By Seth Kinker, email@example.com
The Riverfolk Blacksmith Shop Concert Series was started in 2016 to fill a void in Manchester.
When summer music festivals were stopped the only thing going on downtown was gazebo concerts, but these were only occurring in June, July, and August. Leaving a void to fill from September to May.
The Riverfolk Music and Art Organization (RMAO) started the series through an opportunity with the Ann Arbor Community Foundation; they were looking for ideas that would help stimulate the economy of some smaller towns in Washtenaw County.
The RMAO submitted the idea for the concert series that lives today, pairing local and regional food vendors with performers living in the region or with ties to Michigan. After being asked to continue the program a second year, the series is in its third year and going strong.
Another key component of the concert series was that the musician(s) needed to be appropriate for the space.
All of the concerts take place at the Blacksmith Shop in downtown Manchester and Aileen Brower, a member of the board of Directors of RMAO, knew that the space would fit these concerts perfectly.
“I moved into this town in 2009 and I live right around the corner,” said Brower. “I walked past this space all the time, the series was started in 2016, so for many years, I was walking by wondering what was going on in this space because I didn’t see anything. We contacted the Manchester Area Historical Society (MAHS) who owns the building and asked if we could use the space.”
The rest was, as they say, history, and the MAHS hopes it can add to that history. The MAHS currently is trying to turn the Blacksmith Shop into a museum with local artifacts and information about Manchester.
The small intimate setting allows for the audience to be close to the performers and many plan their performances around the setting.
Gabriel Bolkosky, a classical and contemporary artist who delves into multiple forms of music was on hand Saturday, Feb. 24 to perform In One Voice, Many Voices: J.S. Bach.
Bolkosky was brought to Manchester through Rower, his managing agent as a part of the Great Lake Performing Artists Associates (GLPAA), and in addition to performing, gave lessons for students in the Cultural Art String Program.
“It’s a collaboration of many sorts,” said Rower “I work with the artists’ representative agency… GLPAA, which is based out of Ann Arbor. We have been looking for opportunities to partner with others and since I work for Riverfolk as well, it seems like the perfect pairing because we run a youth string education program.”
As far as his choice of music, Bolkosky adapted to what he knew about the environment.
“I thought Bach has a unique kind of loneliness,” said Bolkosky. “But I feel like a blacksmith shop is the same, it’s been around a very long time and something really deep about it, about forging things out of fire. I feel that way about Bach. All of his solo works are so deep you can make almost a direct connection to someone like Charlie Parker. These single lines going by are just Bach improvising and he can do it, he could improvise. That’s why I think I chose that.”
While earning his bachelor’s degree in violin performance and a master’s degree in chamber music, Bolkosky also studied improvisation at the master’s level at the University of Michigan.
With funding from local businesses and donors, the Ann Arbor Community Foundation, the Ann Arbor Arts Alliance and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Rower enjoys the concert series for its ability to bring people to Manchester.
“My favorite part is seeing people come from out of town and discover this town for the very first time,” said Rower. “Here we are at the edge of Washtenaw County and people don’t even know about it yet. This series is doing exactly what it was supposed to do, which is bring people to this town and let them know here’s what happening. It’s an intimate space to hear live music and be up close to the musician and come together with a community of music lovers.”