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Posted on Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 8:42 a.m.

In a Folk Festival night filled with highlights, Rodriguez, Delta Rae and Colin Hay were standouts

By Roger LeLievre

What did you think of the concert? Leave a comment and / or vote in the poll at the end of this post:

It’s always the same happy dilemma where the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, presented by The Ark as its annual fundraiser, is concerned. There’s such an outpouring of music (this review covers Friday night; the festival continues on Saturday night), it’s hard to know where to begin.

For starters, native Detroiter Sixto Rodriguez brought the Hill Auditorium crowd to its feet twice with his Dylanesque blues-rock set that included his signature “Sugar Man,” as well as “I Wonder,” “Inner City Blues” and “The Establishment Blues.”

A self-described “musico-politico” who admitted “I’m a solid 70—I’ve been around the block,” Rodriguez mixed political musings and homespun philosophy (“free love—it’s too expensive”) with the music, to the obvious delight of the audience.

The only thing that marred his set were vocals muddy almost to the point of unintelligibility, especially for the first few songs. The problem seemed to mostly clear up eventually, and by the time he concluded, with “You’d Like to Admit It,” he sounded fine. As his set ended, it was clear the audience felt a great deal of respect for the man who spent many years in near-obscurity before getting his due late in life, becoming something a sensation last year when his story was told in the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Searching for Sugar Man." This was definitely a memorable Folk Festival performance.

Of the other acts, North Carolina folk-rockers Delta Rae caused a stir and earned a standing ovation with a set highlighted by the stunning, spiritual-sounding “Bottom of the River,” in which dirge-like percussion was provided by drums, drum sticks and an aluminum trash can pummeled with a length of chain. The set also included the percussion-heavy “Dance in the Graveyards,” as well as a well-executed cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” This was one of those festival acts that people will probably be buzzing about for days to come.

Headliner City and Colour (Canadian songwriter Dallas Green) was the closing act, offering highly personal set of tunes interspersed with self-deprecating humor and seemingly random stories that somehow offset the somber tone of his songs (two of the tunes back to back—“Body in a Box” and “Wait”—were about death, while another—“Fragile Bird”—was about his wife’s night terrors). The closing song, “The Girl” (raved up in its closing moments) ended the set and the night on an up note—at least for him. Face it, Green’s music can be pretty morose, yet somehow, with his engaging personality, somehow he makes it work.

The biggest pleasant surprise of the night was probably MC Colin Hay. For those of you who lost track of him after his hitmaking stint with the 1980s Australian band Men at Work, it’s nice to report that Hay proved a strong vocal performer as well as an amiable host adept at one-liners and at keeping the show moving smartly along. While roadies were setting up the next acts behind him, he offered several songs from his solo career, including the powerful “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin.” Now a Californian, he usually comes to The Ark on a regular basis, however he announced that he’s moving up in the world this year, with a show scheduled Sept. 6 at the Power Center.

The Detroit-area band Frontier Ruckus, formed several years ago in a dorm room in Ann Arbor, also offered a great set that included songs from their new, double CD “Eternity of Dimming.” If the whole disc is as good as “Black Holes,” fans are in for a treat. Matthew Milia’s vocals (and his sweater) were terrific, as was the multi-talented Zachary Nichols, who played five different instruments, including the ethereal-sounding musical saw. To end their too-short set, and to test Hill Auditorium’s renowned acoustics, the band performed its last song unplugged, a great move that really made their part of the show stand out.

The percussion-free bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles also dazzled the crowd, particularly with the outrageous speed at which they attacked the guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin. Ryan Young on fiddle was particularly amazing, especially on the breakneck “Help You” and on it’s total opposite, the absolutely heartbreaking “Bloodshot Eyes,” a sad song made even sadder by his weeping violin.

Carl Broemel, who sings backup vocals for the band My Morning Jacket, had the unenviable job of opening act. His multi-octave voice was pleasant to listen to, but overall his set was forgettable.

The next band up, the duo Brown Bird, fared much better, and is one of those acts worth catching when they cycle back to The Ark for a full show. Their set was uptempo and seemed to produce a far bigger sound than just two people should be able to make.

One thing you can always count on at the Folk Festival is that you’re guaranteed some great music, even if you’ve never heard of many of the bands. On that count, Friday night’s nearly five-hour, sold-out show didn’t disappoint. Now, on to Saturday, which is also sold out. That’s bad news if you don’t have a ticket, but good news for The Ark.



Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

I have created setlists of all of the artists (minus Brown Bird) what I could remember of the Friday show. Click the link and if you could help me fill in the blanks, that would be great! Thanks!

Great Lakes Lady

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 6:40 p.m.

Please bring a Sixto Rodriquez concert to Ann Arbor!!!!!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

It was my first folk festival and it was a good experience, all in all. Can I be the only person who thought that Delta Rae was glitzy and commercial, sort of like a road show version of Stomp? And I was one of those who left in the middle of Dallas Green, as I found his guitar playing unendurable in its monotony and volume. He's probably better in a much smaller setting. But I really liked Brown Bird (I'll try to catch them when they come back through town) and there were great moments throughout the night. Trampled by Turtles has a fabulous fiddler and their speed was a rush. Colin Hay was very funny, so that worked well. Solid B overall.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:44 a.m.

a `big' sound from the duo Brown Bird. two musicians - dynamic! yes, Colin was funny, for sure!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

You're not the only one who had that feeling about Delta Rae.

