Joe Reilly
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Joe Reilly

Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"The Joe Reilly Factor"

Joe Reilly is a local artist in the truest sense: he has spent his life all along I-94: He grew up in Kalamazoo, then earned a degree from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources in Ann Arbor. Next Reilly spent a few years living and working in Southwest Detroit while a stint at a Chicago activist co-op followed. Now Reilly is back in Ann Arbor, teaching children about the environment at the Leslie Science Center and, of course, producing music with the power to entertain and inspire. Reilly’s songs, with titles like "The River," "The Michigan Song" and "Detroit Summer" directly reflect his experiences in and around Michigan. With his Native American (Cherokee), Irish and Italian heritage and eclectic spirituality based on Native American religions, Catholicism and Buddhism, Reilly adds diverse elements to the folk rock palette.

Reilly was first exposed to music through his parents, who performed "Catholic folk music" in their church. If it was his parents who first inspired him to pick up a guitar, it was performing during college with the Treetown Singers — an Ann Arbor-based Native American drum group — that helped to develop his distinct sound. "It’s a pretty intense vocal experience, and I think that helped me cultivate my voice," Reilly reflected. "I still incorporate some Native American songs into my music. There’s a song called ‘I Still Love You,’ which is like a contemporary arrangement of a Native American
love song."

Co-founding Long Hairz Collective in Detroit with rapper-poets William Copeland and Brian Babb introduced the hip-hop flavor that now permeates Reilly’s music, while his time in Chicago allowed him to grow as an artist, as well as assemble The Faith Project — a talented rhythm section that backs him up on his new record, Planting Gardens.

In a sense, Planting Gardens chronicles Reilly’s journey across the Great Lakes state. Its songs were written on the banks of the Detroit River, in the hills of the Huron watershed and on the shores of Lake Michigan. The record is also the product of a strong community effort with contributions from Reilly’s parents (David and Mary Jo), Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, The Faith Project, Long Hairz Collective and others. "Our music includes a lot of different styles and I want it be able to transcend genres," said Reilly, who seamlessly combines the regional folk of Sufjan Stevens with the quirky humor of Barenaked Ladies and the multicultural activism of Ozomatli.

Planting Gardens refers to when he literally spent a summer doing just that in a Detroit city beautification program, but the title is also a metaphor for his artistic mission. "We’re cultivating the soil of the collective consciousness with positive energy," Reilly said. He strives to fight complacency and increase awareness of environmental and social injustices, but to do so with humor and love.

"I think that the priorities in our society should be our water and our children,” Reilly explained. “These are the things that we need to continue to live. We don’t get any more water on the earth — it’s a fixed amount. What we do to it is what we pass on to our children and to future generations." RDW

Joe Reilly • September 29 • Friends Meeting House (1420 Hill St., Ann Arbor). More info:

© Copyright by
- Real Detroit Weekly

"Joe Reilly: Infinite Heart"

One crisp fall night in 1989, some friends and I wandered into a cramped, stinky bar and stood three feet away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band that none of us, until that very moment, had ever heard of. We sat right on the stage while they frothed and pumped out music unlike anything we'd ever seen. It was frenetic and fierce, with a positive message.

Believe it or not, I felt the same way when Joe Reilly first played his music for me. Well, except he wasn't wearing a bondage mask and giant diaper, like bassist Flea, and nobody got a nose broken. Okay, and he's not an entire funk/rock band either, just one guy with an acoustic guitar. But I did experience the same sensation — that I had discovered something incredible.

For me that initial moment came when I interviewed him for my radio show. I was struck by his wisdom and humility, but after he played his first song, I was literally left speechless. Despite the unassuming nature of this young man armed only with a simple guitar, Reilly zeroed in on something very powerful and sent it out into the room. It caught in my chest and stayed there for a long time:
You are the best medicine and
You are my most intimate companion you are
The strongest remedy
You are the truest friend to me.

Reilly came to town from Kalamazoo as a U-M student. Both his parents are musicians, and at fourteen he had begun songwriting and playing guitar. He would make a good American Idol candidate: he's got the looks (he's Italian and Cherokee) and actual talent. Luckily, however, instead of partaking in acts of corporate mainstream idiocy, Reilly has immersed himself in the teachings of spiritual masters and elders, musicians, and social activists from across the globe.

Reilly's music and lyrics are clever and poetic and often playful. He blends hip-hop, blues, gospel, world rhythms, and traditional American Indian styles, and I find the combination of deep spiritual truths with hip-hop to be brilliant and satisfying. For instance, the groovy, soulful "Infinite Hearts" has become a regular prayer for me when I'm giving in to the dark side:
The room in my heart is infinite,
there's no limit to what can fit in it and if
love is what I give, love is what I get.
It's the balance between my body and spirit.

Joe Reilly makes music that flows through us — calls us closer to who we want and need to be. It's joyous, humble, and clear — and no one gets a nose broken. He celebrates the release of his new CD, Planting Gardens, at the Friends Meetinghouse on Friday, September 29. He'll also appear at Crazy Wisdom on Friday, September 8 (see Nightspots).

