REVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

If you’re looking for some kitschy fun, look no further that Ypsilanti’s Holy Bones Festival. The Halloween Spirit was out in full force as local artists and performers showcased their spookiest wares and performances. I commend the talented drag and burlesque performers for doing their routines on a chilly evening!
During one memorable number, Johnny Rocket, dressed as a mummy did a striptease unraveling their bandages. Local drag queen Zooey Gaychanel, I first saw perform at the Spectrum Center’s Fair in September was also headlining.

Johnny Rocket strikes a pose

The Halloween Market featured everything from antiques to enamel pins to bath bombs and indie comics. I particularly enjoyed talking with Detroit-based Bad Love Design who sells cheeky, high-quality affordable prints inspired by retro cartoon an 60s pin-up aesthetic. Bad Love is working on a forthcoming tarot deck, so keep your eyes peeled! I also stopped to talk to the owner of Conjure Goddess, a new hoodoo shop opening up in Ypsilanti. They stock everything a witch could need from incense to Tarot cards to conjure oil. I was really impressed by the diversity of magic shops and businesses in Ypsi as well as the amount of queer-owned and women-owned businesses at the fair.

Owners of the Conjure Goddess
Bad Love Design


Last but not least, the food options were few but notable. Fork in Nigeria was definitely the stand-out, with various kinds of fufu and jollof. There was also a more economical taco truck option. Both had vegetarian choices. There was also a lot of hot cider going around! I ducked out before the festivities ended but I did get to hear some of the mellow tones of London Beck before I left. The fun, lighthearted atmosphere nearly allows you to forget how hard the performers and artists work to put events like these together. All in all, I think the Holy Bones festival is a great choice for families and for students and young adults.

REVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

The holy bones festival was a Halloween themed festival-carnival of sorts with enough novelties to satisfy any occult appetite. Held near downtown Ypsilanti, you could see a lot of Ypsi spirit and pride. From 3D-printed Ypsi structures to local artists, the city’s art scene was reflected pretty well. The festival lasted an ample 7+ plus hours and had exciting events like drag shows. Even though the festival featured 40+ artisans, the fair could be explored in an hour or so. The art ranged from stickers, t-shirts, crystals, jewelry to novelty items like skull wall decorations, a mini horror-themed room, haunted dolls, and much more. There was also a tarot card reader who had a really cozy tent set up. 

There were also some decorated skulls on display with backstories of their own. 

The events really came alive (or dead since it was horror-themed) in the night after the carnival lights were turned on. I watched the drag/costumed show where people lip-synched to songs and gave interactive performances to the audience and went to see the Ypsi downtown and returned again after sundown. There was live music throughout the event and had up-and-coming artists perform some of whom had released albums with the support of Ypsi artist funding.

For food, there were 2 food trucks and one stall. One could pick their choice of Nigerian food, tacos, or sliders. All of these had lines throughout the duration of the event so you know the food was good.  

There was also an improv show for which you had to buy tickets separately. It was held in a nearby church. The church had LED lights inside with spooky music that really upped the ante and gave a gothic vibe to the event. The performers were unfortunately not very good and not worth the price of a ticket. Their jokes or the storyline was not that funny but the performers did perform very enthusiastically. Sadly many members of the audience left during the intermission. 

All and all the holy bones festival would be a nice one-hour event to go to if you want to see spooky things on display. It has only been a thing since 2019 and considering that all the ticket proceeds go to the restoration of the Ypsi art scene, we can expect this festival to gain major traction in the coming years and be on the level of a full-blown paradise for all things evil and occult Halloween carnival!

REVIEW: Funkwagon || Sabbatical Bob || Midnight Mercedes

When COVID-19 was at its height, live music was the thing I missed maybe the most. Music, in my belief, has a special way of bringing us all together–whether it’s dancing, congregating at concerts, or just the act of sharing favorite tunes in the car or in living rooms. When live music as we knew it temporarily shut down, I found myself longing for the environments of concert halls and music venues. Listening to online performances kept spirits up, but when I got the chance to walk into the Blind Pig again this weekend, to feel the bass and drums reverberate in my body, something came alive in me again.

Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed fan of funk music, I believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the infectious drum beats and groovy bass lines. As my friend who attended with me admitted, “funk is sexy, in a fun way.” Music that invites your body to move, invites you to cheer. Music that commands your attention. Mixed with the transportational qualities of a nighttime neon-lit music club, I truly felt like I was elsewhere, in the space that the music created for us.

This night of funk music opened with Midnight Mercedes, a small Michigan funk band with killer vocals and a tenor saxophonist with an eye-catching light-up neck strap. The vocalist, draped in a rainbow giraffe-print dress, sang with soul and smiles, sending chills down my spine with her strong sustained notes. 

Next, we heard from Funkwagon, a gospel-infused funk band based in Detroit, MI and Burlington, VT. Lead keys giving equal energy to his vocals, splitting into ear-pleasing harmonies with the other instrumentalists. More often than not, I found myself smiling at the pure life radiating from the music on stage.

At that point, it was getting late for me, but I stayed for one of my favorite Ypsilanti-based groups, the incredible Sabbatical Bob. Describing themselves as “high-energy funk,” I was glad to hear them play after a year of witnessing their performances through a screen. While it was still great to hear them perform at events like Dance for Democracy, there is something irreplaceable about being there, about being able to feel the sound of the trumpet and sax, tearing up tunes while the audience around you bops along. 

It was an incredibly fun night out, and I encourage everyone to go out and support your local music venues and musicians. It’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, and we can all benefit from the arts. Get out there and get your groove on!

REVIEW: ¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Concert

In honor of International Women’s Day, I attended the live stream of HotHouse’s “¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Celebration.” A virtual concert comprised of musical performances, spoken word and poetry, and a bit of Q&A with some of the artists, ¡ACTIVISTA! was a wonderful arts experience. Live streams are one way to mindfully engage with the arts during the pandemic, and this one was a masterfully curated experience, hosted by Chicago-based organization HotHouse and publisher Haymarket Books.

Natu Camara

The artists featured in the performance came from all around the globe, and covered a wide range of topics from refugee rights to environmental justice to anti-colonialism. I truly enjoyed the blending of music and poetry performances during this event. Culture and vision wove through each piece of the performance, beginning with Farah Siraj’s haunting song honoring refugee women, written in Arabic, and ending with Kyung-Hwa Yu, a South Korean artist reviving the Korean stringed instrument cheolhyeongeum in contemporary music.

Angel Bat Dawid

A truly intercultural collection of pieces, there were a variety of languages represented in the art. There were poems in Spanish and Zapotec, songs in Sousous and Arabic. A painful song written about child marriage performed by the lovely Natu Camara and her band from Guinea. COLLECTIVA, a group of women who formed recently online during the pandemic to share their passion for music virtually and across oceans. One of my favorite moments from the concert was a thoroughly enchanting improvised bass clarinet solo by Angel Bat Dawid. Lyla June of the First Nations, with the gripping words, “they say that history is written by the victors, but how can there be a victor when the war isn’t over?”

Janel Pineda

It was a beautiful experience to watch these powerful women and their art shared together in a common space, in celebration and solidarity. I am reminded through these pieces that art can be expressive and lovely while also being a firm call for change. While extremely personal and masterful, these pieces also contain the seed of movement. They contain past, present, and future.

Available online to watch at: Consider a donation, if you are able, so that HotHouse can continue to provide virtual concerts free of charge to viewers all over the world.

REVIEW: 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest

Day one of The Ark’s 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest was a perfectly calming mix of tunes to send me drifting out of the busy work week and into the peaceful weekend. The lineup was made up of both live and recorded performances from local and traveling musicians. Many had played at The Ark before (way back when, I know), recalling the time and hoping for its return. This was a good replacement while we wait for the world to catch up.

 First up was The Accidentals, veterans of The Ark stage.  Their vocals were light and airy, while the strings pulled at you to feel some connection between you and your insides, or your home, or some other familiar place. “Michigan and Again” was my favorite from them; I grew up here taking the state’s majesty for granted. This song let me relive and respect my childhood for the awe of nature it gave me, inspiring my future in environmental science.