John Not Jon

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

I love the AA Folk Festival - been going for 17 straight years. Friday night's show was good, around the middle of the pack as I experienced it. Over the years I've found there to be an odd dynamic with the headliner. Sometimes the night is filled with energetic musical virtuosos who are so grateful for exposure, then followed by a headliner who may be currently depressed, jetlagged, unprepared, surly, etc. I thought Dallas Green (City and Color) did pretty well and sounded great, but after each song the crowd consistently thinned out. His between-song patter started out rather off-putting, talking about losing the desire to play music, but maybe it was starting to come back. Really? Sorry to put you out, Dude. And not wanting to play his new songs fearing they'd turn up on youtube - I get that, but he could have explained it better than telling the audience he has a whole new album of songs that he's not going to play lest we abuse the opportunity. It came off as an admonishment. But he did seem to right his ship, at least for my taste. He sounded great, and I will say that he was extremely gracious and generous to his fans after leaving the auditorium, as he stood out in the cold, without coat, to chat. At first Rodriguez and his band started off horribly - it wasn't just the sound balance - they were playing different tempos and rhythms than each other. Like late-80's Dylan. Once into the 3rd song or so they pulled it together and it was truly special. I have to disagree with the comment about Carl Broemel, however. I found that his skill level and musicianship was superior to some other performers and, for me, he was certainly a highlight of the 1st half. Colin Hay was wonderful - no surprise here, as I have seen him lately and knew what to expect. Biggest revelation for me was Brown Bird, whom I knew nothing about heading into the evening, but left as a new fan.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:38 a.m.

Rodriguez has a soft voice, buy nature. With all the publicity since the documentary came out, I thought it was a GREAT performance. He has been living his humble life in Detroit, enjoying his family, and NOW he is in the spotlight. A treasure.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

I spent some time wondering if Rodriguez were quite sober, the vocals were so unintelligible and the band had to work around him so tentatively. Maybe it was just the sound mix?

Lynn Liston

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:06 p.m.

John, I'm glad someone else thought that Rodriguez and his back up band weren't playing in sync. There was one tremendous clash of keys and tempo in the second tune but they did work it out. Not sure he really needed the band-


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

I thought Brown Bird was also excellent and original. The acoustics at Hill are so good but not ideal for amplified music, which made picking up the lyrics very difficult for most of the acts. This was exemplified by Frontier Ruckus, when they dropped the amplification, they were actually better and clearer. Colin Hay's songs were terrific and his commentary was entertaining. Delta Rae, Rodriguez and trampled by turtles were also outstanding. A lot of people left during the last act, Dallas Green, which was a let down. I personally did not connect with his songs and rather simple chord progressions. Also, his banter between songs was neither funny nor entertaining.

David Briegel

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

I agree with most of the comments so far. It was a thrill to see Rodriguez and frankly, I'm not certain he needs a band. But if he is to have a band, you must be able to hear his fine lyrics and voice. People were leaving during Dallas Green, not because it was so late but because after so much high energy they couldn't sit still for his morose songs. How does a former punk rocker become so morose? He has a great voice and obvious talent but he would have been wise to adjust his song selection. Delta Rae put on a very original show with tremendous energy and flair. The snow and downtown fire kept us from Carl Broemel but Brown Bird was an act I would like to see again. I would advise Trampled by Turtles that there is more to bluegrass/newgrass than just playing fast. Colin Hay is a fine talent and performed his role in an excellent, friendly and engaging fashion. Great job by the Ark! Lynn Liston, it is truly amazing how self absorbed and downright rude some people can be!

Lynn Liston

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

David, I'm one of those who left during Dallas Green. We did at least wait until he stopped singing his second number, and tried to slide out quietly only to find the lobby filled with other early deserters. He seemed to just hit the wrong note as the closing act but we could tell he had fans in the audience so I hope that they enjoyed his performance.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

I enjoyed Frontier Ruckus, Rodriguez and Delta Rae. I couldn't quite make out in the balcony everything Dallas Green was saying, but it seemed like he was in a bad mood or didn't feel like he was getting much of a response from the audience. I wonder if anyone else had that impression.

A2 rocks

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 2:25 a.m.

A little too full of himself, IMHO - easy to exit during his self-serving set. The rest of the evening was terrific. Delta Rae was great and look forward to Colin Hay at the Power Center in Sept.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

He put me off, complaining that 9-11 personally inconvenienced his travel plans (so sorry, dude) and that he had gone several weeks without picking up his guitar but had managed to become just a little enthusiastic about playing Hill Auditorium. Next time maybe he would just be happier staying home, was my feeling.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

Last night's show was one of the best we have seen, and Rodriguez, Delta Rae, and Colin Hay were outstanding. The only glitch was the sound mix for Rodriguez: at times, the instruments were at a volume that made it difficult to hear his singing. Same thing happened last year with one or more of the acts. But overall, a real success.

Lynn Liston

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

Despite the distraction of late-comers being seated *during* the performances, students who couldn't tear away from texting on their cellphones, and people who couldn't stay in their seats for more than 5 minutes at a stretch, from my eagle's eyrie view up in "the Gods", it was a grand show. Colin Hay has a voice that is amazing and expressive. If some acts didn't measure up, well, he set a very high bar. I liked Carl Broemel- perhaps it's my preference for more refined vocals, but he has a solid voice, great vocalizations, and his songs, arrangements and theatrical approach were very mature for an opening act. Likewise I found Trampled by Turtles to be a rousing and authentic bluegrass band, very accomplished musicians and refreshing to hear some traditional folk stylists. Delta Rae was an amazing act, again very accomplished and well-rehearsed with a thoughtful performance- they remind me of Barrage, another high energy group I like. Rodriguez was thrilling, but his remarkable vocals were drowned out by his overly-enthusiastic back up band- and that brings up a problem with the sound quality overall- the sound throughout the show was unbalanced and the backup instrumentals often overwhelmed the vocals. This is always a problem at Hill. Thank you, Marianne James and the Ark, for bringing another wonderful Folk Festival to Ann Arbor!