Preview: 39th Ann Arbor Folk Festival / Saturday Night Lineup

PREVIEW MUSIC

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: Joan Baez, Darlingside, Rose Cousins, Joshua Davis, Alan Doyle, The Accidentals, and Cooder – White – Skaggs

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: Joan Baez, Darlingside, Rose Cousins, Joshua Davis, Alan Doyle, The Accidentals, and Cooder – White – Skaggs

About this time of year, buzz begins to build among music lovers inside and outside of A2 as the lineup is announced for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and the 39th edition slated for January 29-30, 2016 at the Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be another blessed event. A brilliant stew is being cooked up for appreciative audiences of old and new music, mainstream and off-beat, regional, national, and international artists. Hosted by MCs David Mayfield (Friday) and John McCutcheon (Saturday), the Folk Festival 2016 lineup sets the bar very high.

Saturday, January 30th

Joan Baez

For those who may mistakenly believe that after a 55 year career and 30 albums, Joan Baez has ceased to be relevant, one should only visit her latest original music in a recent album, Day After Tomorrow. You’ll understand that her voice, her words, her music are just as emotionally powerful today as they were in the 60s--yet wiser, richer, more circumspect, and just as damned beautiful as they were in that golden age.

Joan Baez recorded her first solo LP for Vanguard Records in the summer of 1960. Known more as an interpreter of songs than a songwriter, songs she introduced on her earliest albums would find their way into the repertoire of 60s rock stalwarts, like "House Of the Rising Sun" (The Animals), "John Riley" (The Byrds), "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" (Led Zeppelin), "What Have They Done To the Rain" (The Searchers), "Jackaroe" (Grateful Dead), and "Long Black Veil" (The Band), to name a few.

At a time in our country's history when it was neither safe nor fashionable, Joan put herself on the line countless times, and her life's work was mirrored in her music. She sang about freedom and Civil Rights everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks in Mississippi to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963. That was also the year she helped introduce Bob Dylan to the world, continuing a line of folk royalty beginning with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others that dared to challenge that which they knew in their hearts was wrong or flawed.

CooderWhiteSkaggs

Ricky Skaggs has often said he’s “just trying to make a living” doing what he loves to do, which is being one of the best mandolin players in the world and an icon of Bluegrass and Country music. Since he first collected a paycheck as a 7-year-old on Flatt and Scruggs’ TV show in 1961, Ricky has been doing just that...and creating marvelous collaborations with some of the world’s best musicians in and out of the country categories. Singing, songwriting, and playing--not only on mando but fiddle and guitar as well--he helped bring back a sense of tradition and history to the scene beginning in the 1980s. Chet Atkins once said that Ricky Skaggs “singlehandedly saved Country Music”.

As a “musician’s musician”, it’s easier to tell you who Ry Cooder has NOT played with than to tell you whose music he has made immeasurably better. Cooder's trademark slide guitar work has graced the recordings of such artists as Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman, Little Feat, Van Dyke Parks, the Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal, and Gordon Lightfoot. More than a dozen film scores also grace Cooder’s résumé, including Crossroads and Primary Colors.

Sharon White, who happens to be married to Ricky Skaggs, comes from a lineage of bluegrass and country singers since starting her career in the early 70s with her parents’ family band, The Whites. She has since forged a 40+ year career singing with her sister Cheryl as The Whites and reuniting with her parents Buck and Pat in bluegrass and gospel collaborations.

And now, Ricky Skaggs joins with Sharon and Ry to deliver a revelatory program of blues, gospel, and bluegrass music. They will be joined by Joachim Cooder (son of Ry) on drums, and Mark Fain on bass. I caught this supergroup in Nashville in September at the AmericanaFest, and you can tell, beyond any stage smiles, that they are having an absolute blast playing together.

Joshua Davis

I first heard Josh Davis playing with one of Michigan’s favorite roots bands, Steppin’ In It, in 2008, and since then I’ve been waiting for them to blow up. They haven’t, but front man Joshua Davis caught a break on The Voice and found himself in the TV series’ finals last spring. Since then, Joshua’s infectious smile and genuine voice have earned him a wide following and a place on Saturday’s Folk Fest slate.

