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Posted on Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

Glen Campbell, Nanci Griffith highlight Saturday's Ann Arbor Folk Festival

By Roger LeLievre

Talk about your midnight special. Saturday night’s edition of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival let out just minutes before the witching hour, five and a half hours after it began. One thing’s for sure: When a talent like Nanci Griffith is third from the top of the bill you know you are in for an amazing night of music.

Besides Griffith, the lineup for the second night of the annual event, a fundraiser for The Ark, included country-folk great Emmylou Harris and country legend Glen Campbell, as well as the lesser-known Joe Henry, Sarah Jarosz, Caravan of Thieves and Seth Glier. The evening’s M.C. was whacked-out comic/musician Heywood Banks, who also served as a self- described “palate cleanser” between acts on Friday night.

For me, the most anticipated set of the evening, and actually the one I most enjoyed, was Campbell’s. For one thing, I grew up on his tunes, many written by Jimmy Webb—they’re like comfort food. For another, I was curious to see how this veteran performer, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year ago, would fare in a live performance. To be honest, he had some problems.

Coming on stage to his signature “Gentle on My Mind,” Campbell, 75, seemed to struggle and he had to start again. When he wasn’t singing, he seemed distracted and restless. Some lyrics were forgotten. However, he made it through his hits (I was informed three teleprompters on stage at his feet displayed the lyrics) as well as two new tunes, and his performance was often quite moving. He joked about his memory loss, and when he focused on playing the guitar, he was simply stunning, earning well-deserved rounds of applause for each solo. Clearly there is nothing impeding his ability to play.

Campbell’s six-piece band—which included three of his children—was terrific, and a “Dueling Banjos” face-off with daughter Ashley was spot on. “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” earned Campbell a standing ovation, and he concluded with “A Better Place,” a prayerful tune from his new and final album. Throughout, Campbell had a smile on his face, and when he said “I’m so happy to be here,” it was clear it came from the soul.

For her part, Harris and her five-piece band, which took the stage near 11 p.m., offered nearly an hour’s worth of tunes that included “Hello Stranger,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” Six White Cadillacs” and “Orphan Girl.” I thought the musicians came close to overwhelming Harris’ vocals, but maybe due to the late hour I was just suffering from sound fatigue.

Griffith, whose topical/political tunes embody what folk music is all about, led off her set with John Prine’s “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.” She also offered “Simple Life,” and dedicated “Listen to the Radio” to ailing pal Loretta Lynn. Her performance of “Loving Kind,” which refers to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 landmark civil rights case that ended the ban on interracial marriages in the U.S., was especially moving, and it was clear she was drawing a parallel with marriage equality battles raging today. The crowd really liked her final song, the rousing new “Hell No I’m Not Alright,” which reminded me of the classic rock tune “I Fought the Law.” There’s no mistaking Griffith’ voice, and her gentler style of older-school folk music was an interesting counterpoint to the younger acts that came earlier in the evening.

Among the newcomers, the Gypsy-influenced Caravan of Thieves, which was almost as theatrical as it was musical, evoked the tradition of Django Reinhardt, with “Stomp”-like percussion. They were lots of fun to see and hear, with the bouncy “Eat You” and the clap-along dirge “Raise the Dead” bookending their excellent set.

Sarah Jarosz—a multi-instrumentalist whose set was unfortunately marred by pesky sound gremlins—has an old-fashioned roots style and a voice as clear as a bell. The band’s chamberish folk (cello, violin, banjo) seemed to please the crowd, with a cover of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To The House” particularly well received.

Speaking of sound issues, I felt bad for Joe Henry, whose bluesy-jazzy sound was particularly muddy. I might have enjoyed his set better if it didn’t seem as if he was singing into a tin can. It looked like he was using old-fashioned mics, probably his own. His “Sticks and Stones” was the best of the set.

Seth Glier, who opened the show with his percussion-driven “The Next Right Thing,” is an artist to watch. He has a beautiful, sweet falsetto, his songs are very personal and the 23-year-old’s first album has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

The evening ended with Emmylou Harris bringing those performers who were left backstage out front for a rendition of the traditional “Rough and Rocky.” And with that, Folk Festival 2012 was over.

