REVIEW: Snarky Puppy

To say I’m excited for the new UMS season after seeing the season opener is an understatement. There was no better way to start the school year off right than with Snarky Puppy, a band with skills beyond words and energy beyond wonder.

The night started off with Alina Engibaryan, which was the best way it could’ve started. Michael League, Jason “JT” Thomas, and Chris Bullock joined her onstage, accompanying her as she played the piano and sang the words that found their way deep into your soul in the powerful yet sultry jazz that gave you chills. She sang songs from her newest album, “We Are,” and every word she sang, every note she played, felt very pure and raw and honest. There were moments of improvisation from the members of Snarky Puppy that added an extra layer of meaning to her songs.

With Alina Engibaryan setting the tone for the night, all 3000+ listeners in Hill Auditorium were ready for Snarky Puppy, and the high expectations Alina set on the stage were met the minute the first notes filled the auditorium. The nine amazingly talented musicians of Snarky Puppy took everyone through a rollercoaster of a night, speeding things up with unbelievable improvisational solos, and then slowing it down with that same fading echo. Each member had their moment: JT Thomas on the drums and Nate Werth on percussion had a captivating duet moment; Shaun Martin transformed the keyboard into something much more than 88 keys with his talk box skills; Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock added a range of flare and style on the trumpet and tenor saxophone; Justin Stanton jumped between the keyboards and his own trumpet, sometimes playing both at the same time; Chris McQueen, Zach Brock, and Michael League kept the night going on the guitar, violin, and bass with a flash of rhythm.

Playing new songs from their recent album “Immigrance”, the collective’s most recent tunes brought a whole new meaning to jazz fusion, and even introduced the style of Moroccan Gnawa to everyone. It was impossible to feel disconnected from the music the entire night, but the coolest moment of the night was when everyone started clapping, either in 3s or 4s. The entire Hill Auditorium clapped to form this funky rhythm, and it was in that moment that I felt more connected to all 3000+ people clapping with me, more connected to the members of Snarky Puppy onstage cueing and keeping us onbeat, and more connected to the music that reverberated positivity, peace, and joy through my entire body and the entire venue.

Snarky Puppy was exhilarating, and I have no hesitation calling it one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. With a dash of jazz, a hint of fusion, a kick of funk, and a whole lot of energy and passion, Snarky Puppy’s indescribable presence makes them unique, and their music that transcends all distinct categories makes up the core of Snarky Puppy and what makes them stand out from the crowd.

REVIEW: SpringFest

This past week marked the annual SpringFest capstone event hosted by MUSIC Matters. Founded in 2011, MUSIC Matters purpose is to “utilize the power of music to unite the Michigan community and promote educational accessibility.” The organization spends the entire year hosting various events on and off campus to promote music and create cohesion amongst students. SpringFest is their culminating project that attracts an audience of 10,000 people for their daytime and nighttime events.

 

This year, the Daytime festival took over State St. and North U., hosting over 80 student organizations, 7 food truck vendors, live performances, and various pop-up shops. One of the newest additions to this year’s Daytime festival was hosting Ann Arbor artisans. Traditionally, corporate sponsors were invited to have pop-up shops but this year focused on inviting smaller companies and student sellers. Aside from this addition, the festival included live dance and music performances from student organizations such as Maize Mirchi, the Men’s Glee Club, and FunKtion. Another component of the festival that I personally enjoyed was the presence of various orgs that promote health, wellness, and sustainability. There were interactive events for yoga, sustainable food practices, and CAPS even had representatives from their CAPS In Action student committee. It was really inspiring to see so many talented, ambitious, and creative students showcasing their work and talent to the campus community.

 

Following the immersive Daytime festivities is (what I believe to be the more known of the two) the Nighttime Concert. Since 2012, MUSIC Matters has hosted artists Common, J. Cole, 2 Chainz, Migos, and Lil Yachty in Hill Auditorium. As a junior who is also a big fan of well-known hip-hop artists, this was surprisingly my first time ever attending. This year’s headliner was A$AP Ferg, otherwise known as a member of A$AP Mob. Amongst some of Ferg’s most popular songs are Plain Jane, Shabba, New Level, and Work REMIX. His opening acts consisted of two DJs and two performance groups.

 

The first DJ was Jeff Basta. Had it not been for him being the DJ to play as people were still entering the auditorium, I think he could have gotten a lot more energy out of the audience. I really enjoyed his music choice and his energy while playing was admirable considering not many others were entertained/paying attention. The second DJ was Namix who served as a transition for the first opening act — Tracy Money (IG: prodbytracy). “TracyGang #333” is a group of three current and former U-M students who go by the names of $cottie Pimpin’, Fatz, and Tracy D. Although this was not my first time seeing them perform, this was my first time seeing them own the stage in a large auditorium. Their performance got the crowd on their feet and ready for the night.