Davis has released three critically acclaimed solo albums, five albums with Steppin' In It, and a record of jazz standards with Shout Sister Shout. His most recent album, A Miracle of Birds, is inspired by his travels in the Palestinian West Bank with non-profit organization On the Ground. About the album, Revue magazine says, "His heartfelt documentation of 'people as people' offers up compassionate songs of hope, darkness, and perseverance."

A pair of the most expressive (and twinkly) eyes you’ve ever seen will draw you into Joshua, and you will realize why America came to love him on The Voice. His musicality, songwriting, and passion will convince you that he’s no media heartthrob of the moment.

Alan Doyle & The Beautiful Gypsies

Alan Doyle last took the stage at the Ann Arbor Folk Fest in 2000 as the lead singer and co-founder of Great Big Sea, one of Newfoundland’s most renowned musical exports. GBS made its latest return to Ann Arbor to a packed house of rabid, lyric-screaming fans at the Michigan Theater in 2013. He released a first solo album, Boy on Bridge, in 2012, and has followed up in 2015 with his latest, So Let’s Go.

With musical roots in his native land’s lyrics, melodies, and rhythms, Doyle mixes traditional Newfoundland music with a fresh pop sensibility, and presents a variety of lyrical and musical platforms in his latest work, from the whiskey-scented shanty sounds of "1,2,3,4" to the urbanized Canuck country pop of "Sins of Saturday Night". Doyle and his talented supporting band Beautiful Gypsies are sure to keep the Folk Fest faithful chanting, rocking...even standing (OMG), conjuring musical images of a Barenaked Ladies / Enter The Haggis mashup.

Darlingside

After six years of playing together and a decade-plus of knowing each other, the collaborative process for Darlingside has evolved side by side with their friendships. “We’ve become intimate with each other’s childhoods, families, fears, goals, insecurities, and body odors,” says violinist/mandolinist Auyon Mukharji. The four Connecticut-based musicians and singers opened for Patty Griffin at the Power Center on October 10, and my buddy Stan had tickets waiting for us. We were cautioned by friends familiar with Darlingside to be sure to be seated for the opening act. That was a challenge, considering that we had to double-time it on foot from the Big House after the Northwestern game to make the curtain in time.

The quiet yet powerful vocals of the group are what first capture you. It’s clear that these guys have been singing together--tightly and sweetly--for about a decade to expertly blend complex harmonies as they do. Birds Say is their second album effort, or third if you count their 2010 EP, and forms the backbone of their live set. Their vocal and instrumental mastery is at evidence on every track, from the haunting "White Horses" to the perplexing "Harrison Ford" (the latter about a meeting/fantasy with a man who looks like their personal hero, Harrison Ford).

We will definitely warm to Darlingside at the 2016 Folk Fest...and Patty Griffin will soon need to find a new opener.

Rose Cousins

Rose Cousins is another Canadian import to the festival, originally from Prince Edward Island and now living in Halifax. This singer-songwriter has captured nearly every significant honor and award that her native country has to offer for her craft, and, here in America, her latest recorded work, We Have Made A Spark, was named to NPR’s Top 10 Americana & Folk Albums of 2012.

Rose will be sure to bring a quieter, more contemplative tone to the Folk Fest...she is often a solitary figure at a gently played piano. Or, she’ll surprise you with a lilting, curiously waltz-tempo version of Tina Turner’s 80s classic "What’s Love Got To Do With It". First reaction: huh? On second thought: a new appreciation for that pop song.

The Accidentals

Seldom have I been as excited--nor heard as much buzz--as I have for these two brilliant young women. The Accidentals are Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, supported by percussionist Michael Dause. Katie and Savannah are little more than a year out of high school--albeit the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy. They play no less than 12 instruments between them during a typical live set. Their lyrics are wiser than their years. And together, these Traverse City natives may be one of the acts most likely to succeed in a big way in the next few years.

Of all the artists I have written about for the Folk Fest, I have the hardest time describing the kind of music they play. I’m not even going to try. Just consider The Accidentals to be at a very special nexus of genres and generations that makes them much, much more than the sum of their very musical parts.

