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


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


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  


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.

It’s “About Time”: Dexter Singer-Songwriter Jim Bizer Releases First New Solo Album in 20 Years


Jim Bizer stands in a cabin and holds an acoustic guitar.

Jim Bizer features evocative lyrics and earnest folk instrumentation on About Time. Photo courtesy of Jim Bizer.

After two decades, Jim Bizer realized it was time to release a new solo record.

The Dexter singer-songwriter hadn’t focused on his own album since 2004’s Connected and had spent ample time working on several collaborative projects, including a duo with Jan Krist and groups The Yellow Room Gang, Diamonds in the Rust, and Floyd King and The Bushwackers.

“It’s crazy that I’ve taken that long,” said Bizer about his new folk album, About Time. “I’ve done things in between, and the thing I did the most was the duo with Jan, but I wound up in a few different bands and made records with some of them.”

Even as he worked on different projects, Bizer’s songs for About Time started brewing in 2005, and they began accumulating.

He eventually landed on 13 tracks for his third solo album and noticed a theme of time had emerged. On About Time, Bizer brings that theme to life through evocative lyrics and soundtracks it with earnest folk instrumentation.

“Not that every single song deals directly with time, but a fair number of them do. I got a kick out of writing ‘Going Nowhere’ about slowing time down and what that could mean and how that would work,” said Bizer, who produced About Time and played guitar, bass, and guitjo.

“There’s also the fact that it’s been so long since I put out my last record, and time played a piece of that. And I think of these songs as a time capsule of the last 20 years, so time was so much on my mind as I was putting the record together.”

To learn more, I spoke to Bizer about his latest album ahead of a July 7 show at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre.

The Awakening: Hannah Baiardi Chronicles Spiritual Journey and Personal Transformation on “Phoenix” Album


Hannah Baiardi clasps her hands and rests her chin upon them.

Hannah Baiardi features intimate lyrics, cathartic instrumentation, and soulful vocals on Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Hannah Baiardi.

For Hannah Baiardi, Phoenix represents a bold spiritual awakening.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter, pianist, and producer chronicles a personal transformation while encountering unrequited love on her latest album.

“The album shows that certain people come into our lives to be catalysts and light us up. Sometimes, our imagination is a huge part of the creative process and gets the best of us,” said Baiardi about her sophisti-pop release.

“It’s a beautiful thing to catalyze for music, albums, and songs, but when you come back to reality and the present moment, it doesn’t often translate.”

In her musical realm, Baiardi easily converts that inspiration into a mesmerizing concept album filled with intimate lyrics, cathartic instrumentation, and soulful vocals.

The dozen tracks featured on Phoenix explore the cycle of a potential relationship and the powerful emotions that accompany it.

“It almost felt like this was a fantastical world I had entered, or I had found this portal—like a rabbit hole. While I was making sense of it, the album was coming together,” said Baiardi, who wrote, recorded, and produced the album. “I started to see the early days of it as I was healing and getting into this surrender mode and soothing the heartbreak.”

I recently spoke to Baiardi about the album’s storyline and creative process.

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


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. 

Better From Here Music aims to help local musicians find their voices—and their audiences


Selfie photo by Kristen Mercado

A selfie by Better From Here Music's Kristen Mercado.

Kristen Mercado has a vision for local music. 

Mercado strongly believes that musicians need more opportunities for their work to be created and heard. So the singer-songwriter-producer who works under the name Larkn is doing something to make that happen with Better From Here Music, her Ann Arbor-based record label, production studio, and publishing company. The ultimate goal is to help artists create sustainable careers in music.

“I believe really strongly in development and songwriting and an individual person’s voice and not just in music talent alone,” Mercado said. “As a producer, I hope to be able to help bands and artists record their music and be happy with their music. I know that the challenges of having a budget for that are great, so I would like to help by encouraging music artists via the services, opportunities, and advice I can provide.”

Mercado explained more about Better From Here Music in an email interview.

After the “Storm”: Ann Arbor Singer-Songwriter Annie Bacon explores grief on her new folk-rock album


Annie Bacon stands in the middle of a room and wears a black dress and veil in mourning.

Annie Bacon explores grief in all its forms on Storm. Photo by Cybelle Codish.

When it comes to grief, Annie Bacon doesn’t want people to feel alone.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and guitarist views it as a shared emotion that fosters connection and growth with others.

“Something that I’ve done with my art and that I feel like is important is to take on this role and say, ‘I don’t know if anybody understands me, but I’m going to explain what I’m going through in a way that hopefully other people can feel seen and understood,’” said Bacon, who performs under the moniker Annie Bacon & Her Oshen.

“I try to find the places where my experience might be universal and create these little bridges into my experience. That’s one of my philosophical approaches to songwriting: I want to as accurately as possible describe the experience I’m going through in the hopes that it creates a witness for somebody else.”

Bacon masters that honest songwriting approach and explores grief in all its forms on her new folk-rock album, Storm. The record’s 14 poignant tracks take listeners on an emotional odyssey through death, divorce, job changes, the pandemic, and a loss of identity.

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


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.”

"Heavy" Rotation: Cece June's new EP paints an emotional self-portrait


Cece June holds an electric guitar and looks away from the camera.

Cece June chronicles loss, acceptance, and growth on How Did This Get So Heavy? Photo by Gabby Mack.

For Cece June, life is filled with near-misses and unresolved emotions.

The New York City singer-songwriter processes a gamut of feelings—from heartbreak to frustration to hope—about unclosed chapters on her latest indie-folk EP, How Did This Get So Heavy?

“It's a feeling that emulates the void when something is no longer in your life. It’s that feeling of trying to grapple with not having people around anymore or accepting that you’re going to have to move on,” said June, a University of Michigan alumna from Barcelona, Spain.

“It’s also feeling displaced or feeling frustrated. For instance, on ‘Things Unsaid,’ you’re [ruminating] on why something could have gone wrong and thinking, ‘I could potentially have an idea of what went wrong, but if I wanted to talk to the person for them to tell me and for me to get closure I can’t because they’re no longer in my life.’ There’s no way to answer those questions to let you move forward and move on easier.”

Despite those challenges, June faces her emotions head-on and looks to the future on her sophomore release. She chronicles loss, acceptance, and growth across eight tracks, which feature cathartic lyrics and wistful stripped-down instrumentation.

“I found solace in seeing the songs evolve as I evolved as a person myself. This EP was written and recorded over two-and-a-half to three years,” June said.

“There were songs that would ebb and flow, and there were times when I was recording them in the thick of the pain or times when I was reminiscing … and no longer being in the depths of that feeling or the grief or the heartbreak.”

To learn more, I spoke with June about her EP and the inspiration behind it.