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.