The first night of the 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest was spot-on in its delivery of a diverse and eclectic mix of music, even though the event had to transition to an online event for 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic. As a fundraiser for The Ark, a performance venue in Ann Arbor specializing in folk and roots music, the Folk Fest program reflected the range of local, up-and-coming, and well-known artists that perform on The Ark’s stage.
Indeed, I left the evening’s performance with a whole host of new music to add to my regular playlist. While I admit that I have generally gravitated toward familiar, or at least predictable, performances and artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Folk Fest, and the vast array of its program, reminded me of the joys of discovering new art and artists, which is something that I found the virtual format does not diminish.
The program lasted a whopping five and a half hours in total (which was unexpectedly long for a virtual concert!), and there is no way that I can pay appropriate tribute to each of the thirteen artists that performed. However, I will offer my thoughts on three of my favorite sets of the night, the music from which I have found myself listening to repeatedly since the Folk Fest: The Accidentals, Gina Chavez, and The War and Treaty. To see the entire lineup from the first night of the Folk Fest, as well as to learn more about each of the artists, visit https://theark.org/folk-festival
While most of the performances were pre-recorded from various locations, The Accidentals, a three-member northern Michigan-based folk band comprised of cello, guitar, drums, and vocals, performed the opening set for the Folk Fest live from The Ark Stage. The first song that they played, “Michigan and Again,” is an ode to the Mitten State that will have Michiganders closely attuned to the lyrics, in addition to captivated by the catchy tune.
“Great state, what state am I in?
Compass roses bloom again
Home of the water, Canada’s daughter
Cradled in a crescent moon grin
Michigan and again and again and again and again
Michigan and again and again and again and again”
-from “Michigan and Again” by The Accidentals
They also performed the entirety of their brand-new EP Time Out. However, the most exciting song of the set was “Wildfire,” which was released as a single the very day of the Folk Fest. In fact, the Folk Fest was the Accidentals first live performance of “Wildfire” with singer-songwriter Kim Richey, who traveled from Tennessee to be at The Ark. In all seriousness, the song’s pared-down orchestration (strings, guitars, and three voices all huddled around a single microphone), seemed like a salve offering relief from the stress of pandemic life.
In contrast, the most energetic performance of the expertly programmed night belonged to Latin GRAMMY-nominated singer Gina Chavez. Her pre-recorded performance was taken from a drive-in concert, complete with an impressive outdoor set and car-honking “applause.” Excitingly, because Chavez’s set was recorded, she was able to join the Folk Fest’s chat, which added a sense of connection that I have not always experienced when watching prerecorded virtual performances. On top of that, the music was fantastic, and high-level camerawork allowed audiences to fully enjoy both the sight and the sound of Chavez and her accompanying band (which had an awesome brass section including trombone and trumpet). If you have not listened to Gina Chavez before, you are missing out! Some of the songs that she performed at the Folk Fest included “She Persisted” and “Ella.”
Lastly, The War and Treaty, a husband-wife duo that defies musical categorization by blending influences including rock, soul, and country, was another of my favorites. Their performance, which was a joyful, spirit-lifting, and intimate recording from their home, included songs such as “Jubilee” and “Pretty Moon.” They also performed a tribute to the late singer-songwriter John Prine, to whom the Ann Arbor Folk Fest was dedicated.
When the first night of the Ann Arbor Folk Fest concluded at an impressive 12:30 am, I was left with a full heart and a head overflowing with song lyrics.