REVIEW: Kate Voegele

Wednesday night’s cold weather gave Kate Voegele fans the perfect opportunity to gather in the intimate space of the Blind Pig for the singer’s latest tour stop, which she made in promotion of her new EP, The Wild Card.  The latest in a collection that includes two other extended plays and three studio albums, the release provided some long-awaited new material to a fan following that dates back to her time on the hit show One Tree Hill from 2008 to 2011.

The show started off strong with her charismatic opening act, Briar Rabbit, a singer-songwriter and Michigan native who made his start in Bloomfield Hills.  His acoustic set consisted of lyrically dense pieces about love, loss, and self-confidence, relatable themes that struck a chord with many in the audience who were being introduced to him for the first time.  On full display along with his lyrical talent was his charm, as he filled the gaps between songs with stories, jokes, and appeals to the audience to show their support.  The best example of this was two songs into his set, when he pulled out a clipboard and jokingly said he had forgotten to give his email list to the person working merch in the back.  He asked the people in the front to pass it back towards the back of the room, and if anyone wanted to put their name on the email list while they were at it, well that would be just fine.  Humorous moments like this were small gems set between emotionally compelling songs that set the tone for Voegele, who came on to an already excited crowd.

Kate Voegele entered the stage and started off with a song from her new EP, her smooth voice and acoustic pop sound setting the pace for the entire show.  Giving fans who know her well from One Tree Hill a taste of the past, she mixed older songs into her set, including hit singles that she performed while on the show.  These were the pieces that set the crowd wild, as many fans in the audience were twenty-somethings who grew up with her music and character.  One of the most popular of this group is Only Fooling Myself, a song Voegele won a song-writing award for in 2005, prior to performing it as Mia Catalano upon joining the OTL cast. Among her new songs, one of my favorites was Ooh La La, an upbeat love song that seemed to set the crowd into dance mode.  Another favorite off of her new release was a cover of the recent hit Cups from Pitch Perfect, which Voegele slowed down and put a ballad spin on.

The overall successful performance of Voegele at the end of the night saw one small hiccup that fortunately doesn’t eclipse her performance.  As the concert began winding down and she got ready to leave the stage, the crowd cheered for an encore, and she was more than happy to oblige.  There was just one problem – the song that she had prepared as an encore was not the song that the audience begged for.  Back in 2008, she released a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, an acoustic performance that quickly rose to fan-favorite status. Several fans screamed for her to perform it as the crowd cheered for an encore, but though she took the encore in a different direction, her final song seemed to do the job and cap off a fun night.


As one of the first warm and sunny weekends of the year comes to a close and Ann Arbor begins to recover from an eventful couple of days, I’m still riding a natural high in the wake of Johnnyswim’s performance at The Ark on Saturday night. The ghosts of endorphins are kicking around in my brain as we speak – and with good reason.  My expectations were high, but the pressure was nothing for these two, whose energy upon their return to Ann Arbor in the wake of a crowd-pleasing performance at the Folk Festival in February left them shining like a couple of polished gems.

The intimate space of The Ark was a perfect venue for the acoustically driven sound and incredible vocals of this songwriting pair.  The sold-out crowd was taken from the moment they stepped on stage, kicking off the show with a sweet and simple track from their upcoming debut LP.  While their ability to weave their voices – each distinct and rich in their own right – into a unique and mesmerizing union was enough to capture the attention of the audience, it was the couple’s magnetism that set them apart.  Married in real life, wife Amanda and husband Abner played off each other in a refreshing and intimate way that is seldom seen on stage.

As they moved on to the title track, Diamonds, the two offered an even deeper look into their lives by providing insight on the inspiration of this empowering song.  Abandoning all pretenses for frank honesty, Abner explained that this song was their “suck it” song, directed at an individual in their personal life who continues to doubt them in spite of their mounting success.  While in looking into the lyrics one can find that this message is there, the two were quick to point out that the song is also one of hope – indeed it stood for hopeful optimism to the 250 cancer children they performed it for soon after its conception.

This early peek into the minds of these talented musicians set the tone for the night, as the remainder of their performance was filled with anecdotes about various songs, new and old, and silly stories about their experiences.  The audience particularly enjoyed a long and very involved story by Abner about the events surrounding his proposal to Amanda three years into their relationship, the inspiration of their soft and rhythmic piece Paris In June.  Upon flying her to Paris for their three year anniversary on 24 hours’ notice, Abner found that just about everything that could go wrong did, though in the end he got his storybook proposal.  These insights added to the charm of their songs, deepening one’s understanding of their already graceful tracks.