The Ann Arbor Folk Fest is well known for bringing lesser-known Michigan-based acts into the national spotlight. Thing is, The Accidentals may not need the help. They’re touring out west right now, and when they’re through, the Hill won’t be able to hold all their new fans.

For samples of what you'll hear at Hill, check out this Spotify mix of the latest releases from all the Ann Arbor Folk Festival artists.


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


The Ann Arbor Folk Festival comes to Hill Auditorium January 29 & 30. Tickets go on sale for the general public starting December 1 and can be purchased online, by phone at 734-763-TKTS, or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and The Ark box office.

Preview: 39th Ann Arbor Folk Festival / Friday Night Lineup

PREVIEW MUSIC

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: The Oh Hellos, City and Colour, Ben Daniels, Yo La Tengo, Penny and Sparrow, Nora Jane Struthers, with Richard Thompson in the center of it all.

Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers clockwise from top left: The Oh Hellos, City and Colour, Ben Daniels, Yo La Tengo, Penny and Sparrow, Nora Jane Struthers, with Richard Thompson in the center of it all.

About this time of year, buzz begins to build among music lovers inside and outside of A2 as the lineup is announced for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and the 39th edition slated for January 29-30, 2016 at the Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be another blessed event. A brilliant stew is being cooked up for appreciative audiences of old and new music, mainstream and off-beat, regional, national, and international artists. Hosted by MCs David Mayfield (Friday) and John McCutcheon (Saturday), the Folk Festival 2016 lineup sets the bar very high.

Friday, January 29th

City and Colour

"There's a line that I'm trying to find, between the water and the open sky," sings Canadian Dallas Green on "Friends", the penultimate track off of his fifth release as City and Colour, If I Should Go Before You. For someone like Green, it's hard to imagine that there's much left to search for – he's traversed the globe on tour, released numerous albums (one most recently as You+Me with Alecia Moore, aka P!nk) and collected scores of accolades. Though Green is a musician, he doesn't make a show of things: that's the songs' job.

The name having been derived from Dallas Green’s first and last name, he began recording as City and Colour in 2005, with Sometimes, followed by 2008’s Bring Me Your Love and 2011’s Little Hell, and has experienced huge success both on the charts and the road.

Richard Thompson

Throughout a career spanning six decades, Richard Thompson has drawn accolades such as this from the Los Angeles Times, “the finest singer-songwriter after Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Hendrix. He was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time.

Having co-founded the groundbreaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 60’s, Richard Thompson and his mates virtually invented British Folk Rock. A wide range of musicians have recorded Thompson’s songs including Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, REM, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Patty Lovelace, Los Lobos, Tom Jones, David Byrne, Don Henley, Robert Earl Keen, and many others.

And I had never heard of him, until 2012. Thus began a journey of discovery as I soaked in as much of Richard’s musical and songwriting genius as I could, on a series of music festival cruises called Cayamo where he has often headlined, to an intimate performance at The Ark in 2014. He’s one of those artists that’s worth your time digging into his back catalog to find all the gold and precious gems there. Whether Thompson displays his formidable electric skills on "Sally B", or fingerpicks his iconic and acoustic "52 Vincent Black Lightning", you will be transfixed. I hope he does both.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo (Spanish for the outfielder’s cry of “I’ve Got It!”) originally formed in 1984, and today features a lineup that has played together since 1992. Their staying power is testament to a strong cult following and they have been called the “quintessential critics’ band”. YLT features Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), Kaplan’s wife Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). In 2015, original guitarist Dave Schramm rejoined the band and appears on their fourteenth album, Stuff Like That There.

Though they most often play original material, Yo La Tengo is known best for its encyclopedic repertoire of cover songs both in live performance and on record. Their latest album features Hank Williams’ "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry", among others.

The Oh Hellos

It is sometimes extraordinary, that which can be musically wrought through the mingling of sibling DNA (think Everly Brothers). The Oh Hellos are a 21st century case in point. They began in a cluttered bedroom, where Maggie and Tyler Heath (born and raised in southern Texas) recorded their self-titled EP in 2011. In the fall of 2012, the sibling duo released their debut full-length record Through the Deep, Dark Valley, an album full of regret and redemption, which they wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered themselves.

