REVIEW: Free Spirit


As I entered the Emagine Theater located in Novi, MI, I wasn’t prepared to experience a visual and musical presentation that would change my attitude and outlook on my life going forward. This experience consisted of watching the short film created by R&B artist, Khalid, called Free Spirit and listening to his newest album titled Free Spirit that played afterwards. With that being said, I would like to comment on the experience as a whole.

As the visual presentation began, the lights dimmed and the screen primarily showed Khalid himself giving an introduction to his show. He welcomed the fans that had attended the event and thanked us all for coming to experience the short film he had made. Ultimately, his comforting presence was consistent throughout the presentation and I felt glad that he was taking the time to connect with the audience in this way.

Shortly after this introduction, the short film, Free Spirit, began. It opened up with a montage of scenes depicting the vast desert-like countryside of an unsaid Southern state, the calm, small-town essence of a neighborhood on the outskirts of a big city, a high school gym with senior prom decorations, and the teenage hangout places of modern suburbia. Meanwhile, one of the songs from his album played in the background, fitting the nostalgic, emotional, and free-spirited essence of the montage perfectly. The film was constructed around these scenes and told the story of a group of teenagers who were on the brink of seizing the freedoms of true adulthood.

The story mainly follows a girl who goes by Ladybug and who joins her group of friends on a road trip after being kicked out of her intoxicated mother’s house. All the while, the group emulates the essence of teenage freedom: feeling the open air while standing outside the sunroof of the van that they stole, drinking alcohol and smoking weed, and proving themselves unstoppable against the world. Eventually, things begin to fall apart as apparent romances between some of the friends divide the group completely, and the film ends with a devastating consequence for one of the friends as a result. The ended proved to be my favorite part of the film because of how emotional it was and how unresolved it was. I believe it portrayed the struggle that young adults have to find themselves and to make it in this world as adults, and how it seems that we will constantly struggle to find ourselves completely even as we get older.

After the short film ended, Khalid played his new album, Free Spirit, before its worldwide release with visuals and commentary accompanying it. Overall, I really enjoyed this experience and felt that visuals accompanied by the music allowed me to enjoy the meaning behind the music in a better way. Ultimately, I very much appreciated how this short film portrayed the lives of young individuals. As the film showed, anyone from any background essentially experiences the same struggles as a young adult and I felt that it validated the truth about how youthful questioning exploration doesn’t quite end with our childhood.

REVIEW: Lisa Hilton

The cold, rainy Saturday that we experienced just as spring was beginning to grow left many of us disappointed with the mood that the weather brought that day. Even so, I was lucky enough to attend a performance by Lisa Hilton at the Kerrytown Concert House that day, an event that warmed my spirits as it sheltered us from the cold outdoors. As expected, a large proportion of the people who attended this event were older and only a few of us were younger adults. However, I came to realize how much this disparity didn’t matter because of how Lisa Hilton was able to connect to us with music that was universal.

As the show began, the back half of the concert house was almost completely full. The lights in the main room dimmed and the lights projecting onto the stage became more bright in contrast. Lisa Hilton walked onto the stage as we applauded her entrance and she stood by her piano to give an introduction. While she normally brought along a few bandmates to play the drums and the bass during her performances, she stood up there alone with only her Steinway piano that day. From this, I immediately felt excited about how intimate and stripped down this performance would be because I felt that we would be able to see into her personality the most with a solo performance

During her conversations with the audience, Lisa Hilton spoke very politely and gave her commentaries in an organized manner. In other words, she was able to articulate the exact motives behind each of her pieces very well and I believe this helped us recognize the importance of the messages of each piece. In the minutes during which she would play, you could tell that she was passionate about her performance and her compositions. She would sway on the piano bench, look up at the ceiling and back down at her hands, and look to smile at the audience while playing her pieces. As I noticed this, I thought about just how many hours she had dedicated to this moment: to be able to play a full-length piece that she wrote and to perform this piece without making mistakes undoubtedly took numerous hours of the majority of the days in a year to master. With this, I develop a large appreciation for musicians like her who dedicate so much of their time to perfect their craft.