Their set list gave those excitedly anticipating their debut album, Diamonds, which drops at the end of the month, a taste of what to expect. Songs like Pay Dearly, a revenge-seeking piece full of falsetto and strong riffing, bring out the soulful side of the versatile couple, while tracks like Home capture the country-folk influence of Tennessee, where the two met.  Their wide sampling of genres appeals to many different kinds of listeners, and by the end of the show everyone had found music that suited their style, calling excitedly for an encore. The two didn’t fill the request, instead showing their appreciation by holding a meet-and-greet in the lobby after the show.

As a fan of Johnnyswim, I wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to meet them, so I was pleasantly surprised to make my way to the line near their merchandise.  Their grace and charisma translated off-stage, and I was happy to find that they are even more kind and humble than I could have imagined.  Their genuine interest in their fans was rather uplifting and I found myself walking away with a phone full of selfies that Abner insisted on taking. I will leave you with a few of my favorites, though the quality is not the best (it seems my iPhone has let me down once again.) Their debut album, Diamonds, hits iTunes on April 29th, and their EPs Home and Heart Beats are available now.

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When: Saturday, April 5th @ 8pm

Where: The Ark

Tickets: $20 General Admission

The married musical duo JOHNNYSWIM are bringing their mix of folk, soul, and pop to Ann Arbor on April 5th as they perform at The Ark in promotion of their new album, Diamonds, out April 29th.  Featured on 2014’s VH1 You Oughta Know, twosome Amanda Sudano-Ramirez and Abner Ramirez combine impeccable lyrics with powerful vocals and a captivating stage chemistry that you won’t want to miss.

For a little taste of their versatile sound, check out the music video for their 2013 single Heart Beats, their toe tapper Home, and Abner’s killer falsetto in a live performance of Pay Dearly, featured on the upcoming record.

REVIEW: Sea Legs: A Nautical New Musical

To say that Sea Legs: A Nautical New Musical blew it out of the water would be quite an understatement.  Set in the small New England town of Sweet Ann Harbor, this original musical introduces us to four orphaned adventurers fascinated with the sea beyond their small town.  After a time jump they find themselves reunited in adulthood in the midst of a search for the man who pulled the plug on Periscopia, an underwater utopia the friends dreamed of searching for as kids.  The residents of this underwater world, an eccentric bunch who eat bubbles and have an affinity for prom dresses and leather, make waves as they settle in Sweet Ann Harbor, intent on creating a new home for themselves.  Chaos ensues when it is revealed that one of our orphaned friends is more connected to the crime than he lets on, and we see the true meaning of friendship as he races to prevent one of his own from taking the fall.

At the heart of this seaside tale is an important message about the journey into adulthood and to finding identity.  The orphans we follow throughout the play see their lives develop in ways they hadn’t expected, and some have trouble coming to terms with how things have panned out. Yet by the end they have discovered where it is they are meant to be, whether it is sailing the seas or raising kids in a small port town.  It seems that this struggle is analogous to the futures faced by many of the cast and crew of the production, as well as many in the audience.  The play finishes with a number about how Sweet Ann Harbor will always be there for the characters to return to, and a tear was brought to the eyes of many seniors in attendance.  The song transcends the musical and serves as a message to the graduating class about the place many will think of as home as they start their journey beyond college.

As writer Tyler Dean finishes his theater career here and embarks on an adventure to bigger and better things, the song serves as a farewell to him as well, and also as a grounding connection to a home where he found great success.  In the same theater where he and partner-in-crime Mike Tooman have grown and sparked, we see their final original production fittingly cap off their time here.

Beyond the core message of the play was a highly enjoyable cast of characters and deviously catchy soundtrack – I pity the poor soul who thought he could make it out of that theater without at least one of those tunes banging around in his head.  From the retired sailor turned pigeon whisperer who sings about his ability to see the future in bird droppings to the fully choreographed pop zinger about the glamorous city of Periscopia, each piece takes on a life of its own. If you don’t trust me on this you can see for yourself in the coming months – Sea Legs: A Nautical New Musical is set to hit YouTube just as Dean and Tooman’s previous work Zombie Farm: A New Musical did, and a soundtrack is in the works.

PREVIEW: Sea Legs: A Nautical New Musical


If you’re looking for a refreshing new musical created by some of our very own University of Michigan students, Sea Legs: A New Nautical Musical may be just what you need.  Prepare to follow four orphaned friends as they meet travelers from an underwater utopia determined to avenge their destroyed home. What will happen when our four friends who long for a journey on the sea find an adventure in their own backyard? You’ll have to go on the voyage with them to find out!

WHO: Basement Arts

WHAT: Sea Legs: A Nautical New Musical

WHEN: Friday, February 21st at 7pm
Saturday, February 22nd at 3pm and 7pm

WHERE: Studio 1, Walgreens Drama Center

COST: Free!

Still not convinced? Writers Tyler Dean and Michael Tooman are also the creators of Zombie Farm: A Musical, which you can find on YouTube here.