Back in September, I started a series featuring live music venues to get you better acquainted with the individuals working behind the scenes to support local artists by-way-of spotlighting the organizations and venues where they work. I want to wrap it up with a nod to the team at The Ark, as they gear up for their 40th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival on January 27 and 28.
This is a fundraising event for The Ark, a local nonprofit that hosts ongoing events and workshops and strives year-in and year-out to present, preserve and encourage artists engaging the traditions of folk, roots and ethnic music. Both nights are hosted at Hill Auditorium with a sampling of dynamic voices in modern folk/Americana, country & bluegrass, including the Grammy-award winning folk/rock duo Indigo Girls, indie-rock singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley), Margo Price (rising star recently signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records), and contemporary country sensation Kacey Musgraves. For a full lineup, visit theark.org
Kicking it into high gear
“We definitely kick things into high gear when ‘Folk Fest Season’ comes around,” said Barb Chaffer-Authier, marketing director at The Ark. “Each member of our staff has different responsibilities; one member will have their peak happening at one point while someone else’s tasks are just ramping up and another’s starts tapering off, until it’s all hands on deck for that last Friday and Saturday.”
While the world, as well as the Ann Arbor community, has changed a lot since 1977 (when the first Folk Festival was held), this event sustains its relevance and urgency, continually demonstrating the power music can have on a community. Beyond that, it’s become such a sentimental tradition for so many music lovers.
“The Festival will always be relevant because we’re constantly bringing new and emerging artists to the event,” said The Ark’s program director Anya Siglin. “It’s always exciting to be able to present those big-name artists that are so representative of the kind of music we showcase that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to present outside of a festival setting.” The aim here is to help grow audiences for creative voices in these genres, like Corn Potato String Band or Valerie June, so that they can conceivably return to The Ark at some future date to find a burgeoning A2 audience. “It’s integral to The Ark’s programming to always have new music coming down the pipeline,” Siglin said.
The Ark’s executive director Marianne James emphasized that there’s an enormously broad spectrum of ‘folk music’ and it doesn’t all sound the same. “That’s definitely a message we want to send through the festival’s lineup as well as our year-round programming,” said James. “‘Folk’ begins long before someone puts that label on it. We want to share the full spectrum, across every point of (folk)’s evolution.”
Siglin follows this up, pointing out that Ben Folds may come out for an encore and say: ‘Now I’m gonna play you a ‘folk song’ and launch into Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang.” And, says Siglin, “…he’s absolutely right. That IS folk!”
A rich legacy
Look back at past headliners and you see icons like John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, Lyle Lovett, Pete Seeger and Jeff Tweedy! The A2 Folk Festival has a rich legacy of sensational lineups, having attained along the way, an esteemed reputation nationally as an essential celebration of modern folk music.
“If you don’t know every band and artist on the lineup already, that’s intentional,” said Siglin. “The festival has always been about discovery. Take a chance. You won’t be disappointed.” And, yes, the famous film/TV actor Kiefer Sutherland will be on stage, pouring his heart out through blues-rock songs backed by a full band. It’s an eclectic collection of voices, assuredly.
The Ark’s perseverance probably comes down to something James said. At The Ark, “music always comes first.” Artists often say that the audiences they encounter at The Ark are palpably engaged, intently listening, and that inspires great performances. Expect nothing less on January 27/28 at Hill Auditorium.
The Ark’s 40th Ann Arbor Folk Festival, with MC Susan Werner Jan 27 & Jan 28 at Hill Auditorium (825 N. University Ave)
6:30pm | $50 (single night)/$90 (weekend) | Gold/Platinum seating tickets available
734-761-1800 | theark.org | findyourfolk.org