When University alumni David Allen Grier and Gilda Radner called Ann Arbor their home, each graced the stage of a certain still-standing local venue. Though The Ark, snugly fit in the heart of Main Street, is now mainly home to classic folk acts, both the actor-comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnni made their mark in the club.The Ark, a small music venue, has opened its doors to local and national artists for the last 40 years and hosts roughly 300 shows per year, with an emphasis on folk roots and acoustic sounds. “A lot of people think that folk is mainstream pop of the 1960s, and that’s really a small part of folk history,” Ark Marketing Director Colleen Murdock said. The Ark strives to promote the music that is self-taught, unstructured and handed down from generation to generation, as well as appeal to multiple age groups. This year, groups performing at The Ark have included Ellis Paul, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Glengarry Bhoys and the University Jazz Ensemble. The Ensemble will be performing tonight at 7 p.m. and tickets cost $15. Acoustic trio Bela Fleck will be performing April 13 as part of The Ark’s 40th anniversary celebration.Besides the unique sounds that are produced at The Ark, the club is able to provide another type of unusual experience — a meet and greet option after most concerts. Though not all artists agree, the majority are happy to oblige. For music-lovers, this special experience is exciting and rare; LSA sophomore Dave Raven made the most of meeting hippie legend Richie Havens last year. “I brought my parents’ Woodstock T-shirt to the concert, and he actually autographed it right in the middle after the show,” Raven said. Artists have also been known to sign CDs and ticket stubs, take pictures with fans and chat with audience members.Open Mic nights are popular, especially as fun, cheap dates — tickets are $3 per person, or $2 for visitors with an annual membership to The Ark.Nearly 100 members of the Ann Arbor community attend Open Mic nights, the same forum that Grier and Radner gained their collegiate comedic experience.For those interested in performing, the process is simple. At 7:30 p.m., everyone who wishes to perform puts his or her name or group act on a slip and 15 acts are randomly chosen to perform that night. Any group not chosen that week has the opportunity to put two slips in for the next drawing. And while Open Mic nights provide a more regular form of listening and viewing pleasure, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival is The Ark’s biggest annual fundraiser. The two-day event is always the last weekend in January. It is a showcase for those The Ark considers phenomenal performers, including recognized artists who help draw crowds as well as some lesser-known performers. “We want to put on the best show we can,” Murdock said. “It’s also a chance to cultivate new acts and audiences.” This year’s successful festival headlined Keb’ Mo’ and the Indigo Girls, and featured artists such as Jeremy Kittel, the Kruger Brothers and Steppin’ In It. The festival tickets are $30 and $45.The Ark aims to keep its ticket prices as low as possible, although prices rise if Hill Auditorium or the Michigan Theatre are rented out as venues, or if larger bands who demand more money perform. “Seeing an artist in a small space is worth a somewhat higher ticket price in itself,” said Murdock. In the end, prices are determined by how much the market will bear and the artist fee.Supporting The Ark by becoming a member has perks, some of which include advance ticket purchasing and lower ticket prices. There are tiers of membership, starting at $5 per semester (based on the University schedule) and going up to $500. “Memberships are key because ticket sales only cover 75 percent of expenses,” Murdock said. Thus, The Ark depends on its loyal concert-goers to help fund the theater and keep ticket prices low.Additionally, only members may purchase alcohol at concession stands, although a member may sign in guests to buy as well. The Ark is an all-age venue, offering soft drinks, baked goods and popcorn at every show. It may not be as big as the Michigan Theatre, or have the newly renovated polish of Hill Auditorium, but The Ark has a long-standing tradition of acoustic roots and folk favorites, making it an ideal destination for a musical night on the town.

Chelsea Trull
The Blind Boys of Alabama performed at The Ark — located on Main Street — Tuesday night. (Amy Drumm/Daily)

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