Ann Arbor roots
Now that bands from Washtenaw County are once again getting heard around the region and the country, let's think back to the last time that happened, in the 1970s. Clubs like Mr. Flood's Party on Liberty hosted quite a few performers who've gone on to make a living in music in one way or another and who helped create the high level of roots musicianship that's responsible for the current efflorescence. Among the popular acts in Ann Arbor in those days was Trees, the duo of Lindsay Tomasic and Jesse Fitzpatrick, Yoopers both, who took to Ann Arbor immediately. The two women appeared weekly on Sundays at Mr. Flood's Party for nearly five years and played wherever else they could, including Nickels Arcade with open guitar cases. So it might be that hearing their music could tell you a bit about our town.
You'll have the chance when they appear (with multi-instrumentalist Dave Pearlman) at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth on Airport Blvd. on November 19, having gone their separate ways in the 1980s and then reunited after twenty years by demand from people who missed their shows. They've released two new albums filled with songs sung in harmony, mostly about finding spirituality in nature or in traditional cultures or about perfectible love that is not a battlefield but a kind of spirituality in itself.
You could say that these songs take you back to the 1970s with their mellow grooves, but only rarely did the audiences of the 1970s have it so good. Most of the compositions are Tomasic's, and they're consistently strong. Her songs of relationships are positive, warm, and subtle, and those about nature include passionate pleas to save the environment that will stick with you for a while. And Trees' music has (and had back in the day) the quality of appealing equally to women's music fans and general audiences, something that even twenty years after the Indigo Girls isn't terribly common.
I moved to Ann Arbor in 1988, a year after Trees first called it quits. The town has been through boom and bust and has changed tremendously, but I like to think it still has the kind of idealism that Trees represents, innocent in the best sense. What goes around comes around, and the young songwriters who are proliferating at summer festivals and coffeehouses are Trees' branches.
[Originally published in November, 2011.]