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Music Scene 101

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It wouldn't take a newcomer to Ann Arbor long to see that this town is a fine music town. Although one might find more live music venues in larger college towns (e.g. Madison, Austin), note for note there is a wider range of music in Ann Arbor (and the greater Detroit vicinity) than in these larger college towns combined. For instance, The University Musical Society offers the best, THE BEST, of classicalmusic performers from throughout the world at the acoustically-exceptional Hill Auditorium over the course of the ycar. Cellist Yo Yo Ma, the late Leonard Bernstein and Ella Fitzgerald all have honored Ann Arbor with their presence's. Similarly, the Kerrytown Concert House offers first-rate performers. Jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan, virtuoso Jay McShann, and local legend Mr. B all have shined at this small acoustic environment. It's a great place to take a date. Detroit is one of the hippest jazz towns in the country. Some of that hipness rubs off on the Bird of Paradise club here in town. Offering jazz seven nights a week, you'U often catch such Detroit greats as vocalist extraordinaire Harvey Thompson or the wonderful Bird of Paradise Orchestra. The Del Rio offers free jazz every Sunday night from about 7 pm to 9 pm. Get there early as the place filis fast. Often a jam session, artists from Ypsilanti and Toledo plus Ann Arbor notables like saxophonist Paul Vornhagen emphasize the smooth side of the jazz continuüm. Ann Arbor is fortúnate in having Prism Productions in town. They bring virtually all the big names pop, rock and altemative artists to the Michigan Theater and smaller venues like The Blind Pig. These folks have keen ears so we get not only the kings (as in B.B. King) and queens (as in Etta James) of contemporary music, but oh so many up-and-coming groups. Check any telephone pole for the next super group appearing near you. Anotherpromoterof sortsis the Ark. The Ark is a smallish club which presents some of the best folk, Celtic, and acoustic music in the world. Once while sitting in a Texas honky tonk, I struck up a conversation with a local troubadour. I mentioned Ann Arbor and he knew all about the Ark. Because of their support for the music and their first-class operation their reputation is much respected. EveryJanuarytheyputonasix-hour Folk Fest featuring name artists such as Chet Atkins, Nanci Griffin, Bela Fleck (and some very impressive up-and-comers like Iris Dement), so that this becomes the show not-to-miss of the season. The Ark, in fact, moves in to new digs on Main Sl this month with a Grand Opening Show set for Sept. 12 (see Calendar for details). One complaint which might appropriately be laid against Ann Arbor is the relativo lack of venues for live local music. Given that there are only two venues - Rick's and the Blind Pig - that play live music seven nights a week (The Heidleberg does offer local music on the weekends), thiscomplaintmightseem correct. (By the way, there's a great Blues jam every Sunday night at the Pig.) B ut good neighbor Ypsilanti has anumber of venues that support live local music, most notably Theo's, The Green Room, and The Tap Room. Hey, it's a short drive to catch some live tunes. But, if you like your music a little bit softer, local musicians have ampie opportunities to play in the hundreds of coffee shops (just kidding) in town. It's not unusual for those rockers who played at the Blind Pig early in the month to play an acoustic set at Cava Java later in the month. Listening to these groups in an intímate acoustic setting gives one the opportunity to see if the musicians really have their chops. An acoustic set shows all the warts. Ann Arbor proper is lacking in country music performers and venues, which is too bad. About all there is to offer is the exceptional Jim Tate Band, which plays every Friday night for happy hour at the Blind Pig. But if you can get there, there is also the Diamondback Saloon in Belleville and Lucille's in Cantón, both of which feature good dance floors, greater-Detroit artists, and real cowboy hats. Radio station WIQB is the main commercial station in town. You' 11 hear the latest rock top ten here with way too many commercials. WEMU, the public station out of Eastern Michigan University has a very knowledgeable and awardwinning staff who lead the field in jazz music. Check out Arwulf s Sunday morning "My Sunday Best" program - first rate. WCBN is UM's pop music college station. Over the course of a year they'll play just about everything (or anything). Earlier this week I heard a four-hour set of John Cage's "experimental" music, followed by a set of Star Trek-alums William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy singing their terrible 1960's warblings. Detroit offers 93.9 "The River" and 101.9 WDET. The River plays contemporary new music. While WDET concentrates on jazz during the evening, throughout the day they too play current new music. It's one of the best public radio stations in the country! Although my tastes in live artists are Catholic enough to recommend virtually any live artist, here are some standouts who should be seen as often as possible (in no particular order): The Chenille Sisters (three non-biological-sisters with ethereal harmonies); George Bedard & the Kingpins (arguably the best guitarist and drummer in town coupled with a rock solid bassist); Al Hill & the Love Butlers (outstanding gritty vocals; they shine on the funky stuff); Big Dave & the Ultrasonics (maybe the best blues ensemble in town; extraordinary musicianship all around!); and Frank Allison & the Odd Sox(genius-idiot-savant-popster - great tunes). So, if you're new in town or just haven' t got out of the house enough lately, check out the wide variety of music in the Ann Arbor Washtenaw County área. We're fortúnate to live in an arca with so many great musicians, venues, and opportunities to hear this breadth of music. As they say in the coffee shops . . . "enjoy." LOCALMIISIC


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