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Michigan duo uses roots music to find connections between state’s diverse communities

Robert Jones and Matt Wotruba
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
Rev. Robert Jones and Matt Wotruba first met while hosting back-to-back music shows on a public radio station in Detroit.

The Reverend Robert Jones and Matt Watroba first met while hosting back-to-back music shows at a public radio station in Detroit.  

That chance encounter bloomed into a friendship rooted in a mutual love for acoustic roots music that's still going strong more than 30 years later.

For decades, Jones and Watroba have crisscrossed Michigan and the country, bringing roots music to audiences of all ages. Now, the two musicians have started a nonprofit called Common Chordsthat aims to connect communities in Michigan through music. They do that with educational programs that touch on the history and interconnectedness of different kinds of American music.  

“The idea is — behind Common Chords, as we travel along — wouldn’t it be great to have a nonprofit that focuses on celebrating those things that we share in common instead of fighting about those things that tend to separate us?” Jones said.

Jones and Watroba grew up about 25 minutes from each other — Jones in Detroit, and Watroba in Plymouth — in “completely different worlds." The differences in their respective backgrounds and personalities are the inspiration for a project currently in the works called "20 Minutes Apart." That project will focus on bringing people from different communities together through music. 

“That’s a conversation that we think the state of Michigan needs to have. That you don’t need to be identical to be friends, you don’t have to necessarily look alike, you don’t have to have grown up the same way in order to be a community,” Jones said.

Jones and Watroba will be playing this Friday, May 17 at The Ark in Ann Arbor and Saturday, May 18 at the Birmingham Unitarian Church.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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