What is SeMi Bluegrass? It's a meeting place where live music fans in Southeast Michigan gather to exchange information about the live music scene: show reviews, cool venues, band profiles, product reviews and more.
Articles, news, reviews and band profiles welcome.
Email to: SeMiBluegrass@gmail.com

If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Monday, June 27, 2016

Ridiculously Cool--The Native Howl and The Ragbirds at CAD Studios.

The People.  Music People.  The Best People.
As I have said repeatedly, when it comes to live, local music in South East Michigan it is all about the people, the places and the music (and always in that order).   So, while I have worked very hard in this blog to bring some incredible live music experiences to my readers, I am continually awed by the places I have been introduced to and humbled by the new friends I have made in my musical journeys.  No where was this more evident that last night, in a converted heating and cooling workshop where two of the very finest "Semibluegrass" bands around met for the first time in front of a tiny, select audience of family, fans and friends to create a uniquely meaningful and transcendent musical experience.

This Guy!
This "Intimate Evening of Music" was the brainchild of master-promoter and kindred spirit Don Kanners.  In semi-retirement from his past, less-fun-but-more-profitable career, Don has  totally immersed himself in the live, local, southeast Michigan music scene with his management, promotions and booking company, Music Movers LLC.  There is something special about each of the four up-and-coming bands Kanners has assembled.  The Native Howl, the Gasoline Gypsies, the Tom Toms and Off the Ledge are all likeable, listenable and eminently talented...and Don finds ways to put them in the public eye every day.  Don keeps the bands busy with the expected bar gigs, showcase shows and festival appearances, but he also works tirelessly to expand the bands' reach into other venues--appearances on TV news shows, radio appearances and special, one-of-a-kind events.  His boundless enthusiasm for live music is exceeded only by his professionalism, creativity and dedication to clients.  The world would be a whole lot better place if there were more of him around.

"Intimate" doesn't even start to describe it...
Five or six years ago, Don, a self-professed "classic rocker", was none-the-less gobsmacked by Ann Arbor's quintessentially hip and impossible to define global groove band The Ragbirds and came up with the hare-brained idea of booking them to play a "private" show for a small crowd.  Enter Native Howl frontman Alex Holycross'  Clean As Dirt (CAD) Studios (Click the link for a cool article from MuseTracks--something else terribly cool you should know about!)  This mystic musical retreat was created to honor Alex's father from the bones of his defunct heating and cooling business.  More than just a state-of-the art recording studio, CAD is a place where musician's gather to share ideas and try things out in a judgement free zone; where differences fade and friends become family through shared interests; where the pursuit of dreams means more than resumes or college degrees; and where--with just a little nudge--magic still lives in our world.   It was into this ephemeral setting that Don invited the Ragbirds who admitted "we had no idea what to expect"--and later thanked the Native Howl and Don for "inviting us into your family".

The Native Howl's "ThrashGrass Rhythm Section"
And what a family this was.  There were, I believe, only 32 tickets sold to this event on an invite-only basis.  Friends and fans alike, this was truly a musical family--relaxing and socializing over beer, wine and fantastic appetizers (courtesy, I think, of Alex's mother) before the show, and then settling in for an intense listening experience (oddly reminiscent of Johnny's Speakeasy in that regard).  The night opened with the Native Howl in a stripped down, "Thrash Grass" configuration-- with Drummer Joshua LeMieux unexpectedly picking up the guitar instead of his usual drum kit--a huge gamble that obviously took a LOT of hard work on this young man's part--and he pulled it off flawlessly!  They've still got a way to go to be "bluegrass", but it was pure "Semibluegrass" for sure!

Family Means a Lot to the Ragbirds As Well.
Through the genius of Don Kanners, neither band had ever heard the other play and had no idea what to expect.  As a testament to the talent in both bands, I watched them grooving on each others'  music throughout both sets.  The Native Howl played some of their signature "ThrashGrass", but also dug deep for some older, melodic tunes and less familiar material.  On their part, the Ragbirds also stripped their stage show down to present some spectacular new material from their new album "The Threshold and the Hearth" and some classic rhythm-addicted Ragbirds jams.  What can I say about the Ragbirds that I haven't said here or here before.  The band just embodies so much of what attracts me to local, roots music and the people who play it.    Fronting the band is Erin Zindle, a powerful songwriter, fearless and unabashedly willing to bare her soul, and put her feelings--both light and dark--on display to connect the crowd to a deeper truth.  Family plays an important role in the band as well...not only in the stories of love, loss and relationships their songs tell, but right out in front, with Erin fronting a band that contains her brother TJ on guitar and husband Randall Moore on percussion.  You get the sense that John Brown on drums and Dan Jones on bass are no strangers to the dinner table at the Zindle/Moore house either.   A true stand-out of the night was  Brown's work on the Cajon.  With lightning fast hands and a subtle touch, he was able to bring that box alive--booming, sizzling and snapping like the full-blown drum kit he normally plays.  It was an absolute clinic in how drums should be played in an acoustic setting--perfection.

