Understorey Time: Ann Arbor’s Jess Merritt Celebrates Her 40th Birthday and a Return to the Stage at The Ark


Jess Merritt will celebrate her 40th birthday with a show at The Ark on February 13.

Jess Merritt plans to celebrate her birthday with a new version of her band The Understorey at The Ark. Photo courtesy of Jess Merritt.

Some say reaching 40 is a milestone but that each decade lived should be celebrated.

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Jess Merritt will take The Ark stage on February 13 to celebrate all of her decades as well as her 40th birthday, recent life changes, and what is yet to come. 

“I’m so grateful to be celebrating this new chapter of life with The Ark and that they were willing to put this on,” said Merritt who used to be known as Jess McCumons when she co-led the soul, rock, and blues band The Understorey. “It feels so great to be getting back to the stage after a few years away, and this is a really big way to kick things off at my favorite place to perform.” 

Merritt, speaking of her time away from performing, noted that in 2017 she and her partner, Matt McCumons, put their band The Understorey on hold while going through a divorce. 

“We did what we needed to do but still get along and co-parent great,” she said. “On the other side of life though, music was and is still very important to me. As I was approaching my birthday, I was thinking of how I wanted to celebrate and start the next chapter of life and thought this was it.”

Merritt, who has an expansive background in the performing arts, has previously performed with and opened for acts such as Lindsay Lou, The War and Treaty, Rachael Davis, and in many festivals across the state. Now, she's reviving a new edition of The Understorey and bringing the same energy from her previous shows to The Ark. 

Fans and the audience can expect a star-studded lineup of local musicians with Merritt front and center sharing both new originals and covers with this version of her Understorey: Josef Deas, Jenny Jones, Brennan Andes, Jon Brown, and TJ Zindle. 

“I’m really excited about the crew we have, and we have a lot of special things to share. I’ve been writing a bit—not as much as I had expected—but there is so much material in my life right now that I have written a few new songs that I plan on sharing coupled with a few covers I think the crowd will really enjoy,” Merritt said. 

“This show is really what I’m calling a musical memoir. We will go through, share stuff, and reintroduce myself to everyone after the last five years. It’s been a life-changing break, but it’s been a way of reclaiming myself through writing and the music I’m ready to share.” 

Sean Miller is a Michigan singer-songwriter and freelance arts and entertainment writer.

Jess Merritt & The Understorey perform February 13 at The Ark, 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, with Abigail Stauffer.