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2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival Artist Descriptions


Mix the Hot Club of Paris with the sweaty soul of Dixieland, a couple blades of bluegrass, a pinch of ragtime beat, and a western swinging swagger, and you've just conjured the washboard-driven sound of The Appleseed Collective. Having released their debut album, "Baby to Beast," in 2012, this band has put the pedal to the metal spreading their unique sound across the country. The music encapsulates this Ann Arbor band's first year of trials, tribulations, and growth, assuming the voices of a century's worth of music with fresh perspective. "The blends of swing, bluegrass, Dixieland ditties and alluring gypsy-folk whirls—is something close to a transcendent listen ... you're there, on some dirtroad, being led on by these songs," says reviewer Jeff Milo of iSpy magazine. The Appleseed Collective has been getting attention from as far away as the UK, and they come to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival with new music on the way.


Since forming in 1988, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys have emerged as one of the world's most respected—and downright fun!—practitioners of American roots music. They play western swing, rockabilly, and traditional country—and they play them like they invented them. "I think of us as just a rock and roll band—a rock and roll band that's letting the roots show," says bandleader Big Sandy. Whether they're playing the Grand Ole Opry, Late Night With Conan O'Brien, touring Europe, or simply climbing out of a bus after rolling into your town, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys brings a guaranteed good time and some elegantly witty original songwriting. Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys are well known to Michigan audiences for songs lying right in the sweet spot between rockabilly and California-style Western swing. They come to the Folk Festival with a new collection of their originals, "What a Dream It's Been."


The Crane Wives come from Grand Rapids, and what they do defies musical stereotypes. Formed in late August of 2010 at a Chinese restaurant, they recently released their second album, "The Fool in Her Wedding Gown." Using three-part vocal harmonies, eclectic instrumentation and a knack for unusual shifts in dynamics, they create organic music that is both accessible and innovative. Each live Crane Wives show features contagious energy as well as original music that ranges from whisper-quiet ballads to danceable grooves. Paste recently named The Crane Wives one of five Michigan bands to watch, and they're getting bigger every year!


Staten Island, New York songstress Ingrid Michaelson started out singing mellow, moody, often very funny folk-pop confections like "The Way I Am" ("I'd buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair"). "I like obvious, catchy songs, but done in a non-obvious way," she told Paste, which was among the first to note the tremendous buzz around this songwriter, and recommended her to fans of Regina Spektor, Feist, and Tina Fey. Ingrid's success mushroomed, and lately her songs have been all over the soundtracks of hit television series and increasingly prestigious venues like New York's Lincoln Center. As a composer of pure infectious melody Ingrid is still second to none, but with her fifth album, "Human Again," she pushed herself harder as both a vocalist and writer. Through it all, Ingrid has maintained her status as an independent artist, never signing with a major label. She has matured as a songwriter, gained polish as a performer, and emerged as an idealistic philanthropist of the kind the world needs more of.


Iron and Wine is singer-songwriter Samuel Beam, who has an MFA degree in film from Florida State University. While he was there, he spotted a nutritional supplement called Beef Iron & Wine and took part of its name for his own. He came on the scene in 2002 with an acoustic album called "The Creek Drank the Cradle" that drew comparisons to Nick Drake and the late Elliott Smith. B.R. Bickford of Salon wrote that Beam's vocal delivery had "a simultaneously fragile and soothing effect, similar to the one achieved on Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." His lyrics can sometimes be somber and dark, but they always retain a very seductive beauty, and he’s become arguably one of the most important and effortlessly charismatic figures in contemporary folk rock. Iron and Wine comes to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival to headline Friday night with a full band, and he brings a wonderfully relaxed new band release, "Ghost on Ghost," that shows influences from jazz and pop.


Maybe you know Jeff Daniels as one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, with roles ranging from Debra Winger's college-instructor husband in "Terms of Endearment" to Harry Dunne, the "Dumber" (perhaps) of "Dumb and Dumber." Or maybe you know him as the creator of the hilarious deer-hunting stage comedy, "Escanaba in da Moonlight," or maybe as the man who put Chelsea, Michigan on the national theater map with his gem of a venue, the Purple Rose Theatre. Or perhaps your favorite memory of Jeff Daniels is seeing him in person when he took on the role of Folk Festival host in 2007. The last several years have seen a new phase in the development of this man of multiple talents: he's been writing songs, ballads that the New York Times called "both poignant and ramblingly funny," terrific tales of famous people and ordinary folk, all with the special Jeff Daniels touch that has kept him in the headlines as one of America's most beloved entertainers for more than two decades now. Jeff Daniels has proven that he is not an actor who sings, but a supremely accomplished singer/songwriter whose musical talent does not require the support of his acting, and you can see for yourself as he joins the Saturday night program of the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival.