 

Following Tracy Money was B Free from Detroit. I could be biased, but my personal preference for style, originality, and overall entertainment purposes would choose Tracy Money over B Free’s performance. Nonetheless, both performances were a well-needed segway into opening for A$AP Ferg.

 

Ferg was full of energy and was an authentic performer. You could sense his desire to be just as engaged with the audience as we were with him. However, this desire quickly led to some shockingly inappropriate comments on his behalf targeted at several women in the audience. I think it’s reasonable for a performer to want to feel more connected with the audience and interact with them but to single specific women out and express sexual desires in front of everyone, into the microphone, was embarrassing and disgusting. The remainder of the concert left me feeling odd and distraught as I was stuck questioning “Did he really just say that”?? Carrying on, he performed all of my favorite songs and it was a fun concert. I’m certain that this will be remembered as one of my favorite undergraduate experiences, despite the belittling comments that put a damper on my overall impression.

Photos courtesy of IG: vinsanityproductions.co

REVIEW: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was commissioned for the re-consecration of Britain’s Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful church tragically destroyed in a World War II bombing. Britten himself was a staunch pacifist who had registered as a conscientious objector during the war, and the unique combination of these two elements gave birth to a piece that cuts through the gloss of glorified war stories into the more complex, tragic truth of the raw destruction of war. The text of the 80-minute choral piece is assembled from the Latin Mass for the Dead and the poems of Wilfred Owen, a World War I soldier who was killed just a week before the armistice at the young age of 25. Owen’s poetry is plainly anti-war, and the first of his lines in the piece is the chilling “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”.

 

The requiem was presented as the collaboration between the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, the UMS Choral Union, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale, as well as three vocal soloists. The addition of the children’s chorale as specified by the original work adds a uniquely haunting aspect to the piece, a reminder that war ultimately results in a great deal of innocence lost, and the sacrifice of young lives with full futures ahead. Britten alternates between dissonant chanting mixed with layers of percussion and smooth, lyrical passages as the piece glides from movement to movement. Yet throughout the entire piece, the atmosphere is solemn, almost haunting. Britten refuses to let the audience forget why the piece was conceived, as a response to a tragedy brought about by the senselessness of war. It is impossible to hear the words of Owen echo through the auditorium in the rich tenor of soloist Anthony Dean Griffey without feeling an acute sense of what we have lost to the cruelty of war. Owen himself was a poet who garnered an abundance of post-humous acclaim despite his short career and the few poems he wrote; his career was brought to an abrupt end by a premature death on the battlefield.

 

Owen is merely one of many young talents, or simply young people, or people in general, whose lives were stolen from them by the merciless combat between sides. War Requiemserves as a haunting reminder that war is not a necessary evil, nor is it one we can afford to distance ourselves from. In the United States, it is perilously easy to turn a blind eye to those suffering from wartime brutality in other countries and in the modern age it is perilously easy to designate war as a “necessary evil”, a tragic yet inevitable byproduct of civilization. Yet as Britten wants us to remember, in a society as advanced as ours, the fact that we have accepted senseless violence over superficial causes as the price of civilization ought to haunt us, and we ought to remember that we have more power over our fates than we like to admit.

REVIEW: Folk Fest

What is folk? After attending the first night of the 42nd Annual Folk Festival, my definition and understanding of this genre of music has both expanded and blurred. Folk isn’t just banjos and mandolins with a Southern drawl. It is so much more, and Folk Fest is the perfect venue to show just how diverse and magical folk music can be.

Peter Mulvey. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

Peter Mulvey was the MC for the night, offering his music in between sets, along with Ford car giveaways and a little story called “Vlad the Astrophysicist,” which he performed, partly by reading from the illustrated children’s book but mostly as a memorized spoken word piece that took you through an existential crisis of time and the universe. Who knew Folk Fest was going to get this deep?

Michigan Rattlers. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor
Parsonsfield. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor
Sam Lewis. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

As the first act, Michigan Rattlers started off the night, the three-member band getting the audience excited with its folk-rock set. Sam Lewis gave us the clapping song we all craved for the night. Parsonsfield was a very talented band featuring an exciting variety of instruments, including the mandolin and harmonica.

Haley Heynderickx. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

One of my favorite performers was Haley Heynderickx, a very calm and sweet soul with a gentle yet mystifying sound. She said, “If someone is scared of bugs and you collect them, this song is about you. Everything else has already been written.” Her sing-along song, “Oom Sha La La,” was so soothing and unique, I’m now looking forward to seeing her back at The Ark in March.

Gregory Alan Isakov. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

After the intermission, a dim blue light illuminated the stage for Gregory Alan Isakov, setting the stage for the thundering music that was to come. Just as Peter Mulvey said in his introduction, there’s an immense stillness through his music. Bright globes matched the songs about space that moved you through time and the universe, all from a seat in Hill Auditorium.

