Of all the classic folk venues bands love to play at, none is perhaps as unique as The Ark. With just 400 seats in the Ford Listening Room, the Ann Arbor staple ensures that the distance between performer and audience is as small as possible. It’s a line that world-renowned American roots group Dustbowl Revival loves to experiment with during their live shows, and The Ark is perhaps where the band looks most at home.
When Zach Lupetin, lead singer, guitarist and University alum, ran up on The Ark’s stage Halloween night clad in a Hawaiian shirt and bright yellow Adidas, he made it abundantly clear that his approach to live music is collaborative. For a crowd deprived of meaningful live performances during the pandemic, the feeling of connecting to Dustbowl Revival’s energy in an intimate space was unparalleled.
Shortly after Dustbowl Revival took the stage, all the imposed social barriers between audience and performer — the very tension that regularly keeps strangers from connecting — were lifted. In an interview with The Daily, Lupetin said, “I think when the lights turn on when people are singing with you, that’s about as powerful a feeling that I have ever experienced.”
Once the group turned on the house lights and ditched the stage, audience members got out of their stiff chairs and felt that power. It was truly a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience that could have only been achieved in a venue such as this.
The Ark is one of those rare spaces in Ann Arbor where there is a diverse coalition of old and young; townies and students can unite under a common love for folk music. According to Lupetin, “The idea of a revival is a place where people from all over gather and sort of let loose and feel some sort of spiritual awakening.” Dustbowl Revival, in its blending of funk, pop, folk and gospel, is perhaps best suited to revive the time-honored roots tradition under a multigenerational banner.
Dustbowl Revival’s set included boisterous anthems, rhythmic jazz-laced folk and intimate acoustic ballads. The performance felt as if the band was sitting on a front porch on a breezy summer afternoon, playing for whoever cared to walk by. Each song carried with it a deep reverence for the roots traditions and the audience that kept it alive. “I think American folk music is about sort of telling the story of America,” Lupetin said. By fearlessly blending influences from all corners of the country, Dustbowl Revival’s set felt perfect to keep that tradition alive.
Lupetin is no stranger to the Ann Arbor folk scene, either. As an alum, Lupetin reminisced that the University “was the first place that really gave me the permission to explore all the intellectual paths that I wanted to explore.” With local writers and artists, Lupetin’s college band The Midnight Special played at house parties and bars around town. It’s that innate knowledge and love for the town mixed with a cross-continental cast of bandmates that made Dustbowl Revival’s performance at The Ark so unique.
While Ann Arbor is famous for being the epicenter of so many global events, it’s still just a small town at heart. Perhaps that multigenerational blending of influences, equal parts global and local, leads so many to fall in love with this oasis in the Midwest. Dustbowl Revival’s performance at The Ark felt like a deeply passionate love letter to the City of Ann Arbor, and anyone who feels similarly should catch them next time they’re in town.
Daily Arts Writer Kai Bartol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.