Jason Stewart is currently a student in Ann Arbor pursuing his Master's Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Michigan. Originally from Northern Michigan where he first developed his interest in technology, his interests lie at the intersection of social sciences and computing hardware.
Translation: He is very interested in the interaction that takes place between us and the electronic devices we use.
Jason's website is: http://thunderandwalls.com/
. Shoot him an email and ask him why he calls it Thunder and Walls.
Before moving the area, I knew Ann Arbor as the cultural mecca of Michigan... especially compared to my tiny hometown in Northern Michigan. Being a music lover, and not being able to get tickets to any of the performances of which I really wanted to attend, I decided I should explore the "underground" music scene by visiting a few open mic nights. Being the sort of town that Ann Arbor is, I had a certain expectation as to the type of music and the degree of talent I'd see at these things, but feeling adventurous, hopeful, and broke I decided to explore nonetheless.
As I sat in one of the eleven chairs in the side room at OZ's music shop, the musician sitting next to me, who I would later come to know as Jetty Rae, was biting her lip as a 'colorful' high soprano sang her song "Lady of Liberty." The performance included a number of unexpected tempo as well as tonal variations with various references to how happy this lady was to be a free women.
Of course, this is exactly the type of singing that I expected to hear at an open-mic night in a town such as Ann Arbor, but Jetty Rae seemed surprised, even let down. Lady Liberty’s performance was followed by two high school kids who sang about rubber bands as their mom with purple hair looked on and a guy who admitted we'd be suffering for the next ten minutes as he sang.
Jetty Rae, holding her own hand very tightly looked nervous as her thumbs played leapfrog in her lap. "Good luck," I said as she was getting up to take the stage. "Yeah," she responded. I thought to myself "Ok, good, she’s the last one. Hopefully she’s slightly less 'expected' than the last ones."
She took the stage with only her voice and her guitar, her weapons of choice in the war that I could see was being waged inside of her, but as she started to play it became apparent that those weapons would be all she needed to bring us all to our knees.
Jetty Rae's voice was haunting; not the sort of haunting you feel when you 7 years old and your friend’s parents take you to your first haunted house, but the sort of haunting where you question the limits between this existence and the next and wondering if somehow some of the magic on the other side had seeped into the person you see before you. I could see that those in the other nine chairs around me felt the same way; some with their heads hanging down, eyes closed, soaking in every nuanced allusion to thinking about your place in life; others with their eyes fixed on the stage. I was somewhere in the middle: not sure if I should be thinking about what she’s singing or just enjoying the performance.
At the end of her performance, I expected to look around and see shoulders shrug in unison as the other artists there realized they were way out of their league… but I didn't. Instead, I saw smiles, uplifted spirits, auras of confidence, and halos of grace. Despite her obvious technical, lyrical, and rhythmic superiority, Jetty Rae had managed to do what no other artist had done there that night: inspire. Her singing was incredible, yes, but the real treat that night was witnessing the majesty that a great song can have.
I sat down with Jetty Rae after her performance and asked her about her music, her life in Ann Arbor, and what was on the road that lay ahead:
Me: Where have you been? I’ve been to a number of open mics around A2 and I’ve not seen you at any of them?
Jetty: Actually, I just moved to the Ann Arbor; I just found out what A2 meant yesterday! This is one of the first open mics I’ve been too, but I’m really glad I came, I really want to get more connected to the music community here.
Me: Well places like this a great place to start… Do you have anything recorded? I’d love to hear more of your stuff.
Jetty: Yeah! In fact, I just finished recording my second album in Nashville. It's going to be called "Chasing of the Wind" and will include 13 or 14 new songs. I'm really excited about it, it's just leaps and bounds a head of my first album.
Me: Do you have anything else coming up in Ann Arbor?
Jetty: Yeah! The next thing I think I have coming up is playing at the Crazy Wisdom tea house downtown. Have you ever been there? It sounds like an interesting place.
Me: Yes, I think I got some books there one time. It's a cool venue.
Jetty: I'm really happy I came to Ann Arbor to pursue my music. As an independent artist, it seems like I can only stay in one place for so long before everything starts to become stale. You know what I mean.
Me: Yeah, I can see that. Well Ann Arbor certainly has a number of quality music venues and open mic nights.
Jetty: I’m headed to an open mic night at The Ark sometime next week; I've heard that's an awesome venue, really intimate.
Me: I've been to an open mic night there before… it was a bunch of older guys singing James Taylor songs. I'm sure you'd be a welcome change.
Jetty: Haha, well, I don't know many James Taylor songs, but hopefully I'll be accepted nonetheless.
How much did I like her music? Well, I offered to do her website. You can pre-order Jetty Rae's CD now at jettyrae.com, or become her friend on MySpace at myspace.com/jettyraemusic.
There is a lot of talent in Ann Arbor. Sometimes, you have to dig for it, but it's there. Not just in the universities or in the businesses either; there are talented people just sitting around. You might have seen one of these individuals at your local coffee shop… you know, the guy or girl whom you've seen sitting at that same table before, perhaps many times before, drinking the same low cost beverage while intently focused on their laptop screen in front of them.
Have you every asked one of these individuals what they’re doing?
I took the opportunity to speak to one of these individuals to learn more about this talented pool of people seemingly flying under the radar. Trek Glowacki can be found at Bigby Coffee on East Liberty at pretty much any time during the day on Monday through Friday. Point your nose in the direction of pomegranate tea and look for a black Apple MacBook without a power adapter.
"I never plug in, but I always need to," he admits. Trek is one of the many area software developers who are working on independent projects and using community or business places as their workspaces. For smaller organizations, such as Trek’s "Backtick" company which is comprised of himself and one other individual, it doesn't financial sense to go the traditional business route of renting office space and generating other overhead; his needs are few. If you're a software developer, entrepreneur, and/or "ideator" and would like to get involved in this community, there are a number of monthly events you could attend:
Ann Arbor has a very rich independently inspired technical community; sometimes it just takes a little digging to know find out who they are and how to get involved.
- Coffee House Coders is weekly event where software developers meet at coffee house to talk about ideas and help each other out with technical problems. More information can be found at: http://a2geeks.org/display/geek/coffeehousecoders
- A Python and Ruby user group meets on the first Tuesday from 7-9pm of every month to discuss programming related issues and ideas. Location of this event varies.
- The Coworking Group is another programming interest group that’s been gaining some momentum lately. They meet at 118 S. Main on Wednesdays from 9am to 12pm.