Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG) is an Ypsilanti-based theater company that was founded by Kristin Danko and Aaron Dean, two transplants from the Chicago theater scene. And it’s not an accident that Danko and Dean are also the director and playwright, respectively, for NTG’s newest musical, Dispatches From the Dumb Decade, which runs June 2-4 at Bona Sera Underground.
“The ethos of the entire company is that everybody does a little piece of something,” says Dean. Which also explains why the NTG House Band arranged the music for Dispatches From the Dumb Decade. According to Danko, “Once we realized that we all had talents outside of theater -- we all play instruments, write music, and sing -- we decided to start a band. We’re called the NTG House Band, and it’s a great way for us to reach a more diverse audience, and the music scene here in Ypsi is outstanding.”
Carey F. Whitepigeon's debut novel, Daughter of Dawn and Darkness: Book 1, Spark Aflight, tells the tale of a 17-year-old woman straddling two familial cultures. In this case, her parents not only come from different cultures but from entirely different planets!
"(The protagonist) Vivian grew up amongst her father’s people and knows nothing about her mother’s planet and people," said Whitepigeon, who grew up in Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and three children. "After receiving a letter from her maternal uncle, she becomes obsessed with getting to know more about that side of her family.”
The Ann Arbor-based rootsy string band Wire in the Wood has been playing in various incarnations for around 10 years, building a reputation as a creative and skilled live act. But until this year, the group had never gotten around to releasing an album.
“At this point we probably have like 60 songs,” says frontman and guitarist Billy Kirst. “And maybe three years ago, I said, ‘I’m not booking any more shows until we record an album.’ So we didn’t play for a little over a year … and we recorded the album.”
Recorded at Jim Roll’s Backseat Productions and released earlier this year, the album, All Fall Apart, showcases Kirst’s songwriting and the virtuoso playing of all the band’s members, including Jordan Adema (violin), Ryan Shea (bass), and Michael Spaly (mandolin). The sound Wire in the Wood creates weaves together elements of bluegrass, swing, jam-band improvisation, and beyond.
Though most of us don’t sense a strong link between the auto and film industries, Michigan Theater executive director and CEO Russ Collins pointed out that the two essentially grew up together.
“In 1922, when Hollywood was deciding whether it would be based in New York or California, Ford Motor Company became one of the largest distributors of movies of anywhere in the world,” said Collins, at a recent press conference for the sixth annual Cinetopia Film Festival, which happens June 1-11 in various Ann Arbor and Detroit locales.
“Ford distributed so many educational films and newsreels that Detroit was second only to Hollywood in terms of the amount of film shot and processed. So it’s an art form that Detroit has long held dear," Collins said, "and it’s deeply built into this community, which is why we’re so happy to bring the world’s cinema passion back here to Detroit.”
When Loretta Grimes saw an off-Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son in January 2016, she realized it had all the basic elements for a Redbud Productions staging. The cast was small, the story intimate, and the emotions intense.
“For me, I loved the play in general, the characters were well-drawn, and the writing was excellent,” she said. “But I was mainly drawn to the main character, Jim Quinn, who is John Patrick Shanley as the play is autobiographical. I think what I like is that the character is such an underdog and I think we can all relate to that. He’s this rough, tough kid from the Bronx who goes to this prestigious Catholic school in New England, but it’s like fitting a round peg in a square hole.”
When Chris "Box" Taylor says "fuzz" is a "feeling," he's not being emo. He means it quite literally.
Fortunately for music lovers, he's not selfish with the joyous sounds of distortion.
If you live in Ann Arbor and you're into rock 'n' roll, you've likely crossed paths with Taylor, either by attending his annual Fuzz Fest, the long-running dance party The Bang!, or having witnessed one of his many bands tear up the stage at Woodruff's, The Blind Pig, or the now-defunct Elbow Room in Ypsi. Whether opening the blast doors with longtime cosmic rockers Mazinga, transporting you to "Sleeping Mountain" with his band Blue Snaggletooth, or simply whipping up a guitar frenzy as a member of Scott Morgan's Powertrane, Taylor carries that fuzzy feeling with him everywhere he plays.
