Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend the Ann Arbor Folk Festival for the first time. Hill auditorium was packed to the brim full of avid folk music supporters from near and far, all squeezed in to see the fantastic lineup of Elliot BROOD, Rainbow Girls, Cedric Burnside, The Lone Bellow, Ingrid Michaelson and Calexico and Iron & Wine.
I caught the end of Cedric Burnside’s set, walking in to see a stage with only one man and his guitar. He managed to make the performance seem intimate, as intimate as playing to 3500 people can be. I was drawn in by his deep voice and haunting, rhythmic blues. His melodies were simple, but he carried the weight of old tradition with his own new spin.
Next I heard the Lone Bellow, a group of three singers/guitarists that brought a lot of energy to the stage. In the second song, the lead singer, Zach Williams, broke a string on his guitar (magically another one appeared from backstage). The three of them singing in harmony was powerful and melancholic, with thoughtful instrumentation and arrangement. I was reminded of the band BAILEN as I listened to their set, paralleling their soulful harmonies and close connection as a group. They closed with a song by lead singer Zach Williams, written for his daughter, with a message of hope for the future and how bright her life is going to be. It was a strong and sentimental way to lead to the intermission of the festival.
Next up was a singer I listened to for a big part of my middle school years, Ingrid Michaelson. She was a character on stage to say the least. Stripped down to just Michaelson on ukulele and a backup guitarist, she opted for a more intimate set much like Burnside’s. While sharing plane anecdotes and tour stories, she immediately connected with the audience, and was the subject of mild embarrassment when she forgot the lyrics to her third song, Miss America. All was well thanks to google lyrics and a good sense of humor, and it added to her style of frivolity and childlike nature. She had great energy and it was clear that when she started singing The Way I Am, that many of her fans had made the trek to see her perform. I really enjoyed her set and felt she was very down to earth even in such a big hall.
The Folk Festival was such a fun experience for me and I wish I could have made it back for the second night. The Ark brings in such amazing artists year round, and this event helps them program throughout the year. I am already planning to go to the festival next year and have been scouting the Ark’s schedule for the next few months:)
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Photo Credit: The Ark