put it in the mail and send it to New York, where they were editing the show. Friday they would cut it into the episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse for that week. Saturday we'd all watch it on TV. Monday they'd send me a new tape and I'd do the process over again. I was like, "Sign me up for this! I love the idea of getting to create more and write more music as opposed to spending all my time sitting around in airports waiting to get to the next venue."

So now, all these years later, [Reubens and I] have stayed friends. He's probably the only guy – other than my mom and dad, who are both passed away now – but he was the only other person who remembered every one of my birthdays and sent me something. That was kind of nice, even if we didn't see each other all the time. So we stayed friends and when this came up, it was kind of like coming around full circle to get to work with him again. I ended up recording the London Philharmonic in Abbey Road, which has kind of turned out to be one of my favorite studios. I've done maybe a dozen movies or so there. And I don't know if you saw the movie or not, but he does a pretty good job of looking like Pee-Wee did 40 years ago.

Q: He does, yeah. It's surprising. You're also scoring the upcoming Thor sequel. How did you get involved on that project and how much work have you done on it so far?

A: That's an odd one for me to talk about, and the reason is because I just happened to casually mention it in Akron. I was reminded that I had signed an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement, with Marvel, and most of the time what people are concerned about is they don't want you to give away the plot of the film. They don't want you to give away any spoilers or tell them any of the details of the movie before it comes out. Well, Marvel quickly picked up on that I had mentioned I was working with Taika Waititi, who is the director. I happen to really like his work. Somebody asked me if it was Thor and I said yes, and they reminded me that I'm not allowed to talk about the movie. So I either am or I am not working on a movie with this guy. He had a lot to do with attracting me to the project just because his movies are super-creative. I really liked his new movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Musically, it's really creative. That's what really caught my interest.

Q: You've done so many different scores over the years, and you mentioned how much you enjoyed that way of working. What appeals to you about that kind of work? How much creative limitation do you feel that kind of work imposes on you and how do you respond to that limitation?

A: Much less than when you're in a band. The first couple albums with Virgin and Warners were great. They signed us just because they wanted the bragging rights of, "Brian Eno paid for this record to be recorded. David Bowie hung out with them in Germany the whole time they were recording it." [Bowie] had called us "the band of the future" in Melody Maker back before we had released anything, just based on tapes we had managed to get backstage to him while he was playing keyboards for Iggy on a tour back in '77 or '76. Where was I going with this story?

Q: I was asking you about creative limitations.

A: Yeah, the first couple albums they left us alone. Then we unfortunately had a radio hit and Warners then looked at us as gold. They had made a bunch of money off of us and then they started showing up at our rehearsals and our recording sessions. We'd be working on something and then some guy would pop up with a mullet and go, "Hey, do anything you want on this record, you guys. Feel free to do whatever you want. Just make sure you put another 'Whip It' in there!" And it changed our whole relationship with the recording industry, because where we enjoying being slightly anonymous and our feeling was that we were able to be kind of subversive, all of a sudden we had all this pressure and people commenting on our choices.

On that album that they were coming to listen to, we had done a cover version of "Working in a Coal Mine" and they fought to take it off the record. The record company pushed it off of our album. So we gave it to some movie called Heavy Metal, because we thought, "Oh, we're going to get a free ride with all these heavy metal bands when they put out their album. Our little weirdo song will get a free ride with Van Halen." We thought that was funny. Then that turned out to be the song that went into the top 20, so we pulled all these lame heavy metal songs along for a ride, which the joke was kind of on us. Then Warner Brothers panicked because right as they were about to release our new album, we had a record that was in the charts playing. They freaked out. They pressed singles with "Working in a Coal Mine" on it and stuck them inside the album as an afterthought. They just did the most nincompoop things.

So working in film and TV, you're much more anonymous as a composer. There's not a magnifying glass on you and you have so much more freedom. Pop music back then is the same as it is today. From song to song the variation is very small. It's like the fashion industry. There's like 50 pairs of the same jeans coming out from different manufacturers. The label's a little different, and some of them have a stitching thing where they put a loop in them, and then somebody else has one button that shows at the top of the pants, and then somebody else has a pocket that zips shut or something. But they're all exactly the same. It's all the same stuff. Pop music is like that to me and still is. So when I went into working on Pee-Wee's show, it was a whole different world. I could do punk hoedown music on one episode. I could do South Sea Islands goes into Ethel Merman with Spike Jones stylings in it for the theme song for the show. It was all wide open and I loved that so much, coming into this world now where you have such a wide palette. In so many ways it's superior. For me, I always had two brothers and two sisters, and Devo had two sets of brothers. So the idea of collaboration was always a part of my art aesthetic. I always liked to have people to collaborate with. So having a director that has ideas, and he tells you what he's trying to do with his film and you help him see that finally or you help him hear it, is very satisfying to me.

