My Concentrate feature story: As arts coverage fades, how will local arts organizations attract audiences?

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The cast of The Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

After having launched my career as an arts reporter at The Ann Arbor News in 2004, I had become, over the course of nearly 12 years, the only long-term staff entertainment writer left standing in Ann Arbor when MLive Media Group announced a round of layoffs on January 6, 2016.

This time, though, my name was on the list, too.

Beyond my own personal circumstances, the layoff meant that artists/local arts organizations would take yet another hit in regard to press coverage, and thus find it even harder to share their triumphs, struggles, ambitions, and events with the community. Yes, the rise of social media has made it possible for arts organizations to be in regular contact with their subscriber list – but how, without minimal press coverage, will they now reach beyond that?  READ THE REST HERE

39th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Fest’s second night thrills sold-out crowd

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STORY BY ROGER LELIEVRE

On night two of the annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, it was all about the genre’s elders.

The annual musical buffet, held in Hill Auditorium and sold out Friday and Saturday, is the main fundraiser for The Ark, Ann Arbor’s nonprofit home for acoustic music and more.

Sure, the kids impressed during the first part of Saturday’s show, with deserved standing ovations for Michigan’s own The Accidentals, who opened the evening (the audience loved “Michigan and Again and Again”), and Joshua Davis of “The Voice” and Steppin In It fame. He did a fine job with his easygoing band, despite a muddy sound mix, especially on the Detroit/Flint ode “The Workingman’s Hymn.” The vocal quartet Darlingside (four guys gathered around a single mic) offered sweet, spot-on harmonies that pulled from folk, pop and barbershop traditions and earned another standing O.

Alan Doyle, best known as lead singer for Newfoundland’s beloved export Great Big Sea and touring with his more recent band, got the crowd fired up with Celtic-influenced songs like the bluesy “Testify (Take Me To The River)” and the rowdy GBS-style drinking tune “1,2,3,4” which might as well be subtitled “Whiskey Whiskey.” Much to the delight of this Great Big Sea fan, he also included the GBS song “Ordinary Day” as the capstone of his set. The only problem here was over-amplification – the vocals were on the unintelligible side, though part of the problem was probably Doyle’s charming but thick accent.

But after intermission was when the night really began to sound like a good old-fashioned folk music revival. Continue reading

Highlights from night one of the 39th annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival

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STORY BY ROGER LELIEVRE

One thing you can always count on at the annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a fundraiser for the much-loved downtown acoustic music venue The Ark, is that you’re guaranteed two nights of great music, even if you’ve never heard of some of the bands on the bill.

This year’s Folk Festival – the 39th annual, and marking the end of The Ark’s 50-year celebration – kicked off Friday in Hill Auditorium.

Among Friday’s performers, City and Colour had previously played the Folk Festival in 2013. Revered British singer/guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson has countless local appearances to his credit. Yo La Tengo has been performing around these parts for nearly three decades, and the Ben Daniels Band is from neighboring Chelsea.

But The Oh Hellos, Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line or Penny & Sparrow? Never heard of them? Well, that’s kind of the point. With the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, it’s as much about the bands and performers you know as those you don’t. If you go, you’re bound to find some new favorites, and most of them will be returning to The Ark for full shows later in the year.

For me, one litmus test of the Folk Festival lineup is which of the bands made a big enough impression that I would be willing to catch them solo. So who made the cut? Continue reading