From February 14-24, 2021, UMS will be streaming a special mini-recital featuring vionlinist James Ehnes and pianist Orion Weiss, “two of the most sought-after concert soloists on the international stage.” The performance, which was filmed for UMS audiences at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers, Florida, will include works by Schubert and Saint-Saëns. I’m particularly interested in this virtual performance after James Ehnes and Orion Weiss’s originally scheduled performance during the 2020-21 UMS season was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic.
Join The Ark on Facebook Live on the day itself for “My Folky Valentine,” the Ann Arbor music venue’s “annual celebration of romance.” The show will be streamed live on February 14 at 7:30 pm, and as a part of The Ark’s Family Room Series, it’s free! The concert will be hosted by Michigan-based musical couple Annie & Rod Capps, and it will also feature special guests. I’m excited to attend this virtual performance because I had an excellent experience at the recent Ann Arbor Folk Fest, which was also presented by The Ark!
After an impressive showing at night one of the 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest, the second night had a high bar to clear, but it did not disappoint! In fact, The Ark reported in the livestream chat during Saturday’s show that over 3300 households from 22 countries participated in the 2021 Folk Fest. Saturday evening’s performers included Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, David Bromberg, Todd Snider, George Winston, Vance Gilbert, Dom Flemons, Matt Andersen, Crys Matthews, Sierra Ferrell, Andrea von Kampen, and the RFD Boys, along with Jeff Daniels as MC.
As was the case with the first night of the Folk Fest, it would be impossible to offer thoughts on the amazing array of performers for night 2. However, a few of the artists that were highlights for me on the second night were Andrea von Kampen, George Winston, and Crys Matthews.
Andrea von Kampen’s performance featured a relatively minimalist acoustic aesthetic that included just her and her guitar in her living room, and it was exceptionally effective. On top of that, it’s hard not to be inspired by her artistry as a singer-songwriter only in her mid-twenties. I found her final song, a cover of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” to be especially resonant during the current pandemic circumstances.
Next, solo pianist George Winston’s set was notable because it was the only set of the Folk Fest that was exclusively instrumental. He spoke at the beginning of his portion of the Folk Fest, but otherwise all of the piece titles were captioned on the screen rather than verbally introduced, giving audiences over thirty minutes of uninterrupted music. Winston’s performance, which was truly a sonic respite from the world, featured pieces such as “Moon” and a medley “Carol of the Bells/Cloudburst.”
Lastly, Chrys Matthews, along with special guest Heather Mae, performed a dynamic and powerful set of songs. Described on the Ark webpage as an important part of the “new generation of social justice music-makers,” Matthews “has been compared to everyone from Toshi Reagon to Tracy Chapman and Ruthie Foster.” After opening the set with her song “Selfless,” which tells the story of a healthcare worker who loses their own life while saving others during the COVID-19 pandemic, Matthews continued with a tribute to the late Representative John Lewis, “Call Them In.” Another highlight was her joyful song “Six Feet Apart,” which gives perspective to what we can still do during the pandemic, including singing and dancing:
Six feet apart won’t stop us
Don’t need to hold you in my arms, I still know you in the dark.
Just ‘cause I can’t kiss you underneath the moonlight
Doesn’t mean you have to feel alone tonight.
Let’s get closer
From six feet apart
Because the 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest was virtual, even if you missed the livestream, you can still watch it as a rebroadcast through February 7! To purchase a pass to watch the Folk Festival, visit https://theark.org/folk-festival and click on “Festival tickets on sale now.” I especially enjoyed this online production, and I look forward to hopefully attending the Ann Arbor Folk Fest someday live and in person in Hill Auditorium!
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.
On Saturday, January 30th at 7pm ET, The Ark will be presenting the second night of the 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest – at home edition! Besides being a fundraiser for The Ark, “Ann Arbor’s non-profit home for folk, roots, and ethnic music,” the Folk Fest is also a chance to enjoy some great music. Featured performers on Saturday night include Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, David Bromberg, Todd Snider, George Winston, Vance Gilbert, Dom Flemons, Matt Andersen, Crys Matthews, Sierra Ferrell, Andrea von Kampen, and the RFD Boys (live from The Ark stage), with Jeff Daniels, MC. The artists are each expected to perform 20-40 minutes sets.
I am excited for this event because it promises to be a chance to enjoy “live” music being streamed real-time, which is the closest thing we can get to a concert while staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides, it is just something to look forward to when so many things have been cancelled!
To purchase a streaming pass for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, visit https://noonchorus.com/the-ark/. Passes begin at $25, and all ticket bundles include a tax-deductible contribution to The Ark.
While I was excited to read Jodi Picoult’s newest book, The Book of Two Ways, it turned out to be less enjoyable than I had hoped. Although it is a masterful piece of writing, for me, the death-centric subject hit a little too close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact found myself avoiding the book and even starting another book at the same time. (Gasp!! I do not usually read multiple books at once.)
Death permeates nearly every page of The Book of Two Ways, and though this may be cathartic for some, it had the opposite effect on me. The novel centers around Dawn Edelstein, a death doula (a job described as like a birth doula, but “at the other end of the life spectrum”), and the divergent paths that her life could have taken. Readers learn that years in the past, she had been a doctoral candidate in the Yale Egyptology program, but she did not complete her degree. The story line alternates between past and present, and in the present-day, she finds herself caught in what could have been. Her dissertation was going to be on The Book of Two Ways, an ancient Egyptian text that is “the first known map of the afterlife.” As a result, there is no escaping the endless theme of death in either of the two storylines. However, what I think finally put me over the edge was a guided death meditation that Dawn completed with one of her clients she has as a death doula. Described in excruciating detail over multiple pages, readers contemplate what it feels like to die alongside the characters. Perhaps my futile desire to avoid this death-talk was all too human (Dawn aptly points out during the meditation that “not a single sentient being – no matter how spiritually evolved, or powerful, or wealthy, or motivated – has escaped death”), but it is the truth, nonetheless. The writing was excellent and the theme important, but I just was not in the headspace to appreciate it.
On the other hand, however, I did enjoy the book’s rich details that engross readers in its world. For one thing, reading The Book of Two Ways whet my appetite to learn more about Egyptology, and though some of the specifics in the book are fictional, many of the facts are real. Additionally, Dawn’s husband, Brian, is a physicist, and this leads to crash-course summaries of the multiverse, electron spin, and Schrödinger’s cat, all of which become instrumental to the plot.
Though I did not personally enjoy reading The Book of Two Ways, it is still a skilled piece of writing that I probably would have appreciated more in non-pandemic times. Indeed, if the quality of a book is measured by the amount of time that it haunts readers’ minds after it has been completed, I was still thinking about The Book of Two Ways for days after I had finished it.