Brandi Carlile. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

Finally, the headliner brought the audience to their feet as she closed out a night of amazing folk music in style. Brandi Carlile is the most Grammy-nominated female artist this year with six nominations, including best album of the year.Alternating between guitars and the piano, her songs about life, love, and motherhood brought the emotions and power we all love her for.

Folk Fest was a phenomenal night filled with the best folk music around. Catch the second night tonight, or come back next year for the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival that will definitely revolutionize how you engage with folk music and its deep and powerful meanings.

PREVIEW: Folk Festival

The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival is a fundraiser for The Ark that takes place in Hill Auditorium with two entertaining nights filled with the best folk music around. For the 42nd Folk Fest, the first night on Friday, January 25 features Brandi Carlile, Gregory Alan Isakov, Haley Heynderickx, Sam Lewis, Parsonsfield, Michigan Rattlers, and Peter Mulvey. Then, the folk fun continues on Saturday, January 26 with the exciting lineup of Rufus Wainwright, I’m With Her, Pokey Lafarge, Ahi, The RFD Boys, and Peter Mulvey. Tickets can be bought at MUTO in the League Underground, at the Ark box office, or online at www.theark.org.

REVIEW: An Evening with Audra McDonald

The queen of musical theatre graced our presence in Hill Auditorium on Saturday, and I am left speechless. Of course, Audra McDonald blew everyone’s mind with her performances of both classic and lesser-known pieces, all with a meaningful message behind them, with her iconic soprano voice that has won six Tony awards.

She started the night with “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles and its powerful message of being who you are authentically and unapologetically. Then, she sang a selection from Jason Robert Brown’s Song for a New World, showcasing her amazing ability to storytell with “Stars and the Moon.” Also, it is noteworthy that even someone like Audra, who has performed this tour many times and sang hundreds of songs in her entire career, can forget the first words to a song. Nobody is perfect, not even someone as perfect as Audra McDonald, who had to ask her wonderful music director Andy Einhorn on the piano for the beginning to the song. Audra later sang a grand little snippet of “Being Alive” from Company, giving us plenty to think about when it comes to love and what one truly wants.

Before many of the songs, Audra provided the context surrounding the song she was about to sing, or gave a fun little anecdote about it. In the case of “Simple Little Things” from 110 in the Shade, she continued her theme of dreams after telling us about the Golden Fleece and big dreams that the main character Lizzy just simply didn’t want. Later, she also provided an entertaining performance of “Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me, which would have been hard to follow if she hadn’t given any context. Additionally, it comes as no surprise that Audra was dominating solo show choir competitions in high school, and she sang the song that won her first place one time, even if her 13-year-old self did not truly understand what “Cornet Man” from Funny Girl was all about.

Audra McDonald reluctantly sang a song that she believes is over-sung, performing her unique take on “I Could Have Danced All Night” while gradually bringing the key up, showing off her impressive soprano range, and also getting everyone to sing along since it is a fairly well-known theatre piece. She also paid tribute to her dear friend, Barbara Cook, by singing the song, “Chain of Love,” in the musical The Grass Harp. Audra then blessed us with a couple mesmerizing lullabies, including “Moonshine Lullaby” from Annie Get Your Gun (which featured her talented band), “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, and “I Won’t Mind” from The Other Franklin. She sang a chilling mashup of “Children Will Listen” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” by the musical geniuses Sondheim and Hammerstein, followed by a heartfelt message about the importance of crafting a new generation that can mend all the present pains lingering in the air.

In the second half of her program, she sang more contemporary songs from rising composers. Her humorous performance of “Facebook Song” by Kate Miller Heidke was certainly relatable and enjoyable. Audra also performed “I’ll Be Here,” a piece by Adam Gwon, a Fred Ebb award recipient, who wrote Ordinary Days, a touching musical about New York that references 9/11, a moment that continues to be relevant even today. In response to “I’ll Be Here” and the question of how to live life when so much is happening around us, she shared her mantra with us by singing “Make Someone Happy,” which was especially moving due to the thoughtful selection and timing of the pieces she choose to sang.

The Evening with Audra McDonald had a theme connecting every song, which was very characteristic of her loving and strong nature. She urged everyone to find dreams worth dreaming, to fight for what’s right, and to hold onto our humanity. Fitting right into that theme, her last song on the program was “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which was spectacular in every sense. After a thundering applause and standing ovation, Audra came back out and sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” As expected, it was absolutely beautiful and stunning, a phenomenal performance that finished the night filled with sparks of inspiration with style. After bringing us through some of the gems of musical theatre, she left the stage like the queen she is with some words of wisdom that everyone should hold close to their heart: “Dream big. Love bigger.”