 Ron Pope struck me in how intimately he treated the performance, even though he couldn’t see anyone in the audience. He would talk between songs, not in the pretentious way of an experienced performer (though he is), but actually genuinely, despite it being one-sided. He has a new album out called Bone Structure, from which he played a few songs. As he sang “My Wildest Dreams” it felt like he was looking right at me; I had to stop putting away my laundry and lay flat out on my bed so I could focus on the gentle rising of my sinuses and tear ducts. People who can make you cry from nothing are powerful–I’m lucky that Ron Pope uses this benevolently, with a tender voice and calm energy.

Amythyst Kiah was nothing but smooth, with a very nice, echoey mic. She told us that she dreamed the melody to one of the songs, something that’s only happened to me once or twice despite a lifetime of piano playing. Her voice is big, but it fits into little cracks and crevices of tone, bouncing lightly from high to low.

 It was just nice to be (virtually) around Willie Watson as he played songs in his workshop (he’s also a maker of quality jeans and shirts). You can tell from his music and the way he talks that he is soft and kind. He goes about folk music in the quintessential, storytelling way, and seems to live in that exact vein. Upbeat and soulful in how he puts short, full yells and yodels in with such ease.

 The War and Treaty duo went together so nicely, and the  comforting, melodic, low thrum of the piano felt like many more voices. It felt religious, peaceful, calm, deep. The high and low tones of their voices could not fit together better if they were the same person–it’s no wonder the two are a married couple. The dynamics of the songs are interesting in their complex give and take form, like their voices are dancing with each other, sometimes leading and sometimes melting together.

If you missed out on the folk fest, worry not; their virtual calendar is packed with several amazing shows every week.

REVIEW: It Was Divine

“I’m not asking for too much/I’m asking the wrong motherfucker

Just ’cause we’re in love/Doesn’t mean that we’re right for each other”

Alina Baraz croons this out of pure self-love in “To Me”, the emotional turning point of her masterful debut studio album, It Was Divine. If emotive self-transformation were a sprawling mansion, It Was Divine would be the blueprint – each track is an artfully composed mood in itself, while the album narrates a tumultuous relationship from start to finish.

Baraz introduces her R&B-soul dreamscape with “My Whole Life”, a romantic carpet-ride of a song that perfectly encapsulates the overwhelming wonder of finding ‘the one’. Backed by romantic string instrumentals, Baraz repeatedly choruses: “I can see my whole life when I’m with you”, as if transfixed by the extent to which she can imagine the entirety of their joint futures. From this track onwards, Baraz constructs a spitting musical image of early relationship paradise: songs in the album’s first half are lush with motifs like vibrant sunsets, distinctive perfumes, and lavish resorts. “Off the Grid” featuring Khalid reflects the effortless nature of being comfortably in-tune with one’s lover – Baraz and Khalid sing promises like “Say the word and you know I’ll follow/Off the grid in the El Dorado/Could be nice in the summertime/We could sit inside, in the silence”. According to an Apple Music interview, Baraz describes their frequent collaboration as “effortless” and “in sync”, as the song’s infectiously vibe-able chorus suggests.

“Can’t keep makin’ a home out of you/Just ’cause you’re asking me to

I’m not asking for too much (Can we do it over?)”

“To Me” and its subsequent interlude, “Memo Blue”, effectively transition the tone of It Was Divine from hopelessly-in-love to reprocessing love as an independent emotion. “Memo Blue” resembles an immersive ASMR experience – the plinking of piano keys awakens Baraz from her rosy paradisal getaway, followed by soul-searching lines “I can only meet you as deep as you have met yourself/I can only reach you from where you are”. Baraz follows these important realizations with the hypnotic “Who Got Me”, a song of pure self-love featuring springy drum beats and Baraz’s distinctive, ethereal warble. By the song’s third verse, Baraz seems to transcend any doubt expressed by “Who got me like I do/When all of this is through”. The instrumentals recede while her voice, a born-again bird surging towards the sky, swells into a higher key.

It’s only fitting that Baraz ends It Was Divine with “The Beginning”; the album commands a similar regenerative power that reflects Baraz’s intent to introduce a new chapter into her music. This album is pure, unadulterated art, and Baraz’s ‘divine’ energy ties the work together with not a song out of place. I would highly recommend adding It Was Divine to your music libraries and watching its superbly aesthetic lyric videos on Youtube.