Great Lakes Folk Festival comes to East Lansing

The MSU Museum hosted its annual Great Lakes Folk Festival, a folk life event centered around the different influences expressed in culture, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The festival included local and national artists specializing in a variety of genres — from jazz to zydeco, an up-tempo kind of music that blends rock-and-roll with blues.

Jessalyn Tamez / The State News

The music was accompanied by dancing among audience members, and the 2,400-square-foot dance floor was rarely empty. Festival-goers were encouraged to participate in the waltz hour, zydeco or join instructors teaching various forms of swing dancing.

Festival manager Mike Secord said the donation-based festival is in its 13th year, which he said exemplifies the popularity of the event.

“It connects the university with the city of East Lansing,” Secord said. “We really feel like we appeal to the vast majority of people.”

Secord said Saturday tends to be the busiest day of the festival, drawing in larger audiences because of pleasant weather conditions.

“The weather couldn’t be more perfect,” Secord said. ”(The tents and stages) stayed full, and full of energy.”

Secord suspected the sunshine might not have been the only reason for the sizable crowds this weekend. The event is free to the public, but he said the local feel of the musicians are a unique draw to the festival.

“The one thing with our performers — they’re used to smaller festivals, so they tend to connect with the audience more,” Secord said. “It’s a much more intimate feel.”

The MSU Museum recruits local talent, as well as artists from across the country, creating a heady mix of musical performances.

“We’re culturally diverse in makeup, and I think on any given day the crowd shows that,” Secord said. “If you look around, I think you can kind of see how (the festival) connects everyone.”

A newer addition to the festival layout is a designated area for street performers.

Around three years ago, Secord said, the festival planners decided to give street performers a space of their own, spreading music throughout downtown equally. The space even provides room for a crowd to gather near the street performers.

“It’s relevant,” Secord said. “They maybe feel like they’re wanted.”

Charlotte resident and contributor to the Pretty Shaky String Band Steve Rohs, who played his guitar with an old friend outside of Georgio’s Gourmet Pizza on Saturday, said the festival should be about local talent as much as it is about larger and more well known artists.

“(The folk festival) has started having these events where local musicians can come and just jam together,” Rohs said. “It feels really nice to play music with people.”

Biochemistry junior and festival-goer Aaron Burnett said seeing new and smaller artists was memorable for him.

“I think it’s good for the community, as a community bonding project,” Burnett said. “I really wish the city did more stuff like this.”

The festival also featured various artists, who sold a range of handcrafted items. The pieces for sale at the festival were representative of many cultures, including some native to Michigan.

At the festival Cherish Parrish and her mother Kelly Church weaved and sold baskets made from black ash trees found in Michigan.

They’ve been vendors at the festival for around a decade, but black ash basket weaving has been in their family for centuries.

“My grandma says we made baskets before they made cameras,” Church said. “It’s a material that we’ve used for centuries.”

The two are an example of one of the themes of the festival — passing on cultural knowledge between generations.

Acting director of the MSU Museum Lora Helou said the festival has a great history and acts as a living museum exhibit.

"(It) shows how these cultural expressions are reproduced from generation to generation,” Helou said. “We really hope that it fosters a greater sense of awareness and appreciation of the many different cultures that we have around here.”

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