In terms of the style of her compositions, I was very pleased to hear something unique yet simple. During one of her commentaries, she explained to the audience that she wanted to be able to inject emotion into her pieces; she could do so much to master an exceptionally difficult classical piece but even that may not be able to truly convey her feelings, and so she took to writing from the heart in every circumstance. As she demonstrated her mastery of the technical aspects of the piano, she made evident throughout her performance her mastery of musicianship, creating a modern style with abstract melodies and filling these melodies with jazz-like rhythms.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber and soul of Lisa Hilton’s performance. She was able to convey her emotions through her pieces by using a unique style with universal moods. After attending this performance, I left the venue glad that I was able to de-stress with an event showcasing the impressive and beautiful work on the piano.

REVIEW: Haley Heynderickx

As I locked my bike on a rack on Main St, I rushed over to the opposite side of the street to make the long line that was spewing out of the door of the Ark: the venue at which Haley Heynderickx would be performing. People among all types of demographics made up this line: elder couples, younger couples, grungy teenagers, and families. I wasn’t expecting this diverse of a group of people to be in line to watch Haley perform; yet, after her performance, it became so much easier to understand why she could draw everyone in who was listening.

The Ark filled up quickly; as soon as I acquired a decent seat to the left of the stage, I remained in it until the end of the show so that I wouldn’t lose it to the floods of people continually coming in. Comfortable with the seat I was in, I immediately felt the excitement within me that comes when the lights go low and the performance finally begins. The production began with a opening musician, a component of the performance that I don’t think any of us were expecting but welcomed nonetheless. This musician was usually a part of Haley’s band during her larger performances, but was given the opportunity to open and perform her own art. I was very impressed by the opener’s performance as she was able to create unique sounds with the few instruments she had, such as the grand concert harp, synthesizer, and voice. Soon after her performance, we took an intermission and then were brought back together for the main act.

As soon as Haley entered the stage, her persona was evident. Having made this return to the Ark, I could hear people cheering extra loudly as she entered because they knew that she would put on an entertaining show. She immediately showed an elevated surge of quirkiness and subtle awkwardness. However, she was simultaneously pleasant and very easy-going, which altogether made her absolutely comical. Hailing from Colorado, I could sense her background, the essence of how she was raised and how in touch she was with her natural roots. I would come to find out that this essence that she brought as what seemed like a spawn of the Earth itself went hand-in-hand with her down-to-earth personality.

This real, down-to-earth personality shined through her musicianship. Giving a warm glare of the indie genre, I could feel a slight aggression from her lyrics and the tone of her voice that gave a more substantial light-heartedness than the stereotypical airy light-heartedness of indie music. This raw, rich tone allowed her music to soar as an original composition and I felt that I could credit her as a true musician in that way. She shared her musical influences as result of taking questions from the audience in between songs, and you could sense the passion she had with performing the music she created as a result of being inspired by them.

Overall, Haley Heynderickx put on a compelling show with a warm personality and simple yet original musicianship that allowed me to understand why most people never wanted her to end her show, never wanted her to leave, or come back to Ann Arbor at the every least if she had to leave. After attending this performance, I was able to solidify my interest in small performances and be reminded of how enriching and fulfilling they can be.

PREVIEW: Lisa Hilton

Hailing from the coast of central California, critically acclaimed jazz pianist and composer, Lisa Hilton, is a performer whose work has transcended among the sounds of various genres and time periods in history. Her work consists of both modern and classical flavors and her ability ranges from orchestral melodies to the vibrant sounds of jazz. Having completed an art degree in college, she describes her work as compositions painted by harmonies and sculpted by textural and rhythmic elements. Hilton has worked with many notable composers and musicians, including George Gershwin and Horace Silver, who all have influenced the emotion and the energy apparent in her pieces.

This Saturday, she will be taking the stage at the Kerrytown Concert House performing songs from her newest album, OASIS, and more. I am beyond excited to attend this performance because I will be able to experience someone perform music of their own that could resemble compositions performed by other high-caliber musicians and orchestras.

As a note, this event is available to all students for no cost through the Passport to the Arts offered by the Arts at Michigan program from the University of Michigan. Without further ado, I hope to see you there!

REVIEW: Las Cafeteras

Having looked forward to this event for the entire week prior, I was thoroughly pleased by the impressive performance given by Las Cafeteras during the middle of last week. What I thought would be essentially another Latin pop performance was much more than that. The group experimented with vibrant, modern sounds while maintaining a traditional essence, and the aspect of their performance that was most meaningful to me was the social commentary that was emotionally striking throughout. After experiencing this performance, I couldn’t wait to write this piece and to explain how Las Cafeteras would give us a reason to listen to their music long after the curtains closed.

