36th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival: The Ark.
January 25 & 26 (different programs). A major highlight of the local musical year, with established and rising stars representing a wide spectrum of vernacular musical idioms. Emcee both nights is Colin Hay, an Australian singer-songwriter best known as the former frontman of the tuneful 80s pop-rock band Men at Work. Tonight’s headliner is The Head and the Heart, a young Seattle folk-rock sextet on the Sub Pop label known for its exhilarating live shows whose music has been described as “Americana meets the Beatles.” Also appearing: Lucinda Williams is celebrated singer-songwriter whose music blends traditional blues, country, Cajun, R&B, and rock ’n’ roll forms with highly charged and at times desperately inventive ballad-style lyrics that take their inspiration as much from the southern Gothic fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty as from traditional song. But unlike many self-consciously literate singer-songwriters, she bases her singing style on an expressive repertoire of vocal tones, timbres, and other nonverbal devices. Dar Williams, a local favorite ever since her performance at the 1996 Ann Arbor Folk Festival, is an acclaimed pop-folk singer-songwriter from western Massachusetts who sings in a sweet, ringing soprano. Her brightly melodic songs feature sophisticated, vividly insightful, and often tartly humorous lyrics on a wide range of personal and social themes. Frank Fairfield is a young California folkie steeped in the pre-WWII Americana of the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Dock Boggs. Accompanying himself on fiddle, guitar, or banjo and singing in a reedy tenor, he performs old-time hillbilly ballads, arcane rambling songs, and murder ballads, along with some agile originals. The Steel Wheels is an acclaimed Virginia bluegrass-based Americana quartet, fronted by singer-songwriters Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp, whose new CD Red Wing is a hit on the Americana Music Association charts. Brother Joscephus & the Love Revolution is a Brooklyn-based 12-piece band that plays a New Orleans-inspired mix of soul, classic rock, and feel-good gospel. Drew Nelson is a local folk-style singer-songwriter whose influences range from John Gorka and Greg Brown to Tom Waits and Dylan. This Grand Rapids native’s songs are praised by Americana UK critic Jeremy Searle for their “dusty eloquence and a rural blue-collar sensibility.”
6:30 p.m., Hill Auditorium. Tickets $35 & $47.50 per night and $60 & $85 for both nights in advance at Herb David Guitar Studio and the Michigan Union Ticket Office (mototix.com), and at the door. To charge by phone, call 763-TKTS. [map]