By ROGER LeLIEVRE
Clearly The Ark is getting a great start on its 50th anniversary season. Both nights of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival / Ark fundraiser sold out the last weekend of January, and now iconic bluegrass ensemble Mountain Heart brings its high-octane live performance to the acoustic music club Friday, Feb. 6.
It’s the first of several signature 50th season performances. The year-long anniversary season has been dubbed “50 Folkin’ Years” by the Arkies.
Fans of the group probably already know, but it should be mentioned there’s been a bit of a lineup change for Mountain Heart.
After announcing the departure of co-founding member, Barry Abernathy (banjo), who stepped down to spend more time with family in 2014, Mountain Heart has regrouped. Other original members remain on board, including Josh Shilling and co-founding member Jim VanCleve. Guitar phenom Seth Taylor, multi-instrumentalist Aaron Ramsey and bassist/dobro player Jeff Partin are also on board.
They’ve appeared more than 125 times at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, but MH also has a strong connection with southeastern Michigan audiences, and at The Ark they always deliver top-notch shows. They’re coming to Michigan with a new album almost in the can, something the band – and its fans – should find thrilling.
“We are on fire about the new music we’re creating and the new show we’ve put together,” wrote VanCleve in a publicity statement.
“Having what I consider a dream team of musicians who have partnered and are motivated to grow together is overwhelmingly exciting for us. Get ready, because we are all going to have a blast,” he added.
Since the early days when Mountain Heart launched in 1999, the band has grown steadily from a traditional bluegrass group to one of the most daring and experimental acoustic bands in the world, incorporating bluegrass, country, and rock elements into their basic bluegrass format.
Other Ark anniversary shows include Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn March 1, Mark Cohn on May 3, a 50-Year Fling July 22-26 and a fall fundraiser Sept. 27 with The Steel Wheels and The RFD Boys.
Hootenanny jam sessions, workshops, a film series and other events remain to be announced.
Mountain Heart plays at The Ark on Friday, Feb. 6. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at TheArk.org or by calling the box office at 734-761-1800.