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Posted on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Fresh off Tom Paxton tribute album, Anne Hills teaming up with Matt Watroba for special Ark show

By Bob Needham


Anne Hills

Thursday brings a great double bill to The Ark: Anne Hills and Matt Watroba.

Both are well-established singers, musicians and songwriters with deep Midwestern roots. Hills is especially known for a stunning voice, which most recently she has turned to "Things I Notice Now," a tribute to folk great Tom Paxton.

In addition to his performing career, Watroba now works for, based at Kent State University. For more than 20 years, he hosted the popular "Folks Like Us" radio show on WDET in Detroit.

Hills agreed to answer a few questions via email ahead of Thursday's concert:

The story goes that you first heard Tom Paxton songs when you were a 15-year-old student at Interlochen. What first appealed to you about them at that point in your life?

I was never a huge fan of pop music. I was more interested in the poetry or story in songs. My dad would bring home recordings like "Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall" or Simon and GarfunkleI's "Sounds of Silence," and my family was also pretty political. I was doing theater at Interlochen, so, when my roommate played me Paxton's "Get Up Jimmy Newman" (a point-of-view song about a wounded soldier in Viet Nam), I heard the perfect combination of all those things!

I fell in love with folk music as a vehicle for art, entertainment, insight and social change. I really ought to write a song called "Blame it on Tom Paxton (NOT the bossa nova)"!


Anne Hills and Matt Watroba

  • Who: Midwestern singer-songwriter-musicians.
  • What: Top-notch modern folk music.
  • Where: The Ark, 316 S. Main St.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1.
  • How much: $15. Tickets available at The Ark box office, the Michigan Union Ticket Office, or online from MUTO.
You consciously avoided some of his better-known songs, and took some suggestions from the man himself, but still it must have been difficult to narrow down your choices of songs for the Tom Paxton tribute. How did you go about making the final list?

Of course it was difficult because Tom is so prolific and has such a broad brush, stylistically. I wanted to showcase the more serious and poetic side of his writing, "Icarus" being my first inspiration for the project).

Although his best known song is "Last Thing on my Mind" (which I also learned at 15) he is, in many ways, a musical social worker. He's so gifted at capturing the micro (individual consciousness) and the macro (social consciousness) of the human condition and struggle. Nobody, and I listen to a lot of writers, nobody does it as well, as often as Tom, period. The only writer I've heard comes close was Phil Ochs. But Tom is also playful and can dance comfortably on the humorous side of politics and life. Besides that, he writes a helluva love song and has written children's songs that have been hits!

I wanted to include the first songs of his that I learned ("Cindy's Cryin'"), the first song I sang with him ("Hold on to Me, Babe") and a few of his requests, (Mother, "When Princes Meet"). Some songs kind of stood up and demanded attention like "Dogs at Midnight" about black lung disease (NPR did a recent investigation into the re surgence of complex black lung and I heard it just when I was thinking "Oh, that's not relevant anymore."!) or "Time to Spare," which captures the era of his early political writing. Midge, Tom's wife, suggested "Every Time" and I couldn't refuse her.

One of the songs on the album is a new Tom Paxton composition. Is that something he wrote specifically for this project?

No, he and Geoff Bartley had written "Redemption Road" and he'd sent it on to me for consideration. Seemed appropriate as a song for someone turning 75 years old who has spent his life making the choice to do socially relevant consciousness-raising songs against the tide of "American Idol" pop music.

A double bill with Anne Hills and Matt Watroba makes for a rare chance to see two great Midwest folk talents at the same time. What can people expect from the show? Will you and Matt play together at all, or will it be two separate sets?

Matt and I are such good friends, we're going to share the stage and swap songs and stories until they kick us out!

Bob Needham is director of entertainment content for Reach him at or 734-623-2541, and follow him on Twitter @bobneedham.