The format for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, if I dig it correctly, is the first night presents acts that mess with any fusty old interpretation of “folk” music while second night settles back and celebrates all the best of what hand-crafted, traditional music can be. What a celebration it was.
Before taking offense at the candor of my comments, check out my musical predilections that prefaced my review of the first evening. Take as your mantra “Your Mileage May Vary” as you peruse these remarks but I think it goes without saying that, clocking in at over four hours, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival remains fantastic value for money. This weekend The Ark exposed me to at least four new acts that I am definitely planning to follow.
Drew Nelson is the real deal, an honest song writer in the country vein. His direct songwriting addresses the personal impact of real world topics and I’m a sucker for that approach. Drew seemed comfortable and confident onstage and his brief inter-song comments revealed a guy I think I’d like to drink a beer with while discussing curent events.
Frank Fairfield was a delightful curiousity, perfectly portraying an eccentric almost bumbling afficianando of traditional music. He trundled onstage with an armfull of instruments and rambled away at a homey introduction that won my heart. Frank picked up his fiddle and started sawing away, intially with a carefree rhythm but building masterfully through a series of jigs that had my Celtic heart dancing. His set was an antique cabinet of wonders and a living testament to how gosh darn fun old-timey music can be. My second favorite performer of the night.
Steel Wheels, a zesty four-man string band, harmonized into one mic — need I say more? Maybe just a bit. Perhaps it’s a gimmick but it sure felt like an authentic technique with these fellows. Excellent handcrafted music like that made by Steel Wheels depends on sensitive listening and the ability to “self-mix” while singing parts is essential. “Rain in the Valley” I think is the name of song that sticks in my brain. Note to self: Hats are cool.
My Dear Loving Partner loves Dar Williams but to honest, her music never clicked with me that is, not until last night when I saw her perform. I’m sure part of the new-found appeal I discovered is based on her winsome, non-pretentious stage presence but truth be told, I was wowed over by the nerdy-goodness of her songs based on Greek mythology. I just gotta track down those recordings. Her last song about Storm King Mountain was particularly luminous.
Brother Joscephus and the Love Revolution Orchestra did absolutely everything right, but still left me unmoved. I had the overwhelming sense of watching a Broadway musical about 1970’s era tent revivals, so slick and pitch perfect but clapped between quotation marks. This perception is most likely a failing on my part, perhaps my miserable cold, because I surely can’t fault any particular part of their performance and I know the audience was absolutely on fire. The brass section entered raucously through the back of the auditorium and winded its way onstage, a simple but honest ploy to build excitment. When they assembled onstage, they were joined by Brother Joscephus, a larger than life frontman who led the massive band through a series of pulsing, soulful tunes. For someone like me who prides himself on being postmodern and so oh ironic, I am particularly sad to say I just didn’t get Brother Joscephus. I was likely the only one in the crowd who didn’t though.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Lucinda Williams and from my totally biased perspective, she did not disappoint. While she endured technical difficulties, the audience serenaded her with “Happy Birthday.” After the delay, she attacked her set with a gritty, almost grouchy fierceness. Those seeking sugary sweet consolation need to look elsewhere. This is the real world. Sure, sure, sure there were flaws in the performance but damn, I got my money’s worth just watching her short collection of tunes.
“Copenhagen” by Lucinda Williams
The Head and The Heart, I am sad to report, took the stage just my cold medicine started to wear off. A couple of their tunes sounded familiar and this relatively large ensemble certainly performed with confidence and power. But my spirit was already drifitng back to my sick bed so I feel awkward attempting any substantive commentary.
Somehow My Dear Loving Partner shipped my carcass home safely and installed it beneath warm covers. The angels in my fever dreams repeated sweet, sweet echoes from the 36th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Another year, another blessing.