Q: You mentioned the broad range of creativity you were able to express through something like Pee-Wee's Playhouse. How do you manage to still express that broad range of creativity, or express that subversive element you mentioned earlier on with Devo, in some of the more conventional movies you've done, say a Last Vegas or something like that?

A: There's really super-literal ways to do that, if you have something you want to say or you want to talk about. Subliminal messages are so easy and nobody pays attention to them. [Laughs.] It's really funny. I remember the first time I was doing a Hawaiian Punch commercial. It was my first commercial and I was kind of not sure how I felt about doing TV commercials, but I liked the idea of being in that arena. It needed a drumbeat and I put, "Choose your mutations carefully." [Imitates drumbeat.] Bum-buh-buh-bum, bum-buh-buh-bum. And Bob Casale was my longtime engineer and coproducer on all this stuff. I remember we were in a meeting with Daley and Associates, the ad agency that was representing the commercial. We played the song and in this room I'm hearing, "Choose your mutations carefully." I'm looking at a guy over there tapping his pen on the table and as soon as the commercial ends I turn bright red and Bob Casale looks at me like he wants to kill me, like we're going to be in so much trouble. And the guy is tapping his pen and as soon as this commercial ends he goes, "Yeah, Hawaiian Punch does hit you in all the right places!" He just shouts out the main line from the narrator at the very end. We just look at each other and I'm like, "It's that easy?" We did it for years and then I got caught by a picture editor who said, "I know what you did." He called me out. He said, "I know what you're doing. You should take that out." I think I put "Question authority" in something like a lottery commercial or something, so this guy made me take it out. But the ad agencies never called me on it. And I even talked about it in articles before, and I still get hired by ad agencies to do commercial music. So they must not really care.

Q: So you haven't stopped that practice then?

A: Well, it depends. You have to have a reason to do it. Usually the more sugar that's in something, the better the chance that I'm going to say "Question authority" or "Sugar is bad for you." That's one I've done a couple of times. It's easy to do. They're easy to find, too. You can find them if you know which commercials you're looking for. You can look them up. And you hear it, too. Once you know that it's there, then you hear it. If you don't know it's there, your mind doesn't want to make it happen. It just goes in there like malware. What's the opposite of malware? What if it's there to help you out? I guess that's an antibiotic. It's like a covert antibiotic.

Q: A probiotic?

A: Yeah, probiotic. That's it! It's a probiotic.

Q: You certainly have plenty of non-Devo work going on and have for a long time, but Devo also still gets out there and tours from time to time. How do you feel about the band's role in your life these days?

A: I only have one really big problem with the band, and that is that we still play as loud as we did when we were onstage in Central Park or at Max's Kansas City or whatever that place was that we played in Ann Arbor. I think it was a bowling alley. I can't remember. It was some stage where it had a proscenium around it that looked like a TV screen. ... What I remember about that night also ... is that Todd Rundgren had shown up to see the band and he had a suit made out of tan oilcloth plastic. I was like, "How did he get that done? That is so awesome!" I remember being so jealous of this suit that Todd Rundgren was wearing. While we were talking I just kept staring at his suit the whole time and then looking around to see if I could tell if it was possibly a commercially made thing, which it wasn't, I'm sure, in retrospect. But it was the first time I'd seen a tailored suit made out of plastic. [Mothersbaugh likely recalls Devo's 1978 show at the Punch and Judy Theater in Grosse Pointe Farms in 1978, which coincided with a Rundgren show in Royal Oak.]

Q: You were saying, then, that today your only problem with the band is that you play as loud as you did back in the day?

A: Yeah, we play so loud and I have tinnitus. It's hard for me to go play 10 shows in a row with Devo and then go back to my studio and try to listen to the woodwinds from an orchestra. It takes me like a week or so for it to calm down enough that I can go back to work. It's not worth the tradeoff for me to go deaf just so I can play 50 more Devo shows, to be honest with you. We'll do one here and there. We did a benefit earlier this year. Will Ferrell talked us into it. It was like the worst thing for me because I'm standing onstage and they're wheeling all these drummers out onstage. Part of the thing was a joke that they had 12 drummers all at once, so not only did they have my drummer, but Mick Fleetwood was onstage and Tommy Lee was onstage. They were all playing simultaneously, like a dozen drummers, the Chili Peppers drummer and all these. I'm standing there going, "This is the worst thing that could have possibly happened." I went home from that and it was like gongs were going off in my head. So that's the thing that makes Devo where I have to draw a line. I can't do a big tour again.

Q: So if you're going to be onstage these days you'd rather be doing something like you will be here in Ann Arbor, where you're just having a quiet conversation onstage.

A: Preferably. Yeah. That's totally different. And all I ask is that people in the audience ask questions. Speak clearly.

Patrick Dunn is the interim managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He exercised considerable restraint in asking Mark Mothersbaugh about anything other than Pee-Wee Herman.

Mark Mothersbaugh will appear at the Penny Stamps Speaker Series Event, presented by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty, on Thursday, September 29 at 5:10 pm. Free of charge and open to the public.

UMS Artists in Residence 2016-2017 Announced

UMS Artists in Residence 2016-2017.

UMS Artists in Residence announced.

The theme of the 2016-2017 UMS Artists in Residence program is "renegade art-making and art-makers" and the artists have just been announced. According to the announcement, the "five artists (including visual, literary, and performing artists) have been selected to use UMS performance experiences as a resource to support the creation of new work or to fuel an artistic journey."

The artists for 2016-2017 are:

Simon Alexander-Adams - a Detroit-based multimedia artist, musician, and designer working within the intersection of art and technology.

Ash Arder - a Detroit-based visual artist who creates installations and sculptural objects using a combination of found and self-made materials.

Nicole Patrick - a musician and percussionist who performs regularly with her band, Rooms, and other indie, improvisation, and performance art groups around southeastern Michigan.

Qiana Towns - a Flint-based poet whose work has appeared in Harvard Review Online, Crab Orchard Review, and Reverie, and is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press, 2015).

Barbara Tozier - a photographer who works in digital, analog, and hybrid — with forays into video and multimedia.

Congratulations to these artists - and look for blog posts and engagement with the artists throughout their term on the UMS site.

Preview: Dark Star Orchestra at the Michigan Theater



Dark Star/Bright Light

Grateful Dead fans (or “Deadheads”) come in more colors than a tie-dyed T-shirt — from connoisseurs who obsessively trade concert bootlegs to casual listeners who mainly admire the band’s more mainstream early albums like Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. The Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) aims to please them all.

Formed in Chicago in 1997, two years after the death of Dead lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia, the band channels the spirit of the Dead by recreating complete sets from throughout the legendary jam band’s history. The DSO uses period-accurate gear to emulate the original concerts’ nuances as closely as possible. Every few nights on tour they play an “elective set,” building their own unique setlists which draw from the many disparate eras of the Dead’s storied career.

True to the Dead’s spirit, the DSO is also notably prolific. To date the band has played over 2,500 concerts -- more shows than the original Dead performed in its entire 30-year run. Members of the Dead have also performed with the band throughout the years, including rhythm guitarist/singer Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh, giving the DSO implicit approval.

The DSO plays the Michigan Theater this Saturday. The band’s current lead guitarist, Jeff Mattson, formerly of The Zen Tricksters, replaced founding member John Kadlecik in 2009 when Kadlecik joined former Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s band Further. When we spoke with Mattson last week he declined to reveal what the group has planned for their gig in Ann Arbor. He did, however, discuss performing with founding Dead members and the role his local library had in turning him into a Deadhead.

Q: How did you first discover the Grateful Dead?

A: It goes way back. I heard "Casey Jones" on the radio, and I went to the library, of all places, and I took Workingman's Dead out. I liked what I heard, and I followed that up soon after that with American Beauty, and I really liked that. I was really taken with "Truckin'."

Then someone loaned me a reel-to-reel tape of Anthem of the Sun. It was a little too heavy for me at the time. I like it, but it just kind of scared me. I said, "Oh, I'll have to come back to this" [laughs]. Because it's just a very deep, psychedelic record. Very different than Working Man's... and American Beauty.