Johnnyswim is a Los Angeles-based duo composed of Amanda Sudano (who is disco queen Donna Summer's youngest daughter) and Abner Ramirez. The two began writing and singing together in Nashville the spring of 2006 and found that their similar influences of folk, soul, and rock blended together seductively; they married in 2009, and they've added a bit of Cuban spice and sultry French-movie atmosphere to their music since then. The name Johnnyswim comes from an episode involving Sudano's goldfish when she was little. The Nashville Tennessean describes Johnnyswim as "a mix of Lauryn Hill and John Mayer," and the duo, stylish and romantic in music and attitude, lives up to that billing. Johnnyswim has released three EPs and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, A Prairie Home Companion, NPR's Mountain Stage, and lots of lists of rising stars. Says Globalgrind of the current spate of male-female songwriting duos: "We want substance; we want two people seamlessly intertwined into a coherent (but shifting) mass of love and loss that inevitably makes its way into our bones and blood. We want Johnnyswim."


Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve, namesake of Townes Van Zandt, is a distinctive voice in his own right. Since his debut in 2008, he has toured consistently, with performances at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest, the Grand Ole Opry and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival as well as a recent appearance on “A Prairie Home Companion.” Justin won the Best New and Emerging Artist award at the 2009 Americana Music Awards and was named by GQ magazine as one of the 25 Most Stylish Men in the World in 2010. He has also appeared on HBO’s "Treme" with his dad. Justin's influences include Jimmy Reed, Kurt Cobain, The Replacements, Mance Lipscomb, Ray Charles and The Pogues. They add up to his own brand of American roots music. And as for Townes? Justin says: “Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool. I’m honored to carry the name, but if I spent my life trying to live up to it, I’d have a pretty miserable life.” Justin Townes Earle comes to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival with a new album, "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," which has a strong Memphis soul component.


Neko Case, says the Boston Globe, "has assumed her own mantle in American music, not exactly country and folk and not quite a straight-ahead rocker, either. She’s rooted in Greil Marcus’s idea of the old weird America, where songs can be beautiful and savage, serene and unsettling." Born in Virginia and raised, for the most part, in working-class Tacoma, Washington, Neko lived and worked in Seattle, Vancouver BC, Chicago, and Tucson, before moving five years ago to a 100-acre farm in rural Vermont. "I grew up in the United States in the '70s," she says "The new mantra on children's television then was 'you can be whatever you want.' I take that to heart so hard it's my religion; it's my personal American flag and Constitution. It makes petty societal obstacles crumble and I want every person in the world to feel it." Her creative vision has always been absolutely individual and has transcended genre, but she has also been an enthusiastic collaborator with others—with the Canadian rock band The New Pornographers, and half a dozen other groups over the years. The fearless Neko Case comes to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival with a highly personal, completely uncategorizable, and utterly brilliant new release, "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You." In her new music, her clarion voice charts a powerfully personal course across the rocky landscape of childhood, love, and loss.


Patty Griffin's songs are beautiful, intense, and challenging. A Maine native and a Boston coffeehouse sensation, Patty headed south to Austin, and her work combines Southern roots sounds and Northeastern poetry. Her elegant lyrics, bluesy alto vocals, and melodic guitar style aim directly at the deepest emotions of her listeners, and top artists on the country and acoustic side—like Emmylou Harris and the Dixie Chicks—keep close tabs on what she's up to. She comes to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival with new music! "American Kid," Patty Griffin’s seventh album, is her first album of mainly new material since "Children Running Through" in 2007—it includes a luminous cover of Lefty Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz." "American Kid," much of which she says was written to honor her father, returns to typical Patty Griffin territory, which is to say that it features a group of remarkably powerful, personal and unpredictable songs arranged and performed in a style that doesn’t entirely repeat anything she’s done on her previous albums while drawing on all of them. Says Emmylou Harris: "I would go anywhere, any time, to hear Patty Griffin sing her extraordinary songs." We would too. We’re proud to present Patty Griffin as at this year’s Saturday night headliner.


