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Ann Arbor Music Scene 101

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When maestro Leonard Bemsteintumed 70, he decided to celébrate in a special way. He contacted the renowned Viennese Symphony Orchestra and arranged a four-concert birthday party. Bemstein conducted his own music in only four U.S. cities: New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Ann Arbor. On a hot 3rd of July a couple of years ago I was in Gruene, Texas at what was billed as "The Oldest Honky-Tonk in Texas." On this Sunday aftemoon a lone troubador was performing his forlom yet exq uisite songs off in the corner. The crowd tumed and nodded respectfully as he finished his set. He sat beside me at the bar. After a beer he asked where this yankee was from. I said Ann Arbor and troubador Robert Keen nstantly said "Oh, The Ark. Great place! Me and Nanci Grift n try to piay that place every time we leave Austin. Hope to see you there." One dreary day in the earty 1 980s a little known band from Athens, Georgia carne rolling into the now defunct Joe's Star Bar. The crowd was small. The air was smoky and a bit of an irritant to the skinny lead singer- Michael Stipe. For three sets this up-and-coming group- R. EM. - played their brand of jangling melodies to a surprised, yet soon-to-be-converted audience. The idea that Bemstein selected Ann Arbor as a town in which to perform his concerts, or that The Ark has a reputation that draws artists from all corners of the continent, or that on any one night one might see the next super-group in a small, dingy club, gives only a little hint about the special nature of the music scène in Ann Arbor. Indeed, one may have already seen Bemstein conduct (especially in New York City), or an up-and-coming group in a small venue, or a folk legend perform in a cozy local club, but rarely do these events occur in a small college town like Ann Arbor. Not in Madison, Columbus, Cambridge, Palo Alto oreven Austin. Ann Arbor is a very unique musical town. Besides being so close to Detroit where all the major recording artists venture - to The Palace, St. Andrews, The Majestic, The Fox, Hart Plaza - throughout the year there are at least three annual major musical events in the Washtenaw County area worth noting. The first, held every September (Sept 16 and 17 this year), is the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. Located east of the campus in Gallup Park, one can hear top-notch blues, jazz and soul music. This time you can look forward to the searing soul music of BookerT. and the MGs, the great guitar master Lonnie Mack and the legendary soul mistress Fontella Bass. Given this music and setting- surrounded by water, Gallup Park is gorgeous - this event is both hot and lowkeyed. The promoters have worked very hard to make t a very comfortable place to listen to some great music, and they've succeeded. In January The Ark puts on The Folk Festival. This is probably the premier musical event of the year in Ann Arbor. With almost 20 years of experience, the logistical bugs have been worked out For over six hours, as many as ten artists play some of the best folk, pop, and good-time music you'd ever want to hear. Nanci Griffin, Bela Fleck, Lyle Lovett, Richard Thompson, Doe Watson, and David Bromberg are only some of the past years' headliners. The other artists further down the manquee are just as talented if not as widely known. This show should not be missed. Get your tickets early. In June, again the people f rom The Ark pitch a tent at Frog Island in Ypsilanti. Over three days you'll hear folkpop, New Orleansjazz-influenced, and gospel-tinged music - the likes of which we rarely hear up in Ann Arbor. Los Lobos, Wayne Toups, The Staple Singers, and jazz expatiate Steve Lacey all reflect the caliber of musicianship at this fun-f lied summer happening. Like the concerts presented by the Univer sity Musical Society (which incidentally hai a wond erf ui line-upthis season featuring Mare Roberts, the awesome Boys Choir of Harlem, Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente, Ravi Shankar and others), all these events cost money. But there is a way to see them for f ree. The Musical Society and all the other organizers are looking for volunteers to usher at their shows. Your compensation is free admission. Give them a cali. If you're a musician, the number of stages in town featuring larger ensembles are relatively limited. Rick's Amercian Cafe and The Blind Pig are about the only two venues in Ann Arbor that offer live music six nights a week (besides the jazz club Bird of Paradise). One might have to travel to Ypsilanti to The Tap Room, Cross Street Station or Theodoors to find more appropriate stages. Ifyou like to listen to orto play theblues there is a jam session every Sunday at the Blind Pig. Contact Jerry Mack, often found at WCBN, for details. If you're a solo artist, virtually every coffee house in town (and many of the book stores) have small stages for acoustic music; most notably Cava Java. The Ark also has an open stage night most Wednesdays featuring the first 1 2 peoplegroups who sign up. Give these various places a cali to find your niche. Good jazz can befound nightlyatAnn Arbor's only all-jazz club, The Bird of Paradise. Don't miss their house band on Mondays, The Bird of Paradise Orchestra. They are hot. More jazz can be found at the Del Rio Sunday evenings. It's cool, easy listening material. As broad as the music scène is in Washtenaw County, African-American music (other than blues and jazz) and country music are truly under-represented. Fortunately if you want to hear live rap, urban, or good alternative music it is worth the trek to Detroit. Check out The Metro Times tor a complete listing of venues and acts in that great music town. Besides the Jim Tate Band, which plays every Friday night at the Blind Pig during happy hour, there is very little country music in town. One has to travel a short distance to Cantón Qust beyond Ypsilanti on Michigan Avenue) to Lucille's. This is the closest our área has to a honky tonk, atthough the place is too clean, has too many lemons in their beer and f ar too many faux country drawls. You will be able to line dance though, just like on TV. For some reason most of the larger nat ional rockpop acts don't play in Ann Arbor per se. They travel to Detroit I suspect that the Uni ve rsity, which owns both Hill Auditorium (3500+ capacity) and Crisler Arena (1 5,000+ capacity), puts some sort of pressure on local promoters, be it f nancial or otherwise, to limit these venues. Generally the people working at the record stores in town are fantastically knowlegeable and f riendly. Tower Records has a huge selection, but Schootkids' has a deeper selection. Discount Records has an excellent newalternative music section, white Wherehouse Records covers local music well. Avoid the mails. For the hard-to-find, out -of-print recording there is no place like PJ's. Their staff are almost encyclopedie in their knowledge of rare recordings, and they'll shoot the breeze with you all aftemoon. Radio staions WIQB and WCBN both play contemporary popularrock music. WIQB is more for the head banger; WCBN has more eclectic offerings (children's music, blues shows, gospel music). WEMU, out of Ypsilanti, is the premier public radio station in town, although WUOM, the classical public radio station, might disagree. WEMU plays mostly jazz, and lots of blues, too. On Sunday momings WEMU broadcasts "My Sunday Best" with Dr. Arwulf - it's first rate. Two final notes: All through the school term there are free recitals at the School of Music and throughout the summerthere are free shows at "Top of the Park" and the Art Fair. Ann Arbor has a lot to offer in regards to music. I suggest you venture out and enjoy. k m iïiiiSS iísÍKÍÍÍí: :íi Isl Wïi.. ' % ?! íslP


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