Balloons, bubbles and the sound of bagpipes filled Liberty Plaza in downtown Ann Arbor last Thursday, as the Celtic rock band Enter the Haggis drew a crowd of people with soup and sandwiches in tow for the season’s first Sonic Lunch, a free, weekly outdoor concert series.
As the band warmed up – playing practice notes on their guitars and bagpipes – people filled the seats along the perimeter of the plaza, located at the corner of Liberty and Division. Some came wheeling their bikes, carrying helmets and water bottles. Many pushed strollers or strolled in holding the hands of small children (hands that soon grasped ribbons tied to blue and green balloons – signature colors of the Bank of Ann Arbor, the event’s main sponsor). When the built-in seats filled up, people rested in folding chairs or sat directly on the cement ground.
Enter the Haggis, a Toronto band, consists of Trevor Lewington (vocals, guitar), Brian Buchanan (vocals, fiddle, keyboards, guitar), Craig Downie (bagpipes, harmonica, whistle, vocals), Mark Abraham (bass vocals) and James Campbell (drums). They played songs from their new album “Gutter Anthems,” which was released in March, as well as some older tunes. The crowd clapped and tapped their feet along to “Minstrel Boy,” “Gasoline,” “Noseworthy and Piercy” and “Cameos” – songs ranging in topic from lost fishermen to the environmental impact of fossil fuels.
The band members performed with energy and humor, bantering with each other between songs. Introducing one piece, Downie took on a somber tone and announced, “Here’s a song about ghosts.”
“It’s not really the right atmosphere here, Craig,” Buchanan said.
Downie paused to study the tree branches swaying above his head. “The ghosts of squirrels,” he continued. “That once occupied these beautiful trees many years ago.”
As the band played, their mix of rock and Celtic string and wind instruments reverberating through the plaza and out onto the street, people passing by paused to listen. Soon, the concrete wall surrounding the plaza was full of onlookers, their sandwiches and fruit salads on their laps, their heads bobbing in time with the bass.
Although most of the people there at least tapped their feet to the music, the children danced full out. A giggling group of kids grasped each other’s hands and skipped in circles in front of the band, the ribbons holding their balloons winding together with the motion. Someone took out a bubble bottle and wand, and soon the children were chasing after the translucent orbs, reaching out to pop them.
The woman with the bubble solution, Leah Pillars, noticed 19-month-old Ada Stoica sitting with her mother and crouched near the girl to blow bubbles specifically for her. Stoica watched, looking transfixed, and eventually broke out into a grin.
Ada’s mother, Dana Stoica, said she came because she wanted to entertain her daughter with cultural activities. “These guys, I like them a lot,” she said of Enter the Haggis. “So much variety in their music, and the pipe was the cherry on the top.”
Bob Miller, a Plymouth resident and friend of the band, also identified the diversity of sound in their songs as part of their appeal.
“Their music is such a mix of different sounds from song to song,” Miller said. “There’s something for everybody.”
Tracy Unger and her sister Janice sat in the sun near the band. Tracy Unger explained that the two of them lived near Detroit and came because they’re fans of Enter the Haggis.
“It’s nice being outside for once,” she said. “Not in a dark club or a bar.”
“It’s really nice seeing the people walking by just stop and listen,” Janice Unger said.
In addition to the Bank of Ann Arbor, other Sonic Lunch sponsors include 107one FM, the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and Perich Advertising + Design. The radio station had a booth set up selling T-shirts and CDs and distributing Bank of Ann Arbor balloons.
Rhonda Foxworth, Bank of Ann Arbor’s assistant vice president and marketing manager, said this is the third year the bank has held the outdoor concert series (although it’s only the second year it’s had the name Sonic Lunch). Sonic Lunch begins at 11: 30 a.m. and will run every Thursday (except for the week of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs in mid-July) until the end of August.
Foxworth said it started as a movement to “bring music back to downtown Ann Arbor.”
“Our president, Tim Marshall, loves music,” Foxworth said.
The Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce handles the logistics with the city, while 107one FM contributes the media needed and Perich Advertising + Design takes care of the posters, signs and other promotional materials, Foxworth explained.
“It’s a good thing for the bank,” Foxworth said. “We’ll keep doing it bigger and bigger every year if we can.”
Matthew Altruda, who manages the band The Macpodz, helped book the bands for the event. The lineup for future Sonic Lunch Thursdays includes Laith Al-Saadi, The Ragbirds, and Altruda’s Macpodz, along with many others. The next concert on June 11 will feature Jill Jack. (Get the complete listing of bands on the event’s MySpace page.)
“I absolutely loved putting it together,” Altruda said of the lineup. “I hope we really have a good turnout.”
He added that the concert series offers “wellness through dance” for kids. He explained that some of the children dancing in the plaza earlier were Ann Arbor first graders on a field trip.
As for Enter the Haggis’ performance, Altruda said he loved it. “They were incredible,” he said. “I really hope the Ann Arbor community responds to people working so hard to get good music here.”
About the writer: Helen Nevius, a student at Eastern Michigan University, is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle.