Culture Calendar: Shortly’s Debut Album, a New Opera, & More

Ryan Patrick Hooper, host of ’CultureShift’ on 101.9 WDET, curates your guide to the month in arts and entertainment
blue - new opera - aretha franklin amphitheatre
Blue, coming this month to the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, could be the opera that wins over opera skeptics. // Image courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre

Fresh opera on the Riverfront

Michigan Opera Theatre has become a must-watch arts institution since it landed Yuval Sharon as its artistic director, shaking up both what it stages — and where. The company that brought drive-thru opera to a downtown parking garage amid a global pandemic is now bringing a ground-breaking production of Blue to the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre this month. This “evocative opera that centers on the complex and nuanced struggle of being Black in America” was inspired by the writings of James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates and by the stories of regular people going about their daily lives. The score was written by theatrical composer Jeanine Tesori, whose work for Broadway’s phenomenal Fun Home is still stuck in my head (maybe you caught that show when it made a stop at the Fisher Theatre). If opera has felt inaccessible and not current enough for you, Blue could be the production that changes your mind about the
art form.
$29+. Sept. 11 and 12. Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, 2600 Atwater St., Detroit;

Atlanta’s Faye Webster hits El Club

This is the first touring act I’ve ever included in this column, and for good reason. I couldn’t be more thrilled to catch Atlanta’s Faye Webster at El Club in southwest Detroit. Her latest album, I Know I’m Funny haha, was a critical darling, perfectly blending an indie-rock sensibility with that country twang that seems to permeate multiple genres these days. If you’re into the self-doubt, heartbreak, and wit of Phoebe Bridgers, you’ll adore Webster. See you there! $19. Sept. 13. El Club, 4114 W. Vernor Highway, Detroit;

Shortly’s new album, Dancer, is due to drop Sept. 24 on Triple Crown Records. // Album artwork courtesy of Shortly

A debut album by Detroit’s Shortly reveals an artist on the rise

There’s incredible authority in the voice of Shortly (the latest project from Detroit’s Alexandria Maniak) and how they introduce themselves in the opening line of “Science,” the lead single from their debut album, Dancer. “I think I am hopeless,” they croon over a gentle, country-tinged guitar, as a thumping bass drum joins in to carry the momentum of the song forward. By the time you reach the chorus, they’ve gone full existential with the lyrics, singing, “Who am I? / Who are you?” Dancer is out this month on Triple Crown Records. It leaves little doubt that Maniak has evolved as a musician in just the short time since last year’s single, “I Want My Book Back,” with a more confident voice and a stronger songwriting ability now fully on display. Check them out live at El Club in southwest Detroit on Nov. 27. Stream Shortly’s debut album, Dancer, wherever you get your music. Click here for more. 

Must-see side gig during the Detroit Jazz Festival

I can think of two saxophonists (and there are surely more) who can bend the sound of a sax to their will and ultimately into something completely new, psychedelic, compelling — something that doesn’t sound like a saxophone. One of those people is James Carter, who you should make a point of catching the next time he plays his hometown of Detroit. The other is De’Sean Jones, whose relationship with electronic music in the city (he’s a member of Detroit’s world-renowned Underground Resistance) makes for a compelling combination of sheer jazz power-playing and an electronic music sensibility. While some jazz shows blur into the background, Jones will command your attention, making him a must-see act even alongside an already-stacked Detroit Jazz Festival lineup. (Headliners include artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, Abdullah Ibrahim, Anat Cohen, Sean Jones, Kenny Garrett, and Gregory Porter.) The Detroit Jazz Festival runs Sept. 3-6 in downtown Detroit; No cost for admission. Jones will perform Sept. 3-5 at Cliff Bell’s, 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; Tickets are $20.

Ryan Patrick Hooper is the host of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET Detroit’s NPR station (weekdays from noon to 2 p.m.).