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April 2024 at the Freighthouse: A Hub for Local Talent and Creative Expression

It’s hard to believe that UMS concluded a pilot week of programming at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse just one year ago. That pilot residency introduced a Pay-What-You-Wish ticket model and an eclectic variety of events for multi-generational audiences.

UMS’s April 2024 residency built on the momentum of our pilot week and a fantastic, four-week return to the Freighthouse last fall. We welcomed nearly 2,000 guests from across Southeast Michigan — a third of whom self-identified as Ypsilanti residents.

We are delighted that the Freighthouse has become a creative hub and gathering place for culturally curious audiences of all ages. Take a look back at our favorite moments — from the local talents of our Open Mic Night participants to the immersive fun of our free Family Days:


Getting Into the Swing of Things

Participants swing dance at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse
We kicked off our April 2024 residency with a night of swing dance led by Riverside Swings and Swing Ann Arbor. They taught folks the basics, and then everyone danced the night away to the hot horn riffs and bouncing bass lines of Ferndale’s Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club.


A Birthday Celebration of New Music

Hub New Music
Our first chamber music experience at the Freighthouse was a huge success. We celebrated Hub New Music’s 10th anniversary with an evening of exciting new works written specifically for the Michigan-based ensemble by celebrated living composers, including Tyshawn Sorey and Nico Muhly.

In the weeks leading up to their Freighthouse debut, Hub New Music worked with students from Estabrook Elementary School in Ypsilanti to develop an original composition (about pirates!), which they premiered in a special K-12 performance.

A student conducts Hub New Music in performance


Throwing It Back with Y2Gay

Zooey Gaychanel and local drag artists perform
By popular demand, Drag Night returned to the Freighthouse in millennium-glitching fashion! Hostess with the mostess Zooey Gaychanel led the crowd through dance hits of the 1990s and 2000s, featuring a cast of local drag artists and on-brand DJ sets by DJ Medusa.


A Not-So-Silent Movie Night

The Lodger
UMS teamed up with the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (iFFY) to present The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, a 1927 silent thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Michigan’s Little Bang Theory accompanied the film with an original score, played on toy and non-traditional instruments — adding a fresh thrill to this thriller.


Dancing Through Mexico

Dancing Through Mexico
Flint’s El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil led interactive performances for nearly 100 families and taught kids the basic movements of Mexican folkloric dance, accompanied by live music.


An Earth Day Celebration

Joe Reilly and friends lead the audience in dance
Local singer-songwriter Joe Reilly performed fun community and nature-inspired songs in a special Earth Day concert for families. His “Turkey Vulture” rap was an especially big hit with the crowd!

After Joe Reilly’s performance, Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope Urban Farm helped families craft seed balls to spread native wildflowers throughout our community.

Kids craft seed balls made of clay


Ypsi’s Got Talent

Local artists take the stage at Open Mic Night
Singer, songwriter, and UMS staff member Rochelle Clark hosted a free Open Mic Night, inviting local musicians, poets, and artists from Ypsi and beyond to share their talents with the community. The evening featured special appearances by the State of Michigan’s poet laureate Nandi Comer, as well as bass player Gwenyth Hayes.


Shigeto Live Ensemble

Shigeto Live Ensemble
Beloved Detroit electronic artist and percussionist Shigeto joined forces with saxophone virtuoso Marcus Elliot and Ian Fink on keyboard, in an electrifying, packed, and sold-out late-night set for our final Friday at the Freighthouse.

It was wonderful to welcome back Marcus Elliot, who gave the memorable world premiere of Sonic Contributions at the Freighthouse last Fall:


A Beautiful Ecosystem of Sounds

Members of Regenerate Orchestra play music and toss tissue paper in the air
The Regenerate! Orchestra returned to the Freighthouse for two events to close our residency. A community of musicians created immersive soundscapes inspired by nature and a blend of traditional instruments, vocals, and sounds from everyday objects, and the audience was invited to walk around and participate in sonic creation throughout the performances.

Enjoy this footage of the Regenerate! Orchestra’s first Freighthouse appearance from UMS’s pilot week in April 2023:


Thank you to all who participated in our April residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse! UMS will be back in Ypsi in September 2024. Sign up for our Freighthouse interest list for a reminder when full details are announced later this summer.


Thank You to Our Residency Supporters

The Ypsilanti Freighthouse residency is supported by Menakka and Essel Bailey and Matt and Nicole Lester.

Additional residency support from WEMU 89.1 FM.

Funded in Part by

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

A Fantastic Fall at the Freighthouse

Following a successful 10-day pilot at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse in the spring, UMS just concluded a full four-week residency of programs for all ages. From showcasing local talent, to welcoming families for interactive workshops, to premiering an all-new work inspired by the city’s rich history, take a look back at some of our favorite moments from Fall 2023 at the Freighthouse:


Ypsilanti’s Got Talent

Shara Nova hosting Open Mic at the Freighthouse

Singer, songwriter, and Ypsilanti native Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond) hosted a free open mic night, inviting local musicians and artists to share their unique talents on our new stage.


