Travelers’ Rest Day 2 – The Decemberists Give Exquisite Full Performance of ‘The Crane Wife’

Jenny Conlee performs “The Crane Wife” with The Decemberists at Travelers’ Rest.

There’s something transformative about hearing a band perform an entire album live.

It’s a slightly different interpretation than what’s heard on a turntable, in the car or through a phone.

Some songs become livelier, longer and more emotive while others take on a new identity for fans.

That’s what hit me Sunday night at Travelers’ Rest.

I started photographing The Decemberists when the opening chords of “The Crane Wife 3” rang out from the stage in front of me.

While I tried to concentrate on my shots, I heard the crowd roar with contagious excitement and turned around the see a long line of fans jumping up and down at the barricade at Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Mont. In that moment, I connected with their energy and enthusiasm.

That energy and enthusiasm stemmed from the Portland, Ore., indie rock band’s special performance of their 2006 concept album, “The Crane Wife.”

A special musical treat for those of us who love The Decemberists and cherish the opportunity to hear an entire album front to back LIVE.

In “The Crane Wife,” the album’s storyline focuses on an old Japanese folktale of a poor man who finds an injured crane on his doorstep and nurses it back to health. Once the crane is released, a woman appears on the man’s doorstep, and he instantly falls for her. They quickly marry.

The woman offers to weave beautiful clothes out of silk to help earn money for the couple. At first, the man agrees to never watch his wife make clothes, but forces her weave more as their income grows and becomes oblivious to her declining health.

With a growing income, the man’s greed increases, and one fateful day, he catches a glimpse of her weaving and discovers his wife is an actual crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom. She sees him, flies away and never returns.

“This is only the second time we’ve done one of these full albums through other than ‘Hazards of Love,’ or ‘The Tain,’” said Colin Meloy, frontman for The Decemberists. “I never know whether just to not talk through it just to give you the full album experience or just to ruin the whole experience would be chattering in between, so I’m obviously doing both and neither.”

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The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie Deliver Memorable Travelers’ Rest Day 1

Colin Meloy plays with The Decemberists during the first night of Travelers’ Rest.

Travelers’ Rest may be the best festival for any indie music rock fan – period.

First off, it’s an artist-curated event with The Decemberists at the helm. Who knows how to select a festival lineup better than the artists themselves? No one, I say.

Next, it’s the perfect overall length and amount of music. With two days and start and end times of 3:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. each day, respectively, you get to see nine acts and not have to stay up all night. At times, the three- and four-day festivals are fun, but a bit long in the tooth on hot summer days.

As a bonus, you also get to see ALL the acts if you want. No overlapping artists and schedule conflicts. A music festival goer’s dream!

Thirdly, the festival location and size. Missoula, Mont., is idyllic with its big blue sky and majestic mountains in the distance, yet remote enough to not draw overwhelming crowds compared to festivals in large cities, such as Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Detroit. The Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater has the right-size feel for an outdoor venue that holds up to 5,000 people.

Finally, who wouldn’t want to spend two musically, fun-filled days with The Decemberists and their friends? For me, it’s a bounty of exquisite musicianship and artistry.

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Travelers’ Rest — The Decemberists Host 2-Day Music Festival in Missoula, Mont.

Colin Meloy performs with The Decemberists during the “Your Girl/Your Ghost” tour at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium in May. My friend Rachel provides cowbell support.

Nine years ago, I put in a copy of “The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists in my Volkswagen Beetle’s five-disc CD changer and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t quite what I expected.

After listening to the entire album, I looked over at Brian and shook my head.

He replied to me, “This isn’t our style.”

At that time, we weren’t focused on rock operas and concept albums. We were the curmudgeons of pop, classic rock and power metal.

The Decemberists’ 2009 rock opera album pushed us out of our comfort zones musically, courtesy of my brother Steve. He included the album in a care package of music to hear before attending Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.

The album’s storyline centers on a woman named Margaret who falls in love with a forest dweller named William. Throughout the album, William’s mother and a villain named the Rake bring conflict to the story.

Back then, “Hazards” was one of the first concept albums I had ever heard. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I sure do today.

I greatly appreciate the album and The Decemberists because they’re part of a special group of artists and music that inspired my initial love of concertgoing, vinyl and CD collecting, musical festival-ing (I know, it’s not a real word) and blogging.

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Ypsilanti’s After Hours Radio to Play Homecoming Show Saturday at The Late Station

After Hours Radio knows Ypsilanti, Mich., is the perfect place to end a summer tour.

The progressive, groove-heavy indie rock quartet will end their current 12-date Midwest and East Coast tour with a homecoming show at The Late Station Saturday at 8 p.m.

