Stephen Kellogg is a family man, no doubt about it. The singer-songwriter has four daughters and a wife of 15 years, but his warm presence could make anyone feel a part of something bigger, tied together by the common thread of folk music. On Friday, Kellogg brought this sense of unity to The Ark, making his stamp on the venue with his beautifully written songs and engaging personality. The connection he made with his audience that night was uncanny, almost as comfortable and open as a house party with friends and relatives. This is what makes Kellogg unique and his shows so inviting — he is truly committed to making his music an intimate experience for his audience, one rambling story at a time.
Kellogg kicked off the intimate concert with a bang, the song “4th Street Moon” from his time in a band known as Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. Though many in the audience may have not known the song already, it was clear from that first chord that the night would be memorable. Kellogg appears as if he was born on stage, taking the spotlight and using it to his advantage, but never letting go of his connection with the audience. He let his small crowd at The Ark know this early, telling them that he “had a plan for the night — sing-alongs, stories and the like,” with a laugh. This was most certainly true, as Kellogg wove in tales of his own life to set up each song with a warm smile and touching sense of humor.
The singer has a committed fan base, who affectionately call him “SK,” but there were a fair amount of new faces in the crowd, drawn to the concert from Kellogg’s performance on night one of the 41st Ann Arbor Folk Festival earlier this year. If Kellogg didn’t win those people over by the end of the night, I don’t know what would have — his rapport with the audience grew with every tune he sang, telling the story of his life and loves with songs like “1993” (about meeting his wife at the age of 16) and “4 Kids,” among others. The songwriter also invited opener Hailey Steele up for two songs, her pure country voice accompanying Kellogg’s gritty folk drawl for crowd favorite “See You Later, See You Soon.”
Kellogg joked about how his labels have asked him to “stop writing songs about specific dates and people,” but that is clearly the artist’s forte — it could easily get old, but he manages to make every song stand out from the others. He’s a true storyteller in every sense of the word, taking advantage of his life experience to craft a unique connection with his listeners and fellow musicians. Though his songs are often specific, it’s this specificity that makes them universal — he puts into words what we all feel about family, love and the challenges life always presents. Kellogg closed the show on this universal note, singing hit “Thanksgiving” with a raw and soulful twang which brought the audience to their feet. Kellogg is a family man on his own accord, but he turned everyone there into a family for two hours, singing and laughing until he left the stage, arms raised in triumph.