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Bars, Clubs & Cafes A Musical Primer

Bars, Clubs & Cafes A Musical Primer image Bars, Clubs & Cafes A Musical Primer image
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In Am Arbor during the '60s Neil Young recorded his dassical tune "Sugar Mountain" for about 150 people at the old Canterbury House on Maynard Street In the 70s, Janis Joplin played at Crysler Arena and Bob Seger and Iggy Pop were rumored to be roaming the streets here. In the '80s one could see up-and-coming "altemative" groups like REM, 1 0,000 Maniacs and roots rockers like Los Lobos play at the Blind Pig and the defunct Joe's Star Lounge. During the '90s it was a treat to see jazz great Wynton Marsalis play at The Ark. It is littíe wonder that Washtenaw County has such a wonderful reputation as a musical haven. Wrth this reputation one mkjht expect the musical greats like Leonard Bemstein, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin to perform in the worid-renown Hill Auditorium. The question becomes, where does one go to hear music on a regular basis around Washtenaw County? What are different musical venues like in the Ann Arbor metro area? Where can you dance? BARS AND CLUBS There are a tremendous number of local musicians in Washtenaw County struggling for a place to perform. At last count there were over 75 cassettes and CDs by local artists in the various record stores in town. The problem is that in Washtenaw County, where there are least 50,000 college students, there are only a handful of venues that offerperformance opportunities for these talented artists. These are: Rick's American Cafe, The Blind Pig and The Heidelberg in Ann Arbor; and The Cross Street Station, The Tap Room, T.C.'s Speakeasy and Theo's in Ypsilanti. Rick's American Cafe (61 1 Church Street, 9962747) offers live music seven nights a week. The patrons for this venerable club are drawn heavily from the nearby University of Michigan thus the atmosphere is collegiate and congenial. There is a medium-sized dance floor, but the major drawback is the all-too-familiar aroma of stale beer and cigarette butts. rf you can handlethis, you'll see some of the best rock and blues out-of-town draws on the weekends and some of the best local groups during the off-times. It's tough for a local group without a following to get a gig here during the school term; summers are better. The Blind Pig (208 S. First, 996-8555) might be arguably the premier club in Ann Arbor. The reason is the great sight lines and the good sound system. The dance floor is small but they do pack 'em in. This tegendary establishment has gone through some changes over the years. In the '70s it was little more than a wine cellarfeaturing the masterful pianist, the late Boogie Woogie Red. Overthe years The Pig has moved upstairs and expanded.nowholdingacouple hundred people with relative ease. The talent that comes to the Pig is often booked by Prism Productions.sofriegroupstendtobeeitherlegendsalready (e.g., Sleepy LaBeef) or are soon to be. Like Rick's, new groups have a hard time breaking into the existing system. Abig plus of the Pig is the Eight Ball Saloon, a second bar, located in the basement Again, like Rick's,abig minus is the cigarettesmoke - be prepared to smell like a Camel Straight by the end of the night Over the last few years The Heidelberg has been open, then closed, and now is open again. Located on the upperftoorat 21 5 N. Main above the Heidelberg Restaurant and the basement Rathskeller, this stage - when it was open five nights a week - was home to som e of the best local bands in Ann Arbor. This was the place where a new group could get a break. Now that the stage is open only on weekends, the bands are not as wide-ranging as before but the emphasis is still on local talent. The biggest drawback to this club is the tocation. Found on Main St, on the north side of Huron St., it often seems like a long walk, especially on those cdd winter nights. Cross Street Station (51 1 W. Cross, Ypsilanti, 485-5050) is located right down the streetfrom EMU. The small stage and dance floor makes for some very rowdy conditions, but the Station has long opened their mikes on Wednesday night to anyone who has the gumption to get up on stage. Generally you hear some very fine EMU talent at that time. Recommended. The Tap Room (201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, 482-5320) is designed very much like Cross Street Station - long and narrow, thus the place can get very crowded on