After starting their tour June 22, band members Nate Erickson (vocals and guitar), Greg Hughes (bass and cello), Jordan Compton (keys and synths) and Mark Dunne (drums) are ready to deliver local fans a memorable and energetic wrap-up show at their own venue.

“We have a fan base out there, and I think that by us going out on tour and coming back by playing a show in our hometown builds a lot of anticipation and excitement in the community,” Dunne said. “We’re well-seasoned by this time, and we’re playing really well together. We want everyone to come out and have a good time.”


After Hours Radio will share their homecoming show with three other artists, including EDM and video game music extraordinaire Vest and Tyler, psychedelic funk rock jam band Trifocal and jazz singer-songwriter Dani Darling. A special “mystery artist” also will be announced the day of the show.

“It’s nice to have it at the tail end versus the beginning because we’ve been sleeping on floors and couches for two weeks straight,” Erickson said. “We want to be able to have a big bash where we can party out late with our friends to really celebrate wrapping it up and just walk nearby to our own beds.”

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Musical Matrimony – FeRn Whale Husband, Wife Duo Bring Meditative Folk Rock to Metro Detroit

Tom and Angela Sheppard of FeRn Whale — photo by Rose Catherine Hohl

As FeRn Whale, Tom and Angela Sheppard are married to the music – and each other.

The Ypsilanti, Mich., husband and wife indie “meditative” folk rock duo started playing together seven years ago in the metro Detroit area and have built a lasting musical and personal partnership.

“We just have totally different roles when we play together so there’s not much of any conflict,” said Tom Sheppard. “Angela does all the writing. I support her writing by coming up with parts to go with it, but she does the singing. I set everything up and carry all the stuff, which I like to do.”

Together, they carry equal parts of FeRn Whale’s musicianship, which includes writing, recording and performing their own material and playing regular gigs at local venues, including Plymouth Rock in Plymouth and Northville Winery and Brewing Company in Northville.

Musical Metamorphosis

Earlier this year, FeRn Whale released their latest single, “Cocoon,” a soothing indie folk rock anthem focused on a personal transformation coinciding with spring’s arrival. They recorded the single on reel-to-reel tape at Royal Grand Studios in Redford last year with producer and friend Mike Bush.

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Thank you, ann arbor’s 107one and John Bommarito

Local radio station, DJ inspire my decade-long musical journey

John Bommarito — Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Thirteen years ago, I flipped the radio dial to 107.1 (WQKL-FM) in my car and haven’t stopped listening to the Ann Arbor-based station that helped lay the initial foundation for my musical journey.

Listening to the station was a nice distraction while driving to and from my MBA classes at Eastern Michigan University. For a few minutes, I could forget about exams, papers and group projects that temporarily consumed my life and focus on hearing new music instead.

Known as “ann arbor’s 107one,” the station introduced me to Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Gomez, Spoon, Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, The Alternate Routes, Colbie Caillat, My Morning Jacket, The Shins, Scars on 45 and others. I slowly built up my CD collection and my musical knowledge because of that station.

By 2008, I had finished grad school and started commuting to Jackson for work five days a week. That allowed me to listen to ann arbor’s 107one about two hours a day. Each day, I looked forward to hearing Martin Bandyke and John Bommarito share their thoughts about different artists between songs.

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Buzzworthy — Honey Monsoon Drenches Detroit in Jazz-inspired Indie Rock

Honey Monsoon at Ann Arbor’s Om of Medicine in February. Top row from left: Taylor Greenhields, Ana Gomulka and Ian Griffiths. Bottom row from left: Andrea Holther-Cruz and Leo James Willer.
For Honey Monsoon, the sweet sounds of jazz-inspired indie rock, neo soul and funk are dripping heavily throughout metro Detroit’s music scene.

The Detroit-based quintet are spreading the nectar of the Motor City’s burgeoning jazz indie rock scene at clubs like The Blind Pig and Om of Medicine in Ann Arbor, The Loving Touch in Ferndale, the Plymouth Roc in Plymouth, the Tangent Gallery in Detroit and The Loft in Lansing.

Together, Ana Gomulka (music, lyrics, vocals, guitar and keys), Taylor Greenshields (drums and percussion), Ian Griffiths (bass and vocals), Andrea Holther-Cruz (keys and vocals) and Leo James Willer (live painting) are introducing their talents to a growing Motor City audience.

Gomulka attributes the band’s smooth sound to their longtime love of past and present jazz, soul and funk singers and musicians, including Esperanza Spalding, Sharon Jones, Kneebody and Hiatus Kaiyote.

“When we first started this band, I don’t think any of us were like let’s make jazzy music. When I was young, I grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan because that’s what my parents played,” she said. “So when I sang people would be like, ‘Oh you sound like Sarah Vaughan or something like that.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t even trying to sound like her.’ I think that’s where our jazzy sound comes from. It’s just what comes out.”

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