What is folk? After attending the first night of the 42nd Annual Folk Festival, my definition and understanding of this genre of music has both expanded and blurred. Folk isn’t just banjos and mandolins with a Southern drawl. It is so much more, and Folk Fest is the perfect venue to show just how diverse and magical folk music can be.
Peter Mulvey was the MC for the night, offering his music in between sets, along with Ford car giveaways and a little story called “Vlad the Astrophysicist,” which he performed, partly by reading from the illustrated children’s book but mostly as a memorized spoken word piece that took you through an existential crisis of time and the universe. Who knew Folk Fest was going to get this deep?
As the first act, Michigan Rattlers started off the night, the three-member band getting the audience excited with its folk-rock set. Sam Lewis gave us the clapping song we all craved for the night. Parsonsfield was a very talented band featuring an exciting variety of instruments, including the mandolin and harmonica.
One of my favorite performers was Haley Heynderickx, a very calm and sweet soul with a gentle yet mystifying sound. She said, “If someone is scared of bugs and you collect them, this song is about you. Everything else has already been written.” Her sing-along song, “Oom Sha La La,” was so soothing and unique, I’m now looking forward to seeing her back at The Ark in March.
After the intermission, a dim blue light illuminated the stage for Gregory Alan Isakov, setting the stage for the thundering music that was to come. Just as Peter Mulvey said in his introduction, there’s an immense stillness through his music. Bright globes matched the songs about space that moved you through time and the universe, all from a seat in Hill Auditorium.
Finally, the headliner brought the audience to their feet as she closed out a night of amazing folk music in style. Brandi Carlile is the most Grammy-nominated female artist this year with six nominations, including best album of the year.Alternating between guitars and the piano, her songs about life, love, and motherhood brought the emotions and power we all love her for.
Folk Fest was a phenomenal night filled with the best folk music around. Catch the second night tonight, or come back next year for the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival that will definitely revolutionize how you engage with folk music and its deep and powerful meanings.