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Concert Reviews:
Michigan artists close Folk Fest with loving John Prine tribute

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2021

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The latest edition of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival ended back where it all began in 1976.

The "Michigan Tribute to John Prine" on Sunday, Jan. 31 closed the three-day virtual affair with what Ark director Marianne James called "a love letter back" to "a great friend of the Ark," who headlined the first festival in 1976 -- for free. "He was a great songwriter and he was a great guy," said Dave Siglin, James' predecessor and the festival's founder, who recalled that during 1974 Prine -- who died last April from complications of COVID-19 at the age of 73 -- spent a couple of weeks "hanging out" at The Ark while in the midst of a turbulent management change, cementing his relationship with the venue.

The affection for Prine's music, and even the man himself, was evident throughout Sunday's nearly one-hour tribute, which featured performances of 15 of his songs. The RFD Boys, which performed "The Frying Pan," recalled meeting Prine during 1978 at the Pretzel Bell in Ann Arbor and reuniting at two subsequent festivals. Seth Bernard, who played "Spanish Pipedream," remembered connecting with Prine during the 2006 festival. And Chris Buhalis likely voiced the thoughts of all of Sunday's performers when he noted that, "I love a million John Prine songs, but right now this is the one I love the most" in introducing "Far From Me."

The Michigan tribute offerings covered a full range of Prine's nearly 50-year recording career, mostly with faithful renditions of the songs from home locales -- though Matt Watroba and Robert Jones filmed their rendition of "Fish and Whistle" on The Ark stage. "The Voice" finalist Joshua Davis and May Erlewine teamed for a virtual version of "In Spite of Ourselves," while Erlewine returned later for a solo piano arrangement of "Hello In There." Al Bettis and his band delivered a jazz-soul take on "Summer's End," the Accidentals shined on a cello-led "Angel From Montgomery" and the War and Treaty handled "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" with delicate fragility.

The night's other pairings found the Ragbirds' Erin Zindle and the Native Howl's Alex Holycross rolling through a down-home "Long Monday," Annie and Rod Capps romping through "The Glory of True Love" and Dave Boutette and Kristi Lynn Davis on a buoyant "Boundless Love." Jill Jack played "I Remember Everything" in front of a TV yule log and Dick Siegel took on "Illegal Smile," and by the time the Michigan Rattlers ripped through "All the Best," the Mitten had given Prine his deserved due and the "proper tribute" the Ark's James introduced at the start of the show.

The 44th Ann Arbor Folk Festival and the "Michigan Tribute to Jphn Prine" stream through Sunday, Feb. 7 via noochorus.com/the-ark.

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