Unfurl the umbrella

Back from lockdown, Artist’s Umbrella celebrates its first birthday


FRIDAY, June 26 — In one mad, roller-coaster year, Lansing’s newborn Artist’s Umbrella Collective has already been “there and back again,” to name check Bilbo Baggins.

The neo-cabaret mélange of spoken word, music, dance and assorted obscure arts threw its first live event one year ago, at The Loft in downtown Lansing. Tomorrow, after three months of lockdown, the Umbrella will unfurl again to full glory, with extra ribs, at the same venue, with 15 participating artists and groups.

Friday’s anniversary show will feature poets, singers, dancers, bands, a magician, a drag queen and many other performers.

Artist’s Umbrella founder Brandon Navin built the group’s first event around an appearance by slam poet Neil Hilborn at The Loft in June 2019. Excited that Hilborn was coming, Navin banged the pipes on a network of connections he made as a poet and member of a local band and built a show around Hilborn that attracted more than 70 paying fans.

“I was taken aback,” Navin said. “The shows kept growing. The talent kept growing.”

The group mounted eight shows at The Loft before the COVID-19 outbreak put a stop to live shows in March.

“The Loft went dark and we knew it wasn’t safe to do our show,” Navin said. The group organized two on-line shows, in April and May, with fellow Artist’s Umbrella ribs Allison Spooner, Grace Carras, Roxy Hayes-Brown and Mike Marriott on board.

The shows drew about 70 on-line attendees each. Artist’s Umbrella also spent quarantine time teaming up with area non-profits to raise money for artists who are struggling in the pandemic and shutdown.

When the Artist’s Umbrella team finally got the word they could do a live show again, they jumped at the chance.

Tomorrow’s extravaganza is packed with headliners from previous shows. Storyteller Melik Brown, aka Metro Melik, will afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted with his unique blend of hard truths laced with humor. Also appearing are magician Thyron Lee, poets Native Child Brown and Alexis Littlejohn, the bands Tell Yo Mama and Dedfoot, hula hooper Nat Spinz, beatboxer Tong FX and dance group Scorpion.

Drag performer Aaliyah Tealheart will close both halves of the show, because — well, the spoken word is a strong force, but Tealheart is a very acrobatic and stimulating performer it’s best not to follow.

Navin said the show will be more than a rehash of last year’s glory days. Hayes-Brown, Artist’s Umbrella’s director of arts and production, is adding new visual and sonic touches to the usual warm and inclusive Artist’s Umbrella vibe.

Navin also promised that the evening will be run with the utmost care, and that both venue and promoter would follow or exceed all of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s health guidelines. The tables will be six feet apart. Masks will be mandatory. (Navin has masks stockpiled for those who don’t have them.) A medical grade sanitizer will be on site.

“We are going to clean the mics between shows, wiping things down during the show, and enforcing the guidelines throughout the evening,” Navin said.

People who would love to celebrate along with the Artist’s Umbrella gang but don’t feel ready to get out of the bubble yet will be able to follow the show via livestream on Facebook.


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