year's Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and groups like the Kalamazoo duo Red Tail Ring are offering innovative takes on traditional music. The Canadian fiddler April Verch, who comes to the Ark with the two other members of her band on April 4, is a marvelous player who helped get the revival underway.
Verch is one of those musicians who become so deeply immersed in one specific style that they are able to look outward and master others without much difficulty. She comes from the Ottawa River valley in northeastern Ontario, remote lumbering country that has its own distinctive fiddle style. On YouTube you can hear her demonstrate the differences among four Canadian fiddle styles--old-time, Ottawa Valley, Metis, and Maritime--and that was all before she took up bluegrass and other American styles. Verch has the gravity of an aware tradition bearer, but there's nothing didactically folky in her playing. There's emotion in everything she does, and she shapes different kinds of tunes, and a few songs, into a program that hangs together over an hour and a half.
She started playing the fiddle at six, but she started step dancing at three, and that's where things enter really rarefied territory. I haven't seen the great step dancers of Ireland, but Verch must be really hard to top. Her step dance solos are little ballets in which her movements and the unthinkable rhythms coming from her feet coordinate to generate climaxes that make people stand up and cheer. She dances while backing up, and while playing the fiddle, the latter an unusual talent indeed. "I have to not think about it," she has said. "I have to put both things on automatic pilot."