The Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a fundraiser for The Ark, will celebrate its 33rd year with some of the finest in traditional and contemporary artists. The Festival returns to Hill Auditorium for two dynamic and different nights of folk and roots music on Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30, beginning at 6:30 p.m. each night. In keeping with the Festival’s longstanding reputation, each night will feature a blend of renowned and up-and-coming performers, providing audiences with the opportunity to hear popular artists working at the top of their field while discovering terrific new talent. All funds raised through the Festival benefit The Ark, Ann Arbor’s non-profit home for folk, roots, and ethnic music.
Friday evening will feature Iron and Wine and Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard along with a host of artists who are known for pushing the boundaries of their art, bringing a progressive sound to the folk music scene. Saturday night will delve into the heart of folk and roots traditions showcasing styles well known to folk and roots audiences. Featured on Saturday night’s program are Rosanne Cash, Richie Havens, and Doc Watson.
Tickets go on sale to the general public on December 1 by phone at (734)763-TKTS or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office, Herb David Guitar Studio, the Ark box office, or any TicketMaster outlet, or on line at www.ticketmaster.com. General public tickets are $30 and $45 for a single night; $50 and $80 for series tickets.
2010 ANN ARBOR FOLK FESTIVAL ARTIST DESCRIPTIONS
IRON and WINE
Iron and Wine is singer-songwriter Samuel Beam, who has an MFA degree in film from Florida State University. While he was there, he spotted a nutritional supplement called Beef Iron & Wine and took part of its name for his own. He came on the scene in 2002 with an acoustic album called “The Creek Drank the Cradle” that drew comparisons to Nick Drake and the late Elliott Smith. B.R. Bickford of Salon wrote that Beam’s vocal delivery had “a simultaneously fragile and soothing effect, similar to the one achieved on Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” His lyrics can tend toward the morose but have never lost their very seductive beauty. Later Iron and Wine albums have offered lush electric textures, but for his headliner appearance on the Friday night bill at the 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival Beam returns to his acoustic indie folk roots.
JAY FARRAR & BENJAMIN GIBBARD
Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar are hugely influential musicians, best known for their leadership roles in other bands: Gibbard in Death Cab for Cutie and Farrar in Uncle Tupelo and then Son Volt. In 2007 they joined forces to record music for the documentary film “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur,” in which both of them appeared. It turned out to be one of those musical partnerships that made perfect sense and grew of its own accord, with Farrar’s awesome evocations of the American musical landscape matching Gibbard’s experimental outlook. As they got deeper into Kerouac’s writing, the two decided to release a full-length album of songs they wrote together, working on them while staying in the Bixby Canyon cabin loaned to Kerouac by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The lyrics of these songs are taken from Kerouac’s 1962 novel “Big Sur,” depicting the gradual breakdown of a newly famous writer modeled on Kerouac himself. For anyone who has ever been fascinated with the work of Jack Kerouac, or Ben Gibbard, or Jay Farrar, this meeting of musical minds will be an exciting American cultural moment.
The Band of Heathens came together in Austin in 2006, in a process as natural and organic as the music they create. Songwriters Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, and Gordy Quist joined a weekly multi-artist bill at the famed Momo’s club and began to share the stage and perform each other’s songs. Word of their shows grew, and after a newspaper somehow mistakenly dubbed them the Heathens, they had a name for their new band. Songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, a skilled Texas talent-spotter, signed on to produce their debut studio album, “The Band of Heathens,” in 2008, and they suffered no slump with their sophomore release, “One Foot in the Ether.” Among the critical raves they’ve received is one from Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal, who said that the Band of Heathens played the best set he heard in five nights at the 2009 SXSW festival in Austin. The music of the Band of Heathens, in the words of Jody Denberg of Austin’s KGSR radio, is “greasy and right.”
