Songwriter, banjoist and Michigan native Rachael Davis joins Valerie June at The Ark ahead of Saturday’s folk fest with Ani DiFranco, Patty Griffin, St. Paul & the Broken Bones & more. The preview and playlist.
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The return of the in-person Ann Arbor Folk Festival for the first time since 2020 boasts a banjo-flavored twist.
The celebration kicks off Friday night (Jan. 27) at The Ark in Ann Arbor with the inaugural “BanjoFest” starring Grammy-nominated folk star Valerie June and northern Michigan’s own Rachael Davis.
Davis, a banjo maven who was raised in Cadillac and graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy southwest of Traverse City, called it “pretty freaking awesome” to share the stage with the highly acclaimed multi-instrumentalist from Tennessee.
“I’ve been a fan of Valerie for years. I got to share the stage with her once at the New York City Guitar Festival back in 2016 for a Sister Rosetta Tharpe tribute, when I was the guest vocalist for the North Mississippi Allstars,” Davis said.
“Needless to say I was blown away. I’m also a fan of her other projects and activism. She’s a powerhouse in so many aspects.”
The sold-out 8 p.m. BanjoFest at The Ark – which will also feature Yasmin Williams and Thao – precedes the star-studded Saturday night Ann Arbor Folk Fest at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan Campus.
Ani DiFranco, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Patty Griffin headline the 46th festival, which will also feature Gina Chavez, Oshima Brothers, Kyshona, The Jared Deck Band and Parker Millsap. (Griffin also plays a sold-out show Sunday at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids.)
Prolific Wisconsin singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey and SistaStrings will emcee the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
“It feels so right,” Mulvey said of hosting this year’s event. “I last emceed the 2019 festival and, of course, then came 2020. Yikes. I’m especially glad to be doing this with SistaStrings (Chauntee and Monique Ross). They’re dear friends.”
IMPRESSIVE LINEUP ON SATURDAY AND JUMPSTARTING A BUSY YEAR FOR DAVIS
Mulvey raved about the Saturday lineup, calling DiFranco “a genuine stalwart of the whole scene” and said he’s “looking forward to raising a glass of chamomile tea” with the Oshima Brothers whom he met on his way to the 2019 Philly Folk Fest.
Mulvey – who recently co-wrote a song with Traverse City’s The Accidentals as part of their 2022 EP, “Time Out Session No. 2” – will also perform with SistaStrings as part of his duties. He noted that SistaStrings “breathe new life into everything they touch” including his own music. (Chauntee Ross also happens to be a University of Michigan alumnus.)
Tickets for Saturday’s festival are $47.50-$250 and available online at theark.org.
As for Davis, she’s thrilled to be part of the Ann Arbor Folk Fest because the Sweet Water Warblers super-group – featuring Davis, Traverse City’s May Erlewine and Michigan native Lindsay Lou – were supposed to play the 2022 festival before its cancellation due to COVID.
“That was such a sad disappointment, so getting to return for this amazing event that The Ark dreamed up is exciting indeed,” she said, insisting it was “sure to be a barnstormer” of an evening.
“I’ve been working on arranging a few new tunes for banjo in preparation for the BanjoFest. I just love this idea! Being on stage with other amazing female artists and our banjos sounds pretty radical.”
The BanjoFest appearance jumpstarts a “packed” year for Davis.
“I’m playing a whole bunch of solo tour dates and some duo tours with my husband, (bassist) Dominic John Davis,” she said.
“I’m also playing a few festivals with a Rachael Davis pick-up band and also some dates with The Sweet Water Warblers. No new recorded music on the near horizon, but the seeds are in the wind.”
ANN ARBOR FOLK FESTIVAL 2023: The Local Spins Playlist
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