Namaste, Ypsi

Yoga at the Freighthouse

UMS offered two yoga classes led by Ypsi resident Marly Spieser-Schneider, accompanied by the soothing sounds of harpists Beth Henson and Jordan Key.


A Slappin’ Good Time

slapslap family workshop at the freighthouse

Families experienced an absurdly fun musical performance and workshop with electric bassoon and percussion quartet slapslap! Kids got to make their own “slapsticks” and improvise alongside the musicians on stage.

Learn more about slapslap’s upcoming performances and sign up for their newsletter at

slapslap family workshop at the freighthouse


Sonic Contributions

Marcus Elliot’s Sonic Contributions

Detroit-based saxophonist Marcus Elliot led a seven-piece band of musicians and artists in Sonic Contributions — a special collaboration with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County that celebrates the history of Ypsilanti as a refuge for Black Americans dating back to the 1830s. Visual artist Curtis Wallace created two original pieces inspired by the sounds and stories shared live on stage.

In addition to two nights of full audiences attending the world premiere performances, the work was filmed and will be released for streaming in early 2024. Sign up for our digital presentations newsletter for a reminder when it becomes available.


Dancin’ the Night Away

Square Dancing at the Freighthouse

The Detroit Square Dance Society brought Southern Square Dancing tradition to the Freighthouse, with live music, non-gender calling, and line dances for anyone and everyone to enjoy!


An Electrifying Show

LIGHTNING Drag Show at the Freighthouse

The energy was absolutely electrifying at LIGHTNING: A One of a Kind Drag Show Extravaganza, featuring Heads Over Heels Productions and Chroma Productions. Two unique sets celebrated queer performance art at the historic Freighthouse.


Movement for All Ages

Teaching artist Heather Mitchell led workshops for adults and for families, exploring traditional West African Dance and contemporary AfroBeat dance moves.

Heather’s West African Dance teaching unit is also available for streaming on UMS Performance Playground:


A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster

Leonardo! at the Freighthouse

Our Fall residency at the Freighthouse concluded with Manual Cinema’s Leonardo: A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster. Four performances for Ypsilanti schoolchildren, plus two public family performances of this magical production used hundreds of illustrated puppets, book pages, two-dimensional props, furry monster puppets, live music, and the wonder of real-time filming to bring Mo Willems’ books to life.


Thank you to all who participated in our Fall 2023 residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse! UMS will be back in Ypsi for another four weeks in April 2024. Sign up for our Freighthouse interest list for a reminder when full details are announced in the new year.


Thank You to Our Residency Supporters

The Ypsilanti Freighthouse residency is made possible by Menakka and Essel Bailey and Matt and Nicole Lester.

Family programs are sponsored by Michigan Medicine.

Michigan Medicine logo

Promotional Support Made Possible by Helga and Jerry Bilik.

Funded in Part by

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

Making Sonic Contributions: An Interview with Marcus Elliot

Marcus Elliot

As part of UMS’s Fall 2023 residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, Detroit-based saxophonist Marcus Elliot will lead a seven-piece band of musicians and artists in Sonic Contributions — a special collaboration with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County that celebrates the history of Ypsilanti as a refuge for Black Americans dating back to the 1830s.

In advance of the world premiere this September, Marcus spoke to UMS about the inspiration and creative process behind Sonic Contributions, and what audiences can expect from these upcoming performances:


Q: What was the catalyst for this project? Was it the Ypsilanti Residency itself, or something you’ve had in mind for some time?

It was the Residency itself. When Mark Jacobson and Cayenne Harris from UMS reached out to ask me to put something together, I just started daydreaming about what some things could be. I have some family and a lot of “like family” friends in Ypsilanti, and I’ve always had an interesting relationship with Ypsilanti just growing up in Michigan.

It’s one of those little pockets throughout Michigan that has a large African American population, so that’s kind of what sparked my interest in what I could do. I literally just typed into Google, “African American community in Ypsilanti,” and when I did that it was just, like, BOOM. All of this information started coming at me about it being tied to the Underground Railroad — it being such a Haven, connecting people from the South to Detroit.

But not just connecting people. A lot of families were getting there, and they were staying there, or they were headed to Canada and would come back to Ypsilanti. So that was really interesting to me, like, why would you come back? What was going on here that made you want to come back?

I reached out to my friend Miles Lindsey, also known as Intricate Dialect. He’s an amazing rapper, producer, poet, and storyteller. I asked him, “Hey, would you be interested in collaborating with me on this project?” And he said, “Absolutely.” Then I pitched it to Mark and Cayenne, and they said, “Absolutely!” So, here we are. It’s very exciting to really see these stories coming together and the music coming together.

