Every spring in Ypsilanti, a beautiful community event blossoms. For 12 years now, Totally Awesome Festival has marked the true beginning of spring in Ypsilanti. Totally Awesome Festival is an annual celebration of music, arts, fashion, and pancakes.
The event traces its roots back to Totally Awesome House, once located at 724 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor (now demolished), which hosted the Totally Awesome Supper Club in 2004 and 2005, where one could see local and touring acts and dig into with great potluck food. When theTotally Awesome House-mates were told they couldn’t renew their lease, they threw a festival, the first ever Totally Awesome Festival, to celebrate the music and the spirit of the house, one where anything was possible.
The next year, Totally Awesome Festival II was held to commemorate the first festival and it has been going on ever since.
Most often falling on the last weekend of April, and with venues sprinkled among backyards, puppet theaters, riversides, and other dreamy locations, Totally Awesome Festival is a chance to enjoy the great music that happens all around Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. It is always free, and open to all ages, and all species. For the 10th Totally Awesome Festival, the festivities ran for a whole week. For the 11th Totally Awesome Festival, events ran for 55 continuous hours. This year, the festival goes international, with some of the acts performing in Bangalore, India.
This year’s lineup of performers looks incredible and includes, Stef Chura (whose new album is coming out soon), Avery F, Bevlove, and Dykehouse. Totally Awesome Festival’s acts features singer/songwriters, punk, freak folk, neo soul, performance art, poetry, and of course, the annual Totally Awesome Take Home Fashion Show, an outpouring of free clothing curated from Ypsilanti Ann Arbor/Detroit fashion icons. Keep an eye on the public Facebook event as the schedule may change slightly.
So bring your family, bring your friends, bring your goldfish, bring anyone who is interested in music and art and community to this exciting annual event that is unlike any other. Take home some memories and take home some fashion and become part of this Ypsilanti ritual!
Shoshannah Ruth Wechter is a librarian living in Ypsilanti, and views Totally Awesome Fest as an annual holiday that is not to be missed.
The 12th annual Totally Awesome Festival kicks off Friday, April 29, 2016, at 12 pm and runs through the evening of Sunday, May 1, 2016, at venues throughout downtown Ypsilanti.
Back for its 8th year, the Midwest Literary Walk showcases nationally-lauded authors and poets at various venues throughout downtown Chelsea. The event will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm and is free to the public.
This year’s exceptional lineup opens with Christopher Sorrentino, author of The Fugitives, former National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, at 1 pm at the Chelsea Depot at 125 Jackson St. Set in Michigan, The Fugitives blends the literary fiction and crime thriller genres. The Los Angeles Times describes it as a “stunning new novel… with exceptional interior monologues animated by deception, double-dealing and a doomed affair…”
At 2 pm, National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, will also read at the Chelsea Depot. The hauntingly beautiful Gold Fame Citrus takes place in a future American West ravaged by drought and follows a young couple and mysterious child as they try to make their way to a better life.
The Midwest Literary Walk then moves to the Clocktower Commons at 320 N. Main St. for Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus), winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry, and Jamaal May, an American Library Association Notable Book honoree. At 3 pm, the two poets will discuss their art form, interspersed with readings of their work.
At 4 pm, novelist Paula McLain, whose bestsellers include Circling the Sun and The Paris Wife, will take the stage at the Clocktower Commons. McLain’s latest, Circling the Sun, brings to life the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
At each reading location, the authors’ books will be available for purchase from Literati Bookstore, and time for book signing is incorporated into all sessions. Additionally, many downtown Chelsea businesses are offering discounts to attendees of the Midwest Literary Walk on the day of the event. Following the final reading, participants are invited to the Chelsea Alehouse at 420 N. Main St. for a casual afterglow.
Tune in to WDET's Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on 101.9 FM to hear an interview with a different author each Friday between now and the Midwest Literary Walk. The show airs from 9-10 am and re-airs from 7-8 pm.
Community contributor Emily Meloche is an Adult Services Librarian at the Chelsea District Library.
The 8th Annual Midwest Literary Walk will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm at venues throughout downtown Chelsea, and is free to the public. For more information on the 2016 Midwest Literary Walk, the authors, and their works, please visit midwestliterarywalk.org.
