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Interview:
Jeff Daniels Looking Forward To Emceeing Folk Fest
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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He's an actor. A theater-owner. A singer-songwriter and recording artist.

And this weekend, Jeff Daniels acknowledges with a laugh, he becomes "a folk maven."

As another of the baby steps he's been taking in his music career, Chelsea resident Daniels will emcee this weekend's 30th Ann Arbor Folk Festival, introducing the acts and filling time in-between with his own songs.

"I've gone to the festival a few times, and it's just a great night," says Daniels, 51, who's been playing guitar and writing songs since the mid-'70s and has released two albums -- "Live and Unplugged" in 2004 and last year's "Grandfather's Hat," both of which raise funds for his Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea.

"I'm just a big fan of that music. If I can help to bring some more people to (the shows), I'm glad to do it."

Even though he's arguably the biggest name on the two-night bill thanks to roles in "The Whale and the Squid," "Pleasantville," "RV," "Terms of Endearment" and many others, Daniels is quick to note that the he'll be there to serve the other artists.

"The night's about them," he says. "If we need a fill 'cause we're loading a band in then, yeah, I've got material. I'm fully prepared if called upon. And if I play something that people like, they'll go 'Oh my God, he can really do that. Now let's listen to the [i]real[i] artist who's gonna do 15-20 minutes."

In fact, Daniels anticipates a couple of relatively low-pressure nights, where his responsibility is to "keep it light, keep 'em laughing" rather than carrying the brunt of the show as he does on his headlining gigs.

"Go go out and play a song or two and then turn it over to some other people -- that's gonna be fun," he says. "And for me just to hang with these guys will be great. They're all artists. They've been doing it a long time. I stand to learn something just by meeting them."

Then again, Daniels' music learning curve has been on a sharp upswing over the past couple years, as he's been able to concentrate a bit more on that aspect of his career.

He was particularly prolific in 2006. Thanks to a break in filmmaking, Daniels launched what he dubbed the Successive Long Weekends tour, playing shows around the East Coast and Midwest, from clubs to ski resorts. He also launched what he hopes will be an annual Thanksgiving weekend festival at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

It was, he says, "great fun" and helped him realize that music was something he "truly enjoyed."

"Creatively, I have complete control," notes Daniels, who got some air time in the metro area last fall with "The Lifelong Tiger Fan Blue Revisited," a sequel to a song from his first album. "The material's mine. The playing's mine. The voice is mine...It's all creatively up to me.

"There's a purity in that that I don't have in acting."

And, he adds, there's no pressure on the music to pay the bills. Daniels will be seen in two new films this year -- "The Lookout," with Joseph Gordon Levitt, in March, and "Mama's Boy," with Diane Keaton and Jon Heder, this summer. In the spring Daniels will be in New York acting in the Off Broadway play "Blackbird." He's also "still looking at other films but being very selective."

But, Daniels adds, he's not necessarily in a hurry to expand his music -- and particularly his recording -- endeavors.

"I really like this, and I don't want to mess this up," he says. "The investment isn't that much. It's all our own money we put in it, and it's just a fun way to raise some money for the Purple Rose.

"So unless somebody comes to us with a really great offer you just can't turn down, we're happy doing what we're doing."





The 30th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Jan. 26-27) at Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University on the U-M campus. Tonight's show features Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Jackie Green, Ember Swift, Millish, Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams and the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble. Saturday's bill includes John Prine, Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines, Bill Staines, Mountain Heart, Over the Rhine, Daisy May and Paul Thorn. The RFD Boys play both shows and Jeff Danciels emcees both nights. Tickets are $45 and $30 each night; two day passes are $80 and $50, and patron seats are available for $150 and $75. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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