REVIEW: 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest

Day one of The Ark’s 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest was a perfectly calming mix of tunes to send me drifting out of the busy work week and into the peaceful weekend. The lineup was made up of both live and recorded performances from local and traveling musicians. Many had played at The Ark before (way back when, I know), recalling the time and hoping for its return. This was a good replacement while we wait for the world to catch up.

 First up was The Accidentals, veterans of The Ark stage.  Their vocals were light and airy, while the strings pulled at you to feel some connection between you and your insides, or your home, or some other familiar place. “Michigan and Again” was my favorite from them; I grew up here taking the state’s majesty for granted. This song let me relive and respect my childhood for the awe of nature it gave me, inspiring my future in environmental science.

 Ron Pope struck me in how intimately he treated the performance, even though he couldn’t see anyone in the audience. He would talk between songs, not in the pretentious way of an experienced performer (though he is), but actually genuinely, despite it being one-sided. He has a new album out called Bone Structure, from which he played a few songs. As he sang “My Wildest Dreams” it felt like he was looking right at me; I had to stop putting away my laundry and lay flat out on my bed so I could focus on the gentle rising of my sinuses and tear ducts. People who can make you cry from nothing are powerful–I’m lucky that Ron Pope uses this benevolently, with a tender voice and calm energy.

Amythyst Kiah was nothing but smooth, with a very nice, echoey mic. She told us that she dreamed the melody to one of the songs, something that’s only happened to me once or twice despite a lifetime of piano playing. Her voice is big, but it fits into little cracks and crevices of tone, bouncing lightly from high to low.

 It was just nice to be (virtually) around Willie Watson as he played songs in his workshop (he’s also a maker of quality jeans and shirts). You can tell from his music and the way he talks that he is soft and kind. He goes about folk music in the quintessential, storytelling way, and seems to live in that exact vein. Upbeat and soulful in how he puts short, full yells and yodels in with such ease.

 The War and Treaty duo went together so nicely, and the  comforting, melodic, low thrum of the piano felt like many more voices. It felt religious, peaceful, calm, deep. The high and low tones of their voices could not fit together better if they were the same person–it’s no wonder the two are a married couple. The dynamics of the songs are interesting in their complex give and take form, like their voices are dancing with each other, sometimes leading and sometimes melting together.

If you missed out on the folk fest, worry not; their virtual calendar is packed with several amazing shows every week.

PREVIEW: 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest

The Ark is a staple of our community, Ann Arbor’s #1 source for all things acoustic! But it’s been a hard year for live music, to say the least. This year’s annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest will be held online this year, with ticket and merch sales going towards fundraising to keep this beautiful venue kicking for years to come.

The two-day event begins Friday, January 29th at 6pm and continues through the evening, with a second group of artists performing during the same hours on Saturday. I’ll be going Friday, but both nights will undoubtedly be lots of fun! Sets are around 30 minutes and feature artists of recognition and up-and-coming nature. It’s a great night to experience an at-home concert with your roommates; still a wonderful musical event, with the added benefit of being able to show up in your pajamas.

Get your tickets (with package options that include Ark merch from event t-shirts to mugs) here:

44th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival

REVIEW: Joe Henry


What else is Joe Henry but a gentle-voiced being…I say that because from what I now know about him,–the way he thinks about circumstance and relationships with people and places–he would probably offer no lengthier description of himself.

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble,” he says, after composing a metaphor equating stage 4 prostate cancer to worrying about an infestation of ants in the house. He addresses the experience with honest humility, but reminds us exactly how much he doesn’t care to split the disease from himself; well-meaning fan mail referencing the cancer-as-battle trope were grating rather than inspiring. Fighting his own body is an illogical concept to him. Instead, he sees a reconfigurations of his total identity into another form, one that is not assignably positive or negative.

But he swings through this part of his between-songs soliloquy comparatively quickly to what he prefers to focus on: the etymological history of his music. Sure, the influence of his illness bleeds into his most recent album (The Gospel According to Water), but there is not notably more soulful reflection now than compared to his earlier works. He has always been an introspective character, aspiring to make music that sounds like poetry. There is heavy use of similes and metaphors, comparing distant emotional environments and objects rather than pointing out differences.

What has changed is his dedication to unclenching his grip on control. A quick perusal of his older music shows lyrics rooted in emotions a little more vicious in nature, and a little more certain in his knowledge:

“Notice how I vanish
And your world remains,
You show your head above it
For spite, nothing more,
Like you thought just living
Was somehow its own reward.” (From “Mean Flower” off his 2001 album Scar.)