weekends. Featuring mostiy the blues at this time, (check out Robert Jones from WDET-FM; he's great) the sound system is good and the wooden panelling is gorgeous. I hope the foul smoke and wild patrons don 't ruin this stunning decor. The Room also has an open mike night scheduled this fall. T.C.'s Speakeasy (207 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, 483-4470) is two doors down from the Tap Room. Aimed at an older crowd than the Tap Room, the Speakeasy sports the largest dance floor of the Ypsilanti clubs. Right now they only have music on weekends, but it a good place to dance snd talk- a nice comfortable place. The newest establishment that will feature live music in Ypsilanti thisfall(beginningSeptember9th) is Theo's (705 W. Cross, 485-6720). Still looking much like a pizza house and located directiy across the street from EMU, they have such local legends as The Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band, Frank Allison, George Bedard, and Steve Nardella lined up for the first month. Theo's manager George Tangalakis says he's eventually going to feature live music five nights a week. Hopefully he'll feature the wide range of musicians found in Ypsilanti. DANCE CLUBS The Nectarine (51 0 E Liberty, Ann Arbor, 9945436) doesn't feature live music like rt did before it was cut down in size, but this club has the largest dance floor in Ann Arbor. Featuring DJs who concéntrate on 70's Disco music, Modem club-dance music, and EuroBeat music, this is the place to go if you want to dance. The sound system is exquisite and the atmosphere is electric. JAZZ AND FOLK CLUBS There are really only three venues that fit this category: The Bird of Paradise, The Del Rk, and The Ark. The Bird of Paradise (207 S. Ashley, 662-831 0) books live jazz seven nights a week. The club is subtly beautif ui : nice linen table clothes, real flowers, a stunningly large grand piano on stage- a real class joint. There's no dancing but they invite all budding jazz performerstoparticipatein the Sunday night jam session. The audience is tolerant so you'll hear some extraordinary talent at these sessions. The De) Rio Bar (1 22 W. Washington, 7? 1 -2530) has a tape collection that is indescribable - rumored to be over 1 200, it features just about every type of popularjazz music you could askfor. But you won 't heartapes on Sunday night. Local jazz groups perform free from 6-9 pm, generally in accol, soft style. The Ark (637 12 S. Main St, 761-1451) is the premier live music venue in Ann Arbor for American and international performers of traditional music. - Holding only 300 people or so, the place often sells out, even on their open mike nights. The ambiance is laid-back and intímate. You sit in lawn chairs or on Weachers within three f eet of the low stage, so you feel like the artists become close friends (be careful - whispers carry). The one drawback is the support beams. If you don't get there early you'll be remindedofTigerStadium - "obstructedseatsonly." CAFES The are more cafes in Ann Arbor than you can shake a coffee stirrer at, so many of them have added live music to draw you in for your caffeine buzz. What you generally get are intímate settings that feature some good folk music, excellent melodie jazz, orsomeextraordinary"un-plugged" rock. The Espresso Royale Caffe (214 S. Main SL, 668-1 838) is a big noisy venue. The music is generally consists of light jazz and folk music. They have a piano in their corner stage so you hear a broader array of music than at other cafes. Sweetwaters Cafe (123 W. Washington, 7692331 ) is more intímate than the Royale and the music is more pointedly light jazz. This is the place where those artists talented enough to perform in the Bird of Paradise practice their chops on a smaller, perhaps less-knowledgeable crowd. What the audience gets is first-rate talent for free (and coffee). Cava Java (1 1 01 S. University, 741 -5282) has a separate room downstairs used for the overflow coffee-drinking crowd upstairs. But on Thursday through Saturday nights they set up the mikes for acoustic rock music booked by music impresario Joe Tiboni. Often the musicianship of rock artists who play in the club venues around town is obscured by the decibel level they are forced to play at. It is a real treat to see these artists in a venue where their talent takes precedence over their histrionics. Often the resurt is music your parents might just like if they actual ly could hearit, and that's no put-down!


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