It's officially fall in Detroit: Leaves are falling and humidity is dropping. This change in season also calls to mind one of the most timeless forms of music — folk. Something about folk music's plucky melodies and eloquent narrations pair perfectly with a crisp fall day, which is why the Detroit Folk Festival, taking place on Oct. 6, seems to be arriving just in time.
Longtime Detroit folk staple Audra Kubat started this tradition six years ago at the Trumbullplex, a small artist collective in Woodbridge. It has since grown into an all-day festival, now featuring 25 artists from Detroit's surprisingly robust folk scene.
The day consists of a full set from each artist, an open mic hosted by Dave Toennies, and two "Songwriters in the Round" sets — a classic folk tradition where the artists take turns telling the stories behind their songs in between performances. Fifty percent of the show's proceeds will go to InsideOut Literary Arts Project, an organization that places writers into local classrooms in the hopes of inspiring expression through literature and poetry. "I believe that this project and those like it are doing extreme important work with area youth," says Kubat, who has been a writer-in-residence with InsideOut for seven years. "I have seen firsthand how students are changed by the writing experience and how they open up."
Kubat says that in addition to supporting the youth of Detroit, her goal in hosting the Folk Festival is to showcase local talent and continue the folk tradition of storytelling. "The work of the folk artist, in part, is to tell stories... stories that are sometime hard to tell, but often are so important to hear," she says. However, she also explains that the definition of "folk artist" can span far and wide, as made apparent through the festival's lineup, which is made up of artists with very distinct sounds. "It is less important to me that the music sounds 'folky,'" says Kubat. "What I am interested in is the story and giving voice to those who may not be able to tell it."
Kubat is creating an opportunity for people to share their stories at the festival's open mic, which will kick off the event. The open mic format is special to Kubat, who met many of the artists performing at the festival through an open mic she hosts in Detroit. "I believe that we should always try to have space for those that are just starting out or those that just have something to say," she says.
Here's a short breakdown of a few of the diverse acts that will be performing at the fest:
The festival's founder has been at the epicenter of Detroit's folk community for more than 20 years. Her forthright and descriptive compositions have won her accolades such as the Detroit Music Awards' best folk musician, as well as a devout local following. Kubat spreads a message of "strength through vulnerability" with her gorgeous, powerful vocals and unapologetic truth.
Alexander Vlachos, or Greater Alexander, is an unsung talent of the Detroit music community. While he has a penchant for writing endearing folk songs, his musical talents span multiple genres, reaching from his 36-track ambient album, Spilled Love, to his collaborations with Assemble Sound artist Nydge and his latest acoustic project "Symphony of This City."
Lac la Belle
Nick Schillace and Jennie Knaggs combine their musical mastery and experiences living in Appalachia to create lush and tranquil folk music. Their last record, A Friend Too Long, was written in seclusion in an Upper Peninsula cabin and encapsulates the sound of dark woods and peaceful solitude. Both artists are multi-instrumentalists and rotate between banjo, mandolin, ukulele, guitar, and accordion in any given set.
Frontwoman for the "soulless soul/goth" group Willa Rae & the Minor Arcana, Willa Rae is a dynamic performer with a graveyard of stories to tell. Most of her songs are written with a touch of darkness and gravitate around the theme of love gone wrong. Her band tours almost exclusively in October, around the songstress's favorite holiday, Halloween.
The songwriter behind the "soul-gaze" project, Vespre, Waterman is known for her upbeat, retro dance songs. While her unmistakable voice is normally heard partnered with synths and syncopated beats, it will be a rare treat to hear Waterman in a more stripped-down setting.
The Detroit Folk Festival is from noon-11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Old Miami, 3930 Cass Ave., Detroit; Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door.
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