Known as Amplify Kickback, the show is part of a concert and panel discussion series aimed at supporting Washtenaw County community organizations. Amplify Fellowship artists will be featured while local organizations will receive a portion of the show’s proceeds from the ticketed livestream event.
Sponsored by Leon Speakers and Grove Studios, The Amplify Fellowship supports and funds musicians’ creative efforts in exchange for volunteering with local nonprofits and agencies. It’s part of the overall Amplify Project, which supports community engagement and artistic expression in Washtenaw County.
“Bringing artists and organization representatives together in this way just makes sense. We’re hoping to show our audience the incredible journey of both the fellows and the communities they serve. Along the way, we hope to establish the Leon Loft as a community space, and we are extremely grateful for the sponsorship and support we have already received,” said Maia Evans, Amplify Project co-founder.
With Evans at the helm, The Leon Loft at Leon Speakers, On-Air Elements, Grove Studios and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival will produce the events. Grove Studios and Leon Speakers have been working together over the past year to share virtual content throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Detroit neo-soul singer-songwriter opted for a classic Motown-inspired sound on her debut EP, Purpose, after forging an initial electronic, trip-hop pathway.
“I love the sound of Emancipator and FKJ, but after touring and performing with them, I realized I wanted to capture more of that Amy Winehouse-Sade vibe. At that moment with electronic music, I wanted to go more in an organic direction of being live with everyone in the studio, and I think these songs lend themselves to that,” Grant said.
“I’ve got this combination of songs, and they sound like Motown, Al Green, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder. They don’t sound like sound like trip-hop, FKJ or Emancipator. The people who helped arrange these songs with me were U-M jazz school alumni, and they added some jazz influences in there.”
Grant beautifully jazzes up her nostalgic, soulful project across five introspective, fervent tracks. Out today via all streaming platforms,Purpose delves beneath the surface and explores the challenges of reaching self-actualization during a personal transformation.
“After listening back to these songs and realizing this intense process I went through creating this EP, I had this image of a butterfly that kept coming into my mind. When moths and butterflies go through this transformation and reach their final stage, they have to go through this intense cycle. It’s not always pretty, but in the end you’re left with something that’s worth waiting and being patient for,” she said.
The Ypsilanti indie folk singer-songwriter intricately weaves a series of reflective, tender vignettes into a cathartic, cohesive whole on his exploratory new album. Filled with ethereal soundscapes, hypnotic guitars and mesmerizing vocals, Floodplains surges through the vast peaks and valleys of the soul to unify past and present experiences into a hopeful future.
“As a project that’s loaded with very difficult emotional content, I just had to sit by myself and grind. It was a very frustrating, solitary experience, and I had to really develop my work ethic and show up. It’s really tough to show up literally in your bedroom when you have a whole list of things that you have to get knocked out,” DuPont said.
“I learned the value of solitude and just sitting with your feelings and allowing them to move through you without making a knee-jerk reaction about what they mean. That’s been a big growth point for me. Working on this record really forced me to sit with difficult feelings and hear them tossed back in my ears over and over again. But as valuable as solitude is, I also learned the importance of asking for help.”
Together, they created and navigated the majestic Floodplains throughout apartments, houses and recording studios in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. The album slowly ebbed and flowed over two years alongside a period of personal upheaval and change for DuPont.
“Working with producer Nick Gunty was a fabulous experience. It was a big deal working with a producer, letting them in on your process and giving them creative push and pull as you’re letting go. That was a very important part of the process,” DuPont said.
“And toward the end wrapping it all up and getting the mastering done, I pulled in my dear friend Chris Norman, who’s an electronica producer out of Texas. I was running out of time and needed someone to master the record, and I knew he would love to do it.”
As an exquisite finished product, Floodplainsrises and swells with intense emotion across 12 thoughtful, vivid tracks that steer listeners along a highly personal, poignant odyssey. It’s the ideal sonic outlet for releasing deeply buried troubles while seeking solace and starting anew in an uncertain world.
For Mark Jewett, Jan. 24 elicits feelings of sadness and appreciation.
The landmark date carries personal significance for Jewett – the 18th anniversary of his father’s passing and the 74th birthday of the late Warren Zevon. The coincidental intersection of those two events inspired Jewett to reflect on both and the lingering impact they’ve had on his life.
“They had a lot of similarities – the dry, dark sense of humor was probably the biggest one. They were both pretty hardcore drinkers, and they were both fascinated with unconventional things they could do with words. They would put them together in different ways that made people stop and think about them. And to a degree, I think they were both a little misunderstood. It became the impetus for a song,” said Jewett, a Plymouth Americana singer-songwriter.
That impetus ultimately produced “Warren Zevon’s Birthday,” a nostalgic, introspective folk rock ode to influential, supportive fathers past and present. Spirited organ, reflective electric guitars, pounding drums, soft cymbals, calm bass and glistening piano accompany Jewett as he shares fond memories, warm feelings and irreplaceable moments.
