Ann Arbor Folk Fest presents folk of all kinds

By Paige Pfleger, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 26, 2014

The last few years have seen a resurgence in the folk genre; with on-screen hits like “Inside Llewyn Davis” and bands like Of Monsters and Men or Mumford & Sons floating into mainstream culture. Those whose interests have been piqued by this rise can get their fix live at the 37th annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

The Ark, a non-profit venue, started the festival in 1977 as a fundraiser after they lost financial support from their backers. The festival was successful, and has been recreated annually ever since, drawing crowds of hundreds of folk loving folks, and featuring artists such as The Head and The Heart, The Avett Brothers, City and Colour, Ben Folds, and other indie-folk inspired artists. This year's headliners include Iron & Wine, Neko Case, Ingrid Michaelson, Patty Griffin and actor-musician Jeff Daniels.

Making their A2 Folk Festival debut is Pearl and the Beard, an indie-folk trio from New York City. The group was formed by accident back in 2008 when Jocelyn Mackenzie, singer and percussionist, met Jeremy Styles, singer and guitarist, at an open mic night in the city.

“I was there for happy hour,” Mackenzie said. “Jeremy was playing guitar and we met and started chatting. I sang and wrote music but had never had anyone to collaborate with. We started doing open mics together, and a few months later we met Emily.”

The duo became a trio when Mackenzie and Styles saw Emily Hope Price making her debut singing and playing the cello. Later that year they released their first album, God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson. The trio joining forces was truly serendipitous, for each of the musicians got their start from different parts of the nation: Utah, New Jersey and California.

“We were strangers before we were bandmates, and bandmates before we were friends,” Mackenzie said.

Like most folk staples, the group began making music with the instruments they had around them: guitars, harmonicas, Price’s cello, clapping and of course, their voices. As the band has matured, their sound has filled out with the addition of a wider variety of instrumentation. The band grew in popularity, were featured on NPR’s World Café and served as the opening acts for Ingrid Michaelson and Ani DiFranco.

“This is our first folk festival and we’re really excited to be part of such a diverse line-up,” Mackenzie said. “Each artist in the line-up is coming from a place of genuine love for their craft.”

Of the musicians they are performing with at the festival, Pearl and the Beard is most excited about Neko Case, a performer that they claim is the source of a lot of their musical inspiration.

Neko Case’s past is rooted in country music, and she has been part of numerous bands including The New Pornographers. She has won awards for her solo work including Female Artist of the Year at the Plug Independent Music Awards in 2006, as well as a few Grammy nominations. She’s consistently praised for her smoky vocals and beautifully written music.

“Hopefully we’ll run into her. I would like to give her a high five,” Styles said.

“Let it be known, for the record, that I would love to have a beer with Neko Case,” Mackenzie said. “It would be amazing. I would not be nervous; I would just be like ‘Hey, can I buy you a beer?’ and she could say yes or no.”

Other favorites of Pearl and the Beard include Iron & Wine and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.

Some Michigan grown acts include Appleseed Collective from Ann Arbor, The Crane Wives from Grand Rapids and actor Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”), hailing from Chelsea, Michigan.

The Ark’s mission statement says that the organization is “dedicated to the enrichment of the human spirit through the presentation, preservation and encouragement of folk” and the star-studded 37th Annual festival promises to do just that.