REVIEW: Folk Fest Night One

Folk music is a broad spectrum, and there is no better showcase of that fact than The Ark’s Folk Fest. Folk is a process, an evolutionary music that is about the future as much as the past, all in the present moment. With Willy Porter emceeing the event again, he made the night go seamlessly as he shared wonderful stories and songs before introducing the next act.


Photographs by Morgan Hale

Elliott BROOD kicked off the 43rd Annual Folk Fest with some very high energy. The Canadian group gave us the typical love song and bleak song, but their unique twist on it made the music refreshing nonetheless. Rainbow Girls followed, contrasting Elliott BROOD nicely. They gave me a postmodern jukebox vibe, as the three singers crowded around the microphone and sang their mesmerizing harmonies. Their extremely clever lyrics, especially in their “love” song, “Compassion to the nth Degree,” really captured the personality of the trio, proving that their music really tackles the pursuits of social justice. With a simple guitar, upright bass, or harmonica, Rainbow Girls really captured the human experience with their acoustic sound.




Cedric Burnside was the third act, and probably one of the performers that stood out the most to me. His unorthodox hill country blues music was very percussive and rhythmic, and his stellar guitar skills had a stunning repetition and upbeat tempo that made you sway and tap your toes. He was very modest in his stage presence and did what he came to Ann Arbor to do—play amazing music. The Lone Bellow wrapped up the first half with music that was inventive and full of imagination. The trio also had stunning harmonies and a rich sound, particularly in their encore, “Loretta,” a chilling and touching song about lead singer Zach William’s daughter.

After the intermission, Ingrid Michaelson came out. Her bubbly, lively personality resulted in her telling many stories and laughing during songs, especially when she forgot how her song “Miss America” began and she needed someone in the audience to Google the lyrics for her. Joined by Allie Moss onstage, with just a ukulele and a banjo, the usual upbeat pop take on her songs were toned down, to make it more appropriate for a folk fest. Nonetheless, she made the audience come alive through laughter and performed beautifully.


Calexico + Iron & Wine was the headliner, the final act of a long night. They knew they couldn’t compete with Ingrid’s jokes and personality, so they went about with their set. There were fascinating keyboard and upright bass solos, and the mix of sounds created a soulful and melancholic atmosphere that ended the night that was filled with fabulous folk music.

REVIEW: Parsonsfield

On May 2, 2019, I experienced one of the most exciting live shows I’ve ever been to, and it all took place in front of the stage at The Ark.

The night started out with the opener, Jamie Drake. With just a guitar, her beautiful voice pierced through the air for a simple yet stunning sound. “Pill” and “Plumbline” were lovely sing-alongs that evoked powerful emotions, and “Wonder” was a really cute song as well. She closed with “Allison,” a song inspired by a toddler that acknowledges that it takes time to find your voice and that it’s okay. I didn’t know who she was when the night began, and as soon as she opened her mouth, I was instantly captivated, and I left The Ark a passionate fan of hers.

Then, Parsonsfield came out onstage, singing some of their most popular hits, such as as well as new works that had yet to be performed. They played “Everyone Dies,” “Weeds or Wildflowers,” “Kick Out the Windows,” and “Stronger,” among many others, seamlessly transitioning between all the songs with constant music. They also unplugged for a couple raw, sad numbers that showed off their amazing vocal blending and prowess without reverberating instruments. They finished the night off with their encore, “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” a fun little tune to wrap up their exciting show.

One of the most amazing things about Parsonsfield is the variety of instruments they use and the different sounds they can make with only four people in the band. Chris Freeman, the lead singer with unbounded energy, played the banjo, guitar, pump organ, and harmonica. Max Shakun also contributed his flawless vocals, playing guitar, pump organ, synthesizer, and bass as well. The mandolin man Antonio Alcorn and drummer Erik Hischmann finish off this multifaceted combination of a band. The musical talent of every single member gives the band its one-of-a-kind style that fuses rock and folk into headbanging yet meaningful music.

I saw Parsonsfield at Folk Fest, but sitting right by the stage made the experience way better than sitting in the top balcony and barely being able to see them. This live and intimate show at The Ark made Parsonsfield seem bigger than life, filling up the entire stage and room with joyful music, and the audience, far from being sold out, filled the room with endless applause and cheers that made it seem like the show was sold out. With Jamie Drake setting the stage with her wonderful set that I never wanted to end, Parsonsfield capped the night off with heart-pounding and wonderful music.

REVIEW: Folk Fest

What is folk? After attending the first night of the 42nd Annual Folk Festival, my definition and understanding of this genre of music has both expanded and blurred. Folk isn’t just banjos and mandolins with a Southern drawl. It is so much more, and Folk Fest is the perfect venue to show just how diverse and magical folk music can be.

Peter Mulvey. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

Peter Mulvey was the MC for the night, offering his music in between sets, along with Ford car giveaways and a little story called “Vlad the Astrophysicist,” which he performed, partly by reading from the illustrated children’s book but mostly as a memorized spoken word piece that took you through an existential crisis of time and the universe. Who knew Folk Fest was going to get this deep?

Michigan Rattlers. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor
Parsonsfield. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor
Sam Lewis. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

As the first act, Michigan Rattlers started off the night, the three-member band getting the audience excited with its folk-rock set. Sam Lewis gave us the clapping song we all craved for the night. Parsonsfield was a very talented band featuring an exciting variety of instruments, including the mandolin and harmonica.

Haley Heynderickx. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

One of my favorite performers was Haley Heynderickx, a very calm and sweet soul with a gentle yet mystifying sound. She said, “If someone is scared of bugs and you collect them, this song is about you. Everything else has already been written.” Her sing-along song, “Oom Sha La La,” was so soothing and unique, I’m now looking forward to seeing her back at The Ark in March.

Gregory Alan Isakov. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

After the intermission, a dim blue light illuminated the stage for Gregory Alan Isakov, setting the stage for the thundering music that was to come. Just as Peter Mulvey said in his introduction, there’s an immense stillness through his music. Bright globes matched the songs about space that moved you through time and the universe, all from a seat in Hill Auditorium.

Brandi Carlile. Credit: Andrew Rogers on All About Ann Arbor

Finally, the headliner brought the audience to their feet as she closed out a night of amazing folk music in style. Brandi Carlile is the most Grammy-nominated female artist this year with six nominations, including best album of the year.Alternating between guitars and the piano, her songs about life, love, and motherhood brought the emotions and power we all love her for.

Folk Fest was a phenomenal night filled with the best folk music around. Catch the second night tonight, or come back next year for the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival that will definitely revolutionize how you engage with folk music and its deep and powerful meanings.

PREVIEW: Folk Festival

The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival is a fundraiser for The Ark that takes place in Hill Auditorium with two entertaining nights filled with the best folk music around. For the 42nd Folk Fest, the first night on Friday, January 25 features Brandi Carlile, Gregory Alan Isakov, Haley Heynderickx, Sam Lewis, Parsonsfield, Michigan Rattlers, and Peter Mulvey. Then, the folk fun continues on Saturday, January 26 with the exciting lineup of Rufus Wainwright, I’m With Her, Pokey Lafarge, Ahi, The RFD Boys, and Peter Mulvey. Tickets can be bought at MUTO in the League Underground, at the Ark box office, or online at