In the wake of the Great Lakes Folk Festival’s shelving, the Lansing Eastside Folklife Festival has arisen.
“It was community organizers and arts activists who were really concerned. They were not happy that the festival was canceled,” said Marsha MacDowell, curator of folk art at the Michigan State University Museum.
“Greatly valuing a festival that’s educational in nature and founded on diversity, they were motivated to find another venue and a way forward.”
MacDowell has been involved with organizing folk music festivals annually since 1987. In just four months, MacDowell and a team of mid-Michigan folk concert veterans, many from MSU’s Outreach and Engagement Center, have assembled a diverse lineup for a oneday concert at the Allen Neighborhood Center, on Lansing’s east side.
MacDowell and her husband, Kurt Dewhurst, director of arts and cultural initiatives at the MSU Museum, were inspired to take the unused grant money and find the new venue. Though MacDowell and Dewhurst still work at the MSU Museum, the Lansing Eastside Folk Festival is a wholly separate entity. Its organization was handled by the MSU Outreach and Engagement Center and the Allen Neighborhood Center, said MacDowell.
“It was a happy marriage,” MacDowell said.
Without the large budget of the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Lansing Eastside Folklife Festival is almost 100 percent Michigan.
“This is really about showcasing what the people in our state have to offer,” said Molly McBride, the new festival’s music and dance coordinator.
Aside from the marquee international act from Scotland, the Tannahill Weavers, each artist has deep Michigan roots. The bill includes Detroit artists, such as rapper Jahshua Smith and mariachi band Mariachi Femenil.
But it isn’t just music. There’s a very strong anthropological bent to the festival, which boasts a score of Anishinaabek artists traveling from Ontario and the surrounding region.
“Most of the time we’re kind of ignored; I’ve met people who didn’t even know Native Americans are still alive today,” said Judy Pierzynowski, a student assistant researcher at MSU who also works with the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts & Cultures. “This was a way to let people know we’re still here and our culture still exists.”
Two 2018 Michigan Heritage Awardwinners, Mick Gavin and Neil Woodward, and five Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship recipients will perform. They are: Holly Alberts, Brianna Benvenut, Paulette Brockington, Kelly Church and Nihad Dukhan.
Gavin, of Redford, an Irish fiddle and melodeon maestro, will be joined by the McCartney Irish Dance troupe. Woodward, of Howell, is a Michiganinspired folk songwriter and storyteller.
Brockington, of Highland Park, and Benvenuti, will both perform American vernacular and swing dance. Church, of Allegan and Alberts, of Kewadin, will be demonstrating their black ash basketry, while Dukhan, of Farmington Hills, will exhibit Arabic and Islamic calligraphy.
Though scaled back, the Lansing Eastside Folklife Festival is also garnished with all the vendor and food trappings one could expect from a larger festival, said Joan Nelson, the Allen Neighborhood Center’s executive director.
“There’ll be plenty to eat and plenty to drink of the nonalcoholic variety. Fold it all in with music, dance, crafts and community,” Nelson said.
MacDowell took notice of the strong outpouring of public support that followed the sudden cancellation of the Great Lakes Folk Festival. The Lansing Eastside Folklife Festival aims to continue the tradition of bridging gaps between different art communities.
“We’ve heard testimonies for years and years from the artists who are involved in this festival too that they love this opportunity to share outside of their normal community,” MacDowell said.