REVIEW: The Moth GrandSLAM Championship

We all experience pain in our lives, and The Moth GrandSLAM transformed The Ark into an incredible stage where ten StorySLAM champions were able to tell the true stories of their Growing Pains live.

As host Amir Baghdadchi put it, The Moth GrandSLAM is the closest public radio gets to American Ninja Warrior. The Moth is magical. It creates a temple for regular human beings and the tales they have to tell. And, on September 26, 2018, The Ark became that temple.

Amir started us off with some amusing stories of his adventures through 5th grade and the wisdom of plagiarizing in someone’s authentic voice, passing on the message that the most important moral pains have to deal with one’s moral character. As we got ready for a night of storytelling, Violinist Natalie Frakes was the timekeeper, providing a friendly reminder with a graceful violin note when the five minute mark came around.

Growing pains deal with people; as a result, there were many stories about relationships, and specifically, with fathers. Jill Chenault told a heartwarming story about her will to be strong and independent and how her changing relationship with her father, who now has Alzheimer’s, has given her the opportunity to now support him. Jim Pinion also talked about his father, and how they built their relationship through building his first car together.

We also heard from the perspective of fathers. Maxie Jones provided a new take on fatherhood as he shared his struggles in leaving bachelorhood behind, but confirmed that he wouldn’t trade fatherhood for anything. Eddie Hejka, who has been the father of 18 kids through adoption and foster care, shared the time his black son was ticketed for curfew violation in Detroit. He noted that many people were caught in the court system, questioning whether the court was truly a system for justice and pointing out that it was time for the courts to go through some growing pains.

Romantic relationships are also a classic example of growing pains, whether that is internally or externally. Matthew Mansour charmingly details his struggle in accepting his sexuality and the threats he faced when he came out. Susan Ciotti bared her soul about her abusive and cheating husband and her ability to fight for herself and feel complete.

There were also personal stories told. Joanna Courteau narrated an amusing story about how she never grew up. With the existence of false cognates (which is kind of like fake news, Joanna says), she amused the audience with her take on the growing pains that never go away. Stephanie Holloway talked about the of financial freedom and the all-too-relatable pains of financial responsibility. Paul Walters recounted the time he wanted to save the day when cycling, as nothing is more characteristic of growing pains than being a Sufferlandrian. And Rob Osterman explained why the first song in Frozen makes him cry — it’s a blatant reminder of mortality.

In between storytellers, Amir read the stories of the audience through prompts on papers they filled out. From little tales of when people had to make headway the hard way, or when they took a rivalry too far, it was a night filled with personal anecdotes from everyone that connected everyone in the room through these stories.

Three teams of judges scored the storytellers. Susan left the night as a Moth GrandSLAM champion, but all ten storytellers were champions in their vulnerability and excellent storytelling. There was pure laughter and heartfelt silence and emotional tears as these stories were told.

Our stories are the “honest truths that make up who we are,” and at The Ark that night, we got to hear those honest truths in their full glory.

PREVIEW: The Moth GrandSLAM Championship

One of the most original forms of art, storytelling is a tradition that never dies. The spoken word can express sorrow, hardships, humor, and triumph. There is nothing more raw than an individual standing on a stage, crafting words in a way that transforms their past into the present. The Moth Podcasts never fail to entertain me and touch my soul, and now, I finally get to experience these performances live.

The Moth GrandSLAM is taking place on September 26 at 8pm. It is the final culmination of the best of the best stories in Ann Arbor as stories come alive at The Ark. Join me at the intimate local venue where we will be taken on many different and wonderful journeys in one single night.

REVIEW: Second City

Political comedy, improv brilliance, snippet skits, raunchy humor. Second City made The Ark erupt with laughter as they brought their impromptu comedy skills from Chicago to Ann Arbor.

Comedy is a great outlet for political commentary, and Second City had some fun with that with their skit involving a board game called Privilege, a mini scene involving Trump, and another skit of a talk game show called We’re Not Talking About That.

From a lesbian on an airplane to the Bass Man to a little boy and a potential step-father, from a game of Two Truths and a Lie to three bros teeing off to drama driver’s ed class, some of the skits were hit or miss, but they all elicited laughter and/or groans. A few easter eggs carried their way through the different skits, which strengthened the humor of the night. The few musical numbers were pleasant, especially the “I Cry” song that was particularly relatable.

Second City’s improv comedy was also on point. They played the classic improv game where two actors borrowed two phones from the audience and could only use texts as their lines. Their different quick, improvised scenes were also quick and witty. For being in Ann Arbor for only three hours, the Second City troupe caught on fast with the lingo and native culture of the city, except for a slip calling Zingerman’s a sub shop.

