REVIEW: Michigan’s Got Talent

Wolverine’s Prove “Michigan’s Got Talent”

On Tuesday February 20, I used my Passport to the Arts to attend Michigan’s Got Talent, a talent show for the University of Michigan student body. The event was hosted by MUSIC Matters, a student organization that organizes music events on campus. Performed for the Lydia Mendelson Theatre’s packed audience and a panel of three judges, the night was act after act of inspiring creative force.

The event was MCed by two members of student improv troupe ComCo and judged by former president of MUSIC Matters Anna Lair, as well as the University of Michigan’s Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon, and Mark Clague, an SMTD musicology professor whose scholarly interests center on the role of music in community building.

Student Band “Mahogany”

The range and variety of talent in the Michigan student body was on full display, from the upbeat k-pop covers by Korean American band Seoul Juice to the rhythmic flair of the Michigan Ballroom Dance Team. Individual talents and student organizations alike shined their light on stage. The audience was moved by vocal performances by Jeheil Butt, who also performed with DJs Acapella, and singer-singwriter Jacqueline Dianis whose buttery smooth rendition of Tennessee Whiskey was powerful and sincere. Student jam band Toast gave a zippy and energetic performance, and nine man band Mahogany connected to the audience with upbeat grooves.

Apparently on a whim, the ComCo MCs asked if anyone in the audience had a talent they’d like to share, and a brave audience member climbed onto the stage to perform an impromptu tap dance. After that, several other audience members volunteered their talents at the piano during set changes. There was a magic in the air of rooting for someone to make the change from audience member to performer at a second’s notice.

Outrage Dance’s Final Pose

Outrage Dance gave an energetic and technically impressive performance that knocked the audience’s socks off, winning the Crowd Favorite Award. Trenton Michael (featured image) and his saxophone performed an upbeat, spunky, and honest original song that had the audience clapping along, winning him Most Original Performance.

My favorite act was probably Tola Kilian and Miguel Retto, who represented the Michigan Ballroom Dance Team with a performance of Pink Panther. The suave and sassy dance was truly a pleasure to watch, and reminded me of my days studying abroad and dancing the Tango in Argentina.

Tola Kilian and Miguel Retto of The Michigan Ballroom Dance Team

I left Michigan’s Got Talent moved by the talent of my peers, and glowing from the chance to catch and reflect the shine of my classmate’s creative expression. The opportunity to see students in the audience sit up from their velvet seats and show that they too had something to share, imparted a whispered awareness of the energetic creativity that hums in the people around you. Michigan’s Got Talent was a celebration of music, and of life. I think performers and audience members alike walked out of the theater feeling inspired, and a little more talented.

Music Matters hosts other events to promote the arts and music on campus. You can check out their instagram to learn about upcoming events like Spring Fest in April.

REVIEW: Wallis Bird at the Ark

8:00pm • Thursday, January 19, 2023 • The Ark

I was so glad I braved the pouring rain last Thursday night to experience Wallis Bird and Marielle Kraft on the stage of the Ark. Songs were sung. Banter was bantered. No fewer than 10 guitar strings were broken (6 unintentionally, 4 intentionally).

Kraft opened the show with a small selection of her recent music. Her pared-down instrumentals and simple, crisp pop tunes provided a nice foil to Bird’s main act. I was particularly fond of “Second Coffee” and thought that “We Were Never Friends,” featuring audience participation during the chorus, was a great closer to hype everyone up for the main act. 

If Kraft’s opening set was simple, Bird’s was eclectic, featuring an intense, intricate mix of a capella, guitar, synth, and piano. She opened with “Home,” sung a capella, approaching and retreating the microphone while she bantered with us, seeming to work up her confidence. Luckily for us, that confidence arrived, and she turned up the volume with several higher-energy songs, including the anti-establishment anthem “That’s What Life is For.”

My favorite of the night was one I’m not certain is recorded, which she introduced simply as a bit of “technofolk” which she said she wrote to emulate her partner in Berlin, a house musician. She introduced the song by asking the audience to keep the beat by snapping, stomping their feet, clapping–anything that would make some noise. As she added layers of guitar and synth, the atmosphere in the Ark strained to emulate a pulsing nightclub, a sound perhaps not in its usual auditory repertoire. In her other songs, she jammed on her guitar, continually snapping strings and casting the guitar aside to be quickly restrung in time for the next song.

Throughout the performance Bird was in high spirits and engaged with the audience, at one point asking an audience-member to sing a song she wasn’t familiar with so she could pretend to imitate it, promising him free t-shirts in exchange for his sportsmanship. When Bird was called back to the stage for an encore, none of her guitars were left with all their strings, so she called her backup vocalists/crew up to the stage to sing another impromptu a capella song, which if I remember correctly was “In Dictum.”

