On tour with headliners Arrah and the Ferns
It’s 2 in the morning and folk-pop trio Arrah and the Ferns watches a digital blizzard creep across Wisconsin into Michigan, where they are expected to headline Michigan Tech’s Keweenawesomefest music festival.
After an hour analyzing weather reports, multi-instrumentalist Carl Stovner prods drummer Dave Segedy back to consciousness for a band discussion.
“I don’t think it’s worth risking our lives over,” says vocalist Arrah Fisher.
“Listen,” Stovner responds. “We made a commitment. They’re depending on us to headline this show.”
At 3 a.m., they begin loading Stovner’s Subaru Outback with small bags of clothing. They do it with precision, knowing what will fit in the cracks between instruments. However, the usual friendly banter shared amongst the three is missing. They are still exhausted from their recently finished two-week tour, and are not particularly happy with the decision to drive 14 hours into a possible blizzard.
It’s been 15 months since Arrah and the Ferns debuted at an open mic in Muncie, Ind. It turned into the experience of a lifetime. Indianapolis’ Standard Recording Company released the band’s first album, Evan Is a Vegan, and music fans took notice.
They’ve performed shows with national acts like Danielson and, most recently, during their biggest show to date, they opened for Deerhoof in North Carolina. “Standard wanted us to hire a publicist and go back on tour,” Stovner says. “I was working two jobs, Arrah had two jobs and was going to school and Dave was going to school in Indy. We talked it over and decided to take a chance and see how far we could go with the band.”
The little snow-covered towns in Michigan’s upper peninsula are marked with small signs celebrating high school hockey state championships. Snow mobiles race across fields, and every diner proudly announces they sell pasties, an upper peninsula delicacy — like a hand-held pot pie or “a softball full of vegetables,” as Stovner describes them.
When the Ferns pull onto the campus of Michigan Tech in Houghten, Mich., around 4 in the afternoon, they are met by Tyler Debalek, one of the Keweenawesomefest promoters. He greets them with complimentary pasties and guides the band to their room at a nearby Travelodge. Stovner plops exhausted onto a bed. “I feel like a rock star,” he says.
The tension hovering amongst the band members over the decision to make the trip is gone. The chemistry that’s pushed them forward since the band’s inception returns, and they are best friends again. They spread out on the beds, laughing at Totally Outrageous Behavior, a show featuring home videos of stunts gone wrong and entertaining accidents. They are having a great time.
“At least we’re relaxing,” Fisher says.
“Let’s just go to sleep,” Stovner suggests.
“We’re laughing, too,” Fisher adds, her voice dimming. “That’s good.”
The Keweenawesomefest audience, many sporting the band’s bright yellow T-shirts, which feature a goose wearing Fisher’s trademark yellow vinyl boots, is bustling when Arrah and the Ferns finally take the stage. The Ferns’ music has received airplay on the college radio station, and a small fanbase has developed. “I’ve been playing your songs on my show every week,” one fan told Fisher earlier in the evening.
The decision to make the Ferns headliners was a no-brainer to co-promoter Kevin Eder. “They wrote one of my favorite albums of the year,” he says. “Tyler and I felt that if they were one-tenth as great live as they were on their recording, it would be a joyful way to finish the festival. They were beyond belief live.”
Bringing joy to an audience is what the band does best, and once its members are on stage, they play like the tiny festival is bigger than opening for Deerhoof. The fans dance as Fisher breaks into her punk snarl during “Emo Phillips.” They applaud as Segedy plays two recorders and keeps a steady drumbeat on “Bundle Up,” and they sway as Stovner begins the melancholy “Southern Comfort” while plucking away at his banjolin. By the time the Ferns close the hour-long set, they even have three audience members dancing on stage with them.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Stovner repeats afterwards, wiping sweat from his brow. “This was amazing.” Fisher and Segedy echo the opinion, broad smiles crossing their faces.
Twenty-four hours later, the band makes the trek home, leaving many new friends behind, along with promises to come play again. Stovner drives, occasionally reliving the weekend with Fisher while Segedy once again sleeps. The next day, Stovner must get up at 8 a.m. and head to his job. He thinks about this as he drives across the snow-covered highways.
“Man,” he sighs. “I can’t wait to go back on tour.”
Where to catch Arrah and the Ferns next:
Saturday, April 14:
Bloomington’s Culture Shock Festival, presented by WIUX LP 100.3 FM (Indiana University’s student-operated radio station) will feature Arrah and the Ferns, Xiu Xiu, Sunset Rubdown (featuring Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug), Catfish Haven, Richard Swift, Make Believe, David Vandervelde and the Moon Station House Band, Husband & Wife, The Coke Dares and more. The festival will take place all day on the Indiana University campus. A specific location is yet to be announced. For more information, visit www.wiux.org.