Nudity, profanity, an accordion player named Tinkerbelle – in between the many singer-songwriters were pleasantly unforeseen oddities in last weekend’s Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
Regardless of whether or not The Slambovian Circus of Dreams satisfied your folk appetite, you have to give The Ark props for filling Hill Auditorium with both dreadlocks and people who remember the ABC “Hootenanny” series.
Both nights were arranged so that lesser-known groups began the night with short sets; this with the intention that the night would progress with longer sets and more entertaining music. Unfortunately, for Friday night, the very opposite was true.
Millish, a local group that mingles bluegrass fiddle with traditional Irish pipes and whistles, started the night. While this group may be young, they were without a doubt some of the most technically and creatively advanced musicians at the festival. Millish was one of the few acts that provided the festivalgoers with something novel – gifted musicians with an innovative sound. Sadly, they were given the shortest set of the night.
A few guitars later, the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble took the audience by surprise with their Japanese taiko drumming and flawlessly choreographed performance. Kiyoshi’s simplicity and precision was riveting, especially during Aki Takahashi’s spotlight on vocals and the three-stringed shamisen.
In regard to Rufus Wainwright, Friday’s headliner: blatant mistakes were made, wrong notes were played and he read off a sheet of lyrics. His voice was nice – but that was all.
Saturday was a similar story. A strong start gradually turned to disappointment when Paul Thorne tried to get the audience to sing along with, “Well it’s a great day for me to whup somebody’s ass . you might get cold-cocked if you cross my path.” Luckily the festival regained its dignity with bluegrass virtuosos Mountain Heart and the legendary John Prine.
But yet again, the highlight of the night was the first performer, Daisy May. Accompanied by fellow Earthworks musician Seth Bernard, May graced the audience with a voice that rivals Patsy Cline in strength and beauty. She will play again at The Ark on April 6.
It’s understandable that the diversity of a folk festival won’t please everyone. Both nights involved a few musicians who adhered to convention. Granted, complying with the masses is what the music industry is about, but it would have been nice to see the most talented musicians have more than a 15-minute set.
Ann Arbor Folk Festival
Friday and Saturday night
At Hill Auditorium