**Update 4/18/16 - Big Fun has had to cancel their scheduled appearances for this week. They were intended to appear as part of a panel discussion Monday, April 18 at 7 pm at the AADL, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Eclipse Jazz, and the music of Miles Davis as a prelude to the screening of the film Miles Ahead at the Michigan Theater. They were also scheduled to perform at the Necto in a special pre-screening reception on Thursday, April 21 at approximately 6 pm. This piece has been edited to reflect the cancellation of these performances.**
The baby boomer generation discovered jazz in the late sixties primarily because rock bands of the day incorporated elements like horn sections, the Hammond B-3 organ, hand percussion, Eastern Indian instruments, and funky rhythms into popular music.
Miles Davis became the pivot point in the contemporary jazz of the day, conversely influenced by Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and Sly Stone. To reach a wider audience, Davis employed fresh-thinking younger musicians to create groundbreaking jazz fusion music that revolutionized how people thought about jazz; to its detriment for some, but ear opening for many others.
The local band Big Fun is now reintroducing this music to the boomers, and giving young listeners a taste of what this style of jazz still represents. Though a scene in the jazz rock music still very much exists and is technologically evolving, Big Fun stays true to the original concept.
Named after a Miles Davis album of the same name, Big Fun runs the gamut of the music the famed trumpeter created from the late sixties up to the mid-to-late seventies. They are recreating those period pieces from recordings like In A Silent Way, A Tribute To Jack Johnson, the quintessential Bitches Brew, and On The Corner.
Increasing their footprint slowly but surely over the past three years, Big Fun was born out of a concept from music instructors at the University of Michigan who saw a need for this kind of jazz filling a void. Trumpeter Mark Kirschenmann and keyboardist Steven Rush sport plenty of credentials as instructors and performers, but thought it was time to team up and give the public music that influenced their thinking as young players.
Kirschenmann has directed the U-M Creative Arts Orchestra for close to a decade. His electronically driven horn sound employs all the modern laptop, digital pedal, and looped sounds possible, but without losing the soul of his instrument. His style is much more earthy than alien, although deep labyrinth excursions are not beyond his purview. He has also been heard with E3Q featuring his wife, the innovative cellist Katri Ervamaa and percussionist Mike Gould, and with the Jon Hassell-influenced ensemble Electrosonic.
Steven Rush is one of our most ambitious local musical heroes. He directs the Digital Music Program at U-M, leads the band Quartex for Sunday evening worship services at the Canterbury House, and presents various electronic and world music sessions. Deeply into Eastern Indian vocal and percussion, he is equally influenced by Brian Eno, Sun Ra, Robert Ashley, Cecil Taylor, Phillip Glass, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Morton Subotnick, John Coltrane and Blue Gene Tyranny. His personality is as freewheeling as his imagination.
Big Fun has performed at the Canterbury House, appeared during the 2015 Edgefest at the Kerrytown Concert House and recently at Encore Records. They also played the recently renovated Residential College in the famed Keene East Quad Amphitheatre, the building where Kirschenmann teaches regularly. It is also the venue where Eclipse Jazz used to host their legendary “Bright Moments” series of innovative creative improvised concerts.
As a witness to the East Quad performance, it’s easy to say Big Fun pulls no punches regarding the authenticity of the music they are portraying. With healthy doses of improvisation, Kirschenmann and Rush stretch out the music without breaking it. Electric bass guitarist Tim Flood pushes with band with ostinato pulses and a powerful persona that belies his smaller, slight build – he is at the center of driving this locomotive.
Brothers Jeremy and Jonathan Edwards do not so much work in tandem as much as they fulfill crucial roles. Electric guitarist Jonathan has the John McLaughlin sound of the era down to a science. He fills in cracks and enhances the overall sound portrait. Drummer Jeremy can be serene and understated, whip up a whirlwind, play deep pocket grooves or anything in between. Tenor or soprano saxophonist Patrick Booth and hand percussionist Dan Piccolo fill roles held in the Davis bands by David Liebman and Steve Grossman, or ex-Ann Arborite the late Jumma Santos and Badal Roy respectively. Their ethnic underpinnings are as important as Ravi Shankar’s contributions to The Beatles.
Michael G. Nastos is a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is on the Board of Directors for 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.
This Friday night you can enjoy an evening of entertainment by Monty Python, Shakespeare, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Lerner and Lowe when Skyline High students present "Get Hype: An Evening with Skyline Theatre."