I distinctly remember walking into Woodruff's in Ypsilanti the opening night of the first Fuzz Fest in 2014. The moment I stepped over the threshold and into the bar, each throbbing bass note rattled my marrow, and each kick of the drum was like a blow to the chest. The music was alive, and neither the thick boots on my feet nor the sturdy jacket on my shoulders could shield me from the penetrating soundwaves.
Meanwhile, as the four members of Bison Machine blasted away at their instruments in a blur of sonic fury, the psychedelic light show above turned my gray matter every shade of the rainbow.
This was an all-out assault on the senses, and it was glorious.
On June 1-3, Fuzz Fest 4 will take over The Blind Pig. With 33 bands preparing to descend upon Ann Arbor, with The Overhead Army on psychedelic light duties, it's a damn shame the students will miss out on what promises to be the kick-off event of the summer.
Fortunately for Pulp readers, Taylor was kind enough to take some time out from organizing this massive undertaking to give us a sneak preview of what we can expect once the amps are stacked, and the bands hit the stage.
If you feel lured by some mysterious wailing over the next couple of weeks, be warned. Like the shadowy, mythic figure of its namesake, Ypsilanti-based stoner-metal duo Bubak are skilled in deception, masking sinister riffs and morbid tales within hook-filled earworms from which you may never escape.
"Bubak is from Czech folklore: pretty much their version of a Boogeyman," said drummer Justin O'Neill by email. This "scarecrow-looking creature, whose face is usually obscured by its hat," hides out by riverbanks and makes sounds like a baby crying, which lures unsuspecting victims to it. "Bubak then kills them, weaves their souls into garments, rides around in a cart pulled by black cats ... y'know, like a Bubak does."
Also featuring Jeff West on bass and vocals, the band is effectively the rhythm section of defunct psychedelic-metal band Zen Banditos, which split up when guitarist Andy Furda left town.
Bubak released its debut EP late last year online. CDs are now available, too, and the duo still plan to press it on vinyl. Like its fantastic comic-horror cover art by Tony Fero, the EP's four songs are as fun as they are menacing, heavy on fuzzed-out chromatic bass runs, swaggering shuffle beats, and West's awesome growl.
We traded emails with O'Neill and West in advance of their Thursday, June 1, show as part of FuzzFest 4 at the Blind Pig.
Fiction about the Midwest, much like the region itself, often suffers from incorrect assumptions by outsiders and a dated external -- and internal -- monologue.
In The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt, author Mark Athitakis challenges those assumptions, and he points to authors whose work pushes against common regional tropes. He also sets the record straight about the Midwest itself, which boasts its own brand of cultural, racial, and political diversity, for better or for worse.
We spoke with Athitakis -- who will give a reading at the downtown branch of AADL on Friday, June 2 -- about his book and his own perspectives on the Midwest and its writing.
The Session Room on Jackson Road was in a festive mood May 9.
The front of the restaurant/beer hall was taken over by what appeared to customers like a troupe of English music hall performers.
In truth, they were actors from the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre trying out their jokes, songs, patter, and various English accents in preparation for their upcoming presentation of Rupert Holmes’ musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, June 1-4, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
The show's director, Ron Baumanis, said the setting was perfect for getting his cast in the mood.
“Here we have this show with great musical numbers that can be lifted right out and done as an evening of entertainment,” he said. “Sessions is a beer hall and essentially music halls started out as beer halls then moved into theaters. But instead of seats, people sat at tables with their tankards of beer and did business or whatever they wanted to do.”
Martin Bandyke Under Covers: Martin Torgoff, author of "Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs"
From the author of the acclaimed Can't Find My Way Home comes the gripping story of the rise of early drug culture in America.
With an intricate storyline that unites engaging characters and themes and reads like a novel, Bop Apocalypse details the rise of early drug culture in America by weaving together the disparate elements that formed this new and revolutionary segment of the American social fabric.
Drawing upon his rich decades of writing experience, master storyteller Martin Torgoff connects the birth of jazz in New Orleans, the first drug laws, Louis Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow, Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, swing, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, the Savoy Ballroom, Reefer Madness, Charlie Parker, the birth of bebop, the rise of the Beat Generation, and the coming of heroin to Harlem. Aficionados of jazz, the Beats, counterculture, and drug history will all find much to enjoy here, with a cast of characters that includes vivid and memorable depictions of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Herbert Huncke, Terry Southern, and countless others.