Ukrainian Folk Group Kommuna Lux to Perform July 27 for Saline's Acoustic Routes Concert Series

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The seven members of Ukrainian folk music group Kommuna Lux.

Kommuna Lux features seven classically trained musicians from Odesa, Ukraine. Photo taken from Acoustic Routes’ Facebook event.

You’d be hard-pressed to think of a more fun, entertaining way to support Ukraine than to see Odesa-based, klezmer /“gangster folk” band Kommuna Lux play at Saline’s Stony Lake Brewing Co. as part of the monthly Acoustic Routes concerts series on July 27.

“Sometimes opportunities just fall into your lap,” said concert series founder Jim Cain, noting the band reached out to him about performing.

“In the 10-plus years I’ve been doing this series in Saline, word has gotten around about us across the country and internationally. We’ve had bands from Northern Ireland, Canada, England, Scotland—the music community’s so tight, especially bands who tour a lot, that we can punch above our weight class. Yes, the venue’s a brewery, but there’s a listening-room vibe, and one hundred percent of the ticket proceeds go to the artists.”

That last point is often a big selling point for Acoustic Routes, since, as Cain notes, by the time touring bands pay for hotels, gas, and food, there’s often little money left.

But in the case of Kommuna Lux—a group of seven classically trained musicians who blend vocals with clarinet, accordion, trumpet, trombone, acoustic guitar, and percussion—its current U.S. tour is primarily aimed at raising funds for its war-torn home country.

“The needs of the people [in Ukraine], the scale of it, is hard for us to really comprehend,” said Cain. “One of the things that’s fascinating to me is the diaspora. Here in Michigan, I’ve had Ukrainian people reach out, and the Jewish community as well, offering to help spread the word about the show.”

Theatre Nova co-founder Carla Milarch has hopped through every level of theatrical life

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Carla Milarch in a black Theatre Nova T-shirt.

Photo courtesy of Carla Milarch.

When Ann Arbor audiences think about Carla Milarch—co-founder of Theatre Nova and former artistic/executive director of the Performance Network Theatre (PNT)—they may recall a performance she gave, a production she directed, a theater she ran, or more recently, a play she wrote.

Chances are, they will not imagine her changing a litter box—for rabbits.

Milarch and her husband, actor/director Phil Powers, share a home on Ann Arbor’s West side with their son, William Tyrone Powers, a senior at Skyline High, and four rabbits. The family had tried adopting kittens, but William broke out in hives, and they had to give them up. They tested him for dog allergies. No dice.

Now there are rabbits—four of them.

”Rabbits are misunderstood pets,” says Milarch, who at first kept them in cages. Now they are free to roam the house. She finds them similar to other pets: like cats, they sometimes want to be left alone (and can be litter-trained); like dogs, they sometimes demand attention. Sometimes high maintenance, one rabbit with poor balance required a ramp to get onto the bed and watch TV with her. Milarch built one. 

As it happens, Milarch was trying to create an environmentally friendly landscape for her home and was studying permaculture, a mix of urban planning, gardening, and homesteading, when the pet crisis occurred. Rabbits made a lot of sense. “We grow things in a regenerative way, using compost. I like being outside a lot. It must be in my blood,” she reflects. “I grew up on a farm.”

Not that she wanted to spend her life on the farm. 

Can An Actress Teach a Robot to Feel? “Doctor Moloch” grapples with the question at Theatre Nova  

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

An impressionistic drawing of a robot hand and a human hand reaching out to touch, set against a blue background.

Detail from Theatre Nova's poster for Doctor Moloch.

In May of 2023, a group of researchers, engineers, and corporate executives at the Center for AI Safety warned of the existential danger of artificial intelligence (AI): “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” they wrote

Later that year, the Screen Actors Guild negotiated a new contract. In addition to wage issues, the actors were concerned that background roles would be created through AI and fewer actors would be employed. Most of the union’s demands were met, but the producers won the battle over keeping AI as an option.

Carla Milarch, whose play Doctor Moloch opens July 12 at Theatre Nova, absorbed all of this.  She also read articles by those who thought AI would enrich our lives and by people who believe there are pros and cons. [Read Pulp's profile of Milarch here.]

She couldn’t get the question out of her mind: Is AI a friend or foe? She thought about it while gardening. She thought about it while doing dishes. And a play began to take shape. “I have an idea bubbling, and characters, and then it takes on a life of its own,” she says of her writing process. 