Jewett sentimentally sings, “Dad served his country in the second World War/When he was only 20 years of age/He kept it all inside/A place where he could hide/Secrets he carried to his grave/Warren had an appetite for living/Living large, a thing he did so well/Like a feral buckaroo/Some alcoholic Xanadu/He rode the Double E straight through hell.”
“I started thinking about the two of them, and there were some similarities and radical contrasts. I thought, ‘Well maybe that’s worth structuring a song around.’ And the song has kind of an odd structure,” said Jewett, who shared the track with Gurf Morlix and sought inspiration from Crystal Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.
“It’s an intro, a chorus, three verses in a row, no bridge, a solo, another verse, another chorus and an outro. It was necessary to build it that way for continuity of the story. Sometimes rules are just meant for breaking.”
Throughout “Warren Zevon’s Birthday,” Jewett eloquently breaks the rules with producer-drummer Billy Harrington, Michael Harrington (guitar, bass), Dale Grisa (piano, organ) and Amy Petty (vocals). The quintet intricately constructed a solid cinematic foundation to support, build and evolve Jewett’s thoughtful paternal tribute ballad.
“It was a challenge to decide if this song was supposed to be huge sounding. It’s a very sensitive subject; does it need to be more subdued or heartfelt in that way? Or is it more heartfelt when there’s a blazing guitar solo? What do we do with it exactly? We had talked about doing two versions of it, a stripped-down one and one that’s more rocking with a full band,” said Billy Harrington.
“I didn’t want this song to fall in the middle. If we wanted to go big, then we really had to go all the way there and then some. I didn’t want it to be 50 percent on both sides. If this was gonna be a big, epic Pink Floyd stately sort of ballad thing, then we did it. I really think we got that on this one.”
All classes will include a combination of online class meetings with individual consultation and assistance with varying recording projects as well as virtual recitals. Students can now enroll for these online winter classes through WCC’s website.
“The jazz and improvisation classes allow students to work on different songs each semester and learn about jazz and improvisation concepts. They submit solos and parts online, which I mix in my studio at Alley Records to create an audio recording,” Somers said.
“The guitar classes combine both beginning and intermediate students in one class. Beginners work on basic chords and strumming patterns while the intermediate students work on melodies, solo concepts and more advanced bar chords.”
“Many of the students are interested in eventually writing their own music, and Max will help them learn more about how to market it and utilize social media,” Somers said.
As another course offering, Somers will offer a virtual non-credit Community Jazz Orchestra class through WCC that starts Feb. 24. For those seeking financial assistance, WCC’s Emeritus Scholarships provide free tuition for Washtenaw County residents age 65 and older who enroll in non-credit and credit courses, including music.
Outside of the Community Jazz Orchestra, Somers will teach a virtual Ypsilanti Youth Jazz and Music Theory Class starting Jan. 9 for students ages 9 to 18. Adults are welcome to participate as mentors and learn more about jazz music and theory.
As the year (thankfully) comes to a close, we reflect on the strength, grit and willpower that slowly got us through. Together, we relied on new soothing, hopeful tracks that provided a welcome escape from the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, political rifts, grief and loss.
Uplifting, rewarding bits of indie folk, country-pop, folk rock, psych rock, shiny lo-fi soul, reggae, dreamy pop, chill hip-hop and experimental art rock demonstrate the courageous creative and emotional spirit we all share heading into 2021.
The holiday-themed event will include a contactless drive-thru collection for Ypsilanti Toys for Tots donations and a virtual livestream telethon featuring performances from The Flight Team’s Dre Dav, King Micah The Infamous, Villin, Brad Spliff, DJ Nitro and other local artists.
“We know Christmas is especially hard on people this year due to the pandemic and the loss of employment so we want to help ease some of the stress and make kids smile along the way. Some of us have benefited from programs like this when were young so it’s nice to be able to give back,” said Neiko “DJ Nitro” Thomas-Cook of The Flight Team.
For Saturday’s event, community members can donate and drop off new, sealed toys at a curbside collection bin located outside Grove Studios, a 24/7 self-service recording and rehearsal space. All toys must be unwrapped and sanitized before they’re donated. No plush toys will be accepted this year.
“All the donations will be given to Toys for Tots the following day when we plan to volunteer and help them sort through the donations we provided. Toy donations will be accepted at five other locations through Saturday, and people are also invited to make monetary donations online,” Thomas-Cook said.
Once community members drop off Toys for Tots donations at Grove Studios, they will be able to catch The Flight Team’s livestream telethon via Facebook and Instagram. The fun event will allow the group to personally connect and engage with fans for the holidays.
“We’ll be playing Christmas tunes, trivia and silly-themed games for your entertainment and have some special surprise performances from local favorites. We want to prompt people to come back and give to a community that has given us so much,” Thomas-Cook said.
“Grove is becoming an important pillar in the artistic community here in Ypsilanti. It’s a hub for The Flight Team where we can practice and have group meetings in a professional environment. We wanted to partner with Grove for the simple fact that it’s an awesome environment to throw a show and perform.”
The Ragbirds frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist will present the beloved Ann Arbor holiday show virtually Saturday through a free, one-night livestream performance via Facebook and YouTube.
“The pandemic has forced creative people to get extra creative if they want to continue making their art and sharing it with a world in isolation. This is the 13th year I’ve produced the Ebird & Friends Holiday Show, but it’s an entirely different experience in this virtual format. I’ve had to rethink it from the ground up with safety as a top priority,” Zindle said.
Formerly presented live at The Ark over four sold-out nights, this year’s online show will feature a mix of pre-recorded videos interspersed with live performances and virtual special guest cameos. To protect artists and crew members, Zindle implemented a number of rigorous safety protocols throughout the show’s development and production.
“We are filming the production in a large warehouse space where we’ve measured plenty of distance between us, and there is a large rolling door that we open regularly to air out the room. All the crew and artists are masked, with the only exception being the lead singers and horn players who remove their masks for the final video takes,” said Zindle, who teamed up with Allen Audio and Birdhouse Productions to record the show’s performances.
“We all isolated ourselves as much as possible prior to the event, and most have taken COVID tests to be extra cautious. I created a schedule where the featured artists show up by appointment to avoid overlap and reduce our exposure to each other. Like everyone else we have had to make a series of hard choices and sacrifices to keep ourselves and each other safe.”
In light this year’s pandemic challenges, the show will still retain its fun variety-style format and holiday setlist with a star-studded Michigan lineup of new and returning acts.
“When choosing artists I always try to keep diversity and flow in mind to create a dynamic show with a variety of styles represented. This year I chose artists that have already been involved in past shows and decided to repeat a few favorite songs we already knew,” said Zindle, who formed The Ragbirds in 2005.
“I knew we would not have much if any rehearsal time, and I wanted to simplify the amount of songs we had to learn. We did the new song arrangements via Zoom meetings and shared demo iPhone recordings so we could show up ready to roll the camera.”
For Joss Jaffe, today’s global political climate runs rampant with false promises.
The Oakland, California world music singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares this widely held notion in his latest reggae-infused single, “Promises,” with Mykal Rose.
“Ultimately, I think politics is always divisive. Peter Tosh would call it ‘politricks.’ But yes, this period in time has been especially unprecedented. Although I do not call out Trump by name in this song and take the approach of an old-school reggae song, where we speak in metaphors and allegory stories, clearly it references the cascade of lies and falsehoods that seem to never end,” Jaffe said.
“However, yes, the song also speaks to the timeless, and sadly, seemingly ever relevant problems this poor type of leadership brings, and it’s not just limited to the U.S.”
Throughout “Promises,” Jaffe and Rose quickly unstitch the increasing fallacies Trump and other controversial political figures continually weave into society’s fraying fabric. Vibrant horns, thumping drums, bouncy bass, breezy synths, spirited organ and peppy electric guitar seamlessly undo each tumultuous thread.
Rose eagerly chants, “Promises are a comfort to a fool/All they wanna give is promises/We know the golden rule/Yet they wanna use you like a footstool.” In response, Jaffe soulfully sings, “Step on you to reach that goal/And cast you aside when you played your role/Promises that keep on saying/But then you look at them and see they’d never change.”
“My vision for this song is something that’s uplifting and triumphant over adversity. Something that rises above the current moment, however difficult it is, and gets back in touch with the universal consciousness,” Jaffe said.
With honest, reflective lyrics and a hypnotic reggae sway, Jaffe and Rose triumph with “Promises” as a fitting theme song for our turbulent political and social times. The track serves as the duo’s second dynamic collaboration since the divine, glistening “Elohim” with Shimshai in 2015 for Jaffe’s Dub Mantra Sangha album.
“Mykal Rose has always been one of my longtime heroes of reggae music. We have a mutual friend named Siah who is his guitar player and produces some of his songs. Mykal is a true legend; rocksteady in the studio and always pushing everyone to capture their best possible take. It was a true blessing,” Jaffe said.
Lily Milo delicately reveals the hidden sides of her heart.
The Ann Arbor indie folk singer-songwriter shares an intimate, poetic journey of self-discovery while navigating between life’s light and dark emotions on Stars Go Out.
“This is the first thing that I’ve ever put out. I’ve wanted to work on music for a really long time. A couple of years ago, I just sat down and said, ‘All right, if you’re gonna do it, then you’re gonna make some music,’ and it’s been awesome,” said Milo, who released the project in September.
Throughout her raw, authentic debut EP, Milo beautifully explores uncharted territories of the soul across six poignant, reflective tracks that uncover internal strength and wisdom. Each Stars Go Out song provides an intense, heartfelt outpouring of emotion from past thoughts, experiences and relationships.
“Most of them are personal. ‘Sandcastles’ is about a friend who passed away. The other ones are feelings that I’ve had and worked through, and part of the reason why it seems like a strange moody mix from the heart is because it’s all very much from the heart,” Milo said.