Even his album titles have gotten progressively gentler, from titles like Fuse and Scar to Shine a Light and Thrum. He has grown not exactly passive, but more understanding of the connection between himself and the other floating things of the world. He rejects distinct separation in favor of greater fluidity. I would argue still that this is not simply an effect of being faced with a likely, rapid death; he is not old, but he is not so young–staring down one’s mortality whether it be through a violent illness or passing painlessly is a strongly altering experience.

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He’s kind of the love child of Alex Turner and Leonard Cohen, soft in tone but can sometimes border on over-stylized. He has an electric voice but one that’s well-insulted by a cocoon of soft rubber. Usually he deals in the lower pitches, which works well for those whose youth is becoming a memory. He doesn’t try for any falsetto nonsense, which almost never works out well for men of a certain age. This decision aligns with his philosophies, in which he prioritizes acceptance rather than making things a fight. I was coming from church before the show, the sermon about giving into thine enemies, turning the other cheek and whatnot. Given his own dedication to Christianity, it makes sense that he would draw upon such readings to form the basis for his newest tunes.

I encourage you to go through his discography for yourself on his Spotify page, and to peruse his website to learn more about what he’s been up to.

Note: photo credit for featured image is:

Hamilton, Jacob., MLive, Ann Arbor, 21 Feb. 2020,

PREVIEW: Joe Henry

Henry has had a long life in the musical world, shaped not only by his work with great artists, but by the personal turmoil in his life. His recent dance with cancer has ended for now, and it will be interesting to see how his closeness to and command over death influences his work and how he takes risks in it. He’s worked on albums with countless famous musicians, but he holds a humbleness unique to a person who has directly faced his mortality.

Take a listen to his tunes posted to Spotify to get a sense of the kind of evening we’ll be enjoying together.

General admission is $25. Tickets are available online or in-person at The Ark (up to 75 minutes before doors open) or the Michigan Union Ticket Office (530 S State).

Doors are 7:00 PM on Sunday, February 23, and the show begins at 7:30. The Ark’s address is 316 S Main.

PREVIEW: Artist Spotlight: Nadim Azzam

This Tuesday, November 26th, be sure to attend the Ark’s latest Artist Spotlight featuring Nadim Azzam, a 24 year-old Ann Arborite who fuses hip-hop, alt-rock, and jazz for a heartfelt and layered musical expression! Nadim is currently working on his first full-length album, which is expected in 2020. Opening for this eye-catching ensemble is singer-songwriter Althea Grace, indie blues musician.

The doors of the Ark open at 7:30, and the show starts at 8:00; while this event is free to the public, it will accept non-perishable food items to go towards Food Gatherers!


REVIEW: Kittel & Co.

I found myself back at the Ark Sunday night, listening to the five piece band that goes by the name of Kittel & Co. Combining elements of classical, jazz, celtic, and bluegrass music, the group played music spanning from Bach to Charlie Chaplin, adding new arrangements and spin to these pieces. They also played many new compositions which can be found on the band’s album “Whorls.”


The show featured Jeremy Kittel on fiddle, Josh Pinkham on mandolin, Ethan Jodziewicz on bass, Quinn Bachand on guitar and Simon Chrisman on hammer-dulcimer. I had never seen this combination before, let alone seen a hammer-dulcimer in concert, and I was blown away by the skill and communication shared between all of the players. 


Kittel & Co. define themselves as a contemporary string band who progressively fuse together elements of folk, classical, Celtic, bluegrass, and jazz. Their first album “Whorls” was released in 2018, and the track “Chrysalis” composed by Kittel, was nominated for a Grammy that year. 


Starting off with a set of tunes called the Boxing Reels, the band brought an exciting energy to the stage. The first reel started with the mandolin with the fiddle joining in on the second time around to build up for the much faster second reel. The two tunes flowed effortlessly into each other, carefully building excitement and interest for the audience. 


Kittel looked comfortable on the stage of the Ark, having played there many times before. As a U of M grad, his roots tie back to Michigan, and the venue was packed with friends, family and familiar faces. A picture of Kittel hangs on the Ark wall in direct eyeline with the stage which he remarked was the best marketing he could have ever asked for:) He had many stories about their experiences at the Grammys (including a run-in with Cardi B), and really connected with the audience. 


As a fiddle player myself, I find Kittel’s tunes catchy and distinct. He is a technical player with lots of control, but sounds free on stage. I am amazed by how he is able to fuse genres and create his own new identity through his compositions. I am excited for what he will compose next and for what’s to come with Kittel & Co. 


Band Website:


Purchase Whorls:


Artist Spotify: