Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.

Communal Music: Ann Arbor Concert Band preps for its season finale

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Annie Li and Ann Arbor high school band conductors

Ann Arbor high school band conductors Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) join clarinetist Annie Li (Pioneer) for the Ann Arbor Concert Band's season finale on May 6.

For the past 39 years, the Ann Arbor Concert Band has prepared for a season finale. That's a lot of successful seasons for a community band consisting of non-professional musicians. Their love for performing will be obvious at the group's latest season finale, "Symphonic Broadway," which will feature music from Mozart, Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, and a selection of works by Jerome Robbins. 

I talked to Phillip Rhodes, president of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, about the group's history, scholarship, and season-ending concert, which happens May 6 at the Michigan Theater.

BYO Radness: Camp Totally Awesome Fest returns for its 14th year

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Camp Totally Awesome Fest 14

Dogs, tarantulas, and human children are encouraged to come to the 14th Camp Totally Awesome Fest.

In fact, everybody is welcome at this annual Ypsilanti event, but last year Awesome Fest’s guiding force, Patrick Elkins, specifically said dogs, tarantulas, and human children should come hear some jams, and I’m just going to assume the offer stands for this year’s throwdown since the Facebook event post says, “Free! All Ages! All Species!”

Spread over April 27-29 at six venues, Camp Totally Awesome Fest is primarily about music -- there are about 45 bands and a few DJs and performance artists on the lineup -- and the genres span R&B and indie rock to hip-hop and modular-synth electronics.

Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Out of the Ether: Nancy And Beth conjure musical beauty from the fifth dimension

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nancy and Beth

Most of us know Megan Mullally as boozy, unapologetically solipsistic Karen Walker on Will & Grace, and also perhaps as Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman’s real-life partner, but not as a former dancer and Broadway performer. 

This is likely why you’d be surprised to learn that Mullally, in recent years, has teamed up with another multi-talented artist, Stephanie Hunt (who played lesbian bass-player Devin on Friday Night Lights), to form a music duo called Nancy And Beth, which will perform at The Ark on Monday, April 23

Where did the arbitrary names Nancy And Beth come from (complete with a capitalized And)? The answer will tell you a great deal about the two women’s soulmate-like friendship.

“The ether,” said Mullally.

“I was going to say ‘the ether’!” cried Hunt.

Loud and Clear: Marcus Wicker's socially conscious "Silencer" poems are anything but quiet

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Poet Marcus Wicker and his book Silencer

Marcus Wicker's poetry doesn’t mince words. He keeps it real.

Mixing hip-hop rhymes with poetic prose, Wicker's books deal with tough topics such as racism, classism, and police brutality -- subjects American society swiftly tries to hide from. Wicker, an Ann Arbor native, challenges those in power with every phrase he puts on the page. 

A Pushcart Prize winner and two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, Wicker received fellowships from Ruth Lilly and Cave Canem to name a few and has written articles that have appeared in The Nation, Oxford American, and Boston Review. He currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis and is the poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review.

All accolades aside, the most impressive things about Wicker are his ability to call readers to action and his ability to mix modern communication and hard-hitting wit within his work. He even injects humor as a great contrast to the serious topics. 

Art and science come together in Civic Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Civic Theatre's Arcadia cast

L-R: Kate Umstatter as Hannah Jarvis, Laura Lilly Cotten as Thomasina Coverly, Chris Grimm as Septimus Hodge, and Russ Schwartz as Valentine Coverly in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

Melissa Freilich loves Tom Stoppard’s plays.

“Tom Stoppard always asks you to think and feel as well,” she said.

Freilich is directing the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Stoppard’s Arcadia, opening April 19 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

It’s a play that combines entertainment with thought-provoking discussions of everything from poetry and mathematics to thermodynamics.

In Extremis: Colin Stetson’s interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 pushes it to the edge

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Colin Stetson

Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 is nearly an hour-long dive into anguish.

But rather than sounding angry, aggressive, or atonal, the three movements that comprise Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” are stunningly beautiful.

Symphony No. 3 is filled with dolor, but the modal framework, simple harmonies, and gentile repetition give the music a familiar and comforting feeling despite being inspired by stories and songs of mothers and children being separated by war.

On the album Sorrow -- A Reimagining of Górecki's Third Symphony, Ann Arbor native Colin Stetson tweaks the mega-popular work in a way that stays true to the composition’s raw emotional state while also diving deeper into its deep well of gorgeous despair. (You can hear Stetson and 11 other musicians in the Sorrow band, including Ann Arbor’s Justin Walter (EVI, synths), Dan Bennett (sax), and Andrew Bishop (sax), perform the piece at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, April 14.)

Theater for the People: U-M's "Me and My Girl" is a rollicking populist musical comedy

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

U-M's Me and My Girl

Elliott Styles as Bill Snibson and Sophie Madorsky as Sally in the U-M Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Me and My Girl playing at the Power Center April 12-15. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

It feels a bit like director/choreographer Linda Goodrich, a professor in U-M’s musical theater department, has long had a date with destiny regarding the 1937 British musical Me and My Girl.

For although the show had long been one of Britain’s biggest home-grown stage musical hits, it didn’t make its Broadway debut until 1986 -- the same year Goodrich moved to New York.

“I remember seeing it on a marquee, but I never did see it,” said Goodrich. “In fact, I’d never seen it on stage before we started rehearsals. I’d always been familiar with the music and been curious about the show, but it just never crossed my path again.”

Pulp & PencilPoint TheatreWorks Presents the AADL Pub Reading Series

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Pulp Presents the AADL Pub Reading Series

Why do we bother going out to movie theaters -- with their expensive, salty popcorn and sticky floors -- when we could just sit in the comfort of our own homes binge-watching television? I believe it’s because there’s something nourishing in having a communal experience with others when we’re listening to stories. 

There’s something even more fulfilling in watching live theater, especially local and intimate theater, when you’re packed into a room listening to performers who have honed their craft. When done well, it feels deeply personal. 

This is the intention of the AADL Pub Reading Series presented by Pulp in partnership with PencilPoint TheatreWorks: a set of staged readings that will be performed at Conor O’Neill’s on the fourth Sunday of each month from April through July. All four of the plays chosen for the Pub Reading Series focus on connecting, and on people who struggle to form a community. They’re also each a witty and brilliant play in their own right.