Pearl and the Beard is three voices, one cello, one guitar, one glockenspiel, one melodica, several drums, one accordion, ninety-six teeth, and one soul. Jocelyn Mackenzie, Emily Hope Price, and Jeremy Styles came together in New York. Their unique brand of brightly melodic songcraft began to blossom, and the band’s genre-bending and expectation-defying sound has since burst the trio out of the confines of the New York music scene. They’ve caught the attention of the Boston Globe, Filter Magazine, NPR, and thousands of wildly dedicated fans both local and international. The band captivates their audience from first note to last, leaving fans and press alike completely engrossed in the world they’ve created. From subway platform to park to field to brightly lit venue stage, Pearl and the Beard takes over the minds of whoever happens to be there. The Wall Street Journal described one impromptu show this way: “…as Pearl and the Beard joyfully belted … to a growing crowd on the [subway] platform… commuters missed their trains to stay and listen, unsure what was happening—only that it was a New York moment not to be missed.”


Chicago's PigPen Theatre Co. began creating their unique brand of music, film, and theatre as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2008. Their debut indie-folk album, “Bremen,” was featured by American Songwriter and was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post’s 2012 Grammy preview. Their follow-up EP, “The Way I’m Running,” was released on October 8 and was premiered by American Songwriter. They were also the first group to win the NYC Fringe Festival’s top honor for a play two years in a row in 2010 and 2011, and produced several original plays off-Broadway earning them critic’s picks from The New York Times, Time Out New York, New York Magazine, and more—ranking them in the top ten theatrical events of both 2011 and 2012. PigPen is thrilled to be developing their debut children’s novel with Writers House, one of the world’s leading young adult literary agencies, as they are currently on tour as a band.


If you're looking for roots music with the grit of Delbert McClinton (who's a big fan) and the detail and insight of Robert Cray, give Seth Walker a try! This North Carolina-born bluesman has been honing his craft for more than a decade, and his latest release, "Time Can Change," marks a move toward a grittier sound. The son of classical musicians, Seth grew up on a commune. He played the cello and switched to the guitar, then to the blues, after a DJ uncle introduced him to the likes of T-Bone Walker and Snooks Eaglin. The All Music Guide's J. Poet wrote that Seth "uses the blues as a backbone for tunes that will equally please roots, Americana, folk, pop, and blues fans. He's a fine guitarist, but his playing never calls attention to itself; it's always placed in service of the song and the lyrics crackle with insight and subtle wit." Perhaps Country Standard Time said it best: “If you subscribe to the Big Tent theory of Americana, then Seth Walker —with his blend of blues, gospel, pop, R&B, rock, and a dash country—just might be your poster boy." Seth has stage presence to spare, and he will be the MC for both nights of the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival.


Based in San Francisco after growing up in Falls Church, Virginia, Thao Nguyen first picked up a guitar at age 12. She has worked with a long list of acclaimed artists including Andrew Bird, Mirah, Laura Veirs and producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens). In the last two years, in addition to recording a pair of albums, Thao has toured the US with the nationally syndicated NPR program “Radiolab.” Says the New York Times: "Ms. Nguyen’s voice, wobbly and rich, is engaging, and her gently confessional lyrics … are equally beguiling.” And Spin calls Thao's single "Holy Roller" "a lusty yet flighty song ... an intricate, enigmatically charming creation. Thao's release "We the Common," she says, "is an album about wanting to be a human who tries and is grateful for the opportunity. It is about wanting to be better and closer to people." Thao Nguyen and her band, The Get Down Stay Down, have a fresh sound that NPR calls "insanely infectious," and it's breaking out all over! She comes to the 2014 Ann Arbor Folk Festival with a new Spotify album, "The Feeling Kind."


The New York Times has called Willie Nile "one of the most gifted singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in years." His 2006 album “Streets Of New York” was hailed as “a platter for the ages” by Uncut, which pronounced him "a one-man Clash." Bono, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, and Jim Jarmusch are among those who have sung his praises. Willie Nile is a songwriter's songwriter, and his live performances are legendary. He has toured across the U.S. opening for The Who at the personal request of the band and sung with Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium. Willie was born in Buffalo, New York, sings, plays guitar and piano, lives in New York City, and has outstanding parking tickets in many states. Anyone who’s paid attention to his recent work knows that Willie Nile is currently in the midst of a creative renaissance that’s produced some of the most compelling music of his 35-year career. The tradition continues with his latest release, "American Ride."

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