Aug. 7 2013 12:00 AM

Great Lakes Folk Festival injects summer with international art, music, food

Traditions and cultures from around the world will meet again this weekend at the 11th annual Great Lakes Folk Festival in downtown East Lansing. This year´s edition of the multifaceted music, art and food festival will feature musical styles from Asia, the Caribbean and the Balkans.  

Folk festival founding director Marsha MacDowell said a hallmark of the festival is its cultural diversity.

“It´s not an ethnic festival,” MacDowell said. “It’s a celebration of ethnic richness of our community and our world. We have some of the best representatives of cultures and art.” 

Festivals like this tend to attract a more mature crowd, but MacDowell said the event’s cultural representation is coming from an increasing number of twenty-somethings and college students.

“Some people think that folk music or folk art is only done by older people,” she said. “We´ve got a lot of young practitioners who are fabulous (at what they do).”

MacDowell said the cultural and ethnic makeup of the festival artists, vendors and performers almost matches the makeup of the city of East Lansing. 

“Several years ago we had a demographics studies done,” she said. “The data showed us that the audience looked like the Lansing area any way you looked at it: education, race, ethnicity. That told us we have something that resonates with everyone.”

Hmong vocal performer Mai Zong Vue, whose biggest performance of her career came in 1997 at the Smithsonian Mall in Washington, will perform all three days of the festival. She said one of her goals is to educate people, especially young crowds, about the Hmong people and their traditions.

“When I perform, I do a narrative about what Hmong is about, where it´s from and doing a bit of poetry and singing,” she said. “For the Hmong community, I want to inspire the young people to learn more about it. The culture and tradition often gets lost, so one of my hopes is that they learn about it, they like it and help preserve the tradition.”

The festival’s cultural diversity shows itself in the food, too. Eva Menefee owns and operates Anishinabe Meejim, a concessions trailer that showcases the food of her Native American tribe. Serving buffalo burgers made with ground buffalo meat, fry bread and various soups, Menefee said the food trailer gives the Native American people of the area a presence at the festival. 

“People don´t think about the American Indians when you think about folk life,” she said.

“We feel bonded with like (things like) religion, food, even being a Spartan,” she said. “This is a way of reminding people that everyone has traditions.”