The Great Lakes Folk Festival's website traces its history back to festivals beginning in 1983.  I attended several of the earlier festivals, which had some similarities.  But, my wife and I agree that the current festival format grew from the National Folk Festival which came to East Lansing in 1999.  It moves every three years.  So in 2002, when the National moved on to a new city, the Great Lakes Folk Festival was birthed as its offspring, having all the flavor and happenings of its predecessor.  We missed the first one in 1999, but with the exception of last year (we were at a wedding in Massachusetts in 2006), we have attended the Folk Festival every year, usually for the full three days.  An exceptional bargain, it is free!   


I did not actually bring my camera along on Friday (first day of the festival) evening.  All we carried were our portable chairs and a backpack with a few basics we might need.

In the picture we are about to take a shortcut through the People's Church garden, putting us between the Valley Court and Dance stages.  The festival had five performance stages this year (in other years sometimes just four).  On Friday only three of them had something scheduled. Things started at 6:00 p.m. on the M.A.C. stage but we were running a little late, and decided to get a bite to eat at Lou & Harry's Grill (by the stage) first.


We had never eaten there, yet happen to hit their "happy hour taco bar," so we ended up with a little extra for our money.  I do not totally throw caution to the wind, but the boundaries of heart healthy eating get well stretched on special occasions such as Folk Festival weekend.

Having picked up the weekend's schedule to peruse at the restaurant, after eating we headed for the Valley Court stage for the remainder of the evening where we saw performances by David Davis & The Warrior River Boys (Bluegrass); Michele Choiniere (Franco-American Song); Elana James (Texas Swing), and Back of the Moon (Celtic).  At this area you provide your own chairs or blanket, etc.  We ran into some "first-timer" friends who did not know. (We had an extra sheet in the backpack). 


Sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning I decided I would bring my camera along this year with the intention of creating this Scrapbook Photos webpage.  So many people we talk to are not aware of the festival, or have never attended.  Plus, this year there was a particularly strong Indigenous (Native American) representation, so it seemed to be a logical choice. 



As already mentioned, one of the best dynamics of the Great Lakes Folk Festival is it is free.  But, like all things, it costs money to put in on.  Beyond corporate sponsorships, the festival has what it calls its "bucket brigade."  These volunteers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, from the elegantly dressed to the colorful.  They wander throughout the festival giving you a "thank you" sticker to don for any amount of money dropped into one of their buckets in support of the festival.  Nobody is precluded from participating because of tight finances.  Donna and I cannot afford a lot, but we drop a dollar (occasionally a five) here and there throughout each day of the weekend.  The festival's philosophy strongly parallels those I present through the Center, and other dynamics represented in this website.

Beyond what you choose to drop into a bucket, expenses for the weekend are basically what you spend for food and drink, and for parking.  The first years we attended, we parked in the free outer lots and rode the buses to and from the festival.  This year the cost to take the bus was only twenty-five cents. However, in 2007, and recent years, we have chosen to park right by the festival in one of the private lots (it cost us $7 for the day and the money was being raised by an MSU student for college. The People's Church also offers parking for a fee). 

All in all, the festival can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose it to be.  We try to support it as best we can by eating there locally or from a festival food vendor (lots of options), a purchase of a CD or two, and being as generous as possible. 



So, after Friday evening, what did we do, see, and hear at this year's festival?  Well, on Saturday we arrived right around noon and caught just a little of Fiddle Traditions (below left) at the City Hall stage, a gathering of musicians from several of the groups who discuss and demonstrate their particular styles. We stayed there only briefly before moving over to the Legacy stage where a young native fiddler named Keenan Otchingwanigan (below right) was performing. He is a 14 year old enrolled member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, but lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  His dad, Earl Otchingwanigan (below center), spoke on behalf of his son, told stories, and introduced the various pieces Keenan played for us.  Earl was himself scheduled to receive a Michigan Heritage Award at a different part of the festival for his lifetime of work as a teacher, instructor of the Ojibwe language, author on Ojibwe culture, translator, museum consultant, gifted storyteller, and his canoe making abilities. 


After listening to Keenan (and his dad), I took a few moments to snap some pictures of the Folk Arts Marketplace next to the Legacy stage.  "Vendors invited to participate sell authentic traditional arts and related items.  Some artists also demonstrate making their handmade goods in their booths." 


About 1:30 p.m. we wandered back over to the Valley Court stage to see the African-American Old-Time String Band called Carolina Chocolate Drops perform.  They turned out to be one of our favorites this year. "The antebellum combination of banjo and fiddle used to be a tradition in most black rural communities in the south." This band of three young talented musicians (under the tutelage of octogenarian fiddler Joe Thompson) is part of a revival of this tradition.  Rhiannon Giddens plays banjo, fiddle, and sings.  Justin Robinson also sings and plays the fiddle, while Dom Flemons plays guitar, banjo, jug, harmonica, snare, and yes, sings too. 




Since it was close to the Valley Court stage, we had spent some time at the Carriers of Culture main tent just prior to going to hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  After their performance, Donna and I returned to that event. The above is my photograph of a photograph of Marie Randall, a Lakota elder, which was prominently displayed by one of the tent's entrances.  This program debuted last year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C.  "Living Native Basket Traditions examines the contemporary state of Native weaving in the United States and the ways in which Native baskets - and their makers - are 'carriers of culture.'"  The program was adapted with a special Michigan and Great Lakes focus for the GLFF.  There were 29 presenters from Michigan and the Great Lakes area, and 18 from outside of Michigan, representing well over a dozen different tribes and traditions.  In the center of the main tent, demonstrations showed one process beginning with the log; notching then pounding with the back of an axe to separate the rings into strips.  Elsewhere a variety of artisans worked their particular craft style, including Jakob and Yvonne Keshick, of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, doing quill baskets. 


The above three photos (+4 below) are from the area where Cherokee basketry and weaving were being demonstrated by Peggy Brennan, a Western Cherokee from Edmond, Oklahoma, and Robin McBride Scott, a Cherokee from New Castle, Indiana.  I revisited their spot on Sunday for an extra picture or two. 


But, let's get back to Saturday.  The spot Peggy and Robin were in was close to the City Hall stage where a Traditions Showcase from Old-Time to Cajun was taking place.  We paused briefly there, however, since we hadn't had lunch yet, we decided it was time to head for the Traditional Food Court. 



On the way to the food court, we passed by the Dance stage where Roots Vibration (Reggae) was playing.  Though it was quite a change from the Indigenous displays we had come from, we would not have another opportunity to hear their music, so I stopped for just a moment to listen and take this photo. 

OK.  Let's break for lunch.  In the interest of keeping these pages from getting way too long, so they open more easily for you, this will end the first page.  When you are ready, click on PAGE TWO to see about lunch and the rest of Saturday's agenda.


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