Endless Time: Chris Smither at The Ark

MUSIC REVIEW

Chris Smither by Jeff Fasano

Chris Smither by Jeff Fasano.

The first time I heard Chris Smither I was on a road trip from Ann Arbor to Alabama, helping my cousin move so she could begin her master’s in creative writing. It was late at night and we were somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee. There were no other cars around and the road kept curving and curving. The windows in the car were down and the muggy air was streaming in. We were feeling slow and sleepy, so my cousin put in Chris Smither’s CD #Leave the Light On#. I heard Chris Smither’s voice for the first time: low and rough, singing, “If I were young again / I’d pay attention / To that little-known dimension / a taste of endless time / it’s just like water / it runs right through our fingers / but the flavor of it lingers / like rich, red wine.” 

It’s almost impossible to describe the full effect of good music, music that reaches deep. But I can tell you that I started thinking about time that night in a way that I hadn’t considered before. When you’re young, time feels endless, and what a privilege that is.

Patterns in the Process: “Sara Adlerstein: Ecologies, my true colors” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds

Sara Adlerstein's paintings Seeds to Come and Milk Weeds, Weeds.

Vivid, biomorphic expressions take imaginative turns in Sara Adlerstein’s Ecologies, my true colors at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery.

Adlerstein’s mixed-media Ecologies exhibit features biologically themed art crafted largely in dramatic three by four feet proportions. Her all-heart artworks are abstractions based on realism featuring nuanced, organic leitmotifs.

An applied aquatic ecologist and current faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, Adlerstein hasn’t pursued formal training in the arts. Rather, she says she’s has been painting for as long as she’s been a scientist. “Art and science belong together as naturally as air and water,” Adlerstein wrote in her artist's statement

Minimalesque: “Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” at Kerrytown Concert House

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Deborah Campell's Divergent and Topography; Lois Kane's Sathonii

Left and upper right: Deborah Campell's Divergent (fiber) and Topography (1) (fiber, crochet). Lower right: Lois Kane's Sathonii (ink drawing).

There’s minimalist art and there’s art on the edge of being minimal. This distinction may seem paradoxical, but it is one way of describing the Burgeoning exhibit at Kerrytown Concert House by local artists Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane.

Deborah Campbell's art is minimal -- and it's bountiful for it. Where a less talented artist might overpower her work with excess, Campbell strategically stitches her fiber art with just enough effort to convey her articulation. Every stitch counts.

Lois Kane's draftsmanship functions in a similar fashion as Campbell's stitching. Where Campbell’s touch is serene, Kane’s line is vigorous, or memorably spare, and is always on point. 

PTD presents a timely staging of "The Crucible"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

PTD Productions' cast of The Crucible

Photo courtesy PTD Productions.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible began with a class in America history when Miller was a student at the University of Michigan. The class included a segment on the Salem witch trials and Miller saw rich material for a drama that combined political, religious, and deeply personal conflicts.

He returned to the subject in the early 1950s, using the witch trials as a way to comment on the anti-Communist hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. It was also an opportunity to show his rage at his friend and director Elia Kazan, who volunteered to name names of those who had any association with the Communist Party.

It’s a complex play dealing with a particular place and time while also exploring the broader view that we are not so far removed from the fanatics of Salem. Every few years offers up new examples of intolerance and repression, and an opportunity for theater groups to bring back Miller’s eloquent warning.

Hilarity at the Heidelberg: Tony Klee's Something to Do Comedy Night at Club Above

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Something to Do Comedy night at Heidelberg's Club Above

I found out about Something to Do Comedy Night at the Heidelberg's Club Above when its organizer, Tony Klee, bought me a shot of tequila last summer and I joked about doing the show one day.

Recently, Klee put out a call for comics, especially women comics, and when I asked him if I could go up, he said yes.

I had about five days to come up with a five-minute set.

I needed to write some jokes.

Mind the Gap's dark comedy "Happy Birthday Dear Alice" focuses on flawed folks who mean well

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mind the Gap's cast for its production of Happy Birthday Dear Alice

Sometimes when I’m standing in line at the drugstore feeling tired and angry that the cashier is a moron, I decide to get my revenge on life by impulse-buying a Baby Ruth bar. Mainly because it’s there and I don’t like Baby Ruth bars.

