Everything old is new again, or so it seems as autumn leaves begin to fall on Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood. As at this time every year, the area welcomes returning students, the weather turns comfortably cool, and it becomes the best destination for autumn’s outdoor festivals, including our long-running BluesFest, at the intersection of Turner St. and East Grand River Avenue.
The striking thing about our Old Town festivals is the offering of diversity, and consistency - a seeming paradox, but a wonderful one. And with that comes another year where we celebrate consistent change, through the ongoing renewal of our community.
New housing, restaurants, and creative spaces continue to spring up all over. This is simply the natural fulfillment of the vision of artists like Robert Busby and Terry Terry, who got all of this started with ideas like JazzFest, Snake Rodeo, and yes, BluesFest.
The guiding vision of Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art (formerly Old Town Business & Art Development Association) is to foster community and economic development, and preservation of historic buildings, through quality arts programming. Its art gallery and festivals have been building blocks for what is now called a “sense of place”--a community that is a great place to live, work, run a business, visit.... to connect with old friends, meet new ones, and share the joys of music, artistic expression, and more. In that spirit, we are offering old favorites intermingled with new friends at this year’s Michigan BluesFest.
Friday you won’t want to miss Old Town favorite Frog & the Beeftones. The Unicorn over on Grand River may have been recently renovated, but you can still find Frog and the band down there on many Friday nights, and on this one you’ll be able to find them on the South Stage of the Michigan BluesFest. Later Friday on our North Stage, the duo War & Treaty will haunt you with lyrics written as memorials to fallen soldiers in Iraq, fused with an emotional blues grassroots style. Then passionate powerhouse Karen Lovely performs on the south stage followed by Stan Budzynski & 3rd Degree at UrbanBeat— our new third stage.
Saturday night, Lansing’s favorite Twyla Birdsong will rock our North Stage at 6:00, with her incredible, vibrant vocals backed as always by an outstanding band from all over Michigan. We’ll blow down the walls with Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, one of Chicago’s greatest and most energetic boogie-blues bands over the last few years and close at UrbanBeat with Kathleen & the Bridge Street Band.
But our story doesn’t end there. Over the last three decades Old Town has attracted the highest concentration of creative service businesses in the state, new outside investment, active and vibrant streets, restaurants, art galleries, and much more - so much of which is owed to the small group of artists that formed the North Lansing Art Association in the early 1980s. The people of Old Town were prepared to proudly display the hard work they had invested to create something beautiful in their deserted neighborhood.
The history and diversity of this community continues to live on. Beginning with the oldest settlement in Lansing, continuing through the years with the German, Mexican, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities, those who celebrate the arts, and so many more, Old Town is a community where we celebrate everyone.
Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. This year we are once again charging $5 for entry to our Turnaround Lounge, the same as it cost 24 years ago. And all these years later, you can still enjoy the sights and sounds, even the best seats in front of the stage or from a nearby sidewalk, without spending even a penny.
Together for two decades, a team of volunteers at the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art have worked passionately to bring thousands of people into Lansing every summer, and to ensure these festivals portray the spirit of Old Town, a growing corner of Lansing that encapsulates much of the journey our city has experienced together over decades. To volunteer, sign up at michiganbluesfest.com/volunteering.
We can’t wait for September 15 and 16 when we get to share this with all of you. So much has changed and continues to change in Old Town and for BluesFest over two decades. We’re looking forward to celebrating the incredible progress of the Old Town neighborhood and our amazing old and new friends with you this September, and we’re hopeful that you’ll keep coming back and helping us create progress and memories here in Lansing for years and decades into the future.