The style of their music was a perfect blend of modern sounds and a traditional essence. In other words, many of their songs gave a traditional Latin impression in terms of having upbeat tempos, uniform time counts, and classic instrumentation. In addition to these components, the group instilled some of their own personal flares into their songs that gave a revolutionized impression, such as rapping in some verses, filling up the auditorium with the hard and fast strumming of their guitars or ukuleles, or showcasing the baseline beat given by a full drum set. While these aspects of music composition may be more often seen in the rock genre, the group was able to utilize these techniques in their genre to make their music all the more well-rounded, far-reaching, and complete.

Part of what captivated me the most about the performance by Las Cafeteras were the personas of its members. Aside from being musicians, the three main performers were able to show us just how personable they were, expressing their vulnerability during songs about injustice or hard times and their utmost passion during songs about enjoying life and loving your family. When Hector Flores entered the stage, I immediately felt uplifted and attentive; he was the driving force behind the audience’s involvement in their performance. As Denise Carlos bellowed each song, she seemed to sing in a difficult range with ease, allowing us to feel like she could just be a passerby singing down the street. When Daniel French contributed to verses by rapping, he gave an impression that he could be my cousin or brother, writing and singing to address common social issues among our Latin community.

The most important aspect of their performance were the underlying messages in each of their songs. It was emotionally jarring when they talked about the hardships of immigration, the acceptance of diversified communities, and corruption in our nation’s highest influential powers. I believe that their attempt to bring light upon these issue was successful in the sense that everyone left the performance on the same page and forward in the same direction. In the end, what I left the performance with was a drive to achieve purpose in life. Throughout their songs, they continually asked us, “What would you do? Who are you? What are you here for?” and I will continue to support the idea that whatever we choose to pursue in life, it will only be worth doing if we make it meaningful to us.

REVIEW: Frances Luke Accord and The Western Den

As I entered the building on Main Street after a long day of academic obligations, I rushed in to escape the wintry air, feeling hesitant to enter completely as I was surrounded by scaffolding. After learning that the Ark was having construction done on its box office, I understood why I was greeted upstairs by a polite woman who was a designated volunteer for the event. Despite the initial impression of it being run-down and unprofessional, I was quickly reassured that this was a venue for legends as I walked down the long hallway that was at the top of the stairs, gazing at the professional photos taken of every musician that had performed there. After buying concessions, I took my seat in the dark performance room; the room housed a small stage that was glowing in violet lights and seats for the public at tables near the stage and in rows throughout the room. This was the Ark, and I couldn’t wait for the intimate performance to begin.

The night began with an opening by The Western Den, a contemporary folk group based in Massachusetts whose first collaborative performance with the main musical act had been that night, I would come to learn. She was a singer and keyboardist, he was a singer and guitarist, she was a violinist and bassist, he was a trumpeter, and he was a drummer. I failed to remember their names, but I remembered their images, their personas. All five members of the group suited the instruments they played strikingly well, and I was emotionally intact with the way they had orchestrated themselves even before they started playing. The music they shared was eccentric and refreshing; they played unpopular chords almost in a melancholic way, but with a rich tone and heavy bearing that came off as passionate rather than temperamental. I was completely relaxed during their performance, taken aback by the impressive compositions that this small, relatively unknown group had to offer.

This performance was followed by a short intermission, during which I acquired more tea from the concessions, and then the main musical act. Unlike how the name suggests, Frances Luke Accord is a group of two men; however, they were able to convey a solitary essence as they merely used their voices and a few of their instruments to create their music. Both of the men transitioned between their several acoustic guitars between their songs, all while using their sole two voices to successfully create vocal layerings that are more often achieved by groups with several members. Since we were able to focus only on their voices and their guitars, I was able to follow the mood that they wanted to convey for each of their songs. I noticed when they would play more percussively to portray a chorus or other musical release, when they would take long strums of their guitars to fill up the room, and when they would quietly pluck the guitar strings to create a soft, mellow mood as the end. I was on edge throughout most of the performance, eager to see what new direction they would take us in with each second that passed.

Overall, I left this event very pleased and I felt like I wanted to stay in the Ark forever. While I was unsure what the outcome of my experience at this event would be, I am happy to say that I can trust my curiosity in new experiences to lead me towards the things in life that bring me true joy.