And then I took it from there, buying the records. I saw my first show in 1973 at Nassau Coliseum and never looked back. I was really taken when I realized how different the songs were live. That can be a nonstarter for some people, but I grew up in a household listening to jazz. My father's a jazz musician. So I just kind of got improvisation, and I just dug the fact that it was different every night.

Q: Being such a big fan, what was it like to eventually get to play with Phil Lesh many years later?

A: That was my first experience playing with any of the members of the band, so it was just like a dream almost that I never dared to dream come true. He's such an incredible musician, so to play that music with him, and to play some of the songs he wrote ... I thought, "Oh my god. I've been playing this song for years, but this is the man that wrote the song!"

I've gone on from then to have played with all of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead at one time or another. I really look at those experiences as being highlights of my musical life. There's just something so exciting to play the music you love with the people who originally created it.

Q: How did that opportunity come about?

A: Actually, it was not that many years after Jerry Garcia passed away. It was 1999, and Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995. Phil got in touch with us based on hearing -- and when I say "us," I mean me and Rob Barraco, who was my keyboard player -- my band at the time, The Zen Tricksters. He heard one of our CDs of our original music and was taken by our ability to jam in the studio. He was really impressed with that. He said in his words the Grateful Dead could never really do that, jam in the studio. I don't know if I really agree with him on that. There are some really beautiful jams on some of their studio records.

But nonetheless, when I came to play with him I don't think he realized we had been playing Grateful Dead music. It was a little too close I think, at the time, to sounding like Jerry. I think that was unnerving to him at the time. He didn't say that, although he did say things like, "Oh, you don't have to play so much like Jerry." I don't think he wanted to be perceived that he was trying to replace Jerry or something like that. Of course, I was just excited to use my acquired skill set [laughs] in that context. But it all worked out fine. I got away from playing too much like Jerry, and I guess [Lesh] was okay with it.

Q: How did experience inform your work with Dark Star Orchestra?

A: When I'm in the context of playing the Grateful Dead, I have a tendency to be a little more purist about the Jerry Garcia influence. I saw from playing with Phil that he wasn't trying to recreate that. At that time he was also singing most of the songs, so he was changing the keys on them … He was really interested in coming up with new feels for them. I saw at the time that there was a lot of room for playing with the art form, although as you mentioned that's not what we're really about in Dark Star Orchestra.

Having said that, Phil sat in with us two or three times with Dark Star. That's been a lot of fun. As has Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann and Donna Jean Godchaux. I can't speak to how much they approve of what we're doing, but I guess we got their approval by having them sit in with us.

Q: Being that Dark Star Orchestra alternates between performing recreations of specific Dead shows and also building your own sets, what can we expect when you come to Ann Arbor?

A: About every third or fourth night we do what we call an "elective set," where we make up the setlist just to help keep it fresh and hit on the songs that weren't really getting hit on the tour. Our fans come down somewhere in the middle about what they prefer. There are some people who prefer to hear us do [purist] sets, but there are some people that love that when we do elective sets that we can cross over eras, playing songs that maybe they only played in 1969, then go into a song they played in the '90s. Things that never really happened in Grateful Dead land, we can experiment with that.

Q: How much work does it take to faithfully replicate a Dead show?

A: The difference is that when we play a 1969 show, we set up the stage and we use the gear that fits, and use the arrangements as they were in 1969. Likewise, if the next night we're doing a show from the '80s, we'll have quite a different set-up, with different instruments, all the extra percussion and stuff that was part of that set-up in those years.

We still don’t do everything exactly. It would be impossible to note-for-note recreate a show every night. Even more so, it would be quite against the spirit of the music, which is to improvise in real time. We do that, of course. The arrangement and everything else might belong to the period, but the notes are our own. We're playing how we feel in the moment.

Q: What kind of feedback do you get from your fans? Do they often pick up on the nuances you try to replicate in your performances?

A: It depends on the listener. There's a whole continuum. There's people that can spit out line and verse of the setlist of a show of any particular date. It's just remarkable how detail-oriented Deadheads can be. And then there's people who might be a little more casual listeners who might be baffled that the song sounds so different from what they're used to hearing. But I think they get it that we're trying to play it like it was played in that particular era.

Steven Sonoras is a casual Dead fan and writer living in Ypsilanti.

Dark Star Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 24 at the Michigan Theater, 602 E. Liberty St. Tickets are $25-45. Call (734) 668-8463 or (800) 745-3000, or visit the Michigan Theater’s website for more information.