With the help of three audience members, Kim Kardashian and Matthew McConaughey star in the action rom-com film with a twist of sci-fi, Walking Chairs at Midnight. The cast later put on the trailer to this original movie after intermission, and I appreciated the fact that they brought that back and didn’t just leave it hanging after the audience participation.

Second City ended their show with some final improv. They definitely made being funny seem easy, but as they emphasized at the very end as they plugged their classes, it’s actually very hard and requires a lot of work. However, Second City did a great job of providing a night of carefree entertainment and quality comedy.

PREVIEW: Second City

For all the comedy and improv lovers out there, Second City is coming to The Ark again this year, guaranteeing a night filled with quick wit and hearty laughter. As the first ever on-going improvisational theater troupe based in Chicago in 1959, the Second City enterprise continues to produce high quality, satirical sketches with its cutting edge artists on tour. With notable alumni like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert, come out to The Ark on September 14 or 15 at 8pm to watch the next comedic hit. Tickets can be purchased at

REVIEW: Mo Lowda and the Humble

I sat down to write this review and realized I didn’t even know how to begin.

I pulled out my notebook, normally filled to the brim with detailed notes about each song. But this time, my notes were sparse, the specifics absent.

That’s the effect this show had on me.

The Quiet Hollers and Mo Lowda and the Humble — two little-known and criminally underrated indie bands — served as dual headliners. Both played for about an hour, and unlike some other groups I’ve seen at The Ark, they didn’t do a lot of talking in between songs in their set. Instead, they let the music speak for itself.

“This is a song you can dance to,” the lead singer of The Quiet Hollers said while introducing his song Medicine. “It’s about panic disorder.”

That sentence was a good summation of their set. The band’s lyrics referenced social issues ­— toxic masculinity, the prison-industrial complex — and mental illness. But their sound was loud and full. Their instruments were typical of those used in a rock band, except for one thing: they had a violinist.

The violin added depth to many of their numbers, and its parts were often the highlight of their numbers for me. The unique acoustics of The Ark only added to the experience.

Watching Mo Lowda and the Humble was like watching a jam session. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band get more physically into their music. So it’s no surprise that their instrumental breaks were the highlight of their set. They also varied the vibe of their songs — playing something louder and harder one minute, and a more mellow, acoustic piece the next. The variation added depth to their show. Not all bands can make both loud and soft stuff work; Mo Lowda and the Humble could.

Normally, this is the place where I’d describe my favorite songs from both sets or where I’d do in-depth analysis on their structure or lyricism. But that’s the thing. I enjoyed the show so much that the idea that I had to write down the details slipped my mind. By the time I realized, it was too late. I can’t tell you why I enjoyed each part of the set, only that I did. That I enjoyed it so much, I neglected my duties as a reviewer.

The thing about music is that it’s easy to get lost in it. Sometimes I sit down fully intending to do homework, but I make the mistake of putting on a good song first. I get wrapped up in the harmonies and carried away by the melodies. And when it’s live, that effect is only magnified. I was sitting there for two and a half hours, my sole job to watch this concert and review it. Take some notes. Remember which songs I liked. But I forgot what music does, and I got lost.

And that’s the best compliment I could give.


Senior year of high school, a friend texted me a Spotify link.

This was par for the course with this particular friend; we had similar music tastes and we would always send each other the songs we obsessed over. This time, he sent me a song I had never heard of: Curse the Weather by Mo Lowda and the Humble.

So I put on my headphones and gave the song a listen. I figured it would be the traditional indie rock we both listened to. I was wrong.

Curse the Weather was, and still is, one of the most unique songs on my playlists and I love it. I love the guitar riff that makes up most of the chorus. I love the lyrics — “I always listen to the optimistic spirit in me” is always running through my head. I love Mo Lowda’s raspy voice.

So, as has happened several times this year, I was browsing through the calendar for The Ark when I saw an artist I recognized.

A band I know and like at my favorite venue in town? Sign me up.

Mo Lowda and the Humble — with opening act The Quiet Hollers, an indie songwriter band who sing about the social landscape — will bring a different sound to The Ark than the venue is traditionally associated with. That’s my favorite thing about The Ark — even if I know the band, I’ve learned that I never really know what to expect. Every show is unique, and every show leaves me in awe.

Mo Lowda and the Humble with The Quiet Hollers come to The Ark tomorrow, March 26, at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 online, at The Ark or at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.