Their second full-length album, Dear Wormwood, is a collection of songs that tells the story of a protagonist trapped in an abusive relationship, by way of letters written to the antagonist. It was recorded, piece by piece, in the house where Maggie and Tyler live in San Marcos, TX, and much like The Oh Hellos' live performance, the album presents two alternating faces: at times delicate, intimate, affectionate; and at others, soaring and towering and joyfully explosive.

Their influences range from Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens to The Middle East and the Muppets, bending and blending styles and genres into a unique mixture of eclectic folk rock. The rhythms, the chording, the vocals--they are unique, varied, compelling, and worthy of a prestigious AAFF invitation.

Nora Jane Struthers

I’ve been listening to this woman for the last hour and I haven’t heard an inauthentic song yet. Nora Jane Struthers comes to Ann Arbor hot off a triumphant 2015 tour, including a prominent showcase at the September 2015 AmericanaFest in Nashville, and she could very well become a prime example of what can save Country Music from itself.

Her 2015 album, Wake, is a powerful statement of her own rock-n-roll awakening. Backed by her band The Party Line, Struthers mixes pedal steel with robust guitar riffs and her own fearless voice, and evokes the realization that she can, as she says, "reconcile my love of both bluegrass and Pearl Jam". Her amalgamation of sounds is supported in the studio and on the road by Josh Vana on guitar; Joe Overton on banjo, fiddle, and pedal steel; Brian Duncan Miller on bass; and Drew Lawhorn on drums.

“I try to put myself out there and be vulnerable and trust that what people give me back is loving. I hope that people listen to these songs and are given some courage to take a risk, be vulnerable and brave, allow themselves to embrace imperfection. And I hope that that has a positive influence on the way that they are able to lead their lives and interact with people that they love.”

Penny and Sparrow

I went to the Penny & Sparrow website and Facebook page to try to learn more about them. This was all that was there: “Penny and Sparrow are Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke, from the heart of Texas. Previously roommates, the duo makes music influenced by The Swell Season, Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, and others. They also love musicals.”

That was it. No glowing reviews, no trumped-up biography announcing them as musical messiahs. Just that two-sentence blurb, a picture and...the music. Left to my own devices, I cued up a song of theirs called "Jeffery Allen", the first track from their latest album, Struggle Pretty. Oddly, it was a 1-minute instrumental introduction to the next track, "Serial Doubter" (yet another reason to listen to an album in whole as it was originally tracked). Words came to mind: haunting, driving, brilliant composition, rhythm, and harmonics.

Penny and Sparrow opened just a few weeks ago at The Ark for Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and I missed them both. It won’t happen again. Catch them at the A2FF January 29th.

Ben Daniels Band

When Chelsea’s own Ben Daniels decided he was going to be a musician, it was more than a career choice. A natural poet, this young songwriter went to school on Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, and Jack White, among others. His lyrics speak directly to a younger generation that hears, sees, and thinks about the very things he’s writing. From their opening song to the finale of their set, the Ben Daniels Band cuts through with their originality, musicianship, and a sound that spans Americana, Blues, Jazz, and Rock.

With George Merkel on guitar, Tommy Reifel on bass, Wesley Fritzemeier on drums/mandolin, and Amanda Merte on percussion/vocals, BDB’s live show never fails to take over the venue. With five CDs in the can, including their latest, Roll, the Ben Daniels Band has grown to be a formidable group that sounds pleasantly familiar, yet unforgettably unique.

Oh yeah… and he’s Jeff Daniels’ son. You know, that famous actor/neighbor of ours? Not that Ben and the band need the familial connection to be a legitimate force on the alt-folk scene. If you’ve not taken advantage of the numerous previous opportunities to see BDB in and around Ann Arbor, grab this one.


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


The Ann Arbor Folk Festival comes to Hill Auditorium January 29 & 30. Tickets go on sale for the general public starting December 1 and can be purchased online, by phone at 734-763-TKTS, or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and The Ark box office.

Preview: An Almost British Christmas, Theatre Nova

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

With the Holidays just weeks away, local professional theater company Theatre Nova will unwrap a delightful early Christmas present for local audiences.

