10 Years After: Acoustic Routes Celebrates Decade of Concerts, Hosts Benefit Show with Rosanne Cash
In the late ‘80s, Jim Cain didn’t expect a Midwest tour with his friends’ punk band would lead to a love of acoustic music.
As the band’s roadie and road manager in college, he heard artists like Ralph Stanley, Lyle Lovett, and Bill Monroe while traveling in a crammed Oldsmobile Cutlass with his Michigan State University pals and became intrigued.
“My tastes growing up were more The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who,” said Cain, now the founder and curator of Saline’s Acoustic Routes concert series, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.
“A couple of friends at the same time started exploring more traditional artists like The Louvin Brothers and really went deep into the mix, and that’s just grown over time. I first got exposed to artists like Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt when I got inspired to attempt to learn the guitar. All of these things just kinda dovetailed.”
By 2010, Cain’s passion for country, bluegrass, folk, and other traditional acoustic-based music resulted in curating a live show at The Ark with Bonnie Rideout, Duck Baker, Bill Bynum & Co., and Rev. Robert Jones and Sister Bernice Jones.
The show served as a fundraiser for the Breakfast Program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor. At the time, the daily meal program had experienced a funding shortage when the city made recession budget cuts in 2009.
In response, the Breakfast Program became a nonprofit and partnered with Cain and The Ark to co-host a benefit concert. They took inspiration from the Ann Arbor Folk Festival and recruited local businesses and foundations to help offset the costs.
“I had always been connected to and fascinated by the music business both as a fan and with having a lot of friends in the business, so I floated the idea of hosting a benefit concert,” said Cain, who’s been a Breakfast Program volunteer for 20 years and now serves on its board.
“Everybody thought it was a great idea as long as I could pull it off. I reached out to The Ark to host it, and I reached out to different friends that I knew from studying guitar or playing in the high school orchestra. We put on a show … it was really successful, and we’ve just kept it going.”
That inaugural concert spawned annual benefit shows for the Breakfast Program and later the Acoustic Routes concert series.
“I had people coming up to me and asking, ‘Is there a place I could play? Would you be interested in producing a show for me?’ That led to the creation of Acoustic Routes as a formal entity, and that was in the spring of 2013,” Cain said.
“We’re really blessed to have The Ark, but 10 years ago there really weren’t that many other venues for more traditional music or local music outside of rock clubs like The Blind Pig and a scattering of house concerts.”
In 2013, Cain contacted Pete Toarmina, who owned Mangiamo Italian Grill at the time, about hosting monthly Acoustic Routes concerts in the Saline restaurant’s second-floor banquet space. Toarmina agreed, and Mangiamo served as the venue for the concert series until the restaurant closed in 2017.
“Then we moved to Stony Lake Brewing Co., also in Saline, and we’ve done more than 100 shows,” said Cain, who named the concert series after the U.S. Route 12 that runs through the city and the 1992 Acoustic Routes documentary.
“We probably do eight to 10 shows a year … you’ll recognize local names like Peter Madcat Ruth, Annie and Rod Capps, Jason Dennie, Rollie Tussing, and people like that who’ve played, but also we’ve brought in artists from Sweden, Ireland, and Scotland.”
Along with honoring its growing roster of artists and concerts, Acoustic Routes is celebrating its 10th anniversary with two live shows at Stony Lake Brewing Co.—April 21 with Peter Madcat Ruth’s C.A.R.Ma. Quartet and April 22 with Wilson Thicket.
“It’s been just a fun, artistic experience to be up close and personal with these incredibly talented people, and then there’s the personal satisfaction of creating these events from the whole cloth,” Cain said.
“But the real key to making it work is that neither I nor the venue takes a cut of the ticket proceeds, so 100 percent of it goes to the artists. In our own small way, we’ve had to fill a void, and it’s been really successful.”
Acoustic Routes also continues to host an annual benefit show for the 41-year-old Breakfast Program, which has raised more than $125,000 to feed local people in need. Featured artists have included Lucinda Williams, Mavis Staples, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.
This year’s benefit show includes Rosanne Cash and Her Band performing May 13 at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater.
“I think this Rosanne Cash show has the potential to be the biggest concert we’ve ever done for the Breakfast Program,” Cain said.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, she’s had this amazing wellspring of creativity, and she’s one of the most literate songwriters I’ve ever heard. Her ability to convey what she’s feeling through her music is a rare quality, and it’s humbling for me to be able to present a show for her.”
“Right now, it’s fun working with Jerry [Tubbs] and Heidi [Tubbs] at Stony Lake,” Cain said. “When you mix great music and high-gravity ale, I mean, what could go wrong?”
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.
Acoustic Routes celebrates its 10th anniversary with two shows at Stony Lake Brewing Co., 447 E. Michigan Ave. in Saline. Peter Madcat Ruth’s C.A.R.Ma. Quartet performs April 21, and Wilson Thicket performs April 22. For show information and tickets, visit Stony Lake Brewing Co.’s website.
Rosanne Cash and Her Band perform May 13 at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor, to benefit the Breakfast Program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. For show information, visit the Michigan Theater’s website. For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com.