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Folkin' around

East Lansing plays host to 11th annual Great Lakes Folk Festival, brings in thousands despite rainy weather

August 12, 2012
Photo by Adam Toolin | The State News

Roads were blocked off and began to fill up with masses of people this weekend as another summer festival in East Lansing got underway.

The 11th annual Great Lakes Folk Festival took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday along Abbot Road and Albert Avenue, and despite stormy weather at the beginning, the event attracted about 70,000 to the area during the weekend.

“We’re really very pleased with the overall attendance,” MSU Museum Director Gary Morgan said. “I think we’ve compensated for having a bad start by having a really successful Sunday.”

The festival, which is a celebration of culture, tradition and community and hosted with help from the MSU Museum, featured music from throughout the world representing numerous genres such as polka, bluegrass, Tejano and Celtic.

For Guillermo Martinez, who has performed at the festival numerous times, taking the stage at this large-scale event always makes for a memorable experience.

Martinez, who played his Tejano-style songs Sunday afternoon as a member of a Kalamazoo, Mich.,-based duo called René Meave and Guillermo Martinez, said this year’s audience was especially engaged in his music and that it was a joy to be at the festival once again.

“It’s always a pleasure and an honor to be a part of this festival,” he said. “It’s one of the largest in the United States. It feels so good to come here.”

Appreciating diversity
Morgan said this year’s festival featured one of the most diverse lineups in the event’s history and that attendees were exposed to multiple music genres all in one location.

“People can move among the four stages and, in the space of two or three hours, kind of travel the world,” he said. “I think that’s what’s really neat about our festival.”

For Douglas Segan, who has attended the Great Lakes Folk Festival for about a decade, it’s this diversity and unique music that keeps him coming back year after year.

“It’s definitely the highlight of my cultural calendar for the year,” he said.

“My personal preferences are the variety of genres of music that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to.”

After enjoying a performance by René Meave and Guillermo Martinez on the Abbot Stage, Segan said he gained a new appreciation for the act’s music, which he was not familiar with before Sunday’s show.

“I’m totally naïve about that type of music, but I got a little taste of it today, and now I like it,” he said.

Okemos, Mich., resident Pat Perry, who has attended the festival every year since it first began, also said she keeps returning to the event because of the eclectic mix of performers.

After listening to performances by Celtic, bluegrass and gospel artists, among others, Perry said she was impressed with the first-rate musicians and the lineup of this year’s event.

“I think it’s as good as previous years,” she said. “Each year that I leave, I think it was better than the year before.”

More than music
Even though most people at the Great Lakes Folk Festival come to the event for the music, this year’s event offered plenty more activities for festivalgoers.

Attendees could quench their thirst with fresh-squeezed lemonade and old-fashioned root beer floats, as well as grab a bite to eat at the various food and beverage vendors scattered throughout the venue.

The festival also featured a marketplace in which shoppers could purchase an array of products including purses, jewelry, quilts and other artwork.

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Morgan said having an assortment of activities for attendees to participate in — in addition to listening to music — is critical in order to host a well-rounded event.

“All the people who come here ­— sure, they’re mostly coming for the performers; that’s entirely understandable,” he said. “But by having all these other layers here as well, it makes for a very full and rich experience.”

Assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Dylan Miner stood among a display of seven colorful lowrider bicycles at this year’s festival in the marketplace.

The bikes were created by local high school and middle school students as a part of a project called Native Kids Ride Bikes, which Miner has organized, and they travel throughout the country to be featured at various museums and events, including this year’s festival.

Miner said he was excited to be included in the Great Lakes Folk Festival this year and that it was an educational experience for some of the students who helped build the bikes that were on display.

“It’s a good honor to be able to … have conversations and be able to talk about these (bikes), especially for the girls, the youth, who worked on them,” he said.

“They get to tell people (their story) and share what they learned during their experience building the bikes.”

Campus and community
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act — legislation that provided funding for land-grant colleges such as MSU — a Campus and Community program was implemented at this year’s festival and featured a number of workshops, educational sessions and cooking demonstrations.
Morgan said the goal of the new program is to demonstrate the role MSU has played in engaging with local community.

“That’s the real (idea) of this — that the university and community work together in ways that are for the benefit of both,” he said.

“The scholarship of the university supports the growth of the community.”

Denae Friedheim, program manager for the Organic Farmer Training Program at MSU’s Student Organic Farm, gave a cooking demonstration in which she taught viewers how to properly prepare raw and cooked kale as a part of the newly initiated program.

After presenting to what she described as an interested and engaged audience, Friedheim said she felt her demonstration was well-received, and she was pleased to be included in the program.

“I think it’s a really neat way to tie in the different resources that we’ve got right here into a festival that’s a city-sponsored event,” she said.

Just as Friedheim thought her demonstration was enjoyed by her audience members, Morgan said he believes festival attendees appreciated the Campus and Community program and that, overall, it was a success.

“I’ve been up and down (throughout the exhibits) a couple of times today, and I can barley push myself through the crowd,” he said. “We are getting good feedback.”

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