An Almost British Christmas, based on popular British theatrical traditions of Panto or Pantomine, will blend elements of music, comedy, slapstick, and vaudeville. Audiences can boo the villain and cheer the hero in this family-friendly, fast-paced production, directed by Artistic Director Carla Milarch and featuring Wayne David Parker, Jennifer Graham, and Vicki Morgan.

This musical comedy, recommended for ages 5 to adult, will also highlight a special celebrity guest at each performance. Mayor Chris Taylor, Laurie Atwood of the Children’s Creative Center, local jazz singer Courtney Riddle, and the Gemini family are among those scheduled for a British Christmas visit. The guest list also includes Elsa from Frozen, and, of course, Santa Claus.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Performances of ​ An Almost British Christmas ​begin Friday, November 27 and will run through December 20, with performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. For information, visit www.theatrenova.org, or call 734-635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at The Yellow Barn, 416 W. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The Candy Man comes back to life in the Performance Network's Why Not Me?

The Candy Man comes back to life in the Performance Network's Why Not Me?

A Michigan premiere of an original play chronicling the life of a beloved entertainer will be featured this December at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story and Dickens: An A Capella Carol will run in repertory through December.

Originally performed to sold-out houses in Chicago last summer, Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story, written and directed by Tim Rhoze, is set in 1989, a year before the famed singer’s death. In this compelling new play, the iconic star reflects on the tragic car accident that took his eye, and other personal and public stumbling blocks he overcame in his career. Chicago actor Sean Blake reprises his role as Sammy Davis Jr., a performance that won him a Best Actor nomination at the Chicago Black Theater Alliance Awards.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


A preview performance is scheduled for Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story on Tuesday, November 24 with opening night on Wednesday, November 25. Performances will vary with Dickens: An A Capella Carol Tuesday through Sunday each week, and the final performance is scheduled for Sunday, December 20. Tickets may purchased online at www.pntheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734­-663­-0681. Performance Network is located at 120 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Dickens: An A Capella Carol

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Three ghosts visit the Performance Network throughout December

Three ghosts visit the Performance Network throughout December

Starting this week, a world premiere retelling of a Holiday classic will be featured at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. Dickens: An A Capella Carol and Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story will run in repertory through December.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is musically revisited in an enchanting world premiere production of Dickens: An A Capella Carol directed by Suzi Regan. A treat for the entire family, the production features classic songs, a quartet of holiday carolers, and a mysterious storyteller.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Dickens: An A Capella Carol will preview on Friday, November 27, with a Saturday, November 28 opening. Performances will vary with Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story Tuesday through Sunday each week, and the final performance is scheduled for Sunday, December 20. Tickets may purchased online at www.pntheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734­-663­-0681. Performance Network is located at 120 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Shrek, Young People's Theater

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

It's all ogre but the shouting in YPT's Shrek the Musical

It's all ogre but the shouting in YPT's Shrek the Musical

You’ve seen it all before. A magical kingdom. A fair maiden locked in a tower guarded by a fiery dragon. A valiant hero and his trusty steed on a quest to free oppressed subjects from a hateful despot. Yes, all this and more can be found in Shrek, the Musical. Er, sort of….

In this song-filled take on William Steig’s classic children’s book, our hero is a crabby, flatulating ogre and his steed is a smart-alecky and annoying donkey. The maiden's also not quite what she appears to be and the oppressed subjects are familiar fairy tale characters led by a Pinocchio even Papa Geppetto would be hard-pressed to love.

Details … details. Be all that as it may, Shrek, the Musical, is a lot of fun and Young People’s Theater always puts on a really big show.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Shrek runs Thursday, November 19 - Sunday, November 22, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the University of Michigan's Central Campus. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS. $15 adults; $10 children, students, and Seniors 65+. For more information, visit Young People's Theater's website.

Preview: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Community Ensemble Theatre (CET)

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Performers bring the intensity in Community High School's Community Ensemble Theater's production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Performers bring the intensity in Community High School's Community Ensemble Theater's production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Community High School’s Community Ensemble Theatre (CET) will take on the highly ambitious, experimental play-of-many-plays, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind starting this weekend. This challenging interactive production, adapted for teenage performers from the Chicago production that debuted in 1988 - currently the city’s longest-running play at 25 years - is built around 30 two-minute “plays” in a 60-minute speed format.

