We Went to a Wiccan Folk Rock Show in Michigan

By Miles Raymer

Miles Raymer is a name you may recognize, as he's supplied music content for The Chicago Reader for a million trillion years. Miles is en route (maybe in the actual air as we speak, uncertain) to New York, to live, and GUESS WHAT???? He's gonna be writing music stuff for us. Here's his first post.

The problem with most occult ceremonies is that they're not exactly heavy on the pop hooks. Yes, you might leave having summoned a demon or sent a love spell shooting straight to the heart of your current crush, but how often do you leave with a song stuck in your head? Ann Arbor's Wiccans, apparent believers in the concept of truth in advertising as well as the power of magickal ritual, mean to change that.

Last night I walked into Encore Records, the best record store in Ann Arbor and one of the best anywhere, where Wiccans front women Aran Ruth and Kelly Jean Caldwell had cleared a space on the floor to spread out a flowery blanket on top of which they were busily setting up an altar made out of spellbooks, incense, a silkscreened tapestry of a tarot card Empress, and candles—one of them in the shape of a kitten because there's apparently no rule against mixing magick and cute shit. When they had everything properly arranged and lit Aran picked up an acoustic guitar, Kelly picked up a flute, Fred Thomas (who plays in Saturday Looks Good to Me, which Kelly used to sing for) picked up a set of bongos and a djembe, and the thirty or so representatives of Ann Arbors sizable indie rocker, weirdo artsy crust punk, and hardcore witchcraft scenes sat in a semicircle around them. 

I've seen Wiccan ceremonies performed before, and this one differed from them in several ways. For one, the girls running it were wearing frilly white babydoll dresses, denim vests, and high heels. (Fred had interpreted the girls' instruction to "dress like a 50s street punk.") And while their set began sort of droning and chant-y, by the second song or so the unamplified blend of gentle guitar, jazzy flute, pretty girl-on-girl harmonies, and hand drums had coalesced into something like a Donovan-style folk-pop but with a stronger pagan slant and more stoner-friendly Detroit-style riffage.

"Pentangle meets Pentagram," I wrote in my notes. "Sick bongo solo," I wrote a few minutes later.

"Occult ritual pop" isn't quite a full-fledged musical trend yet, but it's got potential. The couple of practicing pagans who showed up seemed psyched to have a way to do their thing without having to be super serious about it. The rest of us who aren't full-time occult types still got a perfect balance of popiness and witchiness, which you don't have to have prayers to the Moon Goddess or whatever memorized in order to enjoy. They finished off their set with a country-tinged ballad called "Ancient Way" that's on the new tape called Invocation of the Horned One that they just put out on the Gingko label (and which has also includes a cover of Kiss's "Cold Gin"). Once I started picking up the lyrics about "the Horned One" and falling stars and "calling you in the ancient way" I realized it was the prettiest love song to Lucifer that I've ever heard.

Order the Wiccans tape here

@milesraymer

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