Selections include songs from “The Pirates of Penzance” and “My Fair Lady” and modern hits like “Avenue Q” and “Hamilton.” In addition to well-known favorites, a few lesser-known gems are featured from shows like “Blood Brothers,” cult classics like “Batboy,” and a scene from a personal favorite of the director called “The Explorers Club.”
“We have 20 students performing throughout the night and each of them get a couple of moments in the spotlight,” said director Brodie H. Brockie. “We have so much talent at Skyline that, unfortunately, sometimes even really talented students never quite get a featured role, but this format gives everyone a chance to shine.”
The cast for “Get Hype” includes Desirae Nelson, Evan Murphy, Jacki Boswell, Theo Billups, Vanessa Noble, Leah Bauer, Peter Dannug, Hayla Alawi, Emily Naud, Sam Waterhouse, Amanda Wilhoit, Isabella Preissle, Cassie Ritter, Emma Gerlinger, Christina Holder, Emily Benedict, Jianmarco Barbeau, Riley O’Brien, Ava Chamberlain, and Kristina Kimball. Student stage managers Ryann Patten and Katier Arnett make sure things are running smoothly behind the scenes.
The event serves as a fundraiser for the Skyline Friends of the Arts to offer scholarships for theatre students hoping to attend the International Thespian Festival this summer at the University of Nebraska.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Friday, April 15 at 7:30 pm in the Experimental Theatre at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested.
In the summer of 2015, the University of Michigan sold more than 7,000 instructional films owned by the Askwith Media Library to the public. The films had been used in campus classrooms from the 1940s to the 1970s and represented a variety of forgotten media formats – including 16mm and VHS. The collection was unique in its subject matter and scale, but having digitized the titles, U-M sold the films to gain shelf space.
Local film lovers, collectors, and treasure-hunters flocked to the sale, seizing the opportunity to own these rare films. Some shoppers lamented the loss of such a sizable collection; the films would now be spread among many owners and would not be preserved as a group. But no one could deny the price tag, as film prices started at just $1. So, film cans and VHS tapes were carried home by the armful and the collection was dismantled.
And that was it – until now.
A local Ann Arborite, Frank Uhle, has coordinated an amazing opportunity to see the films from this collection reunited on screen. The Festival of Found Films from the Vault will be a celebration of 16mm films purchased at the U-M sale. Uhle is calling out to all those who shopped the sale, and asking them to bring their best purchases to be screened together at Bona Sera Café in downtown Ypsilanti. Anyone interested in screening one of their treasures from the film sale at the event should contact Frank at email@example.com.
Expect to see funny, strange, and surprising films, all projected on Uhle’s own 16mm projector – a special experience for all! You can bring films, or just your own curiosity, for an afternoon of small-screen entertainment.
Elizabeth Wodzinski is a Desk Clerk at AADL and 16mm is her favorite measurement.
The Festival of Found Films from the Vault will run from 2-5 pm on Sunday, April 17 at Bona Sera Café in downtown Ypsilanti at 200 W. Michigan Ave. The event is free and open to the public.
This year's Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals are happening Saturday, April 16 at Espresso Royale on State Street.
The top 12 competitors from this season will deliver their best poetry for the chance to win one of four team spots to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam, plus there will be a full feature performance by internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson.
Laboring all year to cook up their best poetic recipes, 12 champion poets will rush the stage with only three minutes each—holding nothing back—to tell it all and tell it well! The audience erupts with boos, roars, applause - or silence - to cast their votes in front of five randomly selected audience member judges.
Excitement rises as the number of contenders drops to nine, then seven, then five, until only four triumph, earning the right to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam!
And, as if 12 award-winning local poets weren't enough to blow your mind and soothe your conscience, internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson is traveling in to offer a feature performance. Henderson, based in the Bay Area but originally from Chicago, is one of the most captivating poets and performers of our generation. Come ready for an epic final showdown at Espresso Royale on State St. on April 16.
Community contributor Garret Potter is a slam poet and a co-organizer of the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam along with Lindsay Stone.
The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals take place Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 7 pm at Espresso Royale at 324 S. State St. in Ann Arbor. Advance tickets are $8 student, $10 general, the cost is $15 at the door. Visit the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam's Facebook page for more details.
The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam is free and open to the public and happens every first and third Sunday at Espresso Royale on State Street.
