Celebrated by Current’s readers as being the best folk/country band in Washtenaw in 2022, Black Jake and the Carnies continues to musically evolve while continuing to hold to the vaudeville ethos which has distinguished them across southeast Michigan.
First formed in 2002, the group’s leader Black Jake recently took stock of the band’s early years, comparing them to the direction they’re going in now.
“I think (our music is) less generically ‘old-timey’ than it used to be. When we started, it was before the whole alt-country explosion. So, it was really original at the time, but now it’s not so original,” Black Jake said.
Around 2015, Black Jake decided to take the band’s sound in a different direction after some of the other members left the group.
Though Jake had previously sworn to never have an electric guitarist in the band, KK Dirty Money was eventually recruited as the first member of the revamped version of Black Jake and the Carnies.
“Not to sound cheesy, but I kind of like to say it’s like how Bob Dylan went electric. We’re no Dylans, of course, but that’s kind of like the change, from a traditional folk thing to a more dangerous, electrified, punk-bluegrass kind of vibe,” KK Dirty Money said.
The shift was likely welcomed by local music fans as Current readers voted the band as the runner-up for best rock band in Best of Washtenaw in 2021.
The Craft of Entertaining
Of course, the next question is, “Where does vaudeville fit into this?”
Black Jake said that it was about getting back to the craft of entertaining and about how entertainers put a lot more into their craft back in the golden era of vaudeville. He felt that it’s because audiences back then were not as forgiving as they are now.
“Artists could not afford to get bored. I don’t want people to get bored,” Black Jake said.
KK Dirty Money explains that their shows are like full-contact celebrations where audience members are encouraged to be a part of the show, not to just sit there and watch it from afar.
“We rely on a lot of crowd engagement and participation, and we encourage the audience to throw things at us, or get up on stage, or play games with us, or sing along, or dance along. Like, Jake’s basically a one-man band playing this home-made contraption and banjo, and singing, orchestrating like a carnival barker,” KK Dirty Money said.
A big night at a special venue
Undoubtedly, there’s a great amount of work and planning that goes on ahead of time before these shows, and clearly the band has something big in store for their performance at The Ark.
The band is very excited about the gig and after both paid tribute to the venue and its legacy., discussed how they want to make it a special night for everyone who shows up.
“They’ll get to see us up close and personal in a way that they would not get to normally see us like at a fair stage or festival,” KK Dirty Money said.
Bring your dancing shoes and be ready to have a good time because it’s a party and you’re all invited!
Tickets for the show on Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. can be purchased online for $20.