Since 1975, authentic folk music from across the map has had a steadfast home in East Lansing, thanks to the Ten Pound Fiddle. The organization hosts events at various venues throughout the Lansing area, but all come with the Fiddle’s trusted stamp of quality.
Now in its 49th season, the Fiddle hosts approximately 30 shows each year, as well as its Holiday Sing, Mid-Winter Singing Festival, 15 to 18 dances and three Fiddle Scout meetings — totaling an average of 50 events in its September-to-April season.
One of its long-running traditions, the Contra and Square Dance, returns this Saturday (Sept. 16). Julie Levy-Weston, the dance caller, said it’s open to everyone.
“Contra dancing is very beginner-friendly,” she said. “There is an intro session before each evening of dance. A caller teaches and guides the dancers through each dance as we dance to our wonderful live-string-band music.
“Community dancing is part of our folk tradition,” she added. “When Bob and Laura Stein relocated from the Boston area in 1976, they brought this kind of dance with them. Bob learned to call, and Laura played piano. In the early days, folks came from all over to contra dance in the Ballroom at the MSU Union. Gradually, other dances have started up around Michigan. We have been dancing for almost 50 years.”
Sally Potter, the Fiddle’s booking manager for more than a decade, said there’s much to be excited about in this year’s calendar. She looks forward to hosting Miko Marks Sept. 29.
“Miko was raised in Flint, spent time in Nashville and now lives in the (San Francisco) Bay Area,” Potter said. “Her voice is magnificent, her writing is spot on, and she also does lovely, inspiring interpretations of older, classic songs. Her song ‘Goodnight America’ has been in my head for weeks. She’ll be with her four-piece band.”
Another act Potter noted was True Blues, a dynamic duo composed of Cedric Watson and Corey Harris. The pair kicks off the Fiddle’s winter season on Jan. 12, 2024. Later that month, on Jan. 19, Potter said local dancer Nic Gareiss will join Irish fiddler Liz Carroll and banjoist Allison de Groot.
This year, there’s also a CD and vinyl record sale for the crate diggers. From Robert Johnson to Alison Krauss, the selection ranges from classics to rarities. Many cost only $1.
“The selection is outrageous. The list is endless,” said Potter, who also name-dropped records by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Emmylou Harris, Nat King Cole, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, to name a few.
The sale, made possible by donations, runs 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at University United Methodist Church in East Lansing. It benefits the Fiddle Scouts, a program offering young people “a chance to explore folk music and the folk arts in a relaxed community setting.” Local or visiting musicians and artists engage children in hands-on, interactive experiences.
But for those solely looking for live music, the return of Fiddle fixture Joel Mabus is a noteworthy show. The Michigan folk legend performs Oct. 6 at University United Methodist Church.
“This is Joel’s 47th Fiddle show in 49 years,” Potter said. “He gave the Fiddle’s second concert back in January 1975.”
Over the last several years, Potter said yet another local Fiddle staple has emerged: May Erlewine. She returns Nov. 3.
“Most of her shows are either with a band or with the Sweet Water Warblers, so it’s rare for her fans to hear just May,” Potter said. “This is the fourth or fifth year the Fiddle has featured her solo in the fall.”
So, how does the Fiddle manage to make all these events happen each year? It has a dedicated 10-person board, 50 volunteers, 300 paying members and several other donors. This allows the organization to pay out more than $50,000 each year to performers. It’s impressive since the series does not receive any grants. All revenue comes from ticket sales, memberships and donations.
Last year, following the COVID-19 shutdown, Potter said, “The Fiddle was back with strong crowds for all our events. In addition, both memberships and outright donations were the highest ever. This post-COVID comeback is a testament to our community, which believes in supporting live music and dance. In an industry where not all venues survived COVID, the Fiddle is blessed to receive this tremendous support from mid-Michigan.”
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