Ann Arbor Folk Fest goes virtual with national and local performers

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Virtual events can have their pros and cons, but the 44th annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest is taking advantage of the now-familiar platform to offer a unique event this weekend.

Folk fans can enjoy performances by Raul Malo, Kiefer Sutherland, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams and others, including live sets broadcast from the Ark music venue from the Accidentals with special guest Kim Richey and bluegrass mainstays the RFD Boys. 

Dar Williams performs virtual Saturday during the 44th annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest, along with Bruce Cockburn and others.

Michigan favorite Jeff Daniels will MC all weekend from his home studio, adding intros between performances and performing some of his own music. 

In addition to the two days of programming for the Folk Fest Friday and Saturday, this year's event includes a Michigan tribute to American folk legend John Prine on Sunday featuring Jill Jack, Chris Buhalis, the Accidentals, Annie and Rod Capps and more. Prine died in April at age 73 from complications related to COVID-19.

There's nothing like seeing live music actually "live" in a room full of others who appreciate the artists and know the songs just as you do. Seeing a musician interact with audience is part of the memorable experience of going to a concert. 

When you can see the show in your home, though, it opens up the possibilities. Organizers have been able to offer a star-packed line up for this year's event because the artists can perform from wherever they are in the world. In some ways, this a bigger event than the usual two-day concert because they've been able to book more artists (they're not on tour) and give them longer to play. 

It also offers those who can't get out to Ann Arbor a chance to see the city's annual Folk Fest from the safety of their residence, and at the time of their choosing. 

Albion, Michigan's the War and Treaty performs at the Ann Arbor Folk Fest Friday and Sunday.

The annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest is the biggest fundraising event of the year for the Ark, a 400-capacity nonprofit music venue in downtown Ann Arbor. 

The Ark's marketing director Barb Chaffer Authier says each performance is exclusive to the Folk Fest, and aside from the opening performances which are broadcast live from the Ark's stage, the sets are prerecorded and sent in by the artists. 

"All of those performances will look a little different but will be presented in one straight streams for the viewer," she said. "They're all recorded specifically for this event and only for us."

Authier said the Ark depends on the Folk Fest's fundraising to balance their budget on a normal year, when more than half of their budget comes from putting on live shows at the Ark throughout the year. There have been no live shows this year, making the festival even more important. 

“We’ve been closed and haven’t had any new ticket revenue from club shows since March, obviously that makes our fundraising piece of the festival in particular more important than ever," she said, adding that past year has "certainly been a challenge" and they at the Ark have been working with other independent venues and lawmakers to get funding to help keep them all afloat while stages are dark because of the pandemic.

"We feel very fortunate that our members and donors have been generous during this time and very supportive," she said. 

The Folk Fest not only gives the Ark a way to fundraise, but it helps them stay true to their mission, which is to "enrich the human spirit through the presentation of live music."

"Obviously we've had to pivot like the rest of the world to try to figure out how to do that virtually when we can't be in person, but we feel very strongly as an organization that it's an important mission that we need to try to find a way to keep going."

Twitter: @melodybaetens

44th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest 

With Raul Malo, Colin Hay, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams and more with emcee Jeff Daniels, plus a Michigan tribute to John Prine

7 p.m. Friday: Raul Malo, Colin Hay, Alan Doyle, the War and Treaty, Kiefer Sutherland, Joe Pug, Glen Phillips, Amythyst Kiah, Gina Chavez, Willie Watson, Ron Pope and the Accidentals with special guest Kim Richey 

7 p.m. Saturday: Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, David Bromberg, Todd Snider, George Winston, Vance Gilbert, Dom Flemons, Matt Andersen, Crys Matthews, Sierra Ferrell, Andrea von Kampen and the RFD Boys 

Jeff Daniels is the emcee both nights

$25 for one night, $45 for both

7 p.m. Sunday: Michigan tribute to John Prine with the Accidentals, Al Bettis, Annie & Rod Capps, Chris Buhalis, Dick Siegel, Erin Zindle, Jill Jack, Joshua Davis, Matt Watroba & Robert Jones, May Erlewine, Michigan Rattlers, the War and Treaty and more. 


Purchase tickets at

All three nights of programming can be viewed through Feb. 7