One final note: I can appreciate all the hard work that goes into booking the festival and I think the program on both sold-out nights was extraordinary. Still, I kept wishing for maybe one local act each night just to give the homegrown talent a bigger stage. I keep thinking how well Chris Bathgate or Orpheum Bell would fit in, just to name two.

Otherwise, it was clearly another fine festival to remember.



Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:58 a.m.

An amazing night. Glen Campbell was courageous and still could bring the guitar and voice. Our thoughts to him and his family for their days ahead. Having gone through it in our family I will say through the bitterness there is still much light in the journey. I am grateful for having been able to see him play one more time. Nanci and Emmylou are always a treat to witness - class... and others I was impressed with all and have purchased the discs!!! Thank you all for making it a memorable night. On the flip side... The Ark is a great tradition - this being their 35th Folk Festival I would think that Dave S. would have left some notes on dos and don'ts. In case he didn't cover these ... I will... DON'T let the sound system go unchecked - this is not fair to the artist and guests. DON'T buy cheap, extra cheap (or in this case substandard) t-shirts to sell at the 35th Annual Folk Festival!!!!!!!!!!! I am always glad to donate to the Ark - and with these shirts I feel that's all we did. Pitiful!!!


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

We went to the Sat. night show to see and hear Nanci Griffith and Emmylou, but Glen Campbell won the prize for best act of the show. His guitar playing was incredible and his voice has changed very little since the 60's and 70's. What a treat!


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

Nice review. Glen Campbell's set was, by far, my favorite of the night (although the initial difficulty he had caused me so much concern, I was nervous for him throughout the remainder of his set!). Great show - Friday night as well. :)


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

It was a great festival, but the sound has been far better at others. It has nothing to do with Hill Auditorium. Also, the total absence of any local musical acts was unfortunate. We have so much talent in Southeast Michigan. But a great show. Thanks for bringing Glen Campbell one last time.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

@Alan: how nice to read you weighing in on a topic in which you are well-versed. I tire of your right-wing, anti-Heiftje rants that seem attached to every online article I read. What a turn off. Stick to music and give the flame-throwing a rest, would ya'?


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:25 a.m.

I am sure Heiftje and the DDA were responsible for the bad sound. I just don't have the exact method yet. Let me work on it.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

I prefer to think of them as left-wing anti-Heiftje rants but thanks for the back handed compliment. Lol.

Jessica Webster

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

What an incredible night of music. I agree that the sound was muddy for Emmylou, which was very disappointing. I was also disappointed at how short Joe Henry's set was. He left after just a few songs and without introducing his band, which included the amazing drummer Jay Bellerose.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

I did not come to hear Glen Campbell but ended up finding his set the most profoundly emotional and stunning one of an evening of wonderful music.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Thanks, Roger. Great article! This just made me miss A2 even more. What a brilliant -- and right -- decision to book Glen Campbell. Sounds like a terrific show. Wish I'd been there. Whit Hill

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

1. You are right on the money about the sound for Joe Henry and Sarah Jarosz was not acceptable for a world class event. And note the The Ark: no excuses from the stage blaming Hill Auditorium not being a venue for amplified music. FIX IT. 2.Bingo about at least ONE local act a night. If we can't fit in one 10 minute set by one of the scores of great local Michigan acts/artists, then something is wrong. 3. Campbell, as the guitarist who played on Phil Spector sessions as well as the Beach Boys', Pet Sounds hasn't lost it a bit and his guitar work was stunning. 4. Heywood Banks was a hoot! 5. Seth Glier was the surprise of the evening. While the sound issue interfered with his set too, I was intrigued enough to track down his CD. 6. Watching both Harris' and Griffith's stunning sets are was worth the price of admission. Both are still breathtaking performers and songwriters and kudos for having BOTH on the bill. Great choices! 7. Eh, how come we never hear 'green' sponsor DTE talking about the Fermi nuclear plants(s) in Monroe? Lol Guessing, since Gil Scott Heron is no longer with us, that rules out his doing We Almost Lost Detroit? 8. Funniest joke of the night: Banks saying a good tip for keeping your cloth reuse grocery bags from getting dirty was lining them with plastic bags and replacing as needed.