Shut the Folk Up and Listen Brings Improvised Set to The Ark

Folk gurus Keller Williams and Steve Poltz teamed up for the third installment of Shut the Folk Up and Listen concert series on Saturday, April 29.

Williams described the show as a night of “song, story, and if all goes well, laughter.”

The event began at 7:30 p.m. at The Ark. Each artist performed an acoustic set, and the night came to a close with a collaborative performance. 

Williams and Poltz met at a festival in Northern California a few years ago and instantly connected. 

“We immediately struck up a conversation about music, comedy and guitar pedals. We fell in love,” Poltz said. 

This installment marks Poltz’s second time joining Williams on stage for this series. He credits the pandemic ruining most of their plans for his ability to make an appearance. 

“A bunch of dates got canceled due to Covid,” Poltz said. “Our calendars were empty and constantly changing. Finally the stars aligned and we got our agents and managers on board.” 

Poltz described performing with Williams as dreamy.

“I look at him and we smile and a thousand bolts of electricity ricochet across the stage,” he said. “He’s the yin to my yang. He’s zesty, spicy and tangy like a new flavor of Doritos. He knows how to entertain.”

When Williams first started the series in 2016 he said that some lyrics and instrumentals often get overlooked at a standing venue.

According to Williams’ website, Shut the Folk Up and Listen originated as a way for concert goers to really focus on the music and listen to what is being said, rather than socializing. 

At the end of the day, when people come together to just sit down and listen to his music being shared, Poltz wants the audience to forget about their problems for a couple hours and gain a sense of peace.

“I hope people leave the show feeling a sense of community and all other kinds of hippie dippy zen type stuff,” he said. “I want them to feel like they just left a smiling yoga class where they also serve alcohol.”

For many reasons, Shut the Folk Up and Listen is meant to stand out from other folk concerts. For Poltz, the main difference is the danger of improvisation. Not having a set list and, instead, feeding off of the audience’s energy and performing what feels right in the moment makes everyone wonder “Will they fail? Will they succeed?”

“We always come up with ideas for random songs at soundcheck,” he said. “We leave room for magic. Perhaps a song we wrote together the day of the show. A love song to Ann Arbor.

Steve Poltz is a founding member of the indie-rock band The Rugburns. Photo provided by Steve Poltz.

The Ark in Ann Arbor is dedicated to the presentation and encouragement of folk music. Poltz said that he finds the experience of performing at a venue specifically meant for folk music unique. 

“The Ark is a home away from home,” Poltz said. “I’ve played so many shows there. I always look forward to the backstage hang and that feeling I get as I walk on to the venerable stage.”

Shut the Folk Up and Listen is a truly special event where folk listeners and folk performers alike can come together and celebrate the art they love. Something as simple as sitting down and listening to the acoustic sounds of legendary folk artists can bring comfort, peace, and understanding in an otherwise chaotic world. 

“Music is the energy source and it’s never ending,” Poltz said. “Let’s go spelunking down a musical cave and find the source of joy hidden in a beautiful well.”

Shut the Folk Up and Listen is a national tour and will be playing at festivals this summer. Upcoming midwest shows include Summercamp Music Festival in Illinois from May 26-28 and Resonance Music & Arts Festival in Ohio from June 30-July 1.

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