On a cold February Monday in Ann Arbor, complete with mostly unwalkable and snowy sidewalks, I wasn’t expecting a line to the end of the block at The Ark. In front of me stood a family with small children, and behind me, an older couple. There was a felt history as I entered The Ark for the first time — maybe because it’s a place my grandpa and dad used to frequent, or maybe it was the variety of ages in the crowd. The half-circle seating arrangement enables a sense of connection within the audience: we’re not just facing the music, but also each other.
After a brief introductory note from The Michigan Theater and The Ark, the members of Bonny Light Horseman walked onto the stage and settled into their arrangement. The members consist of Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman, with support from drummer JT Bates and guitarist/saxophonist Michael Lewis. The band first formed with Josh and Anaïs as they began to explore ancient folk songs. When their friend, Eric, heard about the new endeavor, he joined in. There was an evident appreciation that all the band members had for one another, watching each other and smiling in awe.
The night began with a few Ann Arbor anecdotes from Johnson, who went to elementary school here and whose mother worked at a jewelry store in the mall. After their first song, the band talked about how the album they are mostly playing from, Bonny Light Horseman, still feels new because it is a “pandemic album.” The album reimagines ancient folk music for the new world.
After a brief intermission and a new stage configuration, the same band members came out, but this time to play songs only by Anaïs. Though she was the main act of the night, it was hard to top the palpable collective energy of Bonny Light Horseman’s section. Perhaps it’s the nature of live music — where the more that is going on, the better — or perhaps Bonny Light Horseman just has their sound down. Anaïs played a few songs from her musical, Hadestown, which follows the Greek myth of Hades, his wife Persephone, Orpheus and his doomed lover Eurydice, set in both hell and the world above it. Eric joined Anaïs in this part of the show, and the energy in the room picked back up, as we watched the two performers play off each other.
Anaïs continued to play songs off of her latest album, Anaïs Mitchell, with songs about leaving New York City and womanhood. She spoke to the audience about leaving New York when the pandemic began in the midst of a pregnancy and returning to Vermont, where she is originally from. The final song she played was “Little Big Girl,” a track about growing up but still feeling the child inside you. As the band walked off stage, the crowd of children, teenagers and adults rose in applause. I left The Ark, in the company of just myself, a few hours before my birthday, feeling revived in my community and within my own self.
Daily Arts Writer Katy Trame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.