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Concert Reviews:
Folk Fest A Sell-Out Success In Ann Arbor

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2010

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ANN ARBOR -- "Are you guys having fun folking around?" Death Cab For Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard asked in one of the ar, ar, ar moments of the 33rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

And the answer was clearly that, yes, everyone did have fun during the affair at U-M's Hill Auditorium, only the second time in its history that the fundraiser for Ann Arbor's Ark both nights sold out clean. But for organizers there were moments behind the scenes that put that fun in a bit of jeopardy.

Grant-Lee Phillips, who was due to perform both Friday and Saturday (Jan. 29-30), called in sick with food poisoning. Then weather canceled Doc Watson's flight early Saturday, which made him a no-show for his set. Fortunately, the weekend's lineup was already so potent that the festival was able to take those hits and still mesmerize the 3,500 fans each night with an eclectic representation of musics that fit under the folk banner.

The headliners did not disappoint. Rosanne Cash, performing as a duo on Saturday with husband and producer John Leventhal, mesmerized with a generous selection of material from her latest album, "The List," culled a docket of 100 essential songs drawn up by her late father, Johnny Cash. Cash, who's still recovering from brain surgery in 2007, was in strong, clear voice on songs such as Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" and the Carter Family's "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow," while Leventhal stood in for Bruce Springsteen -- to audience chants of "Broooooce" -- on the Grammy Award-nominated "Sea of Heartbreak" and for Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on "Long Black Veil." Cash touched closer to her father's legacy with her 1987 single "Tennessee Flat Top Box" and added material from her last studio album, 2005's "Black Cadillac," and 1981 hit "Seven Year Ache." Cash and Leventhal also brought many of the weekend's other performers onstage for a finale of the campfire standard "500 Miles."

The venerable if unsteady Richie Havens channeled the Woodstock era Saturday with covers of material by Bob Dylan -- "All Along the Watchtower" and "Maggie's Farm," which segued into the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" as well as his own anthem "Freedom." The always sublime Raul Malo had at least one Beatle on his mind, too, as he closed his cover of Rodney Crowell's " 'Til I Gain Control Again," set for Malo's next album, by leading the Saturday crowd in a singalong of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." The Hot Club of Cowtown trio gave the festival a taste of its fluid virtuosity, which Gibbard and Son Volt's Jay Farrar brought the house down Friday with a powerful full-band set showcasing their soundtrack collaboration "One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Jack Kerouac's Big Sur," which made Iron and Wine's subsequent set, while characteristically charming, a bit of an anti-climax.

The discovery component of the folk festival remained intact as well. Philadelphia's Hoots & Hellmouth's rowdy, foot-stompin' performances were crowd favorites and earned a standing ovation on Saturday night, when the quartet filled in for the stranded Watson. Canada weighed in on Saturday with the wide-ranging flavors of Po' Girl, which gave human names to its assorted instruments, and the soaring Celtic rock of Enter the Haggis, while Austin, Texas' Band of Heathens brought a classic rock component to Friday's lineup.

Emcee Patty Larkin kept both nights flowing, meanwhile, with her fascinating one-woman layered guitar displays and sneak peaks of her upcoming album, "25," which celebrates a quarter-century of recording and features appearances by more than two dozen guests, including Rosanne Cash.

Many of the festival's performers already have future dates booked at the Ark during the rest of the year. The weekend's folk festival certainly got folks thinking about those shows, as well as raising a solid batch of cash for the Ark.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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