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!
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