Bemoaning the demise of Ann Arbor music spaces is a favorite pastime, but the fact is there are more than there were five years ago, and the profusion of brewpubs and craft distilleries is a big reason. Many, like Ann Arbor Distilling Co. on Felch, are outside downtown, blending into and serving their neighborhoods. Ann Arbor Distilling Co. hosts winter shows in its small tasting room, but its outdoor patio, partially enclosed by an old Airstream trailer parked perpendicular to the building and an old Coke cooler filled with flowers, is a real standout. In summer there’s music three nights a week—Friday and Saturday to closing at 10 p.m. and Sunday over the dinner hour. A late night out this isn’t.
The music is generally acoustic, and a recurring act this summer has been Harrington Brown, the guitar duo of Michael Harrington and Andrew Brown. Brown is a member of Appleseed Collective, a fixture of the Water Hill Music Fest just a few blocks away, and the gypsy and traditional jazz of nearly a century ago contributes a layer to that band’s music. Here it’s the core. The two players have mastered this sophisticated repertory at a very high level, trading harmonics and unexpected accents and expertly deployed quiet passages in the likes of “Lady Be Good” and the “Minor Swing” of Django Reinhardt, over whose music the pair bonded. There’s a lot of good traditional jazz in Ann Arbor, and the city deserves to be known as some kind of center for it, but you’ll rarely hear it this alert and sharp.
The setting is about as casual as it could be. There are a few big round tables, at which people will join you if you take a seat, plus some picnic tables and a concrete stairway leading to another door of the old factory building. A woman writes in a fat leather-bound diary for a while, then mounts a bicycle and leaves. “This will be our fifth and sixth hour playing gypsy jazz today,” Brown says. The duo has a way of easing into songs, as if finding their feet in them, but also as if to suggest that the roots music beat goes on as it flourishes on Ann Arbor’s periphery, pausing only temporarily.
So have a craft drink, a Water Hill Eau de Vie, maybe. Soak in the music and reflect on the abundant artistry of our town in this perfect little spot. And believe for a moment that all’s right with the world.
Harrington Brown returns to Ann Arbor Distilling Co. Aug. 11 and 17.