—Charmie Gholson - Ann Arbor Observer

"Singer to release CD in Detroit"

Joe Reilly will offer inspiration through his new CD, "Planting Gardens," at his CD release party, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday at the North American Indian Association in northwest Detroit.

Reilly has been a singer, songwriter and guitarist for more than 12 years. He has toured extensively, bringing messages of hope and peace through his songs to audiences in the Midwest and across the United States.

The Kalamazoo native is Italian, Irish and Native American (Cherokee). He has studied and performed several musical styles: Native American, folk, blues, jazz, liturgical and classical. His academic studies of environmental justice and racism, and his spiritual roots in Catholicism and Native American religions, have led to a writing style that incorporates these diverse influences into a unique and powerful voice.

"I write songs and create music for the benefit of all beings, empowering listeners to become actively engaged in their communities and raising their consciousness with messages of social and environmental justice," Reilly said.

"Planting Gardens" gives listeners a taste of Reilly's experiences and reflections of life in Detroit and Chicago.

"I want my music to make people smile and feel good when they listen while challenging them to think critically about the world around them," said Reilly.

The North American Indian Association is at 22720 Plymouth. A donation of $5 to $7 is requested. For additional information, visit

By Antionette D. Griffith - Detroit Free Press


Children of the Earth (2007, Children's)
Planting Gardens (2006)
Beyond My Control (Semper 2004)
Dread Locks and Pony Tales (Semper 2003)
Mothers and Dauthers (Semper 2001)




Joe Reilly has been a singer, songwriter, and guitarist for over twelve years and has had extensive performance and touring experience, bringing messages of hope and peace in his songs to audiences in the Midwest and across the United States. Both of his parents are singers and guitarists and Joe grew up listening to their classical and liturgical music in his home and church, learning that music can be prayerful, healing, and celebratory. With their help he began to teach himself to play guitar and sing. In addition to self-instruction he has also studied voice and guitar privately and at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Joe is Italian, Irish, and Native American (Cherokee). His background in the study and performance of many different musical styles, including Native American music, folk, blues, jazz, liturgical, and classical, as well as his academic studies of environmental justice and racism and spiritual roots in Catholicism, Buddhism, and Native American religions has led to a writing style that incorporates these diverse influences into a unique and powerful voice.

The Message

The result is a creative and honest voice that calls for a holistic healing of our society for the benefit of all beings and future generations. Joe Reilly's music is a living prayer of hope for the world. Joe has written, arranged, recorded, and published over 50 songs on four albums and has worked to build a career that supports the sharing of his music with a diversity of listeners through recording, community-based performances, educational and instructional workshops, and tours. In 2006 Joe released Planting Gardens, an album of multicultural spiritual activism which includes excerpts from a talk given by spiritual teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. In 2007 he released his first children’s album, "Children of the Earth," environmental songs for kids of all ages. It is through the active sharing of his music that he hopes to inspire and empower people to heal their relationships to themselves, each other, and the earth.


Joe has performed at festivals such as Detroit's Concert of Colors and The Ann Arbor Art Fair, venues such as Schubas, the Chicago Cultural Center, and Uncommon Ground, tours such as "How Far is Home?", and talent contests such as Amateur Night at the Apollo. In addition to public performances, Joe uses his music as an educational tool in classrooms and after school programs with at-risk youth such as Project Paradigm, Teen Living Programs, the American Indian Center of Chicago and for adults with disabilities at Esperanza Community Services.

Joe has included his music in many different ensembles and has collaborated with dozens of other artists to create group recordings and performances. From 1997-2001 Joe was a singer with a Native American drum group called Treetown and performed at many Pow-Wows and Native American gatherings. In 2001 he made his first recording as a solo artist, arranging a diverse group of musicians and singers as accompanists with him on nine original songs. In 2001 Joe co-founded the Long Hairz Collective, a trio including Joe, poet Brian Babb, and emcee William Copeland. Combining styles of hip-hop, folk, blues, and spoken word in their songs, the Long Hairz Collective recorded a CD in 2002 and continue to perform and successfully distribute their CD. From 2004-2006 Joe spent much of his time coordinating the Faith Project, an extremely talented band in Chicago that includes Joe as its founder, jazz drummer Jon Faro, soul bassist Alejandro Cornejo, and Haitian master percussionist Camelo Romelus. With the support of the Faith Project, Joe released Planting Gardens in 2006, a multicultural suite of spiritual and social justice activism. In 2007 Joe released his first children's album, Children of the Earth, environmental songs for kids of all ages.

Artist's Statement

"I create music for the benefit of all beings, empowering listeners to become actively engaged in their communities and raising their consciousness with messages of social and environmental justice. Understanding music as an expression of spirit, I write, sing, and perform in order to celebrate life and allow God, my ancestors, and love to sing through me. My music invites listeners to join in this celebration. I have inherited music as a gift and actively nurture its development through study, practice, performance, and life experience. I humbly offer these songs from my heart to the world like a gentle spring thunder shower, watering seeds of compassion, hope, love, understanding, healing, courage, laughter, freedom, clarity, and reconciliation in the hearts of those who choose to listen. I am grateful for all who have watered those seeds within me and who have encouraged me to take risks and share my gifts in open and honest ways."