A mutual love of campus, coffee and community merged in 1965 when four Ann Arbor churches created The Ark. Originally a meeting house and creative outlet for artistic students, it wasn’t long before music acts became a staple of the gathering place’s programming. Fast forward to today, and The Ark is regarded as one of Michigan’s premier Americana music venues that’s hosted artists ranging from Patti Smith to The Dustbowl Revival. At the end of the month, that tradition continues as the nonprofit organization hosts its 43rd annual Folk Fest from Friday, Jan. 31, through Saturday, Feb. 1. Headlining the event will be acts like Ingrid Michaelson and Nathaniel Rateliff.
Barb Chaffer Authier is the venue’s marketing director. She said that over the years, the Folk Fest has become The Ark’s signature event and number one fundraiser, encouraging both longtime fans and first-timers to come and take a listen to the lineup.
“So the Folk Festival is important to us as an organization not only because of the music it presents but it’s also bringing in a big piece of the funding that keeps us operating over 300 nights a year throughout the whole year. … But the other thing that’s really special about it is that we basically take what we do every other day of the year in our 400-seat listening room and we bring that into this much bigger venue of Hill Auditorium, which seats about 3,500 people,” Authier said. “We get to display what we do on a much grander scale, and we’re able to have bigger name headliners that bring in people that might not be aware of The Ark or following some of the up-and-coming artists that we’re presenting.”
And because the venue displays some of those up-and-coming talents, Authier said that the event not only directly benefits the venue but it’s a great way to give back to the area’s local music scene as well, which Authier said is the venue’s “bread and butter.”
“So, you can come to the Folk Festival, get a taste of all the kinds of music that we present, discover something new and then come back to see the event at The Ark,” she said.
And the venue’s programming extends far beyond music, too. Fans of comedy might be interested in the venue’s 50 First Jokes show that highlights local comedians, its storytelling festival, mindfulness meditation Tuesdays or even the sound production workshops that happen biannually. All of this is wrapped up in an inclusivity-focused package, too, because Authier said the organization strives to book artists and events that are LGBTQ- and diversity-affirming.
“Certainly, we’re not a place where everybody who comes to The Ark has one particular outlook, but it’s important to us that we are a welcoming space. … The LGBTQ community for sure has been a community that we have had a close relationship over the years, hosting women’s dances and we’ve been a media partner with Pridesource and Between The Lines for many, many years.” she said. “And many of the artists that perform at The Ark are coming from the LGBTQ community … so it’s something that we’re very, very happy and proud to be a part of.”
Learn more about the Fest online at theark.org. Find the Folk Fest’s lineup below:
Friday, Jan. 31
Calexico and Iron & Wine
The Lone Bellow
Willy Porter, Emcee
Saturday, Feb. 1
Nathaniel Rateliff (solo)
Cold Tone Harvest
Willy Porter, Emcee