Miles Lindsey and Marcus Elliot

Miles Lindsey and Marcus Elliot


Q: Can you talk a little bit about the instrumentation of Sonic Contributions, and what audiences can expect?

So the instrumentation is myself on saxophone, and we have trumpet, piano, bass, drums, and cello, plus Miles as narrator. Whenever I’m putting an ensemble together, I actually do it less about the instrumentation and more about the personalities. The personalities are really important to me.

We have Dwight Adams, one of the true legends of Detroit jazz music, but also just an amazing trumpet player. He played with folks like Stevie Wonder and Doug Hammond and I mean, just the list goes on and on of all the people that he’s played with, and so he’s kind of like a big brother mentor to me.

On bass, I have Joseph Deas. Joseph is an Ann Arbor and Detroit bass player…such a pillar in our music community. And with this project being in between in Ypsilanti, I can’t not have Joseph on this project. The energy that he brings is so potent, and it’s just exactly what this project needs.

And then on drums, we have Marquis Johnson. This will actually be my first time having Marquis on my own project, but I’ve played with Marquis a lot in different situations and Marquis is just a phenomenal drummer. Every time I see him play I’m just kind of like, Oh, my God! I can’t believe that a human being can do that on an instrument!

We have Jordan Anderson on piano. He’s originally from Minnesota but moved to Michigan to study here because he had a lot of early mentors that were originally from Detroit who told him he needed to get to Detroit. So Jordan is very invested in the scene, very invested in the history of Detroit, and so it also just felt right to have him on the project.

And then we have King Sophia on cello, and she is also someone that I actually haven’t had a chance to have in my own group yet. She’s somebody that is once again just a brilliant, brilliant person on her instrument and extremely expressive. She has this powerhouse energy and just her presence is amazing.

Sonically, I can tell you it’s going to be dramatic. It’s going to be a lot of drama inside of the music, and it’s going to take you along with the story that’s being told. It’s going to really bring you into a lot of different places. You’re going to have narration and poetry and storytelling by Miles, so he’ll be coming in and out with different stories. There’s gonna be moments honoring different people, different families, different places in Ypsilanti. There are moments of him sharing deep detailed stories of different situations and history and different people.

So there’s gonna be a lot of things happening. The other thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that there’s a visual artist as well. Curtis Wallace, who is a visual artist from Ypsilanti, agreed to be a part of this. He’ll do some live visual art making — hearing the music, responding to that, and creating in the moment — which I’m very excited for.

So that’s what kind of people can expect. They can really expect a multimedia experience. They can expect to hopefully leave inspired by the stories and by the music, and hopefully also just be inspired to dig deeper into the history of Ypsilanti and the culture there…you know, it has its own thing. That’s the thing that I’ve been learning the most about doing this project is that Ypsilanti is not Ann Arbor. It is not Detroit. It is its own thing, and it deserves to be honored in that way. I’m really here just to bring some awareness to how amazing this place is, and to honor it in my own way.


Q: What does the rehearsal process look like?

So we haven’t gotten together yet to rehearse, just because we’re still working on finishing the music. But Miles and I have been getting together. And that’s been an amazing experience. It’s been really great to spend this time with my brother. We’ve been friends for about 10 years now, and I’ve been a fan of his work for such a long time, so it’s been great to get to work with him.

Basically, what we’ve been doing is going to Ypsilanti and going to different places. We’ve been going to South Adams Street because there’s so much history there visiting some of the churches. We went to the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County and spent some time with Joyce Hunter (AACHM President and CEO). We’ve been going to different coffee shops and bars, and just walking around in different bookstores like Blackstone, and the Ypsilanti District Library. The library’s also been a huge hub for us, dreaming up what this project could be.

So yeah, that’s what the process is looking like. We have our first rehearsal with the band in the second week of September, and I’m very excited about that. That’s gonna be really great to have everybody in the same room, and start to kind of just get into this music.


Q: Anything else you’d like to share about Sonic Contributions?

I think it’s gonna be an impactful show. No doubt, it’s gonna be an impactful show. It’s already been impactful for me.

You know, just being African American, and working on these stories…when I look back at my own ancestry in my own history, it’s very much tied to these same stories. It’s basically stories of refugees, and so there’s been a lot of healing on my own in my own personal journey. Just kind of working through these, because I haven’t been able to really trace a lot of the stories in my own history. I’m in the process of doing that, and one day I’ll find something. But you know, it’s difficult for us to really pinpoint certain stories of our ancestry. So to kinda be able to dive into these stories and to read about them and to even hear some of the voices, has been a real healing process for me.

So I think that that’s another part of this, too… for people to hear these stories, whether they’re from Ypsilanti or not. This is all of our story, you know, like we all kind of can trace back to this in some way. It’s not just Black history. This is American history. I think that there is an opportunity for some real healing as well for folks.


Experience the world premiere performances of Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, MI,  live at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, September 22-23, 2023. Pay-What-You-Wish tickets are on sale now.

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