Singer/songwriters Kim and Reggie Harris guide children through a sing-along a the 2010 Mid-Winter Singing Festival's Children's Concert.
Photo by Roxanne Frith

The hills of East Lansing — or rather, the halls of Hannah Community Center — are alive with music this weekend as Ten Pound Fiddle presents the 14th annual Mid-Winter Singing Festival. While most festivals are focused on the performers on stage, this festival is designed to get the audience involved.

Festival director and Ten Pound Fiddle booker Sally Potter was inspired to start the two-day singalong festival after an experience performing in her own band.

"A lot of the audience was singing along, and it was fun," Potter said.

She thought maybe she could capture that sense of fun and community with a larger event.

"It started with a bang, and there's been the same level of interest throughout," Potter said. "It's a university town, so there are always new people coming in."

Friday night kicks off with a community sing led by veteran folk musicians Joel Mabus, Frank Youngman and Mary Sue Wilkinson. The trio will lead the audience through a collection of American favorites.

"There's a pretty wide mix of songs from the ‘20s through the ‘80s," Mabus said. "They're all songs that make you go, 'Oh, I love this song!’"

The set list includes a wide range of genres, from hymns to Broadway tunes. Although many of the songs are classics, lyric sheets are passed out at the door.

Mabus also teaches two of Saturday's eight educational workshops. At 12:20 p.m. he hosts “Sing Along with Hank,” featuring some of Hank Williams’ best-known songs. His second workshop is a little more technical. "The 7 Secrets of Success: Arranging and Performing a Song with Guitar" is a double-length session for guitarists learning to sing or accompany a singer.

"Playing that role is different from just banging on the guitar," said Mabus. "We are going to get pretty geeky on things like how to hold the guitar and how to hold the pick."

Other workshops include a Beatles-themed ukulele class with Ben Hassenger and the Ukulele Kings and a country music favorites session with Wilkinson and guitarist Roger Brown. With a $10 workshop wristbands, attendees can check out as many workshops as they would like. Wristbands are available in the auditorium foyer starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Kids under 18 and students can get their wristbands for free. There is also a free children's concert at 11 a.m. Saturday presented by singer/songwriters Matt Watroba and Robert B. Jones.

The event closes with something new to the festival. At 7 p.m. Saturday doors open for a "The Sound of Music" sing-along, co-sponsored by the East Lansing Film Festival. Attendees receive goodie bags containing props to use during the movie, including a list of phrases to call out at key moments. A premovie costume contest takes place at 7:30 p.m., and the film starts at 8 p.m.

The festival's movie choice is no random selection. A touring production of “The Sound of Music" comes to the Wharton Center Feb. 9.

"People can come sing it here, and then go see the musical," Potter said. "We grew up with these songs, and we want to sing them."

Potter hopes that the festival, set in the middle of Michigan’s dreary mid-winter, can add a little warmth to people’s lives.

“We need to get together, we need to share sound, we need to have community," Potter said.

Mid-Winter Singing Festival

Jan. 29-30. See online schedule for event times and prices Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing

Due to a reporting error, the "Sound of Music" sing-along was said to take place on Sunday. The day has been changed to the correct day of Saturday.

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