Folk Festival '83
Bargain-basement prices, penthouse-level performers — and it's all for The Ark
By JEFF MORTIMER
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
If you have attended even one of its five predecessors, or if you have attended its beneficiary, The Ark coffee house, you need only be informed that the sixth annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival will happen (the word is used judiciously) at the Michigan Theatre on Saturday, with an afternoon show at 1:30 p.m. and an evening show at 8 p.m.
You'll be there, of course.
A year ago, the fifth annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival happened on the corresponding January Saturday, at the same venue, and the weather was almost unimaginably hostile: below-zero temperatures, winds like a thousand razor blades, horizontal snow.
One of the scheduled acts didn't make it, but 2,800 folk music (generously defined) fans did. 1,200 for the matinee and 1,600 in the evening, and that put $13,000 into The Ark's chronically cramped coffers. That should give you some idea.
COMBINE BARGAIN-BASEMENT ticket prices (thanks to performers who are compensated only for their expenses) with penthouse-level performers and bona fide Good Cause, and the weather seems a trifle.
The bargain-basement ticket prices are $8.50 for each show or either $12 or $15, depending on seat location, for both.
The penthouse-level performers are, in alphabetical order, David Bromberg and his band, Dan Crary, Ann Doyle, Fennig's All-Star String Band, the Folktellers, John Hartford and his band, Jim Post, John Roberts and Tony Barrand, and Claudia Schmidt.
Bromberg and his band will headline both shows, Post will emcee both, and other acts will appear in one show apiece.
David and Linda Siglin, co-proprietors of The Ark, have maintained their customary "mix" of proven draws (Bromberg, Hartford, Post, Schmidt), artists whom they expect to become proven draws with the help of festival exposure (Crary, Roberts and Barrand, the Folktellers, Fennig's and local talent (Doyle).
FOR THOSE WHO will need an introduction to Bromberg, no introduction could possibly be adequate. Ken Emerson of the New York Times described him as "an extraordinarily nimble guitarist and a proficient fiddler with a musicologist's knowledge of American instrumental idioms, (whose) wisecracks would stand him in good stead at a Catskills resort...it's hard to market a folkie with a funnybone, and tougher still to capture him on record, which is why Mr. Bromberg is heard to best advantage in live performance."
He has been heard often in connection with The Ark, having performed there at least a dozen times in addition to appearing in all but one of the previous Ann Arbor Folk Festivals.
"I play The Ark because I love The Ark," Bromberg told The News in an interview last spring. "It's the best place to play that I've ever played, so I just keep coming back, purely for my own pleasure. If I stopped playing everywhere else in the world, I'd still play The Ark. If I ever don't play The Ark, you'll know I'm not really interested in music any more."
Like Bromberg, John Hartfod is renowned for being multi-talented and uncategorizable. Commercial success came early in his career, when his "Gentle On My Mind" became a huge hit for Glen Campbell and, eventually, a standard recorded by more than 300 other artists. But he has gone on since then to record 16 albums (one of which, "Mark Twang," earned Hartford his third Grammy Award in 1976), establish a reputation as one of the country's foremost exponents of folk and bluegrass music, and get a license to pilot riverboats.
JIM POST, TOO, all but defies description: part folk singer, part song writer, part comic, part secular preacher, he is a five-man band posing as a one-man show, and promises to keep the breaks between sets from being anything remotely resembling dead spots.
"I have never, ever been more entertained by an artist than I was by Jim Post," wrote a Winnipeg critic after one of his concerts there. "Imagine the dry wit of Martin Mull, the off-the-wall craziness of Steve Martin, and the comic genius of George Carlin, combined with a superb voice, poetic lyrics and beautifully crafted tunes, and you only have a hint of what Jim Post is all about."
As rising young male singers are inevitably compared to Bob Dylan, so are their female analogues compared to Joni Mitchell, a burden that is already weighing on Claudia Schmidt. If her performances and recordings to date are any indication, the Michigan native, a regular on National Public Radio's "Prairie Home Companion," seems destined to cope with it nicely. She plays the 12-string guitar, dulcimer and pianolin (a combination of the piano and violin that is simultaneously bowed and plucked) but as one critic put it, "her true instrument is her voice."
John Roberts and Tony Barrand, Englishmen who have become American citizens, bring strong academic credentials in folklore along with a profound respect for old English popular culture to their performances, which include rich harmony singing, clog dancing and droll stories as part of a persuasive impersonation of pub singers of a bygone era.
THE FOLKTELLERS are a pair of Southern cousins, Tennessee's Barbara Freeman and Alabama's Connie Regan, who are now based in North Carolina. Their aim is the preservation of America's rich storytelling heritage, and they weave mountain tales, humor and dramatizations of such contemporary fictions as Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are" into their act.
Dan Crary is routinely ranked with Doc Watson and Norman Blake as one of the pre-eminent flatpickers in captivity. A national contest winner and alumnus of the bluegrass band Sundance, Crary recently went solo with an album called "Sweet Southern Girl" which features a range of styles from country-rock to bluegrass.
"The music we play and listen to is not an expendable luxury," says Crary. "We need it, perhaps more than we often realize. We may not be able to go back to the simpler days, but we can recapture some of the reality of it in music."
FENNIG'S ALL-STAR String Band, based in upstate New York, includes George Wilson on fiddle and banjo, Bill Spence on hammered dulcimer, Toby Fink on piano and guitar, and all of the above on vocals. They have performed their vast repertoire of Irish, English, American and Canadian fiddle tunes at a number of festivals, including Mariposa, and have recorded three albums.
Ann Doyle, Ann Arbor's gift to this year's festival, is a guitarist of exceptional ability who teaches at the Herb David Guitar Studio. Although labeled a "feminist singer," her songwriting and performances, unlike some others to whom that sobriquet has been applied, appeal equally to both genders.
Festival tickets are available at Herb David Guitar Studio, Schoolkids Records or , on the day of the show, at the Michigan Theatre box office.
They also can be obtained through the mail by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to The Ark, 1421 Hill St., Ann Arbor 48104. Further information is available by calling The Ark at 761-1451.
Ann Arbor Folk Festival
Fennig's All Star String Band (Musical Group)
The Folktellers (Musical Group)
New York Times
National Public Radio (NPR)
Herb David Guitar Studio
Ann Arbor News