HOOTS & HELLMOUTH
Philadelphia’s Hoots and Hellmouth are the duo of singer-songwriters Sean Hoots and Andrew Gray (he’s Hellmouth), augmented by mandolinist Rob Berliner and other musicians as needed. They call their sound “new music for old souls,” and it has elements of alt-country, classic folk, and jam-band freedom. A great performance at the 2006 Philadelphia Folk Festival put them on the map, and they’ve built a following pretty much just by taking their music on the road. “We’re not trying to sell you a product or influence you in any particular way,” say Hoots and Hellmouth. “We’re not espousing any ideology other than that which builds community on a local level. All religions, no religions, political shades all across the spectrum (including the infrareds and ultraviolets) . . . we welcome you! We’re bringing what we know–music–to the party.”
These Canadian urban minstrels pen lazy melodies that will warm your soul and your toes. They call their style 21st-century roots music. Take the blues, the wail of a gypsy fiddle, punk street poetry, a Cajun love song, Depression-era jazz, and sounds from around the planet, mix it all up, and add sweetness, grit, and soul. Then you’ve got Po’ Girl, which has lately been the hit of the festival circuit from Canada to Cameroun. Po’ Girl showcases a wide array of instruments-from gutbucket bass, accordion, clarinet, banjo, dobro, guitar, to electric bass, glockenspiel, piano, harmonica, bicycle bells, drums — and they all frequently trade off instruments with each song. Says Rambles magazine of Po’ Girl’s music: “On the first note I’m lost in a dreamy, dusty, road-ruled world.” Po’ Girl released a pair of albums in 2009 and comes to the Folk Festival with a new one on the way in the spring of 2010.
Jer Coons is a singer-songwriter from the Green Mountains of Vermont. He’s 20 years old, and, he says, he does not shop at Urban Outfitters trying to buy trendy things in an attempt to look ten years younger, because then he would look like a ten-year-old. This kid can write a pop song! Armed with drop-dead catchy melodies, boyish good looks, and, he claims, a charm equal to or greater than that of Paris Hilton, Jer is poised for national recognition. His songs draw comparisons to John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Damien Rice. Jer’s debut album, “Speak,” recently appeared, and you may have heard his song “Legs” playing at the Hollister store at Briarwood or in others all across North America.
NERVOUS BUT EXCITED
The “pleasantly aggressive” Nervous but Excited offers dead-on harmony: two songwriters (Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver), two singers, two guitars, a mandolin, a violin, a few harmonicas, some vaguely choreographed dancing, and a lot of laughter. Their original repertoire ranges in topic from smart, introspective narratives to the tactfully political, and they still dabble in the love/post-love variety of song every now and then. Since 2004, Nervous but Excited has released three full-length albums and three EPs, and they’ve played with established artists like Ani DiFranco, Melissa Ferrick, Ferron, Toshi Reagon, Utah Phillips, and Girlyman. Their latest, “Anchors,” they say, is ” the first 100 percent carbon-footprint-free CD release in history (at least that we can find).” The Nervous but Excited appearance at the 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival marks their first local set with their full band, including Susie Giang on banjo and drummer Murray Stewart Jones.
PATTY LARKIN, MC
Patty Larkin has been redefining the boundaries of folk-pop music for nearly 25 years with her inventive guitar wizardry and uncompromsing lyrics and vocals. Guitar World calls her music “genre-stretching, string-popping alterna-folk.” As an instrumentalist, she skillfully and effortlessly mixes rock, folk, blues, Celtic, and funk styles. She’s a guitar sorceress who has honed a reputation as a musician’s musician, and she occupies a unique space where Beck meets Richard Thompson, where Beth Orton intersects with Guy Clark, where Me’Shell NdegéOcello fuses with Bob Dylan. With a stage presence that’s second to none and a gift for bringing together multi-artist presentations like her all-female La Guitara guitar-virtuosa tour, Patty Larkin joins the 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival as MC on both Friday and Saturday evening.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 30
Rosanne Cash has made an impact as a creative figure many times. With her then husband, Rodney Crowell, she essentially created progressive country music in the early 1980s, and her incisive compositions like “Seven Year Ache” had an audience far beyond country. Many of her more recent albums have been unflinching examinations of intimate relationships. Rosanne is a children’s book author, an essayist who has been published in the New York Times and Oxford American, an editor, a producer, and an activist on behalf of children. With all this in mind and on view, it’s easy to forget that she is also Johnny Cash’s oldest daughter. Now she has paid him direct homage in the form of a wonderful new album, “The List,” on which she selected 12 pieces from a list of 100 country songs that her father gave her when she was 18 — and that she’s always saved. Tonight’s co-headliner set marks a return to personal roots for one of the central figures of contemporary American country and popular music.
