The Great Lakes Folk Festival includes LGBTQ arts

Folk music is an American tradition, one with complex sub-genres that fit together and create the blanket genre of traditional arts. But in a confusing twist, “folk” often brings to mind a familiar array of homogeneous musicians, such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. All white, all men, all straight. This year’s Great Lakes Folk Festival presents a truer snapshot of the diverse community that is the traditional arts.

From Friday to Sunday, a three-stage spread in downtown East Lansing will span not only state lines, but international borders.

“It’s important that the performer has a cultural or familial connection to the music,” said Micah Ling, musical and cultural programming assistant at Great Lakes Folk Festival. “We want the tradition to be well represented.”

Acts like Cajun band T’Monde and Irish-Celtic band Connla travel globally, spreading their authentic cultural music traditions.

While the main draw of the festival is the music, Ling said representing the accompanying traditional dances at this year’s Dance Stage gives attendees a “well-rounded understanding of the musical tradition.”

New to this year’s Great Lakes Folk Festival is the exploration of an often underrepresented but prolific facet of the traditional arts community.

“The Queer Traditions Summit is an event that’s exploring queer folk life in Michigan and beyond,” said Ling. “As we phrase it: ‘the everyday culture, aesthetic, expression, and traditional arts of LGBTQplus people.’”

Preceding the festival, the summit will bring to light the many LGBTQ traditional artists in the Michigan area and abroad.

“In what ways are traditional artists working who are queer, how do they work within their own communities, how are they received, how does their identity inform their arts practice, does it not, and why? Those are the kind of things we’re exploring with this,” said Ling.

The Queer Traditions Summit will host both music and dance performances by queer artists as well as panels and discussions.

“We have more formal paper presentations and participatory workshops,” said Ling. “We’re also going to have a queer square dance with non-gendered calls, which is really unique as square dance traditions are very gendered.”

The Summit will also screen a film on a Michigan father’s transition and the effect it has on their family, panels on sexual assault in the queer community and much more.

While many people might not pair folk arts with queerness, Ling hopes the Summit will show a side of the traditional arts that has existed since folk’s inception.

“When you think of rural traditions, you don’t often think about visibility of queer communities,” said Ling. “But people are there, people are everywhere,” said Ling.

People like Tess Leminski, Nic Gareiss and Sam Gleaves, all staple artists in the greater Lansing area, will come together to expound upon queer traditions in a genre that is often inaccurately represented as homogeneous.

Ling and the Queer Traditions Summit uphold the diversity that makes folk music and the traditional arts what they are, defending the fact that folk isn’t just one gender, one sex, one color or one of anything.

The Queer Traditions Summit

Thursday, Aug. 10-11, Snyder Hall 362 Bogue St., East Lansing; 110 Charles St., East Lansing.

(517) 432-4533; (517) 432- 3961.

Find the full festival schedule online: ow.ly/ PdIP30egDcN

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