From just about anywhere in The Ark’s 400-seat auditorium, it feels a lot like you’re listening to a band of folk musicians jamming in your own living room. When the room darkens and the stage lights illuminate the performers leaning toward their microphones to begin, there’s no doubt you’re in for an incredible listening experience.
Located in the heart of Downtown on South Main, The Ark is highly-acclaimed as one of the best folk and roots music venues in the country. With at least 300 live shows held there each year, visitors are sure to connect with a band that touches the soul with stories told through authentic music and lyrics. Performers love the set-up that creates a special closeness to the audience that they don’t typically get to experience at other venues. “It’s a great listening room,” says Barb Chaffer Authier, Marketing Director. “It’s a different experience for artists than playing in a bar where people are talking. The artists play differently because the room has that intimate feeling.”
In 1965, four Ann Arbor churches organized The Ark as a safe, inviting, drug-and-alcohol-free place for youth to hang out, socialize, engage in political discussions, read poetry, listen to lectures and play music. Music soon became its major focus and, lacking the funds to support its growth, the churches eventually let go of their support. The Ark became self-supporting through donations and ticket sales, and moved a couple of times before settling into its current building. Today, The Ark welcomes folk musicians from all over but also remains committed to finding and promoting Michigan artists as a regular part of its scheduling.
It’s the unique setting that pulls in new and returning talent, along with a dedicated membership that has helped keep The Ark in business for the past 50 years. In January, The Ark kicked off its 50th Anniversary celebration with the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Artists like Brandi Carlile and Amos Lee played at The Ark when they were relatively unknown and returned for the Folk Festival. “We catch new artists not yet commercially known,” explains Barb.
Some of the musicians who performed at the Folk Festival earlier this year will be returning to perform upcoming shows in honor of the venue’s 50th anniversary. These include Mandolin Orange on May 9, Baskery on June 5 and Bahamas on June 16.
The Ark’s packed schedule boasts a wide variety of musicians – and though the acts are grounded in folk and roots origins, each group professes its own original and raw style, ranging from soulful acoustic sounds to lively folk rock and blues. “On any night you’ll find a very different audience,” says Barb, adding that they try to keep ticket prices reasonable, and all shows are family-friendly. ♦