In keeping with Fourth of July spirit, we figured it’d be swell to get an artist’s take on life in contemporary America, or what the hell the Fourth means to them, or something like that. So we asked a sundry cast of performers playing the TasteFest to offer up their humble opinions, and the results (from those who nailed the deadline) were often impassioned and articulate, angry and, oddly, serious.
Whit Hill and the Postcards
An exceptional (yes, exceptional) Ann Arbor-based singer/songwriter (no need to insert yawn here) with the rare ability to intone narrative-driven stories with empathy and pathos, with wit and guts. In fact, her album We Are Here was one of last year’s overlooked gems, and not just here but everywhere.
“If America were my dog I would work on her socialization skills. I would expose her to all kinds of people and all the other dog/countries — you know, just drown her in difference — until she could coexist happily in just about any situation. I would expect her to protect me, but only from my proven enemies. No fang-bearing bullying would be tolerated. I would be a firm task-mistress. If America were my child, I would give her plenty to eat, teach her to dance, let her bang on drums, loud. I’d teach her to work hard, save her money and give it away. By my example, she would respect others. My America-child would swim in clean lakes and oceans. And she would play nicely with all the other child/countries and together they would plan and implement wondrous projects. I would be proud. If America were my mother I’d call for her in the night and trust the answer to come. I would be a good child to my mother/country.”
But America is none of these things to me. She is my sweet, runaway train for whom my heart breaks fresh every day. Don’t think I’ll not fight.”
To most, the Spinners were the soul group in the early ’70s, one that left a long, gilded trail of hit singles and smash albums. Still kicking it too, as a live sensation long on sing/song dance medleys that can revive even the most droopy-eyed music fan. The cavernous-voiced Jackson has been crooning the low end with the Spinners since day one, since performing at area teen dances way back in the McCarthy era.
“What do I think about life in America? It’s the best place to be on earth. You have freedom of speech, freedom of movement … freedom to do anything you want.
“A lot of people can say a lot of bold things in America. I’m really thankful that I’m an American and I’ll do anything I have to do to defend it. It’s my home.”
The Spinners play the main stage in the Fisher Building parking lot on Monday, July 5, at 3 p.m. with the Romantics.
Back In Spades
Word is there is mucho major label salivating over Back in Spades, a quartet that has, in the last six months, improved exponentially — the timid deportment common to baby bands has been usurped with actual verve and a swelling, hook-filled songwriting base. Genetically sound guitarist Jackson Smith is slithering into his role of Guitar Hero with ease, cigarette intact. And singer/guitarist Palmer’s vocal command can now carry a proper rock show.
“As Americans we have the power to change our country, as a Free People we must endure and avow our freedoms. Among our ‘elevated risks’ is one of becoming divided as a result of remaining silent, scared or apathetic. United, we can wield the power of a vote. We can participate in authentic ‘patriot acts’ such as: demanding an end to an illogical war, questioning the actions of reigning administrations and keeping an eye on legislation that threatens the freedom of all Americans. This Fourth of July, remember: The most important day this year is the second of November.”
One-man busker/blues dynamo Jawbone is a stand-up, erudite dude whose multi-instrumental show is gushed over in, of all places, the UK (go figure).
“A Hamtramck Fourth: Long straight lines of gray smoke from bottle rockets fired down the street hang in the still, hot night like the trails of fighter jets. A beat-up Buick Regency comes slowly down the street, windows open, blaring Aerosmith, looking for a place to park on the car-crammed one-way. The driver stops, then backs up, trying for the small spot just across and over. Nope. Too sharp an angle. He pulls forward, backs up, and tries again. No dice. The passenger door opens, the rider spills out drunkenly onto the curbside. Leaning back and flush-faced, laughing, he’s yelling, ‘Pull up … up … Keep going. Now come back … cut it! Cut … no! Other way, other way!’ (Talk about thangs and no-body cay-uz!) On his back now, in hysterics, pulling grass, still trying to direct, ‘Keep coming! Back … back … hold it!’ He yells, holding up his hand flat, palm glowing red in the brake lights. Smiling hard, he gives the OK sign. The engine cuts. ‘Perfect!’ he shouts, digging in his pocket for a cigarette. And it was.”
Blair, a poet, songwriter and activist who, along with the Urban Folk Collective, has been kicking in the Cass for a number of years, skillfully interpolating downbeat hip hop, jazz and folk fare with sculptural urban poetics. The live show is swell too, as evidenced by successful touring schedules.
