Two years ago, TJ Zindle discovered an unexpected clarity.
With a quiet mind and a fresh creative spark, the Ann Arbor indie-rock artist and guitarist immersed himself in a pandemic-induced songwriting retreat.
“The first couple of months during the shutdown everything felt clear. All the noise was gone, and I was just writing a ton. A lot of it was about mental health stuff and trying to figure that out … because all of sudden, I had time to think,” said Zindle, who’s also a vocalist-guitarist with Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.
“The hum of life was gone for a bit, and I wrote about 45-50 songs for this record. I also have another record coming out later this year with some friends from another band.”
Those sessions produced Now Let Go, Zindle’s first new album since 2017’s Hold On with All Your Might. Filled with nine insightful tracks, it features an emotive narrative chronicling personal and societal reflections on life, growth and change.
“I’m at the point where it’s not so difficult to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m a real fucking musician,’ which is something that I had never felt like all my life. We all fight that imposter syndrome … we’re all there, every single human,” he said.
“But to be like, ‘I made a pretty damn good record on my own,’ and I got a lot of stuff out … I honestly know I did my best, and it was just me. There was just a lot of power in that.”
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.”
Mark Lavengood will bring warm down-home holiday sounds to Ann Arbor this weekend.
The Grand Rapids bluegrass roots vocalist and multi-instrumentalist will join a star-studded lineup of Michigan artists and musicians for the 12th annual “The Ebird & Friends Holiday Show” tonight, Friday and Saturday at The Ark.
“I’ve done it two other years. I love Erin so much, that production is one of the most pro things I think I’ve been a part of, and it’s just always a good time, and I’m always honored to be invited back,” Lavengood said. “I get to lead some, and I get to back other people who play the instruments. It’s just a great hang, the community comes out in droves, and there really isn’t a show like it anywhere.”
As an established touring artist and musician, Lavengood regularly shares his resonant energy with spirited crowds from Michigan to Colorado. He eloquently combines folk, bluegrass and Americana with bandmates Justin Avdek (bass), Dutcher Snedeker (keys), Justin Wierenga (guitar) and Loren Kranz (drums) on stage and in the studio for a growing catalog of bluegrass roots singles and albums.
With an expansive musical palate, Lavengood adds delectable instrumental flavors of dobro, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, drums and percussion to assemble an appetizing eclectic sound for fans nationwide.
“I’m fleshing out a lot of songs that I been sitting on over the years, and I love playing the music, but at the same time, I like getting the ideas out and then bringing a band into the studio and tracking it that way,” Lavengood said. “There’s a lot of magic you get when you have a bunch of different minds in one space serving a song together.”
The Ann Arbor infectious global groove group has taken flight with a new band moniker and migrated toward new music wrapped in breathtaking melodies, vocal harmonies and improvisational elements.
Previously known as The Ragbirds, the quartet of Erin Zindle (vocals, violin, mandolin, accordion, banjo), TJ Zindle (electric/acoustic guitar, vocals), Shannon Wade (bass, vocals) and Loren Kranz (drums, vocals) is now Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.
“The name change sends a very clear message that this is different from what we’ve done before. This is different enough that we feel like it needs a new name,” said Zindle, who formed the band in 2005. “Also, there’s the sense of me stepping up and really taking ownership of the role that I have played in the band this whole time. My bandmates are just so amazing. I’m so proud of my band right now, and they’re the best guys I could possibly ask to work with.”
Throughout the band’s 14-year history, Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds have maintained a passionate grassroots fan base by continually reinventing themselves with an evolving sound while remaining rooted in the high-energy sphere of world-based folk rock. Today, they’ve shifted their sound to include more melodic components along with uplifting vocals, edgy guitars and groovy rhythms.
“We have less going on in the percussive world, and in the rhythm section, it’s a little less busy. And it’s interesting how that happened at the same time as I was having this natural shift toward developing my voice and stepping forward as a singer and writing songs with stronger melodies as I improve as a songwriter,” Zindle said. “I’m just getting much more honed in my craft so that I can write songs that are more vocal forward and focus on the melodic elements.”