Local indie rocker Theo Katzman excited to be Ann Arbor Folk Festival opener Friday night
Theo Katzman acknowledges he has a daunting task. The local indie musician is the first act on the bill on the first night of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, starting Friday. He’s also the only local performer at the annual two-day event.
“It’s a little terrifying,” Katzman said. “There’s so many great local musicians and so many people out there working just as hard. I do feel really fortunate to have been asked. I’m going to try and do my best at performing and making sure I make a good statement.”
If you want to catch Katzman, you’d better get to Hill Auditorium on time. The music begins at 6:30 p.m., and the Folk Festival — this year hosted by Susan Werner —usually starts promptly.
Although his may not be a household name, Katzman, 24, has been part of the local music scene since 2004, when he moved to town from his native New York to study percussion as part of the University of Michigan School of Music’s jazz program. That led to a stint with popular local band My Dear Disco, and then to a solo career that often sees him performing with his band, Love Massive. He also teaches guitar, bass and drums at the Ann Arbor Music Center.
Katzman said he’s hoping his short set at the Folk Festival (the opening acts usually play for only about 15 minutes) exposes him to a wider audience, and he also sees the event as the perfect way to showcase his various talents.
“All I have been able to put out in terms of recordings is solo acoustic stuff,” he said. “So I am excited to be performing with a band and doing some newer songs so that people can hear more of the full spectrum of what I do. It will also be cool to tell people that I am coming out with an album this year.”
Katzman admitted he’s excited for another reason as well: He can’t wait to meet Friday headliner the Avett Brothers and other festival acts. “I’d really like to hang out with the Swell Season; I’d love to meet Mavis Staples, Citizen Cope and the Spring Standards.”
And what if the Avett Brothers like what they hear and invite Katzman to go on the road with them?
“That would be amazing,” said Katzman.
Although he’s been described as an indie/soul act, Katzman said that’s not exactly accurate.
“I’ve been influenced by a lot of soul music and stuff that’s more funky or R&B, but I am not really trying to come off as an R&B guy,” he explained. “I’m interested in what’s happening in terms of the label ‘indie-rock.’ Even though in general labels are kind of a drag as categories for artists, I do think that I’m seeking a wider brand for my music, something that can encompass a lot of different kinds of sounds because I’m interested in so many kinds of music. For better or for worse, throwing indie out there may actually give me the flexibility to change my sound.
“I’m hoping it will be somewhere between Feist and anything else that’s groovy and good. It’s hard for me to categorize myself,” he added.
Love Massive includes Jack Stratton on drums and Woody Goss on keyboards. For the Folk Festival show, Katzman may also include a bass player.
“I’ve rehearsed so many kinds of configurations of my music. For this one performance, since it’s so short and it’s such a strong statement to make, I am probably going to fill it out with a few more players,” he said.
Local music promoter/radio host Matthew Altruda, who will have Katzman on his radio show “Tree Town Sound” to talk about his festival experience Jan. 30 (6 p.m. WQKL, 107.1-FM), counts himself a huge Katzman fan.
"People used to say Bruce Springsteen was the next Bob Dylan. I believe Theo Katzman is good enough to be the next Bruce Springsteen or the second coming of Bob Dylan,” Altruda said. “He’s a rising star on the local music scene for sure.”
When Katzman got the phone call informing him of the Folk Festival gig, he said he took it as a sign he is on the right path musically. “There’s a lot of momentum now. It feels pretty good,” he said.
Theo Katzman performs at the Blind Pig:
Roger LeLievre is a freelance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.