“As a black, gay dude living in Detroit, I feel lucky to be able to even eke out a living as an artist. I have conflicted admiration for ‘the land of opportunity’ in general and a deep respect for this city in particular.
“In 2004, we still possess the need for affirmative action to ensure the fair integration of women and ‘minorities’ into workplaces and universities, etc. …
“And personally, I’m not even interested in the institution of marriage. Yet, with 1,069 socioeconomic advantages, to deny gays and lesbians the right relegates us to second-class citizenship.
“Reagan (ding-dong the witch is dead) reopened attacks on the rights of gays, women, blacks and unions in a big way and every president since has continued. I consider myself neither a Democrat nor a Republican but an internationalist. The majority of the world is opposed to the current U.S military mobilization. Just last week, AFSCME and SEIU national conventions both passed resolutions against the war in Iraq. Bush and Blair (no relation) show no regard, but we should continue to strike and demonstrate to have our independent voices heard … Peace, love and struggle.”
Urban Folk Collective appears on the FitnessWorks Park Stage on Sunday, July 4, at 9 p.m. with Ryan Powell, Joe Shaw Trio and the Deadstring Brothers.
What can be said? Since discovering the blues back in ’86, Davis has a soul-deep, eyebrow-singeing voice that erupts straight from the gut. It’s a crime — just ask anybody who’s seen her — that she isn’t more appreciated.
“In the wake of one of the largest, most spectacular celebrations for this country’s birthday in Detroit, I’m reminded that we live in the worst of times and the best of times. It saddens me to hear about the nine people injured by a stupid individual’s act of violence during the fireworks celebration last week at Hart Plaza. I pray for all those immediately involved — especially the young man who did the shooting. I feel that incident is the perfect example of the current state of America. While we celebrate our freedom here in the United States, let’s not forget there are others all over the world who are not yet free. And there are those who are attempting to shoot us down to take our freedom. We have to realize that the war being fought overseas is the same war we’re fighting right here. Innocent people being shot down over some unknown stupid reason is the same as a terrorist in Iraq blowing up a school bus in the name of God. We must remember that violence is not the way to defeat violence. The only way to be truly free is to start loving and respecting one another no matter what color, religion or sex. We are all a part of God’s creation. So in God’s name, let’s start loving.”
Thornetta Davis performs with the Sun Messengers Thursday, July 1, at 7 and 8:30 p.m. on the Jazz and Blues stage (West Grand Boulevard at Cass).
Troy Gregory and the Step Sisters
Gregory’s abstruse knowledge of music and galvanic abilities as a frontman make for a worthwhile rock ’n’ roll show, whether it’s with the imperishable Witches or this comely backing trio.
“Welcome to America … shop until you drop. We need a funky president. (People, it’s bad.) Wars will now have to be settled by the world leaders themselves in a caged match over a piranha tank with nail guns and poisonous hockey sticks. World War III, it’s not for you, me or anybody … but someone will make a hell of a lot of money off of it. Corporate death is real … can you help a fellow American down on his luck? Hit the road!”
T.G. & the Step Sisters appear on the FitnessWorks Park Stage on Thursday, July 1, at 9 p.m. with Thunderbirds Are Now!, the Avatars and Billy West.
The Dollfaces are but kids — floppy-fringed rock stars roaming their high school hallways — whose ears are bent into gainful shapes by rock ’n’ roll’s past, as their speedily improving brand of racket shows. And they’ve got attitude.
“The Greatest essay in the world. ‘Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly aging. …’ —Bob Dylan
“One of the key problems with our country is the inability to change our minds and form new opinions. The days of persecuting an individual based on race, religion and sexual orientation should be behind us. It’s been decades since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and yet discrimination of all kinds still lingers on our shores. What does it matter to me if my next door neighbor is black or white, gay or straight? How does it affect my life at all? Why do we concern ourselves with such issues when there are greater problems facing the general populace? Problems such as disease, war and the environment. If we all had a basic amount of respect for each other as human beings, and for the way others live their lives, we’d be much better off and some of these problems could even get solved”
The TasteFest runs from Thursday, July 1, through Monday, July 5, in Detroit’s New Center area (West Grand Boulevard between Woodward Avenue and the Lodge Freeway). For info call 313-340-3680, or visit www.tastefest.com.Send comments to [email protected]