Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Vial told us his new album was recorded over the course of three days in a cabin in northern Michigan.
Jay Jylkka


It isn’t often you hear of an aspiring musician being encouraged to give up their day job - you know, the one that pays - and plunge head first into that musical career.

But Ann Arbor-based singer-songwriter Mike Vial was given that push as sort of a wedding gift from his wife Natalie Burg. She told him she wouldn’t marry him unless he quit his job as a teacher to follow his musical dreams.

That was five years ago. Since then, Vial has played hundreds of gigs across the United States and Canada.

Now he’s out with his fourth release: A World That’s Bigger.

What gives you solace?

Maybe it's a hot cup of tea and a good book. Maybe it's a stroll through the woods on an autumn day.

Or maybe it's cat videos. Lots of cat videos.  

What gives us solace is knowing that we have thoughtful, curious listeners who send us great questions, including one from a listener who wanted to know if "solace" can be modified by "some"?

That is, can you take some solace or do you have to take it all?

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“I was listening to Michigan Radio and I heard about this beer tax being debated,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said as she poured rye into a stainless steel mixing cup for a cocktail. “That tax has a little bit to do with the cocktail I chose today,” Coxen said.

It’s called the sawbuck, which is an antiquated term for a ten dollar bill. If the bill passes, ten dollars would not quite cover the increased tax on a keg of beer.

Contemporary opera premieres in the Upper Peninsula

Sep 30, 2016

Last summer, we met Eugene Birman and Scott Diel on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. They were working on their newest opera called State of the Union.

With almost everything Birman and Diel have attempted to do, they've tried to ask themselves, "Why does it have to be this way? Can it be different?"

Eugene Birman says in most cases, other people have responded, "Well, yeah, I guess it can be.”

Photos: The River Street Anthology

Sep 30, 2016
Doug Coombe

Ypsilanti songwriter Matt Jones’ extensive River Street Anthology of Michigan music had very humble beginnings. Inspired by Saturday Looks Good to Me front man Fred Thomas’ 2006 Ypsilanti compilation, Jones set out to do a Volume 2.

Within an hour after making a Facebook post seeking musicians on February 6, 2015, his little 10 to 15 person compilation quickly had more than 60 artists lined up.

Cemetery graves overgrown with weeds.
Amy Goldman / Friends of B'nai David Cemetery

If you drive Van Dyke on Detroit’s east side, you could easily miss B’nai David Cemetery. It sits on a little hill up off the road, its rows of 1,300 plots tightly spaced.

The gravestones are carved in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. Some look like tree trunks that have been cut short, symbols of lives that ended too soon.

A few years ago, you wouldn’t even have been able to see some of the stones. The weeds had grown tall. Urns had been stolen. Some of the headstones toppled.

Courtesy of Barney Ales


You’ve surely heard many stories about Motown over the years. Stories of its stars or of the ambitious Berry Gordy Jr. using an $800 family loan to build one of the most impactful record labels anywhere.

But there’s a side to the Motown we haven’t heard much about until now: the business side. The entrepreneurial spirit, the hard work and the hustle to “get the records played and the company paid.”

Sam Kadi

For most of us, our view of the bloody civil war in Syria is limited to snippets of video seen on network or cable news.

But a new documentary film gives us a staggering inside view of the Syrian Revolution.

Hystopia, the first novel of acclaimed Michigan short story writer David Means, is a complex book built around a simple question: what can we do about the trauma that war inflicts on our veterans?  

“We’re profiting off of it,” Ramsdell said. “The minerals are going into the products that we’re living off of and benefiting off of, and the Congolese people are left with a country that has been wracked with war for almost 20-plus years.”
screengrab of When Elephants Fight


A country that is one of the most mineral-rich in the world is also one of the world's poorest nations.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been rocked by war in recent years, and although the war is over, the conflict and suffering have yet to end.

A Michigan-based filmmaker is out with a new exploration of how the minerals in our electronic devices are funding the turmoil in that African country.

A few weeks ago, a tweet went viral, because it explained something about adjectives that many people didn’t realize they already knew.


Think about how you would describe someone’s eyes.


Would you describe them as “blue beautiful big eyes"? Probably not. That sounds weird, right?

Courtesy of Zarinah El-Amin Naeem


This coming Sunday brings the fourth annual Headwrap Expo & Fashion Show in Dearborn.

It will feature head wraps from a wide array of cultural and spiritual perspectives.

Courtesy of Kevin Fitzgerald /

On Sunday, there will be more than 300 concerts being held across the United States as part of the event "Concert Across America to End Gun Violence." One of those concerts will be held in Ann Arbor. 

Kevin Fitzgerald is conducting roughly 40 Michigan-based musicians in the show. The goal is to raise awareness and continue a conversation about gun violence in hopes of ultimately finding solutions to what he calls a "major crisis" in our country. 

"We hear the statistics about the young men, but we don't hear the voices of the women who are trying to raise them and do the right thing," Katarina Grosska told us.
screengrab of Never Alone in Detroit

Being a single parent is a tough job. Being a single mother raising a son in one of the nation's most violent cities is really tough. 

Loyola High School in Detroit interviewed more than 100 women who have raised or are raising young men. Many of them said they felt very alone. 

Those interviews eventually took form as a video entitled Never Alone in Detroit. The project was produced by Loyola and funded by the Michigan Council for the Humanities.

Courtesy of Shirley Burke

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in Washington. One of the items on display is a violin that, until now, was in Michigan with Shirley Burke.

Temesgen Hussein of East Lansing with his begena harp.
Ben Foote / Michigan Radio

As part of our Songs from Studio East series we're exploring music that combines both contemporary and traditional music from around the globe.