My decision to go to see Happy Birthday Dear Alice was exactly like that. I made up my mind to go 15 minutes before it started because I was feeling crabby and it was happening, and I figured maybe it wouldn’t be completely terrible. I arrived late. The audience was small. I assumed my revenge had succeeded -- this was clearly the Baby Ruth of theater.

Except that it isn’t. Happy Birthday Dear Alice is good.

It’s so good, if I can manage to find the time, I will go back to see it again. If I had the time (I won’t), I would go see it for a third round. It’s that good.

If you like theater at all, I strongly recommend that you go see this show.

They're Bringing "Camelbak": Scissor Now!'s latest video visits tiny houses in Atlanta

MUSIC REVIEW

The quirky, punk-funk threesome Scissor Now! released its most recent album, Now That's What I Call Scissor Now!, nearly three years ago. But the Ann Arbor trio of Jessica Bratus (vocals/saxophone), Kevin Sanchez (drums), and Jef Porkins (bass/vocals) keeps mining treasure from its avant-grooves by producing music videos, including the brand new "Camelbak," the fifth vid made in support of the LP.

Scissor Now! describes the song on its Bandcamp page thusly: "A lot of people seem to move from Ann Arbor to Portland, OR. Thankfully, most of them move back."

But the video for "Camelbak" has nothing to do with The City of Roses. Instead, it follows TinyDoorsATL artist and former Ann Arbor-ite Karen Anderson, who places 6-inch-tall doors in creative places throughout Atlanta.

If you dig Scissor Now!'s brand of fried jazz, below are the band's other four videos from Now That's What I Call Scissor Now! as a well as a performance from the 2017 Water Hill Music Fest.

Dual Struggles: Encore Theatre's "Big Fish" puts up a good fight

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Big Fish

David Moan as Edward Bloom, Emmi Bills as Sandra Bloom, and John Reed as Young Will in Encore Theatre's production of Big Fish. Photos by Michelle Anliker Photography.

A colleague of mine once observed that when you ask people about their mothers, you tend to hear stories and fond memories, but when you ask people about their fathers, tears flow within minutes. 

Why?

Perhaps because traditional, American modes of masculinity and emotional expression have stood at loggerheads for many generations, making father-child relationships highly complicated. Yet it’s precisely this dual struggle to connect that drives Big Fish, the novel-turned-movie-turned-stage-musical now playing at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

"Silencer" Spring: Ann Arbor native and poet Marcus Wicker at AADL

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Poet Marcus Wicker reads at AADL

On April 20, Ann Arbor native, Marcus Wicker came to AADL to talk about his latest poetry collection, Silencer.

And if it weren’t for Kehinde Wiley, the prolific black painter most recently in the news for his portrait of President Barack Obama, there’s a chance that this event wouldn’t have happened.

The cover of Silencer prominently featured one of Wiley’s paintings, which is what drew AADL staff member and program host Sean Copeland to the book as he was working at the library. Copeland, not a poetry superfan, took the book home, read the work, and knew that others should experience it. (Read Copeland's interview with Wicker here.)

Over 30 people attended the Friday night event on what turned out to be the first spring-like day Ann Arbor had seen in a while. Wicker, in fact, remarked on that saying to the crowd, “It’s a Friday and you came here to see poetry. You could be on a lawn somewhere drinking beer.” (Video of the event coming soon.)

Discomfort Food: Chef Tunde Wey turns up the heat on racial inequities

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu.

“I was eager to be successful. I still am.”
--Tunde Wey

When I heard chef Tunde Wey would be hosting dinners and food trucks in Ann Arbor and Detroit designed to get people talking about race in America, I sought more information. 

The word that came up most was "provocative"; runner-up: "uncomfortable."

For late April and early May, Wey has brought his Saartj dining concept to Michigan, which is where the Nigerian chef came to study at age 16. This is also where he started to make his mark with (revolver), the pop-up restaurant in Hamtramck featuring a cast of rotating chefs.

The Saartj project calls attention to privilege. In one version of the project, white people were charged more than minorities for their food. In the Detroit version, diners fill out a questionnaire providing information about their race, education, and income mobility; the price of their dinner then increases according to their relative privilege.