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Folk Festival Engendered More Than 'A Warm Feeling' -- It Inspired Gratitude

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Folk Festival engendered more than 'a warm feeling' — it inspired gratitude



If you’re sick of checking in every year and reading some enthusiastic review about how great this year’s Ann Arbor Folk Festival was, then just go ahead and turn the page. But if you’d like to know why in some ways this was the most relaxed, most serious and most charming version of the annual concert to raise funds for The Ark yet, then read on.

Every single one of Hill Auditorium’s 4,200 seats was sold out (thus raising over $20,000 for The Ark), and about 90 percent of those ticket holders stayed riveted to their seats from 6:02 p.m. when Ken Whitely took the stage to introduce the RFD Boys, to 11:51 p.m., when the entire cast joined Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert on stage to sing “Goodnight Irene.”

The festival’s organizers claimed they were going for a “warm” feeling, and darned if they didn’t get it .This concert actually inspired a feeling of gratitude.

The magic was worked from building blocks that sound more or less like the high points of an exceptionally good month at The Ark. Performers who have sizable followings, yet are a little too much for some people in an entire show (David Bromberg and Holly Near), left the entire audience yelling for more. Performers who hadn’t made a substantial impression with a large portion of the Ann Arbor folk audience (Maura O’Connell and Jonathan Edwards) electrified the audience, and old favorites like Tom Paxton and the duo of Garnet Rogers and Archie Fisher made the audience think they were being impressed by them for the first time.

Two performers essentially new to the area made indelible impressions — albeit for different reasons. North Carolina story teller Jackie Torrence perched herself on a chair and told a variation of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Jack winds up in hell) that had audience members leaning forward in their seats to catch every nuance. Christine Lavin was suffering from a week-long bout with flu and had to beg off her entire set, but came onstage not just to apologize, but, incredibly, to perform a hilarious baton-twirling routine.

Most of the festival’s high points, of course, need little explanation, just celebration. Kitty Donohoe and Maura O’Connell’s separate sets were chances to see two incredible vocalists at work - Donohoe impressed with her unearthly purity, O’Connell with an emotional range as broad as her vocal range.

Paxton was the epitome of the topical songwriter, proving that the same sense of emotional awareness that can lead him to pen an outrageous spoof of Gary Hart (“Warren Beatty told him, ‘Loo-kie, you can get a lot of nookie if you get into the politics game.’ ”) also can produce a classic love song like “The Last Thing on My Mind.”

When Near and Gilbert took the stage at 11 p.m. for their set, you’d have thought the audience would be a little tired, but the minute the pair charged into “Lifeline,” it was obvious that nobody was ready for it to end. Yes, the pair addressed a good many issues in song (from everything from a celebration of lesbian sexuality, to ageism,to the price activism can sometimes extract), but, in a way, their set was emblematic of the entire festival.

You see, this wasn’t an “issue” concert with some music, or a festival of instrumental subtleties, or a cavalcade of songs and songwriting. Rather, it was a wide range of performers doing what they do best. Everybody in that room gave something, and got more than they bargained for in return. That’s going to help The Ark continue to bring us events like this, and that’s something to be grateful for.


The Office of Major Events in cooperation with The Ark. presented the 11th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival at Hill Auditorium on Saturday evening.