From its humble beginnings as a one-night stand at the Power Center in 1977, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival has become a celebration of folk music in all its forms. Over the course of its more than 30-year history, The Ark’s annual hootenanny has become one of the most popular musical events in town all year.

Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Today and tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
Hill Auditorium
Tickets from $30

In addition to hosting folk legends like Pete Seeger and John Prine in previous years, past headliners Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar, Iron & Wine and Ben Folds are all names that can be found somewhere in the average college kid’s iPod — a fact not lost on festival organizers looking to appeal to both old folkies and University hipsters alike.

This year’s lineup continues the festival’s youth-centric streak with headliners The Avett Brothers, Citizen Cope and the Swell Season, while also boasting national treasures like Mavis Staples and the sweet blue-eyed Judy Collins of the late-’60s Laurel Canyon scene. As in previous years, this weekend’s festival promises to be an eclectic mix of old and new.

Now in its 34th year (the folk fest skipped ’78), the tagline for this weekend’s event is “Find Your Folk,” a nod toward embracing the big tent that folk music, in all its forms, has become over time.

“I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about what folk music is,” said Ark marketing director Barb Chaffer Authier, who recently spoke with the Daily about the festival’s history and why its connection to University audiences is so important.

“The whole point of the festival is to get a taste of all these different artists,” Authier said. “We want to just remind people that (folk) is a much broader category than they might think … and we hope folks will be open to hearing new things and discovering different artists.”

From its more humble beginnings as a progenitor of acts like John Prine and Leon Redbone (along with a few remnants of Ann Arbor’s thriving late-’60s singer-songwriter scene), the Folk Festival — the brainchild and central fundraiser for the famed local fixture The Ark — has been an annual event bringing together the disparate strands of dusty Americana under one roof.

In 2003, the festival moved to the Michigan Theater due to the Hill Auditorium being closed for renovation. To make up for the lack of seating in the smaller venue, event organizers opted to add an extra night to the affair to accommodate for the same-sized crowd, albeit split in two. The plan was such a hit that, once they returned to Hill in 2004, Ark organizers were prompted to uphold the two-night format ever since. But there was some debate onto how the split should work.

“Once we moved into that two-night idea, there was a lot of thought going into how we would distinguish the two nights from each other,” Authier said.

Since the move to separate the festival across two nights, the festival’s M.O. has generally been to attract hipper, more up-and-coming headliners Friday night, leaving the older, more tenured acts to play Saturday. Recently, however, event programmers have been considering changing things up.

“For a while, there was a lot of focus on the first night being geared toward up-and-coming artists or people that kind of push the boundaries of what it means to be playing folk music,” Authier said. “But I think we’re getting to that point where you might see the two nights coming a little closer together in what people’s expectations for the music are going to be.”

Echoing this trend, ticket sales for this year’s festival have shown a rise in the purchasing of “series tickets” — the festival’s combined two-night ticketing option — perhaps demonstrating audiences’ desire to stick around through the weekend.

Though the festival has always attracted national artists that ultimately demand the most attention (and ticket sales) from Ann Arbor audiences, Ark event programmer Anya Siglin — who also books for the venue year-round — has been keen to pepper in local or developing artists in order to expose fans to similar-sounding and exciting new breeds of folk music.

“The idea of the festival isn’t just to present the big name headliners,” Authier pointed out. “The other folks on the bill are artists we really believe in and the festival gives them a chance to be seen.”

Though Friday night is sold out, tickets are still available for Saturday, with prices starting at $30.

“Be sure to come at the beginning,” Authier warned. “You don’t want to risk missing the next great thing because you didn’t get there in time!”

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