Today we meet Temesgen Hussein of East Lansing. He was born and raised in Ethiopia. And he’s one of just a few outside that country who plays the begena.

It’s used mainly in religious festivities almost exclusively, but Temesgen is breaking with tradition and introducing the begena to contemporary music.

Jan Worth-Nelson told us that high-quality writing and photography have always been staples of "East Village Magazine."
Courtesy of East Village Magazine

This year marks the 40th anniversary of East Village Magazine.

The nonprofit magazine has been bringing community news to people in Flint since 1976, a labor of love for its founder, the late Gary Custer.

East Village Magazine has hung in there to become one of the nation's oldest community media outlets. 

"Human trafficking has gone underground," Stephanie Sandberg said. "It's gone on to places where you can no longer see it, and so you have to find ways to recognize it in a new way."
Courtesy of Stephanie Sandberg

ArtPrize opens today in Grand Rapids. 

Among the 1,453 artist entries for this year's competition is a play being performed each evening by ADAPT. Theatre Company of Grand Rapids.

The play is Stories in Blue: A Pilgrimage to Heal Human Trafficking.

It's theater, it's an art piece, and it's a social justice campaign.

Stateside 9.20.2016

Sep 20, 2016

Today, we hear how men can work to undo rape culture and combat sexual violence. And, we explore a possible future for our roads: ultra-high performance concrete.

Michele McDonald


Eileen Pollack's new novel, A Perfect Life, took a while to find a publisher.

The book features a postdoctoral research scientist on a quest to uncover a genetic test for the disease that cut short her mother's life. This medical mystery also features a love story between the protagonist, Jane Weiss, and a man who may also carry the disease, adding human drama to the scientific exploration.

Still, the complexities of this plot were sometimes lost on publishers. One even told Pollack that "men don’t read fiction written by women, and women’s book groups don’t want to read something with science in it!"

Cara AnnMarie and Jacléne Wilk in a scene from the film "Liberty's Secret"
Tripp Greene Press

Take a presidential campaign. Mix in a large serving of old-fashioned musicals, and top it off with two women realizing they are in love, and you've got the new film Liberty's Secret.

Andy Kirshner is the writer, composer, director, producer and he has a role in the film, which is having its premiere this Thursday at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. Kirshner is also an associate professor of both music and art & design at the University of Michigan.

The film, which the website describes as "the all-American lesbian movie-musical," tells the story of a struggling presidential campaign fronted by moderate Republican Kenny Weston, who recruits the charismatic Liberty Smith to be his running mate. This singing and dancing preacher's daughter is just what the campaign needs to get back into the race to the White House. That is, until she falls in love with one of the campaign's political consultants, who is a woman.

Christopher Hebert's Angels of Detroit has a rich cast of feckless and out of their time hippies who make their way to Detroit for no good purpose. Hebert is a generous and perceptive writer who gives his characters a long hard look, but his anarchists have a difficult time explaining why blowing up Detroit will lead to something better.

Courtesy of Lynne Golodner

The Next Idea

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and went to school where most of the kids looked like me. During the Jewish holidays, teachers didn't assign work because so many of us were absent. There might have been five or six African-American kids in my high school, and no one wore a hijab in public.

I’ve always been curious about the way other people live. My journey as a journalist and author and writing professor has taken me to find common ground in people different from me. I visited a mosque, attended a candlelight service in a Catholic church in Ireland, and spent a plane ride to Israel having a deep, powerful conversation with a Palestinian man going to see his family. As I developed my writing craft, I continued to seek out stories that showed the similarities in people, the beliefs we share, and the customs we have in common.

Some acronyms have become so common as words, that it’s tough to remember what they stood for in the first place.

We’re talking about words where each letter actually stands for its own word. Instead of saying each word individually, we mash the first letters together and say that instead.

Take scuba, for instance. We don’t call it “scuba” diving because some guy named Steve Scuba invented a cool way to stay under water for a long time.

“Scuba” actually stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

Giant burger in California
Sam Howzit / Flickr -

We asked and you answered. 

In preparation for National Cheeseburger Day on Sunday, September 18th, we asked you about the strangest burger toppings you'd ever had — like olives or a fried egg. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the constants in our series on cocktails is having a Michigan theme. A Detroit bar is offering a new menu of drinks that features Michigan ingredients. Sugar House in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit is offering a Fall Harvest menu which uses Michigan produce and Michigan spirits.

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings arranged a Stateside visit with owner Dave Kwiatkowski and asked him to mix us a drink.

wikimedia user Adbar /

When you hear about the Gates Foundation, the Mott Foundation, or any of the myriad other philanthropic organizations, how do you describe what they do?

Do they give money? Solve problems? Improve conditions?

Is there a downside to throwing money at problems or wielding influence with cash?

Courtesy Photo / Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

Raymond Harvey has become a familiar face in Kalamazoo. He’s been conducting the state’s third largest professional orchestra for 18 years.

For the past two years, Harvey has taught music at an opera center at the University of Houston. In a letter to the orchestra board this week, Harvey said teaching has always been his calling.

Courtesy of 5iveit Entertainment

As part of our series "Minding Michigan," we explore mental health issues in our state.

Today, we introduce you to Patrick Cleland, better known as Rick Chyme.

He’s a rapper from West Michigan who's been collaborating with local artists from around the state and has several project in the works.

Whiting told us Parallel 45 likes to put on plays that most people have probably at least heard of, so there's a sense of familiarity, then "turn things on their heads and give a new perspective to some of these stories."
Parallel 45 Theatre and Melisa McKolay Photography /

Can the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan support a professional theater group that dares to really challenge its audience? Delivering theater "for the adventurous mind," not comfortable, touristy and familiar?

Turns out, the answer is yes.