On Friday night I was a volunteer usher at Ann Arbor’s 36th Annual Folk Festival.
I wasn’t familiar with any of the artists in the line-up, but I’m a big fan of folk and indie music and knew it would be an awesome experience. After being disappointed to find out that the show was completely sold out, I spoke with my friend who said she was ushering. Well apparently, the Folk Festival is so popular that there was even competition to be an usher! I was put on an “usher waitlist” and had to wait to see if there would be an opening before the event. It really shows the rich support among the Ann Arbor community for the Arc, which is a non-profit that presents folk, roots, and ethnic music.
A few days before the show the coordinator emailed me saying there was a spot for me.
Friday ended up being a snowy day with piles of slush along the edges of the sidewalks. I trudged through the snow in the most efficient way possible toward Hill Auditorium, where all the ushers were meeting before the start of the show. The staff explained the layout of the building, the rules that patrons must follow during the concert, and our role as ushers. They placed us at different levels and sections of Hill auditorium, which I realized is quite giant and also quite beautiful. Since I have never ushered before and do not frequently attend concerts, I found myself getting slightly nervous about my impending ushering duties. But I figured I would be all right and all the concert-goers would probably find their seats just fine even if I happened to misguide them. When the first people arrived, I realized ushering was even kind of fun—and also a pretty good work out (something akin to being on the stair stepper).
Colin Hay, a well-known Scottish-Australian musician and actor, was the evening’s MC. To open the show, he joked that he had always wanted to hang out with Bob Dylan—“not sing with him, but grab a bite to eat or get a beer with him”. Along with his lighthearted humor throughout the evening, Hay brought his brilliant, organic voice to the stage.
One of the show’s highlights was Rodriguez, who is a native Detroiter. His songs, many of which have influential and politically charged lyrics, became popular in South Africa and several other countries as political anthems. He did not gain success in the United States until a 2012 documentary about him called “Searching for Sugar Man” won notice at the Sundance Film Festival. The 70-something told the audience that the secret to life was to “breathe in and breathe out”. I have to say that that was very well played.
Among my favorite performances was Delta Rae, a band of six friends (three of whom are siblings) from North Carolina.
I also really enjoyed Trampled By Turtles, a band of six instrumentalists from Minnesota who are simply unbelievable to watch.
After being almost moved to tears by the talent at this year’s Folk Festival, I told my friend, “I only want to go to folk music concerts from now on.” I now have several new artists to listen to and love.