Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Jewel in the Crown

My little city is not the most exciting place on the planet. More often than not these days, it's singing the blues.

It’s horribly depressed right now with the same economic issues cities everywhere are facing. Sprawl has taken the beauty out of it and spread things out for miles, leaving the city with a downtown that becomes empty after the state employees leave at 4:30 each day. And while there are occasional pockets of interest, by and large it isn’t much to write home about.

True, we do have some nice things. The capitol building is beautifully restored and parts of Michigan State University (like the gardens and the old part of campus) are lovely. Its history museum (MSU Museum) and art museum (Kresge) are cultural assets to the community. (Of course the university will do its best to rob you blind and its poor traffic patterns and outrageously expensive parking make this public institution nearly inaccessible to anyone not already on campus.)

But I live here. I work here, in the city in which I grew up. At one time in my life, I really didn't have a choice about staying here. I had to care for my dad. But after he died, I did have the choice and for whatever reason, I choose to stay.

One of those reasons is what I consider the “Jewel in the Crown” of our community. Really, the only super-jewel, though there are a few semi-precious stones.

That jewel is The Great Lakes Folk Festival, which took place last weekend.

The festival sprung out of the National Folk Festival many years ago. It is two-and-a-half days of free music entertainment on three stages, running simultaneously and nonstop, with traditional craft displays, ethnic foods, youth activities and more.

And if you think by folk I mean Kingston Trio-type tunes for three days, think again.

Like blues? Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy rocked, with soul stirring tunes. She had an attitude, really knew how to work the crowd, and gave her all.

Maybe you prefer Cuban/Caribbean? Then check out Tumbao/Bravo with south of the border sounds that were jazzy, melodious and fun.

Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys knew how to make bluegrass sing! You haven’t seen fingers move faster on a banjo!
Shotgun Party was more Western Swing. Maybe I didn’t like them so well because I still had a fever and a headache when I saw them. But the crowd seemed happy.

For me, Celtic is one of the two musical genres I call my personal soul music. (You’ll learn more about the other in my next post!) Slide, four men from Ireland, did not disappoint with slides (those are sort of like jigs on steroids), soulful Celtic tunes and rollicking music that had people cheering.

And if those aren’t your thing, there’s polka, Cajun, Finnish-American, Norwegian-American and Acadian! Traditions showcases feature topics like fiddling, hard luck songs or immigrant songs, where representatives from various groups take to the stage not to perform but to explain their particular take on the music.

You can absolutely count on running into your friends!

New this year was the BookFest tent from MSU Press. Michigan authors, mostly of children’s books, read from their books and answered questions. We had to go see Jef Mallett, creator of the comic strip Frazz.

Now Rick reads Frazz daily. He even went as Frazz to a Halloween costume party. And Mallett, like Rick, is a bike rider.

He delighted the audience, who asked questions throughout, answering as he drew Frazz and later a cat for a child in the group.

After we waited around to meet him and say hello. Rick had met him once before and Jef remembered Rick from that. I told him I thought PBS should animate Frazz. It is, after all, set in a school (Frazz is the custodian). Well, you never know.

We didn’t have the time to spend there I would have liked, but every moment there was well spent! If you’re in Michigan and love music, mark your calendar for next year! You won’t regret it!


Relyn said...

Oh, there is nothing like live music, is there? I want you to know how much I admire that you love your city. So many people, me too, spend too much time wishing they were elsewhere. I love that you are happy to be where you are.

anno said...

Thanks for spotlighting one of my favorite events - sorry to have missed it this year!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Oh my goodness, how did I not know about this? This would be completely up my alley. And we love, love, love Frazz!!! (And great folk music).

joyce said...

It sounds like a great time, we have country music festivals in some towns, but that's not my style. This would be however! I hate crowds, but I think I would go to this party!

jet1960 said...

Sounds like my kind of fun! I love Celtic music, too! I think it is my Irish blood. My grandmother was half Irish.

Rosa said...

Fun! I love listening to live music of any sort!

shoreacres said...

From left field, this question: Is the Kresge you mentioned the same family that had the dime store chain when I was growing up? It's not a common name, and I suspect dime-store magnates might be in a position to fund museums.

Of course you know I want to be right there, in the middle of your festival! There's nothing better than live music (well, unless it might be a 3.2% unemployment rate).

Are you aware of how heavily Michigan's been advertising on tv?
I don't know if they've gone national on MSNBC or are targeting specific locations, but I see "Come to Michigan" ads all the time. I can't get up there, of course, so I do the one thing I can do - I order Michigan cherries from American Spoon Foods in Petosky. You surely know their products - they're all good, but their sppon fruit cherries are just out of this world.

If you ever get a chance to see Asleep at the Wheel, be sure to do it. You'll be a fan of Western swing forever. It's the best driving music in the world!

ols1 said...

Love folk festivals - they are full of such happy folk :)

Beth said...

I Love any kind of music. So I know I would have really enjoyed that festival. My life is boring lately, just working hard with the opening of school. Nothing to blog about. But still trying to keep in touch with my blogger buds. Hope all is well with you!

Becca said...

I'd never heard of this event - it looks wonderful!

We were at the Dream Cruise over the weekend, and it was great to see so many people out and about down here too. We all need these events to help lift our spirits.

Joanne Huffman said...

It sounds like a wonderful time. Maybe I can try it next year.

Annie said...

OK, that does it. Someday when I am traveling in your direction, it will be this weekend in August.

Mary Timme said...

It looks like a rollicking good musical time. I like the comic strip too!

Kristine said...

I was so sorry to miss the Folk Festival this year, we had a weekend family reunion, looks like a fun time!
Next week is the Midland Dulcimer Festival so I will have a little more music in my life.

beth said...

every rough has a diamond, right ?
I think this must it !!

Anonymous said...

What a great music festival! I would be at that Irish stage all day long. Have you ever been to Irish Fest in milwaukee? Put it on your calendar for next August - the biggest Irish music festival in the world - and it is incredible.
You can stay at my house!!

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