In his 2010 review of the Chicago production, Chicago Theater Beat critic Keith Ecker described Too Much Light - then in its 21st year and still selling out every show - as “a complete and utter oddity,” citing its ideological kinship with the 20th century Italian Futurism movement.

CET director Quinn Strassel recently said, “This show is funny, edgy, and at times highly emotional. Most importantly, the unorthodox structure allows us to feature dozens of kids in lead roles."

“It's ambitious," adds Strassel, “but I think the kids are excited about taking on the challenge.”

Hardly your typical high school theater fare, Too Much Light... has only recently been made available to educational theatre companies, so Ann Arbor is finally getting its chance to see what all the fuss is about.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind will be performed in the Craft Theater at Community High School on November 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm, November 14 at 1 pm and at 7:30 pm, and November 15 at 2 pm. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9 for students and seniors, and are available online.

Preview: Theo Katzman at the Blind Pig

PREVIEW MUSIC

Theo Katzman returns to Ann Arbor November 11

Theo Katzman returns to Ann Arbor November 11 / Photo by Ryan Stanton

Having built a hometown following with My Dear Disco, and then as a solo artist, Theo Katzmann’s name is a familiar one around Ann Arbor. Although Brooklyn has been his more recent home base, he's swinging through A2 this week.

Katzman and his Vulfpeck took a creative approach to streaming/Spotify last year, and just dropped a new record last month. He also contributed his production and songwriting chops to Michelle Chamuel's 2015 pop album Face the Fire.

This time around, however, his Blind Pig date is billed as a solo affair — with a few of the 'peck backing him up.


Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Theo Katzman plays the Blind Pig, tonight November 11, supported by Anna Ash and The Stellars. Doors at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person through The Blind Pig.

Tellebrate Good Times, Come On! It’s a Tellabration!

PREVIEW WRITTEN WORD

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild high-tales it to Trinity Lutheran Church and AADL's Pittsfield Branch for Tellebration

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild high-tales it to Trinity Lutheran Church and AADL's Pittsfield Branch for Tellebration

We don’t know who told the first story. Was it a cavewoman telling her cavechildren a ghost story? Was it a hunter telling others of the one that got away? Was it two people around a lonely campfire trying to pass the time? We will never know how it began, but we do know that storytelling as an art has existed for millennia. People from all over the world love a good story, and luckily for us, there is plenty of storytelling right here in Ann Arbor!

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild is presenting its 24th annual Tellabration on Friday, November 13th and Sunday, November 15th. The Friday event is geared towards adults (ages 14+), while the Sunday event is especially for children and families. Tellabration is an international event celebrating the art of storytelling. Forty states and nine countries will participate in this event. The goal is to build community support for storytelling. According to local teller Lyn Davidge, expect to hear some history, some mystery, some legend, some comic relief, and even some social commentary at the event.

Davidge adds, “I love Tellabration and the Guild, with their emphasis on keeping the ancient art of traditional storytelling alive, relevant, and entertaining in the 21st century. The audience is an integral part of the storytelling experience, each person relating to the teller and the story according to his or her own unique life experiences. In a seemingly disconnected world, we find connection and common ground through story.”

In addition to Tellabration, the local guild also hosts a monthly storytelling event at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room on the second Thursday of the month. You may hear a story about chivalrous knights from medieval times, a turtle’s journey in a sunny backyard, or how a teacher grew to love being “most improved”. The guild’s monthly meetings are open to the public and are held at Nicola’s Books on the fourth Sunday of most months. Guild members are also invited to attend member-only events such as story swaps and house concerts.

In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, she wrote, “stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” Events like Tellabration guarantee that our words will stay alive for a long, long time.


Patti Smith is a teacher, writer, and lover of all things Ann Arbor. She can talk and tell stories at any hour of the day or night. She has been a part of the Storytellers' Guild for two years.


Tellabration will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1400 W Stadium Blvd on November 13 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15. The Family Storytelling concert will be held on November 15 at 2 pm. The event is free and co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and will be held at the Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Drive.

Review: Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

REVIEW PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival"

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.

This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.

Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.

As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.

The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:

  • Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
  • Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
  • Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.