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Folk it up

Husband-and-wife duo Jay Ungar (left) and Molly Mason close out this weekend’s Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing. The pair also hosts a workshop during the day.
Courtesy Photo

After many years, two longstanding Mid-Michigan musical traditions are merging. The Ten Pound Fiddle’s Mid-Winter Singing Festival and its annual big folk concert at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center consolidate under a new name this year: the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival. The two-day event kicks off Friday.

“Every year we would have a big concert in the Hannah Center and then, two weeks later, the Singing Festival,” explained Sally Potter, festival director “Expenses for a whole weekend are pretty high. Instead of doing two events, why not one big bang?”

This year, the festival kicks off with a community sing event led by Dan Chouinard. This is the Minnesota-based musician’s third visit to the festival. Attendees receive lyric sheets and join together to sing songs from a wide variety of genres.

“He makes it feel like you’re in a living room,” said Potter of Chouinard. “He’s conversational; he’s folksy. He sings such marvelous songs.”

But the singing doesn’t stop there. Saturday afternoon is filled with ten different musical workshops. Singers can join in on workshops like gospel harmony with Lindsay Lou of the Sweet Water Warblers, a sing-along with folk musician Joel Mabus or a discussion of protest songs with singer May Erlewine.

There are also opportunities for instrumentalists, including three focused on the ukulele led by Ben Hassenger and Rachael Davis. Veteran singer/songwriter James Keelaghan offers “The Art of Performance," a two-hour class on how to act before, during and after a show.

“Anyone who is a performer, a teacher, or who presents information should see this,” Potter said.

A $20 wristband gives attendees access to all workshop, as well as an 11:30 a.m. screening of the documentary “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.” Children and college students can attend the workshops and film for free. Saturday also features a free 11 a.m. children’s concert presented by Chicago folk artist Mark Dvorak.

Saturday night offers a trio of folk acts. James Keelaghan starts out the night at 7:30 p.m. with a set of folk, roots and Celtic music. The Sweet Water Warblers, comprising Michigan natives Rachael Davis, May Erlewine and Lindsay Lou, take the stage at 8:30 p.m., At 9:30 p.m., seasoned folk veterans Jay Ungar and Molly Mason close out the festival.

The husband-and-wife-duo of Ungar and Mason have been teaching and performing folk music since the 1970s. Ungar is best known as the composer of “Ashokan Farewell,” a slow, melodic piece featured in Ken Burn’s “The Civil War.” The piece was originally written for the end of sessions at Ashokan Music and Dance Camp, where he and Mason teach. The two also offer a Saturday afternoon workshop.

“A lot of people have been interested in some of our slow pieces,” Ungar said. “Our second most popular tune that we wrote together is called ‘The Lover’s Waltz.’ The plan for the workshop is to teach that song for any instrument that shows up, creating a beautiful arrangement together.”

Beginners are welcome to sit in, but the workshop is designed for players who can keep up with a fastpaced lesson. Through the session, the duo hopes to create a sense of unity among participants.

“It’s been a tense year,” Ungar said. “People need to find some common ground, and enjoy some music.”

“Happy music,” Mason added.

Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival

Jan. 13-14 See website for concert and workshop times Friday sing-along:

$20/$18 Ten Pound Fiddle members/$5 students Saturday workshops:

$20/students FREE Saturday concert: $30 floor/$20 balcony Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing singingfestival.com


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