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Ford estate hosts inaugural Fair Lane Folk Festival

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Folk music probably isn’t one of the things that pops into your head when you think “Henry Ford.” But organizers behind the first folk festival at the Henry Ford Estate say that’s a bit of an oversight.

“Music was very much a part of (Henry and wife Clara Ford’s) life, especially dancing,” says Ann Fitzpatrick, the estate’s vice president of communications. “Lovett Hall at Greenfield Village was a place that they held dancing. They had dances at their house. There are stories of Henry sponsoring dancing competitions.”

This lesser-known element of the Fords’ legacy inspired the Fair Lane Folk Festival, which takes place Saturday at the Ford Estate. The daylong event features 11 acts (two of which will perform private shows for pricier VIP ticket holders only), many of them with Michigan backgrounds.

“(The Fords) were very much into the folk of that day, obviously far more traditional — line dancing, contra dancing, that kind of thing,” Fitzpatrick says. “So we thought, ‘Let’s put a contemporary spin on it and get some current, modern-day folk music in there.’ ”

Festival programmer Joe Choma says he set out to spotlight a diverse range of folk acts, ranging from the “straight Americana” of recent “The Voice” contestant and Traverse City resident Joshua Davis to the more contemporary sound of Detroit band Frontier Ruckus.

“We’ve got some baby bands and then we’ve got a lot of bands that are not that big, but really developing in the Midwest,” Choma says. “It’s a combination of including names that people know, some local favorites, and then also introducing some newer bands to the area that deserve attention.”

The festival will also function as a sort of coming-out party for the estate’s new ownership. In 2013 the University of Michigan, which had held the property since 1957, transferred the estate to the nonprofit Henry Ford Estate Inc. Fitzpatrick says the organization has since done “major restorations” on the property.

“As we were getting closer to the centennial of when Henry and Clara moved in, we thought, ‘Well, we really need to get people back there,’ ” she says. “People are missing being there.”

One local who’s looking forward to getting back onto the estate grounds is musician Dominic Davis, who will play the festival as a duo with his wife, Rachael. The longtime Michigan resident is best known for performing with Joshua Davis in the Lansing-based band Steppin’ In It. He moved to Nashville three years ago to work with fellow Michigan expat Jack White, among others, although he still occasionally returns to perform in the mitten state.

“It’s really nice to actually know some folks at shows,” he says. “This is where I sort of learned how to do everything.”

Davis initially declined to perform at Fair Lane because he and his wife just welcomed a new daughter last month. But as a native of southwest Detroit, Davis couldn’t resist returning to perform at one of his old childhood haunts.

“I grew up hiking around there at the estate,” he says. “It was kind of like the closest open space we had to southwest Detroit. I’m thrilled just to be a part of it, to have something there, to have them open up the estate and everything.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer

Fair Lane Folk Festival

4 p.m. Saturday

Henry Ford Estate

1 Fair Lane Dr., Dearborn

Tickets $25-$75

(313) 884-4222

fairlanefolkfest.org