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Local Music

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A Musical Night on the Town ... Okay, I don't knowyou, do not have a clue who you are, as you hold your copy of AGENDA in your hands on this day in September. But you may be new in town and have an interest in what sort of local music is happening in this artistically fascinating and important sonic outpost of the great Midwest. If I ran into you in some smoke-filled tavern or smoke-f ree coffee hangout and you asked me this question I would teil you the best way to figure this out is to spend a couple of daysnights hopping from venue to venue scoping things out, to give you a foundation for the next few monthsyearsdecades or however long you end up in this wonderful city. The easiest way is to hop in a car, a cab, a bus or walk (this rules out Ypsilanti, but that's an entire other column) and make a list and an evening of going from place to place, catching a few songs here, an entire set there, with the object of seeing maybe half-a-dozen-orso acts in one swoop. Here goes. If this is a Fríday, you need to get a laid-back start by having a drink and checking out free jazz at the Bird of Paradise. The hour musicians vary , but it's a safe bet you'll see some good, straightahead music with an audience that cares more about what's going down on stage than what happened to their tablemates at work this week. The Bird is an almost holy sanctuary, quiet and Zen-like in its respect for jazz and it's a great place to wind down or get into gear for the night anead. Next, as you blast into another universe, it's the Friday happy hour at the Blind Pig. Drivin' Sideways, an amazingly hot swingingly hip country band kicks out two sets of roots music sans a cover charge. The Pig has been around for decades and it's (for better or worse) the numberone spot in town for all sorts of music f rom metal, alternative-ish rock 'n' roll, blues and everything in-between. It's a dark, tacky, loud and fun place to do shots, drink beer and see most of the important bands in town. Drivin' Sideways is one big party and will pretty much get you in the mood for the rest of your adventure. Maybe after the roar of the amps at the Pig, it's time to pace yourself with a nice walk to the Gypsy Cafe for something strong in the coffee realm. The tiny music club is and alcohol-free and is home base for every one of Ann Arbor's woiid-class singersongwriters. You might have trouble finding a seat, but push your way in and try to show up on a night when either Brian LJIlie, Lisa Hunter or Kari Newhouse are headlining. No, actually you can pop in any night and will stumble onto something worth your while. Music booker Joe Tiboni (ex of the legendary Joe's Star Lounge and Cava Java) handl es all the booking and Mr. T. has amazingly good taste so don't you worry. There's always a small cover charge, but the acts here are worth millions. Since you're only a couple of blocks away, our next stop s the always amusing Heidelberg. You can't visit without having something hard to drink in the basement Rathskeller (no music on Friday nights, but this is one of the coolest bar bars in town with real people drinking real drinks and talking about real stuff as they get really wasted. None of that college town stuff here, babe.) The upstairs is so ... so Germán, with lots of dark beer garden decor and an atmosphere that depends completely on which band is taking the stage. It could be the strangely spaced-out Mr. Largebeat or the funky Michigan guitar rock of Scott Morgan or the Berlín 1929 shine of the Cult Heroes, but this is as close to real life Ann Arbor towny rock 'n' roll as you can get. There's a small cover charge here as well and drink prices are average but I would recommend something dark and Germán. The music almost always starts later than it should (setting up the P.A., la la la), just so you know ... So after the Germán experience you might need more caffeine and a cháncete get the darkness f rom your lungs and just the place is Cafe Zola, which sadly only has music on Fridays. While Cafe Z is a little too serious for the most part, it's a nice stopping point tocatch more free music. (There's always the Espresso Royale Caffe on Main Street too for the same stuff - classical, jazz or laid-back folk if you need something a little less ... serious and proper ... feel free to make that substitution.) If you're in luck, Salero de Spana will be playing incredible flamenco music and y ou really should be expanding your cultural horizons, you know ... When you finish your doublé espresso, it's time to see a set of rock 'n' roll at the Blind Pig. The way is way more crowded, way more in san e and way more smokefilled that it was just a few hours ago, but this is the place to hear original r and r outfits, so it's a must on your night on the town. Let's keep ourfingers crossed and hope hard-core trio Harm's Way, or the symphonically beautiful and strange Morsel, or local pop god Frank Allison and the Odd Sox, are set to play. Whoever is on stage this place on a Friday night is college bar heaven. Yeah, yeah it's getting late (the coffee and the cheap beer is starting to take it's toll lm afraid) but you must finish off your evening by having a night cap at Rick's American Cafe for last cali. If the Blind Pig is a post card shot of a college music bar, then Rick's is the poster child for a college bar. With lots of drink specials, TV sets tuned to ESPN, seemingly thousands of peopl e, azillion door people checking lOs and a revolving set of cool bar bands (in the good sense) that usually rock the walls down, Rick's is the perfect mix of party bar and music club, with neither one tipping the balance. If blues band Big Dave and the Ultrasonics are playing, it's your lucky night kid, but another band made for this stage is the funky but chic, Butterfly. Now finish your drink, say goodbye to the friendly bartender and make sure you go home safely and say a tiny prayer of thanks for what a great music mecca you've had the good taste to become a part of. Good night.


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