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The Ark in Ann Arbor is hoping to keep folk music alive for another 50 years

Jul 22, 2015

The listening room at The Ark
Credit Michael Hacala

The music industry has changed a lot over the past half-century, but a music venue in Ann Arbor that focuses on folk music has been able to survive through all those changes.

As The Ark celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, its leadership is now looking to the next generation of folk musicians to keep the venue around for the next 50 years.


Musicians like Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, The Avett Brothers and Ani DiFranco have performed on The Ark’s stage.

“People talk about the music being in the walls,” says The Ark's Executive Director Marianne James.

She says when The Ark got its start back in 1965, it wasn’t just a music venue, it had more of a coffee house vibe. There were movies played there, poetry readings, forums, and discussions.  

“Music was always part of it,” James says, “but music emerged as really the best vehicle for how to enrich the human spirit, create community, gather people together.”

James says The Ark hopped on the folk revival bandwagon that was happening in the 1960’s.

"... there's a new fear that the kind of people who come to The Ark to see folk music are getting old, and dying."

“There was a scare that we were losing our traditional music in this country,” she says.

Now that 50 years have passed, James says there’s a new fear that the kind of people who come to The Ark to see folk music are getting old, and dying.

“We’ll hear from our board members, some of them who are a little bit older [and they will say], ‘There are no young people coming to The Ark.’ And we say, 'What shows have you been to?'”

James says The Ark is making a point to reach out to a new generation of folk musicians, so that the genre can be there for the next generation.

“We’ll book artists who are very traditional in what they do, but we also book artists who are stretching the boundaries of traditional folk and playing around with it and putting their own take on it,” she says.

As The Ark celebrates its 50th anniversary, James says that new generation of folk artists will help The Ark be successful for the next 50 years.