That’s how her title character—a doctor created by artificial intelligence—was born.

Keep It Like a Secret: Towner's new album basks in mystery and melodies

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Towner illustration by Yoko Molotov

Towner illustration by Yoko Molotov

On “ANFR,” the opening song of Towner’s third album, songwriter Kris Ehrig sings, “I’ll keep my secrets to the tomb.”

The statement isn’t a manifesto, but after interviewing Ehrig about the fuzz-soaked indie-rock trio’s new record, The Importance of Having a Good Time, he does keep things close to his chest. 

For the two previous Towner LPs, 2020’s This Is Entertainment and 2022’s The Lever, Ehrig shared songwriting duties with fellow guitarist CT James, who moved from Ann Arbor to Los Angeles and has since released two singles. Jason Horvath has played bass on all the albums, and drummer Eric Van Wormer joined the group for The Lever. (The first album featured programmed drums.)

With James gone, The Importance of Having a Good Time comes entirely from Ehrig’s point of view, and his songs mix self-deprecation and angst with numerous lyrical references to other songs and bands. For musical trainspotters of a certain age and sonic disposition, puzzling out all the indie-, atl-, and punk-rock references feels like a game. 

Dream On: The Whiskey Charmers Explore Tales of Change on New “Streetlights” Album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Whiskey Charmers' Lawrence Daversa holds a white electric guitar, and Carrie Shepard wears a brown suede cowboy hat.

Lawrence Daversa and Carrie Shepard of The Whiskey Charmers. Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Charmers.

The Whiskey Charmers often find creative inspiration in a dream.

The Detroit duo of Carrie Shepard (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Lawrence Daversa (electric guitar, backing vocals) took that route while writing the title track for their new alt-country album, Streetlights.

“I had a dream that I was watching Chris Stapleton perform his new song,” Shepard said. “In my dream, it’s the chorus of the song, and I woke up, remembered it, and sang the chorus into my phone. It’s not a real song—it was just made up in my dream.”

Right after her dream, Shepard converted that imaginary song into “Streetlights,” which features exploratory lyrics and fiery electric-guitar solos.

She sings, “Was running under streetlights, in my dreams / Flying down the stairway, defying gravity / Then I felt lightning from the sky / Yeah, I felt a white light hit me / Right between the eyes.”

“I think of it as a weird, dream-like state that’s a little bit unsettling. I do have the one part of the [song] where I’m saying I fly down the stairway defying gravity, and I have dreams of people chasing me,” Shepard said.

“In my dream, if somebody’s chasing me, when I get to a stairway, I know I can just fly down. That’s where that came from. We tried our best to make the recording in that vibe to get that across.”

Long-Awaited Sequel: Cinetopia Film Festival returns to Ann Arbor

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Cinetopia Ann Arbor 2024 logo

Five years after its final pre-COVID edition, the long-awaited return of the Cinetopia Film Festival is finally upon us courtesy of Marquee Arts, the new name for the Michigan Theater Foundation.

Gathering films from many of the world’s best festivals—including Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, Toronto, and Venice—this new version of Cinetopia is a pared-down program of 30 films (plus a few special screenings and events), and the entire festival will be taking place solely in Ann Arbor. A fairly even mix of narrative and documentary features have been selected, with 16 films from the U.S. and the other 14 from all over the world.

You should check out the whole program, but here are nine films you really shouldn’t miss. 

Films are listed chronologically according to when they play during the festival, which runs from Thursday, June 13–Sunday, June 23. Click on the film titles for showtimes, tickets, and more info.

Michigan Heritage: Ann Arbor folk singer-songwriter Kitty Donohoe celebrates 50 Years in music with show at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Kitty Donohoe wears a denim shirt and clasps her hands together.

Ann Arbor folk singer-songwriter Kitty Donohoe. Photo courtesy of Kitty Donohoe.

Kitty Donohoe is celebrating 50 years of writing and performing a timeless mix of original and traditional folk music, including Celtic, Maritime, Canadian, and other sounds from the British Isles.

“It’s almost crept up on me—50 years down the line from my beginning," said the Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist. "It’s actually been 52 years, but I’m ignoring those two fruitless COVID years. I’ve performed in so many wonderful spots around the country.”

In the ‘80s, Donohoe ventured east to Cambridge, Massachusetts to perform at Club Passim and The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. But one of her most memorable live shows occurred in Arlington, Virginia on September 11, 2008.

“I sang ‘There Are No Words’ at the Pentagon for the dedication of their 9/11 Memorial,” said Donohoe, who penned the track on the day of the attacks.

“That was almost surreal to be surrounded by then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and others from the cabinet and to be looking out at a sea of regular people who were personally impacted by 9/11. That was a profound experience—I doubt I could top that.”

Another special night will be Donohoe’s May 19 show at The Ark, which will spotlight her professional milestone with a special performance featuring several friends and the acceptance of the 2024 Michigan Heritage Award. The honor recognizes her 30-plus years of entertaining audiences with her original songs about Michigan.

To learn more, I spoke to Donohoe about her music career ahead of her show at The Ark.

Feral Songs: Kat Steih switches gears for a new rock record, "I Am Not My Self"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A black-and-white head shot of Kat Steih.

Kat Steih features honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation on I Am Not My Self. Photo by Hilary Nichols.

Kat Steih takes a bold look beneath the surface on I Am Not My Self.

That deep examination reveals the challenges people often face with presenting one persona externally while wrestling with another self internally.

“Each person has an outer persona and an inner world. Even if my persona is funny and easygoing, what’s really holding the strings is what’s on the inside,” said Steih about her new album out May 17. 

“The puppet master can be in pain while still conducting a pretty, whimsical dance—something nice or fun to amuse herself or to self-soothe. I use music to acknowledge things that I feel. Some may call it bold, and it empowers everybody.”

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter especially shares that courageous and empowering message on the title track, which features fearless electric guitar, bass, and drums. 

Steih sings, “I am the candle, and you are the flame / Fingertip to fingertip, your voice animates me / Tremors I detect in the seismic quake / The look on your face rearranges me.”

The title track also reflects the honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation that flows throughout I Am Not My Self’s six tracks.

U-M professor Petra Kuppers’ new poetry collection reaches into the soil to see murders, organisms, pollution, recycling, and fairy tales

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers and her book Diver Beneath the Street

Author photo by Tamara Wade.

Petra Kuppers’ new poetry collection, Diver Beneath the Street, invites you to “Slide into the dive” and become the “lioness” in the “time river” where the “Acorn nut, un-hatted, veined, split, keeps the secret.” The poems navigate the soil and secrets and horrors of women who never made it home. 

Several events related to the book are upcoming. Kuppers will be at Booksweet on May 17 at 7 pm as part of the “True Crime Authors’ Night” with Christine Hume and Antoinette M. James. She'll also perform in Ann Arbor on June 15 at 3 pm in “Crip Drift by the Huron River” with Turtle Disco as part of Ann Arbor 200/Ann Arbor District Library Digital Projects. In the fall, Kuppers will read from Diver Beneath the Street and talk with Shelley Manis at AADL’s Downtown branch on September 25 at 6:30 pm.

Diver Beneath the Street begins with a preface in the form of a prose poem that shares all of the “ley lines” tying the collection together: murder, environmental pollution, fairy tales, the pandemic, and ecology. We learn that the fairy tales evolve from the 1960s Michigan Murder cases in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, from the Detroit serial killings in 2019, and from “access to space constricted during the COVID-19 lockdown.” They exist “Between horror and the soil’s plentitude.” The book goes on to Section I, which contains one poem named after the book, “Diver Beneath the Street,” which also references Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.” The poet narrates: 

"Marvin’s Room" walks a thin line between comedy and drama at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Marvin's Room

Bryan Shane (Dr. Wally) and Laura Chodoroff (Bessie) rehearse for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's staging of Marvin's Room. Photo by Tom Steppe.

When the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre had to find a substitute for a previously announced play, Cassie Mann stepped in as director and suggested staging Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, a play that walks that thin line between comedy and drama.

Two sisters have taken different paths in life. Bessie, now in her early 40s, left Ohio for Florida to be a caregiver for the last 20 years for her chronically ill father and an aunt confined to a wheelchair. She accepts her burden lightly but knows she’s missed a lot. Her sister Lee stayed in Ohio 20 years ago and never looked back. She is now the single mother of two teenage sons.

Bessie receives bad news from her doctor. She has leukemia and needs a bone marrow donor. Lee has to come to Florida to help her sister.

Sound heavy?

Cassie Mann calls it “one of the funniest plays about a serious subject I’ve encountered.”