There are spots in Ann Arbor that are hallowed ground for rock ‘n’ roll history. There’s the Blind Pig, where, as Wayne Coyne once said on Pitchfork.tv, The Flaming Lips played a show with Nirvana and Steel Pole Bath Tub (and still plays host to artists from Ghostface to Cults). In the Herb David Guitar Shop, there’s a chair in one corner where John Lennon once sat. But one of the most welcoming venues in town is The Ark, where you’d be hard up to find any serious rock ‘n’ roll or hip-hop.
No, The Ark is the sort of place where folk legends, bluegrass bands, and roots artists are familiar faces. It’s a small room, dimly lit, with 400 comfortable seats. The stage is about half a foot off the ground, so the artists are just within arm’s reach. There’s a concession stand off to stage right if you want coffee, popcorn, or beer (if you’re a member). It’s an awesome venue for singer/songwriters and folkies– it’s the sort of coffee shop setting that’s tailor-made for more intimate music.
The secret to its authentic Greenwich Village folk scene vibe? It’s been around since 1965. The Ark hasn’t always been in its current location– this is actually its third spot. The nonprofit venue started out as a project by four local churches who wanted to set up a coffee shop for young people. The idea, according to the venue’s site, wasn’t to preach, but to provide a place where the youth could talk without the influence of drugs or alcohol present. Slowly, it turned into the folk-friendly place that’s since become a mainstay in Ann Arbor.
The Ark isn’t exactly host to a young crowd. The audience is full of friendly older folks, most of whom have probably seen folks like Arlo Guthrie or Joan Baez a few times over. It’s also situated in a part of town where the restaurants and shops aren’t aimed toward a younger crowd– most of the restaurants and bars on that block of Main Street are a bit pricier (although the awesome comic shop Vault Of Midnight is just a bit further down).
But it’s not exclusive for an older crowd. The Ark is full of friendly folks. After all, who loves folk music more than a bunch of peaceful, groovy people?
And it’s not all just the elder statesmen of American roots that play The Ark. Contemporary singer/songwriters and roots artists like Aimee Mann, Billy Bragg, Jolie Holland, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Carolina Chocolate Drops have all played the room. And before the year is out, The Weepies and Joe Pug will be there (also Los Straitjackets, The Max Weinberg Big Band, and Jake Shimabukaro, which is awesome).
Perhaps it would be nice to see more new artists on the schedule– the Jeff Tweedys and Robin Pecknolds– but when a legend of folk comes through, it’s refreshing to see them in such an intimate room.
To get a complete listing of the upcoming shows, click here.