The movie with the ghost grandpa in the mirror, the bright green food, and the absence of trolls despite being named Troll 2. The movie that repeated a five-minute scene four times. The movie where the dad tells his son that fool-proof plans are hard to come by. This year’s 25th annual Smithee Awards on Saturday, April 16th will honor all these and more of their B-movie brethren.
Named for the fake director credited when the actual director does not want their own name on such a horrible piece of cinema, the Smithee Awards celebrates all that is wonderful about really, really terrible movies.
Every year for the past 25 years, the volunteers behind the Smithee Awards have gathered fans of bad movies together on the campus of the University of Michigan to watch clips from movies such as Zombie Honeymoon, Frankenfish, and Superargo vs. Diabolicus.
This year viewers will enjoy categories like “Worst Special Effect,” “Most Ludicrous Premise,” “Stupidest Looking Monster,” and the self-explanatory “Whaaaat?!?!” Each of the 19 categories has five movie clips, and audience members vote on the best of the worst, or the worst of the best, depending on how one views life.
To up the awesome factor, the organizers provide free “food and drink” (they insist on the quotation marks). While watching a clip of, say, Die-ner, you may enjoy those weird, spongy, orange circus peanuts, giant Pixie Sticks, or bacon fudge. Wash that sugar down with a variety of soft drinks that often include the latest offering from Jones Soda.
Smithee Supreme Committee member Kevin Hogan says, "We are older than Pokemon. We have been around longer than Magic: the Gathering, and made several million fewer dollars. It's been 25 years of Smithee Awards shows -- this is the silver anniversary -- and every year is just as exciting as the first."
Previous worst picture winners include: Enter…Zombie King (about a zombie king’s existential crisis, of course), Metallica (robots in a junkyard make a suicide pact), and Back from Hell (featuring a scene wherein a hand reaches out from the Bible, grabs a preacher’s crotch and then tries to strangle him).
Whether you are a B-movie horror aficionado or not, come out to 1800 Chem Building on April 16 at 7 pm to enjoy movies that can be described as “like the darker side of Hee-Haw.” Because everyone needs a little dark-side of Hee-Haw in their life.
Community contributor Patti Smith is a teacher, writer, and lover of all things Ann Arbor.
The Smithee Awards take place in Room 1800 of the Chemistry Building at 930 University Ave. on Saturday, April 16 at 7 pm until around midnight.
For anyone in Ann Arbor who likes to work with yarn, the Fiber Expo is a highlight to the year. The Fiber Expo brings together local artisans, shopkeepers, and farmers. Walking through the expo can bring you into contact with anything from angora rabbits to hand dyed yarn to looms and spinning wheels. The expo always bustles with life and energy as friends move from stall to stall, looking at different yarns and shawl pins, envisioning what they can make with the wealth of raw materials before them.
Though vendors are a major offering of the Fiber Expo, it’s not just about buying yarn and roving (unspun wool). The expo is about meeting other fiber enthusiasts from the area, meeting the people who are growing their own fiber, and seeing what other people are creating with fiber. Each expo also features a strong offering of classes that cover a range of skills. The goals of the Fiber Expo are to get natural fibers into people’s hands and to spread knowledge about how to work with fiber. Ultimately, the Fiber Expo is a place for discovery and creativity for anyone who works with or has an interest in fiber.
Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at AADL and can't get enough wool.
The Fiber Expo is April 9th and 10th, at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds on Ann Arbor Saline Road. Tickets are $4 for one day or $6 for the weekend.
The Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan presents dozens of humanities-related events every year. A highlight of 2016 is the Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture on April 5, when writer and The Nation columnist Laila Lalami will talk about the long and rich history of Muslims in the United States.
Lalami is a writer whose insightful cultural commentary, literary criticism, and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among many other publications. She has also written three books, including the The Moor’s Account, a 2015 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A work of historical fiction, the book is the imagined memoir of Estebanico, a real-life Moroccan slave--and the first black explorer of America--who accompanied the Castilian conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez from Spain to the US Gulf Coast in 1527. The book gives an alternate narrative of the famed expedition, illuminating the role that black men played in exploring the New World.
