Backstage Pass: Twisted Pine with a stranger

Sunday, January 28, 2018 - 9:43pm

I met a stranger this Tuesday at The Ark.

Now at my keyboard, I want to make another introduction to you: Here is Backstage Pass, The Daily’s new series where writers share their experiences meeting new people in the setting of Ann Arbor’s arts scene.

At the top of the staircase in this house of folk, I kept an eye out for indicators of an undergraduate female in the line of people ascending the staircase. A girl in a red coat came up to me asking if I was Alex. Easy.

Mariah Scissom, LSA sophomore, joined me for Twisted Pine’s performance at The Ark on “Take A Chance Tuesday,” where non perishable food donations were welcomed in place of ticket fare.

In the prelude to the performance, we talked about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, an album thematically and sequentially linked to the breakups of the band members. I also learned that Mic Fleetwood is a member of Fleetwood Mac, and we agreed Fleetwood Mic would have probably been a less suitable band name. So it felt eerily coincidental that, after this conversation, Twisted Pine’s performance seemed to be love-themed and spoke to bad relationships. The night’s set featured “Bad Boyfriend” — for all of those in the audience who have had a bad boyfriend “or are a bad boyfriend,” said guitarist Rachel Sumner.

While I watched the quartet strum on stage, I thought about how I would confront the unfamiliar task of how to write about music. I’m not well-versed in the language of music — I don’t know how to speak about it — but I believe I know how to engage my ears. I let myself absorb the beats and vibrations from the instruments and vocals, physically feeling the emotion in the music. I really try to listen to the lyrics so they register as words rather than sounds, listening and connecting to the stories that singers vocalize.

I realized that music is another medium, like visual art, to share universal themes, feelings and passions that everyone will experience in some way. In the dim lighting of this music hall, an audience of strangers engaged in communal listening, captivated by the unifying vibrations and vocals of Twisted Pine.

This felt like the right type of place to meet a new person. Art is a good fostering ground for connection. Music and art filled our conversations, and together we shared the experience of enjoying the music. We commented on what we had expected and were surprised by during the breaks between songs, and we laughed at funny commentary from the performers.

Mariah told me she doesn’t really know how to talk about music either. But she helped me out in trying to explain the sounds we experienced.

“It was a little folky, wasn't it?” she said. “But it also kinda had some flair.”

I would say so. Twisted Pine’s website describes the band as a quartet that has progressed from its bluegrass origins, moving “beyond the standard verse-chorus-solo structure of traditional string bands ... (bringing) the enveloping sound and pop hooks of indie music to an acoustic instrumental setting.”

The band brought a good energy that was visible in their group dynamic on stage.

“You could tell they all supported each other ‘cause they would just smile at each other or nod along when someone was doing a solo,” Mariah said. “The whole vibe of the band and the way they interact with each other made it more interesting and more fun.”

The members of Twisted Pine connected with each other and connected in creating music. And being the visual arts lover I am, the visual elements of the performance piqued my curiosity: the color blocking on fiddler Kathleen Parks’s shift dress, Rachel Sumner’s striking resemblance to my cousin, the sway of the bass in Chris Sartori’s grip and Mandolinist Dan Bui’s expression of concentration and passion as he played his instrument.

The performance ended on a familiar note: some Bill Monroe, The Beatles and a warm farewell from Sumner: “Thank you Michigan, we love you!”

Afterward, we walked up Main Street until we broke off at State Theatre. We are both Art History majors, and along the way, we shared our aspirations to forge professional careers in the art world. So, my night ended on an exciting note — high from talking about my passions and dreams. In saying farewell to this stranger that I may not meet again, to this band I may not see again, I took away with me invigorated optimism for the power of art to connect people — strangers and friends alike.