The Ann Arbor musicians will revive their long-running live music backyard showcase, Broken Branch Summer Series, after last year’s pandemic-induced hiatus.
“Many people have been locked in their houses, and they haven’t had an opportunity to do anything. Musicheads are shriveling up inside and really need to get out,” said Labeaux, whose Broken Branch ranch is located near Dixboro.
“But then there are the performers and gig workers who have had no place to play, and we have a place where people can gather safely. We can support the musicians who have been hit, provide a place for people to see shows and marry that together here.”
Together, Labeaux and Gibson will reunite those eager musical forces through eight free biweekly Saturday shows from June to September. The eclectic lineup will include a rich blend of country, folk, jazz, alt rock, soul pop, world rock and bluesy funk sounds to appease live music diehards:
June 19 – Djangophonique
July 17 – Mike Gentry
July 31 – James Henes and the Head Full of Ghosts
August 14 – Judy Banker Band
August 28 – Adam Plomaritas Band
This specially curated lineup of emerging and established artists stems from Labeaux and Gibson’s desire to support and join different collaborators on their tree-lined, wraparound deck. Labeaux started the Broken Branch Summer Series in 2014 as a way to his friends perform live at home.
“I was a full-time performer, but I found I couldn’t go to shows or see my friends’ shows anymore. I started doing it so I could invite all my favorite people and performers to play on my back porch. I don’t have to go anywhere; they come to me,” said Labeaux, who named his 1.5-acre property after a snow-covered tree branch that snapped and hit his home.
“We hang out and have a good time, we’re all professionals, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we just open it up and let everyone else come, too?’”
Their live music series quickly grew beyond the inaugural, signature Broken Branch Breakdown event, which features several talented acts during a daylong outdoor music celebration.
Word of mouth, increased interest and new collaborations fueled the demand to perform at one of Washtenaw County’s most highly coveted, yet under-the-radar local music stages.
“Not being able to see our favorite bands is part of the premise behind this series, but a lot of people in our summer series are people who have performed before at Broken Branch – James Henes, Mike Gentry and Adam Plomaritas,” Gibson said.
Gibson and Labeaux also encouraged new guests, including Andrew Brown’s Djangophonique and Allie Garland with Awesome Sauce, to make their Broken Branch live stage debut.
“We’ve had a lot of people approach us since we started doing Broken Branch. One of the benefits we have of doing an unsponsored local event is that we get to pick whoever we want to play,” Labeaux said.
“That means all the people we missed and loved to hear, and the exciting acts that we haven’t had a chance to see yet that we’ve discovered.”
Labeaux discovered his initial love of music while listening to his father’s record collection. He also developed a deep appreciation for Kiss and other guitar heroes before playing the instrument himself. As a teen, he saved his money, bought a guitar, learned chords from a friend and started writing songs.
“I was up in the Tri-Cities area, and I was always a bit in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m playing in a covers country band now, and that’s actually one of the shows that we’re having. That would have been great growing up in Midland, but instead I was in a psychedelic jazz rock band,” Labeaux said.
“I met a handful of like-minded folks, and we used to host a festival up north. I traveled the country and lived on the west coast for a while before coming back to Michigan. I was in a band that later became Back40 and left them to start my own band. Then, I broke up that band join The Ragbirds.”
Meanwhile, Gibson is classically trained and started playing cello in fourth grade. She took private lessons, went to cello camp and performed in youth orchestras before attending Bowling Green State University.
“From there, I kept moving north with my student teaching in Toledo. I taught in Washington local for 16 years, and I was getting burned out in my position and started looking for something else. Three orchestral positions opened up in Ann Arbor, and I was recruited to apply for a job,” said Gibson, who performed on Labeaux’s 2017 album, Itch.
“I got it and have been teaching at Slauson Middle School ever since. Musically, I started playing in churches and with different bands. I used to go out and hear live music in Toledo and then people found out I was a cello player. They would say, ‘I want you on my album,’ and that’s how I met Adam.”
Broken Branch Kickoff
Four years later, Gibson and Labeaux eagerly anticipate the June 5 kickoff of their Broken Branch Summer Series. Each show’s capacity will be limited to 100 guests, who need to RSVP in advance and wear masks as they arrive and move about the space.
“We are following CDC and state of Michigan guidelines and requiring all performers to be vaccinated. We also prefer that all attendees are vaccinated. If things get of out of hand, we will gate. If there are too many people, then we will have to shut it down,” said Labeaux, who also will livestream each show on YouTube and Facebook.
While there’s no admission fee for each show, guests are encouraged to make an artist donation by cash or credit card. The goal is to support musicians who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
“Everything that’s donated on-site that day is going directly to the musicians. It’s been hard on everybody, so give a little or give a lot. We don’t want to set an expected donation amount because the true joy is hearing the music, too,” Gibson said.
Broken Branch Ranch | 6090 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor
Saturday, June 5 to Saturday, Aug. 28 | 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 11 | Noon to dark
Admission: Free, but artist donations encouraged
RSVP in advance – capacity limited to 100 guests per show
Bring chairs, blankets, coolers and picnic baskets | no pets
Parking available on either side of Plymouth Road