In her April 5 talk, Lalami aims to illuminate the history of Muslims in America--from 14th-century Moors and Syrian auto workers in the early 1900s, to African slaves and Palestinians immigrating after the 1948 establishment of Israel. Lalami proposes that, not unlike the part Estebanico played in the New World exploration, the part Muslims have played in U.S. history is misunderstood and underestimated, and that they are often seen as “latecomers to America, recent arrivals who’ve grafted themselves into an already thriving country.”
Lalami makes direct connections between anti-Muslim sentiment--on the rise for sure, but not a new thing--with this “forgotten history” of American Muslims. But through better understanding of history and its transmission, Lalami proposes that fiction can help us fill in some of the detail missing from the mainstream narrative of Muslims in America.
Community contributor Stephanie Harrell is the communications specialist at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan.
Muslims in America: A Forgotten History, An evening with Laila Lalami is the 2016 Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture, taking place Tuesday, April 5, 2016 from 4-6 pm in the Rackham Amphitheatre. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited; please arrive early.
Akira (1988), directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, and based on his 6 volume manga series of the same name, was my first non-Studio Ghibli feature length anime. As a dedicated fan, I grew up watching Speed Racer and Rurouni Kenshin, and after seeing Princess Mononoke, became obsessed with watching every Studio Ghibli film I could. I had never branched out to other anime films, but after reading a few books on early anime and its cultural impact, I decided that Akira sounded like a good intro to everything non-Studio Ghibli. So I borrowed a copy from AADL (the 2 disc collector’s set), and sat down to watch it, not knowing quite what to expect. And then I watched it twice. And then I watched the excellent documentary about the creation of the film on the second disc. After that I caved in and bought my own copy, plus the soundtrack. Visually, technically, and artistically Akira just blew me away.
The film takes place in 2019. Old Tokyo was destroyed in a cataclysmic explosion during WWIII, and Neo-Tokyo was built in its place, and the world we are shown is harsh. The divide between the rich and the poor is very obvious. Political factions fight each other for control of the government, anti-government revolutionary groups protest and set off bombs, and biker gangs openly feud in the streets. The scope of the story is huge, which is not surprising when you consider that over 1,000 pages of manga had to be condensed to a film that runs about 2 hours. What grounds the plot are Kaneda and Tetsuo, two friends living in Neo-Tokyo, and their individual struggles with power. All of the plots of Akira ultimately boil down to whether or not power, either in the hands of the government, revolutionaries, or children with psychic abilities, is used responsibly, and the repercussions of that use.
Although the story and characters are nuanced and compelling, the art and technicality of the animation is the real star. Akira is simply visually stunning, but in a way that is jarring and disturbing. This film is unashamed to show a gritty, dirty, and unattractive world, right down to images of garbage in the streets and a plethora of garish neon advertisements. There are no beautiful sweeping vistas of nature or effort to show Neo-Tokyo as a tastefully designed metropolis. Instead we have scenes of extreme violence that go hand-in-hand with fantastic visuals. A fight between two rival biker gangs at the beginning of the film is as shocking for the blood and broken bones as it is for the color trails of the motorcycle’s tail lights as they speed through the city. A building is completely destroyed in a psychic attack while broken glass from the windows glitters and dances as it falls to the ground. Even the characters facial and mouth movements, which were animated to closely match the movements of the voice actors using a technique called pre-scored dialogue, lends a realism that is not seen in other animated films of this time.
I would also be remiss not to mention the excellent score composed by Shoji Yamashiro. With an innovative blending of traditional Japanese instruments, electronic sounds, and the human voice, the soundtrack creates an immediacy and vibrancy to the action. Akira did not skimp on production values, and it shows. This is not a film to be missed on the big screen, from the shocking explosion at the beginning to the grotesque and extremely bizarre ending. If you are a serious, or even casual, fan of animation, you need to go and see this film!
Marisa Szpytman spends her days working at the Detroit Institute of Arts and she has been in the same room as a spoon once owned by Vincent Price.
The CineManga Film Series continues through April 27 on Wednesdays at 7 pm with the following screenings at the State Theater: Akira on April 6, Space Battleship Yamato on April 13, Paprika (Papurika) on April 20, and Tokyo Tribe on April 27. You can find more information on the Michigan Theater's CineManga page.
Don't forget to check out the Japanese style concessions (the elusive green tea Kit Kat!) and Vault of Midnight's pop-up store in the State Theater's lobby. Each show features a special pre-show primer by a certified manga expert to further convince you that these films are awesome!