I was impressed with both Bird’s musicianship and her stage presence, simultaneously self-deprecating and full of swagger. If she makes another trip to the Ark from across the pond, I will certainly put in my best effort to attend.

REVIEW: dodie

I’ve been a follower of dodie since her YouTube days—singer-songwriter Dodie Clark is a gentle ball of light who has never failed to delight with her original songs, often demoed on her YouTube page with simple acoustic guitar/ukelele and dodie’s soft voice. dodie played at the Royal Oak Music Theatre last night as part of her Build a Problem tour. It was a fantastically orchestrated concert, from beginning to end.

Before dodie, we got to see Lizzy McAlpine, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, as the opening act. McAlpine commanded the stage with just her guitar and indescribably smooth voice, playing snippets of newly released music, old top hits, a fun cover of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag,” and a soon to be released song called “Ceiling” that the audience listened to with reverent ears.

After McAlpine’s lovely acoustic set, we were ready for dodie, awaiting her appearance with great anticipation. The hints of strings tuning and lights changing signaled the show was about the begin, and soon enough a shimmery bright blue curtain was falling away to reveal dodie and her lovely band, complete with musician friend Orla Gartland backing up on guitar, keys, and sometimes percussion.

The concert was both soft and energetic, with moments ranging from the heartbreaking, pining song “When” to the incredibly fun dance jam “In the Middle” (complete with cute choreography from the band). dodie jumped from ukulele to piano to guitar to clarinet to percussion, interacting with her band and delivering short asides to the audience. It was a treat to watch such a talented, angelic human doing their thing on stage. It was incredible to see her in person.


dodie’s concert was a kind and open space. Crowd members were kind to each other, complimenting on outfits and hairstyles, singing along but respectfully listening as well. If you aren’t familiar with dodie, I recommend checking her out, and seeking out the experience of a concert one day.

PREVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

If you haven’t heard of Brett Dennen, the singer-songwriter hailing from Oakland, CA, I invite you to listen to one of my favorite songs from him:

An oddly satisfying blend of pop and folk, right? Brett’s newest album, Por Favor, was released in May, and you can hear it live at The Blind Pig on Thursday, October 27th

Where: The Blind Pig

Time: Doors open at 8

Cost: $25

Satisfaction at seeing Brett Dennen perform live: Priceless

REVIEW: Graham Colton at the Ark

If you have never been to the Ark before, the best word to describe it is intimate. Upon entering you are guided upstairs by the sound of indie music, to a room that you would almost expect to be used for art house movie screenings than concerts.

As Cumulus singer Alex Niedzialkowski (even Graham Colton didn’t dare attempt to pronounce that last name) put it, the Ark was like a “classroom.” Cushioned chairs filled the back while coffee tables adorned the front—in other words, not the proper conditions for standing and jumping to the beat.

It is a rare treat to attend a concert where the opening band is as good as the headliner. Cumulus, a band from Seattle, was one of those cases. Indie-pop at its best, Cumulus combined meaningful and heartfelt lyrics with the kind of bittersweet melodies you would find in films like 500 Days of Summer.

Alex’s voice is slightly reminiscent of Regina Spektor: her words have the same enchanting feeling that would make me love the music even if she was only singing the alphabet. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Most important of all, Cumulus had a memorable character. As an emcee, Alex was exactly the kind of endearingly awkward you might expect from an indie artist who writes deep lyrics. Unlike many bands that simply play through their set and leave, Cumulus spoke to the audience, added emotion to their playing, and overall proved to be a fantastic opening band.

After a brief intermission, in which I purchased Cumulus’ album despite mistakenly listing the wrong zip code for my credit card and had to start the process all over again, Graham Colton took the stage.

Graham is the kind of artist comfortable to be on stage. He makes comments freely, such as telling the audience they helped themselves to a bottle of celebratory alcohol before the show, or the fact that he repeated his name in case anyone “stumbled in from outside.”

Every song rocked with energy. Between songs Graham encouraged the audience to stand, and by the end of the concert most of the room was indeed standing. It was hard not to: Graham spent his time dancing or jumping on the stage, snarky comments by the bassist made everyone chuckle, and a fellow singer-songwriter in the band that was probably equally as talented as Graham.

Songs from Lonely Ones certainly had a more aggressive, electric sound. Taking 18 months off to reinvent himself seemed to work. Yet, even his earlier stuff was as good as it has always been.

Check out Graham Colton. Check out Cumulus. And if you have never been to the Ark before, do it!
Graham Colton

Graham Colton