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Monday, September 29, 2014

Show Review: Yellow Barn Benefit Concert

Hard to find....but worth the effort!
Somehow, I always knew about the Yellow Barn (http://www.ouryellowbarn.com), but it somehow stayed off my musical radar.  As Ann Arbor's "home for Community Supported Culture", this quirky venue is home to some of the best in live music Ann Arbor has to offer.  So, when a Facebook friend sent me an invite to the Yellow Barn Benefit Concert last Sunday night, I decided it was finally time to show up and see what all the buzz was about.  An impressive lineup of Ann Arbor based musicians helped seal the deal.  I forgot to bring a pencil, so I'm relying on my memory for the review below.  I apologize in advance for any misspellings, omissions or miss-identifications.

The One and Only Alicia Marie
The show kicked off with one of my favorite young blues pickers, Alicia Marie.  Fresh off an appearance at the Detroit Blues Challenge, Alicia once again blew me away with her hard-driving acoustic blues.  A great mix of blues standards and original material keep her show moving right along.  Her soulful voice was perfectly suited to the intimate setting at the yellow barn and certainly added a depth and complexity to her performance.  Later, I saw her sitting and chatting with fellow Ann Arbor blues woman Shari Kane.  Hmmm...now THAT'S a double bill I'd love to see!

Johnny Williams
Next up was Johnny Williams of Johnny's Speakeasy (another Ann Arbor gem that has evaded my music radar--I'll have to do something about that).  With an impressive band drawn from some of the other acts, Johnny's affable charm and quick smile quickly won over the crowd during a quick set of poignant cover tunes and witty original numbers.  His easy harmony with event sponsor Judy Banker were pure bliss.

The Bowdish Brothers
I'd never heard of the Bowdish Brothers before this show, which is remarkable: 1) because they've been around Ann Arbor as long as I have and 2) because they are an excellent band!  Again, a mix of cool covers and original materials, I loved the jazzy guitar solo's one so rarely hears at an acoustic event.  Also some of the best "brother harmony" I've heard (especially from non-brothers).  This band provided one of the memorable moments of the evening, taking time to not only thank Judy and the others who put the event together, but pointing out how important--even essential--spaces like the Yellow Barn are.  Without places like this, there would be nowhere for musicians to gather; no place to share our passion for music; no place to freely exchange ideas...and feelings...and emotions.  They reminded us all to support local, live music.  If we don't, we will lose much more than just another local business.

Judy and her All Star Band
Somehow, between organizing this amazing event, and talking one-on-one to literally everyone in attendance, Judy Banker somehow found time to get up on stage and share some songs of her own.  Backed by Tony Pace on Dobro, David Roof on bass, her band really brought the songs to life.  However, the vocal harmonies and fiddle licks of Greta Mae Barnard were transcendent, filling the barn with lush, rich sounds and entrancing the audience.  This was a special performance for sure.

Michigan Treasure Jay Strielstra
Most of the band stayed on stage for the next performer, legendary Michigan songsmith Jay Stielstra.  It is truly a treat to see Jay perform.  His songs all capture the special pride Michiganders feel for their beloved state.  His songs drip with imagery of nature, fishing and hunting with mentions of pure Michigan landmarks like the Manistee and Tittatbawassee rivers.  The crowd gleefully sang along on the choruses, sometimes nearly drowning out the band.  Tony Pace's work on the dobro was simply perfect, even causing Jay to say "let's here that one again!"

  At one point during the set, Jay momentarily stumbled on the lyrics to a verse, and a couple of the young performers in the back of of the room, piped up and sang the first few bars to him--a touching tribute to his influence on thousands of young performers over the years. 

David Roof Trio
After a brief intermission, David Roof put down the bass and picked up a guitar to perform a quick set of his own original material.  With a groovy bass line and funky rhythm provided by the cajon, these enthusiastic world-rhythm inspired folk-rock songs were refreshingly original, bringing to mind a young Paul McCartney or Paul Simon.  All three members of the band were smiling ear to ear and visibly enjoying themselves...and the crowd was loving it too!

Billy King (More Banjo!)
Next up was Billy King, musician and organizer of Hollerfest each year.  This multi-instrumentalist began the night with an upbeat number featuring his oh-so-cool tenor voice over a rapid-fire, rhythmic guitar strum style that was fresh and remarkably enticing.  He followed up with a quirky cover tune on the 5-string and closed things out with a cool ode to Autumn on the mandolin.  It was patently obvious that he was having just as much fun as the audience was.

Buhalis and Dennie.  Pure Perfection.
Taking the stage next was one of my favorite performers, Chris Buhalis with accompaniment from mandolin master Jason Dennie.  These two cornerstones of the South East Michigan acoustic music scene combined for one of the very best sets I've seen this year.  Chris' haunting vocals combine with Jason's tasteful fills and licks to transport the listener to places of joy and sorrow; tragedy and triumph; love and hate and compassion and all the emotions in between.  Their cover of Woody Guthrie's "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos", framed by the state of immigration and world conflict dominating the news today served as a poignant remider to remember that there are people behind the headlines; people with names; people we should care about.

Closing Out the Night
Closing out the night were Annie & Rod Capps.  With a great band behind them, they kicked things off with a great, upbeat number.  I wish I could have stayed for the end, but...being a school night...I needed to take off and get home.  However, the Yellow Barn has touched a special place in my musical heart and I'll be back.  Soon.  And often!


  1. Thanks so much for the wonderful and thorough review of the event and the photos too!! Just great---thank you!!!

  2. You are more than welcome. This was a fantastic event for a very good cause.

  3. Thanks for coming to the show. It was Brother Gary Munce on bass and great harmony who made the eloquent commentary on our music, our community and the places to relish both.

    Hope to see you again.

    Michael Smith of The Bowdish Brothers


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