Patty Larkin will feel naked without her guitar as she hosts this weekend’s Ann Arbor Folk Festival, the annual benefit for The Ark. We can’t, however, think of many people more cut out for the job. Twenty-five years into her career as a folk defier, the musician, mother and now two-time festival emcee will celebrate her quarter-century-career anniversary with an album of 25 love collaborations, due in March. Just after completing the “25” disc, we caught up with Larkin, who returns to Ann Arbor for a solo gig in April, from her Cape Code abode. She chatted about folk music’s evolution, being in the game for so long and not knowing that Cher recorded one of her songs.
What’s it like hosting the Folk Festival?
It’s intense – kind of like hosting a rodeo.
How did the new milestone album come about?
I wanted to do something for my 25th year since my first recording came out. We thought we’d do 25 songs, and I wanted to do acoustic versions of ones I recorded before. Then my partner/manager (Bette Warner) came up with the idea of doing 25 love songs. We said, “Let’s invite a couple people we know and love and get them on.” And so we invited four or five, thinking two or three would say yes. They all did, so we said, “Let’s invite four or five more.” And then we were at 11 (laughs). A good friend of ours said, “You should go for the 25.” Bette came up with the concept; she was like the FedEx queen. She would send songs out in packets of five, and then prepare the next five, and then the next five. We were like a little production house. It was really exciting. Better than fishing. I’m actually saying goodbye to it today.
Is it hard for you to let go?
It is, yeah. It’s 25 songs to try and sequence. And then we just realized people are just going to put it on their iPod and put it on random play, so does it really matter anymore? (Laughs)
How does it feel to know you’ve been doing this for 25 years?
You know, I’ve seen it coming (laughs). It’s a big number, and in many ways I’m very proud of it because it’s a long haul and I’m still standing as far as I can tell here. I’m excited about this project; I feel like it’s a new twist on what I’ve done before. Now, I’m ready to continue writing songs again.
How do you think folk music has evolved since you began your career?
It’s gotten even better, really. We went through a couple big hair scares in the ’80s (laughs), but it’s always been this under-the-radar grassroots movement that has had some stars bubble up and shine through – and rightfully so. The thing that I’m really heartened by, that I see happening now, is that people are going back to the roots stuff. So, you have these small bands who are creating new music and it’s rooted in traditional, and then it’s not – it can be rooted in something else. My sense is that the listeners are not scared away by that.
I believe in anything that can break through borders and boundaries. This festival does, and that’s what The Ark has always done. That’s what’s going to keep the genre alive. You can’t be afraid if somebody uses a little drum machine on their track – that’s cool. That’s what folk music is. It’s incorporating what you hear around you. It’s incorporating the news. I’m sure people are writing songs about Haiti this week. That’s part of the tradition.
Cher covered your song “Good Thing” in the mid ’90s. How did that happen?
Somebody actually said to me recently, “Are you going to ask Cher on the new record?” I said, “I don’t think so. My people are not in touch with her people.” (Laughs)
I don’t even know, though; I haven’t bumped into her on the circuit. But somebody came to a show in ’95, and he said, “Congratulations on the Cher cut.” I said, “You’re thinking of somebody else.” So, we were in New York and there it was, Cher singing my song. Five figures – it was very nice. She’s always in the carnival parade here up and down Provincetown, about 15 miles from me.
I mean, the Cher look-a-likes (laughs).
Ann Arbor Folk Festival
6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 and 30
825 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor
For a performer line-up, visit http://www.theark.org.