Moving Forward: pia the band Re-evaluates Life Plans and Priorities on "Getting Better" EP


pia the band lays on a bed wearing an orange sweatshirt and light blue jeans.

Pia-Allison Roa examines personal growth and self-expectations on Getting Better. Photo by Zach Nahshel.

Pia-Allison Roa makes an honest self-assessment on her Getting Better EP.

The Detroit singer-songwriter who performs as pia the band recognizes the importance of re-evaluating life plans and priorities and making changes along the way. 

“These are the four songs that I felt were most ready to be out,” said Roa about her debut EP. “Once we recorded all four and then put it all together, it popped out to me that these are all about overcoming things.” 

As part of that process, pia the band examines past situations and relationships through contemplative lyrics and ethereal indie-rock, dream-pop, and shoegaze-folk instrumentation. 

“It felt good to get all those out … but then it was even more special looking back at what the songs meant, what they could mean now, and how they can be interpreted by other people,” said Roa, who’s also a clinical pharmacist specialist at Wayne Health.

To learn more, I spoke with Roa about Getting Better ahead of her May 28 show at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

University of Michigan visiting professor Kelly Hoffer applies her poetry habit to grief in “Undershore”


Kelly Hoffer and her book Undershore.

“the day unthreads, and then the next / day unthreads,” writes poet and University of Michigan Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry, Kelly Hoffer, in her collection, Undershore

The poems in Undershore find themselves submerged in grief, and later in the book, they explore the juxtaposition of loss with new life. During the “smoketrail/afterimage/premonition” in the poem called “Age of decadence/ /sericulture/ /summoning spell” (in this sentence, the slashes are part of the line and title, not indicating line breaks), we see both what is there and what has changed. The poet reflects on a silkworm’s effort to build a cocoon by noting that, “at the moments of greatest observational / pressure, desire seeps into perception.” Bereavement does not erase the persistent want.  

Another poem, “Sidelong: treatises,” points out that “the thing about a cliff is the cliffside, otherwise / it would remain a carpet unfurling in front of you, forever.” The drop-off defines it. They say that grief is an emotion that you must face to get through it, and Hoffer stands at the cliff’s edge and does just that. Hoffer includes two poems called “I want Abysses,” and at the end of the first one writes: 

Caitlin Cowan’s new poetry collection observes holidays and special moments alongside capitalism, the division of labor, and an impending divorce


A headshot of Caitlin Cowan and her book Happy Everything, which has a white background and a white women's long coat on it with colorful circles coming out of the top and bottom of the coat.

There are many ways for a marriage to go wrong, and Caitlin Cowan’s new poetry collection, Happy Everything, records a number of them. The poem “Instructions for Divorce” recommends to “Know that there’s no manual / for this.” One must make one’s own path and “weld yourself / to the world’s blue ache.”  

Happy Everything contains poems masquerading as holidays and special days, though these writings do not veil how everything is awry aside from the book’s title and the supposedly happy occasions. The multi-part poem “Happy Halloween” looks at the “awful mechanics” of “film after unrated film because Mama / thought unrated meant the same as safe” and asks:

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


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"


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.

Pure Michigan: Sophia Orensteen Pays Homage to U-M and Offers Coming-of-Age Tales on “AmericanGirl” Album


Sophia Orensteen wears a black strapless dress and sings into a microphone.

Sophia Orensteen examines past relationships on AmericanGirl. Photo courtesy of Sophia Orensteen.

Sophia Orensteen’s heart belongs in Ann Arbor.

While the pop-rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hails from New York City, she’s ecstatic about attending the University of Michigan this fall as a freshman to study music.

So much in fact that Orensteen has written a song called “Michigan,” which pays homage to the school and serves as the aspirational opener from her debut album, AmericanGirl.

“This song turned into a way that I could express my love for Michigan even though I had never been there [before] or had never seen it,” she said. 