“I’m not in show business; I’m in the communications business,” says Richie Havens, who performed with Bob Dylan in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and opened the festivities at Woodstock. Richie has just released his 30th album, “Nobody Left to Crown,” and the music on the album shows that this folk legend has never been more relevant, even necessary, than he is today. A performance by Richie Havens has been and remains a powerful, positive experience in tune with all kinds of good vibrations. His unique pre-punk guitar strumming is something you can recognize from a mile away, and the same is true of his singing and of the compelling figure of Richie Havens himself: he seems to be one with the profoundly creative messages of his songs. 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival co-headliner Richie Havens is, in the words of Guitar Player, “as vibrant and purposeful as ever.”
Singer and guitarist Arthel L. “Doc” Watson has received the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship, and other honors too numerous to list. Doc was born into a musical family in Deep Gap, North Carolina on March 3, 1923. He attended the Raleigh School for the Blind, where he picked up the guitar and learned various other skills; he can make you a superb hand-caned chair should you happen to need one. Doc is one of those very rare artists whose roots reach deep into the past but who have also been true innovators. The last time he took the stage at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival he introduced Jimmie Rodgers song by saying “This isn’t really an old-time tune … unless you consider the Twenties old-time.” Yet he is considered one of the most influential guitarists of the last century. Playing fiddle tunes on a guitar, for example, is commonplace nowadays, but before Doc came along it was hardly ever done. The folk revival of the 1960s would have been hard to imagine without 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival co-headliner Doc Watson, and every performer and presenter involved with the roots of American music owes him a tremendous debt.
When Raul Malo came on the scene as the lead singer of the Mavericks, he already had a sound that didn’t fit the usual categories — and a luxuriant voice that brought to mind Roy Orbison. The Mavericks were a country band, but there was always more to the Mavericks than country: a Latin tinge, seriously ambitious songwriting, and a big dose of pure pop passion. For Raul Malo, the Mavericks were just a beginning of an American musical journey. He has sung in English and Spanish, and he’s at home with rock, country, Cuban music, and the big-band jazz that fits his romantic vocals so beautifully. He’s sung Latin rock, acoustic Americana, and even children’s music. And his voice has only improved with age. It’s a stunning instrument that has the rare quality of being big and intimate at the same time.
HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN
The Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown explores the space where early jazz meets Texas swing, where Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang meet Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Guitarist Whit Smith and fiddler Elana James have become a world-class country-jazz duo, challenging each other and reading each other’s minds at every turn. Add in the insouciant lyrics of the era and the vigorous slap-bass rhythms of Jake Erwin, and you’ve got virtuoso small-group western swing that’s beyond infectious. If you’ve seen the Hot Club before, be advised that they’re only getting better — they went on hiatus, got back together, and came out of it stronger. Their new album, “Wishful Thinking,” adds a mix of original songs and unexpected covers to the trio’s repertoire, and it makes clearer than ever that the Hot Club of Cowtown is much more than a revival act.
ENTER THE HAGGIS
A haggis is a tasty Scottish dish consisting of sheep heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet, and spices, and then boiled inside a sheep’s stomach. The Canadian-Scots band Enter the Haggis (bagpiper Craig Downie is from Scotland) has just about as much variety in their style, a high-speed collision of Celtic music, rock, bluegrass, funk, and world music. An Enter the Haggis live show is a musical feast — dynamic, emotionally uplifting, and intellectually stimulating. The band’s music darts effortlessly from the trad strains of, say, the Chieftains and the Pogues to the frenetic pop of early Elvis Costello and even to Latin and African sounds. Enter the Haggis recently released its seventh album, “Gutter Anthems,” combining rousing drinking songs with lyrics in English and French, and musical influences from all over.