In a moment of pure spontaneous genius, Erin sat in with the Howl for a tune, and they returned the favor having Alex sit in on the Stealers Wheel classic "Stuck in the Middle with You".  It was inspiring to watch them figure each other out and then throw themselves completely into something unfamiliar, yet somehow as comfortable as a favorite tee shirt (probably a tie-dyed tee shirt with this group).   All in all, an amazing night of music and fellowship--both on stage and in the audience..  I was so enthralled and enraptured by what was going down that  I completely forgot to take notes.  Luckily, Gasoline Gypsy and Native Howl Super Fan Jack Hunger posted a great description of the show on his Facebook page.  With his permission, I've copied some of it below; as he managed to capture  the spirit of the evening better than I ever could have.

"The Howl set began, by taking percussionist Joshua LeMieux out of his normal double drumming role and had him tickling six strings. Accentuating more Grass than Thrash for this intimate set, the move was private and personal, and a romantic testimony to LeMieux's passion and dedication to his art. Not his instrument of choice, Josh worked to make tonight work, and that work, certainly paid off in spades.

The highlight of the Native Howl set was a rarely played in public duet of Holycross and Jake Sawicki, called The Vast Divide, a soul searching look at struggling with loss. The entire audience was moved to tears. It was raw, emotional and real. It only could have happened on this night, in this room. An 'oh wow," hush followed that song, as we all gathered our hearts. Jake broke the silence with, "we're gonna do something a little happier now," and an audience giggle, and a Mark Chandler bass solo later, heads were bobbing, and hands were clapping again. It was like the grandest of roller coaster rides.

Erin Zindle, the 5 foot nothing (but with a gigantic presence) bundle of fiddling energy that fronts the Ragbirds said it best, "We booked this house party-studio thing, not knowing what to expect. Sometimes special happens. Alex talked earlier about family. Thank you for inviting us into your family."

And The Ragbirds delivered.  Like The Howl, the original music of The Ragbirds defies traditional definitions. Obvious bluegrass roots, are fed with clever and folksy lyrics, that tell tales of overcoming challenges, and negotiating life and love. Theirs is music of hope. Ms. Zindle's voice is angelic, her violin can be both a fiddle and a classical orchestra instrument. She moved about the small stage like a sprite, sprinkling happiness around the room. Intricate rhythms from a team of percussionists and rock solid guitar work from Erin's brother, TJ invoked wisps of a subtle Grateful Dead influence

The brilliant meeting of The Native Howl, and The Ragbirds, two bands who had yet to be together before this night, was arranged by Don Kanners of Music Movers, LLC, who promotes The Howl, and had become a fan of The Ragbirds, after hearing the Ann Arbor family five-some a few years back. "It was a match that just made sense to me," Kanners noted. "their styles are definitely different, but I knew they'd mesh."

Perhaps, the only thing that could have eclipsed that magic that was the music on this night, would be the size of the biggest smile ever seen on a human face as Alex sat in on an encore song with the Ragbirds. They covered "Stuck in the Middle with You."

Alex, all of us certainly are proud of you. And what was the magic that you made in that room, proves somebody else was looking down, and beaming about his boy, as well.

So, if it ever comes up, and someone asks this guy, where were you when you had your greatest live music experience? I'd say, Leonard, Michigan. With The Native Howl, and The Ragbirds. You just can't top that!"                

                         ~Jack Hunger

 Random Photos from the evening below.   Feel free to tag, post and share, with credit to SemiBluegrass.com.  Subscribe to this blog for more exciting show reviews, or follow us on facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your source for information about the Southeast Michigan (SeMi) Live Music Scene. News, Venues, Reviews...a community about us, for us and by us. Please consider contributing an article: semibluegrass@gmail.com