The Green Wood Coffee House of the First United Methodist Church is on the elevated main floor, above a co-op preschool, of a small Green Road building that serves as FUMC's North Campus branch. On two Friday nights each month, it may also be the best place to hear small-scale music in Ann Arbor.
You enter the building and pass directly into the coffeehouse space without knowing there's anything below it — the room seems perched on a tree branch in the middle of a forest. The stage and seating area look out through eye-level windows on three sides into woods that fade to darkness. The view immediately creates a special musical realm. With an introspective singer on stage, it seems metaphorically representative of the unknowable but occasionally illuminated recesses of an individual's mind.
The interior, small enough to keep the amplification modest, is equally conducive to intense listener focus. Lighting comes mostly from candles — some hang on the wall, some rest on big treelike stands rising from the ground, some are placed on dishes atop a piano or on the small tables scattered among the hundred or so chairs. Popcorn, brownies, and coffee are sold (everything's a dollar) in back, with payment on the honor system.
Are you imagining a picture-perfect folk coffeehouse? Under the bookership of local singer Katie Geddes, Green Wood provides an alternative to the high-powered world of the Ark and the student domination of some of the coffeehouses downtown. The space featured local acts at first, but word seems to have spread among performers as to how special a place it is. Now Green Wood presents a mix of local music, emerging national figures, and a few well-established stars. Recent performers have included the rising singer-songwriter Alice Peacock and the wonderfully rootsy country veteran Gail Davies.
On Friday, April 19, the coffeehouse will host a contemporary Christian musician for the first time — other performers have occasionally asked whether it's okay to sing certain songs while standing under the church's big wooden cross. (Nobody's objected.) Singer-songwriter Sarah Masen offers quiet, devotional songs of her own composition; her album The Dreamlife of Angels has a stripped-down sound that features little beyond Masen's voice and guitar accompaniment. On May 17 folk legend Melanie comes to Green Wood, which is one of the few places she performs anymore. Previous Melanie shows at the coffeehouse have sold out, so be advised ahead of time that she has written some great songs in the years since "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" and "Brand New Key."
Really, though, I'd go to hear almost anybody at Green Wood. Pick from the Observer listings a performer you're curious about, and the space should call forth the best he or she has to offer.