“I got in contact with the University of Michigan about using my song for their social media. I also sent in the song with my application, and I didn’t even tell my parents I was applying. And then I got in, and they said, ‘What?’”

Despite that surprise, Orensteen learned of her acceptance to U-M in February and has started planning for the fall. 

She shares that sentiment in “Michigan” alongside hopeful acoustic guitar and electric guitar while singing: “I’ve never been to Michigan, but I’ve heard it’s nice / You’re going away, going to college, gonna start a new life / You’ll remember me / When you see my name in lights / And you’ll say, ‘Wow, she was right.’”

“I’ve always loved the University of Michigan, and I wrote this in one of my supplemental essays when I applied there,” said Orensteen, who will graduate from New York City’s Professional Children’s School in June.

“I never told my parents or anybody that I loved the University of Michigan, but I’ve always followed the school and their football team. I never thought I’d go there or get into the school.”

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


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


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.”

Detroit’s Mike Ward Brings His Inspirational Folk Songs to AADL April 28


Mike Ward wears a denim shirt and holds an acoustic guitar in his living room.

Detroit folk singer-songwriter Mike Ward. Photo by Danny Ward.

The state of the world weighs heavily on Mike Ward’s mind.

That concern prompted the Detroit singer-songwriter to pen a new folk song called “Why Not,” which sends an encouraging message to help others.

“When I have played it, people get how the song starts out small, gets broader as it goes on, and ends at a point where it’s up to us on a personal level,” said Ward, who’s also a University of Michigan alumnus. 

“One of the things I have to work hard at is trying not to be too preachy, especially when I’m writing about things on a political level. It’s one of the areas where I try to find a balance.”

Backed by hopeful acoustic guitar and cello, he sings, “Why not do some good today with the time that we’ve got / Start with something simple / A lesson learned or to be taught / Plant a seed or lend a hand / A little helps a lot.”

“I’ve also been looking at not only how that affects the world in general, but also how it’s affecting people’s relationships,” Ward said. “It goes as broad as the country, but as narrow as some relationships and the struggles that people are having.”

Why Not” is one of several songs Ward will be performing with Sara Gibson (cello) and Annie Bacon (vocals) at an April 28 show at the Downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Ahead of the show, I spoke with Ward about his current state, his career transition from advertising to music, past albums, his latest songwriting efforts, his setlist for the AADL show, and plans for new material.

Double Vision: DuPont Phillips Combines Catalogs and Influences to Release New “Big Sky Sessions” EP


Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips each wear all black and sit next to each other.

Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips' new DuPont Phillips EP, Big Sky Sessions, features stripped-down instrumentation, emotive duets, and lush harmonies. Photo by Misty Lyn Bergeron.

Ypsilanti’s Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips decided a joint EP was long overdue.

After several years of performing and recording together, the singer-songwriters pooled their talents, catalogs, and influences to form DuPont Phillips and release Big Sky Sessions.

“This Big Sky Sessions EP was a very natural project. We used stuff that we have, and we used songs from our catalogs that have been out,” DuPont said.

“What feels good to me is that all of these interpretations of our songs that exist live now have a home. This project proved to me that putting out something doesn’t have to make you suffer. … We cut it in two days.”

During those two days at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording, DuPont Phillips reimagined three tracks from prior solo releases and recorded two renditions of Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell classics along with a new song.

“Sometimes it can be hard to explain to people what we’re doing because we’re playing things from our individual catalogs, but we’re supporting one another,” Phillips said. “For me, it’s fun to have something we can show people and say, ‘This is what it is. It’s this cross-pollination of what we both do.’”

Those collaborative efforts have resulted in an intimate folk-pop EP filled with stripped-down instrumentation, emotive duets, and lush harmonies. The six tracks featured on Big Sky Sessions offer vulnerable tales of love, growth, and change.

I recently spoke to the duo about revisiting and reworking older tracks, doing covers, recording a new song, spending time in the studio, preparing for an EP release show, and planning for the future.