UPDATE: Due to coronavirus concerns, this event has been canceled.
For Marc Cohn, The Ark is a welcome musical home before embarking on an international tour.
The Grammy Award-winning, folk-rock singer-songwriter returns to Ann Arbor’s iconic 400-seat listening room March 20 for a sold-out show with special guest Mark Erelli.
“(S)urrounded by the audience . . . it’s very homey and intimate, and at this point, very familiar. I have just always loved the vibe of that place, the way it’s set up, the stage and even the audience itself. The people come to listen and to participate, so it’s a very alive gig,” said Cohn, who will be joined by Joe Bonadio, Randall Bramblett, and Erelli. Cohn will share timeless gems from his illustrious 30-year career, including moving tracks from his latest album, “Work to Do,” with the legendary gospel group, The Blind Boys of Alabama.
“I’m an enormous fan of gospel music. It’s always something that’s moved me deeply even though I’m Jewish, and that’s always an inherent paradox that I’ve loved. It’s actually the basis of ‘Walking in Memphis,’ which is ‘Are you a Christian?’ and I say, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight.’ It’s something within the moment that you can feel deeply moved by something you weren’t raised on, and that’s how I felt singing with The Blind Boys,” Cohn explains.
Collaborating with The Blind Boys of Alabama
In 2017, Cohn co-wrote a track with producer John Leventhal called “Let My Mother Live” for The Blind Boys of Alabama’s last album, “Almost Home.” The track was nominated for a Grammy and inspired a lengthy run of collaborative shows for Cohn and The Blind Boys of Alabama in 2018.
Those well-received shows inspired Cohn, Leventhal, and The Blind Boys of Alabama to compile a full-length hybrid album of studio and live tracks, including a new rendition of the Golden Gate Quartet’s gospel classic, “Walk in Jerusalem,” for their latest “Work to Do” release in 2019.
“The record opens with a song called ‘Walk in Jerusalem,’ which is an old gospel standard I didn’t know when we first decided to record it. I said it would be great to do an a cappella song, which we do, and somebody suggested ‘Walk in Jerusalem,’ and from start to finish, they taught it to me in one go-around, and it was done in 10 minutes,” Cohn said.
Cohn also collaborated with daughter and filmmaker Emily Cohn on the video for “Work to Do,” which advocates for gun violence prevention. It features people writing and holding uplifting messages on sticky notes as Cohn, who’s also a gun violence survivor, sings the inspirational title track with The Blind Boys of Alabama.
Reflecting on the past, planning for the future
While “Work to Do” marks one of Cohn’s many professional collaborations, his signature track, “Walking in Memphis,” stands the test of time nearly three decades later. In 1991, the soulful track from his self-titled debut launched his career as a singer-songwriter and resulted in a Grammy for Best New Artist.
Cohn continues sharing his growing catalog of soulful songs to devoted fans worldwide, resuming his current tour March 19 in Grand Rapids, then performing throughout the U.S. before going to the U.K. in July.
“I’m going to try to keep writing in the moments that I have off the road, but it’s very difficult for me. I’ve never done much writing while on the road,” he said. “When I’m not on the road, I’m going to try to finish a record. That’s my goal. I haven’t had one of all-original songs for years.”
Doors 7:30 pm, Show 8 pm | Friday, March 20
The Ark, 316. S. Main St. in Ann Arbor
Tickets: Sold-out show