From Mars to Makeba

Jun 4, 2008 at 12:00 am

The official kick-off to the summer fest season, the Detroit Festival of the Arts never fails to surprise with its eclectic mix of artists and art forms. There's sidewalk painting on Kirby between Woodward and John R, a 75-ton sand sculpture on Cass Avenue, and Cirque du Soleil-style spectacles on the north lawn of the Detroit Institute of Arts nightly at 9 p.m. from Wise Fool New Mexico. Even former Moby Grape member Peter Lewis (interviewed in this week's music section) will play. You can see the full schedule online at, detailing offerings from Cape Verdean singer-guitarist Tcheka to Italian-American (by birth, but Brazilian in his heart) accordionist Rob Curto. Here are a few more suggestions:

American Mars: What more can we say in these pages about American Mars that we haven't said already? One of the locally based musical units to be appearing at this year's fest, Dave Feeny and his group of fellow musicians create a pure American sound that's as twangy as it is woeful ... but never anything other than irresistible. The group's last LP, Western Sides, was four years in the making — as the band put things on hold while bassist Garth Girard fought cancer. The bass player is, thankfully, well again and back making music with one of Michigan's best units. Friday, 9:30 p.m.; National Music City Café Stage.

Detroit Jazz Orchestra: A titan of Detroit jazz, saxophonist Donald Walden passed away in April at age 69, leaving the feeling that there was so much music yet to be heard from him. His Detroit Jazz Orchestra, 23-strong for this edition, fills some of that void by soldiering on — here under the direction of Walden's peers and sometimes collaborators Marcus Belgrave and Kenn Cox. Inspired by Walden's composition "To Miles With Love," they'll send the love Walden's way by playing a program of his works. Friday, 9:45; Masco/Metro Times Stage.

Teddy Thompson: Family ties are everything. Mr. Thompson is the offspring of the now-divorced legendary folk-rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson (they of the classic Shoot Out the Lights LP fame), but the younger Thompson isn't totally a chip off the old block, despite beginning his career as a touring musician with Pop Thompson's band. There's a stronger pop sensibility to this London-born, New York-based singer-songwriter's material, and Detroit will undoubtedly be treated to selections from his fourth album, A Piece of What You Need, due from Verve Forecast on June 17. Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Wayne State/WDET Stage.

Raul Malo: His wonderful vocal styling has been compared to both Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley — and, hell, when it comes to rock or ballad singing, it's pretty hard to aim any higher than that. The founding lead singer of the multi-Grammy-winning country-rock-pop band the Mavericks, Malo has been spending more time over the last few years both producing and developing his solo career, blending the Latin rhythms of his Cuban heritage with the pop sounds of the '60s and the deep-twang of country music. But whether he's with the Mavericks or his other rockin' band, the ladies still scream and swoon every time this dude opens his mouth to sing. Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Masco/Metro Times Stage.

Budos Band: Is there a burg in the Western World that doesn't have an Afro-beat band or two. Is this the great underappreciated cultural shift of our time? Is the world being Fela-ized from the ground up? If you've dug our local offerings, Odu and NOMO, you might want to give a listen to one of the NYC bands (Staten Island, to be specific) working their variations on the same root influences out of Nigeria, fertilized by (in this case) Ethiopian pop and heavy metal. Sunday, 5 p.m.; Masco/Metro Times Stage.

Mariam Makeba: Three years after staging her official goodbye tour, Makeba, aka Mama Africa, still spends a little time on the road, including Detroit as one of her two U.S. stops this year. She was a pop-chart topper in the '60s with "Pata Pata," hailed as the next sensation by Time magazine; she became a prominent anti-apartheid activist, and regained the pop world's ear as part of Paul Simon's post-Graceland tour. But for the world beat crowd and those attuned to South African music, she's never been less than a goddess. Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Masco/Metro Times Stage.

Detroit Cultural Center, 4-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday.