A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Memoriam: Michigan Percussive Dancer, Caller, and Master Potter Dan Gorno

Photo courtesy AlgomaTrad
Daniel Paul Gorno, 58, ended his courageous battle with cancer on Sunday, June 21, 2015 at his brother's house in Kewadin. He was born in Wyandotte, MI, and grew up in Grosse Ile and Rondeau Park, Ontario. The seeds of his creative life were sown at Grosse Ile High School and in the Grosse Ile arts community. He attended Thomas Jefferson College at Grand Valley University studying pottery and kiln building. He chose to further his life-long education by seeking masters from all over the world of various arts and trades including pottery, music, dance, construction, homesteading, horses, and husbandry. These became his skills and trades, which he practiced and taught to others in his short lifetime.

Dan the Potter – He held apprenticeships in Courtmacsherry, Ireland, and LaBorne, France. His wood firing and kiln-building experiences have taken him to Canada, Mississippi, California and back to Michigan.

Dan the Musician – Dan played bones and bodhran and has been a member of bands Tanglemere and New Five Cents.

Dan the Dancer – He has performed traditional dance styles from Ireland, France, England, Canada, South Africa and Appalachia. Since 1980 he performed solo and in the dance groups Step In Time and Dance All Night at events and festivals including Wheatland, Blissfest, Hiawatha and Canadian Celtic Celebration. By the 1990's he was recognized as one of the top dancers in the Great Lakes Region, straddling the U.S. and Canadian border. He leaves a legacy of dance with many, young and old, as a teacher of dance in workshops, schools, and camps. Dan's passion for joy and movement is encompassed in the waltz that he gifted to so many.

Dan the Caller – His most recent livelihood and passion was calling dances – contras, squares, circles and other social dance forms. He was revered by both demanding and advanced dancers looking for a challenge, as well as beginners. He was the official caller at the AlgomaTrad Family Music and Dance Camp in Ontario since 2004 and worked school events, weddings and private parties.

Dan the Traveler – His curiosity for people and places led him all over the world. Which came first his knack for languages or his travels?
Dan lived a life of simple means and rich in friendship. He maintained close ties with high school and college friends, so many in the music and dance communities of Michigan and Canada, those he met on his travels and his large extended family of Gornos and Greens. All have memories of his quick wit and kindness.

Dan leaves behind his cherished family including his children Desire (James) Short of Marquette, and Clayton and Marlena of Bellaire; his parents Dominic and Ginger Gorno of Ft. Myers, FL; brothers Don (Karen) of Brownstown, Greg (Patti) of Elk Rapids, Jim (Connie) of Bellaire, Jeff (Colleen) of Gaylord; sisters Mary (Bob) Keedy of Petoskey, Ruth (Michael) Allen of Traverse City and Dee-Dee of Honor; and 22 nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by nephew Peter and grandparents Dominic and Ruth (Joly) Gorno and William and Anna (Schultz) Green.

His funeral mass will be celebrated at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Bellaire on July 3 at 11:00 am. A Memorial party will be held on August 16 at 1:00 pm at the Alden Depot, Alden, MI. The family is very grateful for the outpouring of love and support from his friends and family. Your words, messages, prayers, gestures and music provided incredible comfort to him during his last weeks. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be directed to the family to disburse according to Dan's wishes.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

SPACES features Michigan's John Jacob Makinen Sr.

Photo courtesy the Kavela Historical Society

Artist John Jacob Makinen Sr.'s work has been featured by SPACES, a nonprofit dedicated to identifying, documenting, and advocating for the preservation of large-scale art environments. Makinen's work was also featured in the 1978 MSU Museum exhibit "Rainbows in the Sky."

Here is the description of the artist's work from the SPACES website:

Makinen immigrated from his native Finland to Michigan in 1903; his early years in his new country were spent farming and working in a general store. In 1922 he became partners with Alex Ketonen to form the Northwestern Bottling Works. This company specialized in bottling carbonated soft drinks and, in fact, it is claimed that the term “pop,” referring to these sodas, originated here, as sometimes the corks could not withstand the pressure of the carbonated contents, and would explode with a large “pop” sound.
Around 1909 Makinen decided to ornament an ice house on his farm; it is thought to have been the first bottle-clad house in the state of Michigan. He found that the bottles provided an excellent insulation barrier, as they trapped air within. Some years later, around 1932, he was faced with a large surplus of bottles when the bottling technology changed at the plant, and, recalling the ice house, built a storehouse from the extra bottles, spelling out his company’s name in contrasting colors.
Following his retirement in 1939, Makinen decided to leave the farm and, in Kaleva, build a one and one-half-story bungalow with a foundation of rock-faced concrete blocks and an intersecting gable roof, using the remaining surplus bottles from the Bottling Works plant. Approximately 60,000 bottles were used in the Kaleva house, laid horizontally with their bottom end facing the exterior so that the framework studs could fit between the bottle necks (and, not coincidentally, so that the bottle bottoms marked with the mold from the company could be seen). Makinen carefully laid levels of the bottles with a specifically developed mortar between the brick corners. There are many different varieties, shapes, and colors of bottles that were used in the construction, including those for soda drinks, wine, beer, and liqueurs. Different patterns were created with the bottles; the most prominent are the words “HAPPY HOME,” which are spelled out on the front façade, and dark bottles accent the window openings.
Unfortunately, Makinen passed away just shortly before the house was completed, but his widow, Maria, lived there for many years. Following her death, in 1980 the Kaleva Historical Society purchased the home, which renovated it to house the Kaleva Historical Museum, which moved in that following year. The building currently operates as a museum, with a collection of local 19th-  and 20th-century artifacts that tell of the Finnish settlers’ lives in farming and business, and it is also the focus of the local ethnic Finnish celebrations. The building is listed on the Michigan Register of Historical Sites (1982) and the National Register of Historical Sites (1987). It is open weekend afternoons 12-4 pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
~Jo Farb Hernández

More about SPACES:

SPACES is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) public benefit organization that was incorporated in 1978 for the purposes of identifying, documenting, and advocating for the preservation of large-scale art environments. Founding director Seymour Rosen conceived of SPACES as a national (and, later, an international) organization; currently operating out of offices in northern California, it boasts an archives of approximately 35,000 photographs as well as numerous books, articles, audio and video tapes/DVDs, and artists’ documents.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NEA Announces Recipients of Nation's Highest Award in the Folk and Traditional Arts

Image courtesy of the NEA website
This year's NEA National Heritage Fellows have been announced! We are excited to see some familiar names, such as Sidonka Wadina, a past GLFF participant, and Lucy Mingo, whose quilts are represented in the MSU Museum's vast collection.

From the NEA Press Release:

2015 NEA National Heritage Fellows will be honored at awards ceremony and free concert in Washington, DC, on October 1-2, 2015

One of the strengths of our nation is our constantly evolving artistic landscape. Each year the National Endowment for the Arts celebrates master folk and traditional artists that embody this strength and diversity of culture. The recipients of this year's NEA National Heritage Fellowships represent art forms ranging from those born and bred in the United States - such as the quilters of Gee's Bend from Alabama - to those that are newer to our country - such as the oud playing of Rahim AlHaj, who immigrated to the United States from Baghdad. The fellowships include an award of $25,000.

"The art forms represented in this year's class of National Heritage Fellows are wide-ranging," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. "Not surprisingly, the artists have a common bond in their efforts to both share their art forms within their communities and across the nation, while also ensuring their art forms are passed along to the next generation through teaching and mentoring. I look forward to celebrating these talented artists, their commitment, and their artistry in Washington, DC, next fall."

The 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients are:

*Daniel Sheehy is the recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award. The Bess Lomax Hawes Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.

Profiles of the artists are available in the Lifetime Honors section of the NEA's website, along with photos and audio and video samples of their work.

With the announcement of the 2015 class, the NEA has awarded 404 National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing master artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples.

Fall Events in Washington, DC

The 2015 National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, DC, at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, October 1, 2015 and a free concert on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public. Concert tickets are first come, first served and will be available later this summer. The concert will also be webcast live at arts.gov. More information about these events will be available this fall.

About the NEA National Heritage Fellowships

For more information on the NEA's National Heritage Fellowships, including bios, interviews, and audio selections for the Heritage Fellows; portraits by Tom Pich of more than 170 Fellows in their homes, studios, and at sites that most vividly reflect the essence of their artwork; and publications such as a 30th anniversary publication, and a Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide, visit arts.gov

Nominations for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships

The NEA is currently accepting nominations for the 2016 class of NEA National Heritage Fellowships. The deadline is July 16, 2015. Visit the NEA's website for more information and to submit a nomination.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America's rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Notes from the Field: “FIDDLERS SIGN IN” at the Original Michigan Fiddlers Jamboree

Notes from the Field is a new series of blog posts that chronicles fieldwork undertaken by MSU Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program staff and associates. Stay connected for access to photos, videos, and interview excerpts with traditional artists across the state.

From the fieldnotes of Molly McBride:

Sign in sheets according to musical role
Photo by Molly McBride
Neon-colored signs sit at the top of clipboards, directing participants to sign in according to their musical role: guests, fiddlers, other musicians, piano players, and dance callers. I sign my name on the fiddlers list and turn to find my place with other fiddlers and musicians.

On Saturday May 30th, I attended the Original Michigan Fiddlers Jamboree in Pentwater, Michigan. The Original Michigan Fiddlers Association (OMFA) is a longstanding organization in Michigan that supports and promotes traditional fiddle music in Michigan. Throughout the year, they hold jamborees across the state where musicians, dancers, music-enthusiasts meet to celebrate their shared love of Michigan fiddle music.

Musicians play at the OMFA Jamboree
Photo by Molly McBride
At the head of the room, a thicket of musicians sit in front of a line of microphones with a bass player flanking each side (although a third bass later joins the ranks). On the right, one microphone stands tall awaiting each lead fiddler and beside it is the keyboard, an integral element in accompanying fiddlers. On the left, Richard McEachin, the current president of the OMFA, sits with his fiddle behind the sound system where he emcees the event. Rows of chairs are set up facing the musicians where audience members take in the four-hour event.

The audience listens to Dave Preston lead a tune.
Photo by Molly McBride
At the jamboree, fiddlers who “sign in” each lead three songs while other musicians play along. On Saturday, seventeen fiddlers from all over Michigan signed up to lead tunes. A wide variety of tunes were picked and played; some from the Michigan repertoire, for example “Black Velvet Waltz” and “Tyler’s Trot”, some modern compositions like “Ashokan Farewell”, and some songs played as instrumental pieces such as “Grandfather’s Clock” and “I’ll Fly Away”.

I was ninth in line and when it came time to step up to the microphone, I was nervous. I could hear jittery nerves in my own playing, but was met with warm enthusiasm when I finished the tunes. More generally, I was struck by the kindness, respect, and support musicians gave each other throughout the day, whether behind the microphones, in the audience, or discussions over dinner. Words of admiration were exchanged often: about someone’s playing, tune choice, or in remembering those who have passed. Many musicians in attendance learned from and played with well-known fiddlers Les Raber and Stewart Carmichael and spoke of them before playing a tune, offering a personal story or words of gratitude.

Two fiddlers share the mic.
Photo by Molly McBride
Because the act of remembering teachers, family, and friends was so prevalent throughout the day, it strikes me as significant to both the event and to the tradition. In choosing a tune from a certain repertoire, dedicating a tune to someone special (like a teacher), and prefacing a tune with a personal story, we memorialize people who are important to the tradition. Through memorializing, our teachers are recognized as tradition bearers, as people who have kept fiddle music alive in Michigan. However, memorializing not only tells stories about the person at hand, but implicitly speaks volumes about the storyteller’s location within the tradition. So often when we talk about traditional music, we talk about facts from the past and neglect to recognize the ways in which we participate in tradition now; fiddle traditions are no more about repertoires and bowing styles than they are about the processes of musical and social exchange and the relationships we form through them.

I’ve been told more than once by traditional musicians that we are an amalgam of those we’ve learned from and played with. At the OMFA jamboree it is clearly evident that what is valued is sharing a tune with old and new friends--making connections with other people through fiddle music.

Molly McBride is an ethnomusicologist and a lead fieldworker for the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, Michigan State University Museum with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. This summer she is undertaking fieldwork on musical communities in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Uncle Eli's Quilting Party, Alamance County, North Carolina

We love this video from Sawgrass Media of Uncle Eli's Quilting Party in Alamance County, North Carolina.

Here's the blurb from their site:
Every spring, on the first Thursday in April, folks gather in the tiny community of Eli Whitney, North Carolina, to look at quilts, trade stories, and share a meal. The event, known as Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party, was the brainchild of high school principal Ernest Dixon, who in 1931 wanted the school to be a gathering place for the entire community. 80 women attended the first party in Eli Whitney’s high school auditorium, and 13 quilts were completed. 84 years later, Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party is the oldest quilting event in the country.
For almost fifty years, three women played a major role in organizing the annual event: Nannie Lou McBane, Mildred Guthrie, and the late Pat Bailey. Nowadays, not as much quilting goes on at Uncle Eli's. There are just two quilting frames set up, and only a few people work at them. But the quiltmakers are here, even if they don’t pick up needle and thread. Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party is a community tradition kept alive by local folks and quilt lovers from across the state and country.
That's the kind of community event we like to see!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Michigan Foodways from the Michigan Humanities Council

Check out this video from our friends at the Michigan Humanities Council highlighting regional foods of Michigan. It features Yvonne Lockwood (Curator of Folklife Emeritus, Michigan State University Museum) and Bill Lockwood (Professor Emeritus, Anthropology, University of Michigan and Research Associate, Michigan State University Museum). The video contains photographs and research collected as part of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, which is run through the MSU Museum and funded through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.

I don't know about you, but a Coney sounds pretty good right about now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In Memoriam: Joe Wilson, former Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts

2001 NEA National Heritage Fellow Joe Wilson
Photo by Tom Pich
We recently lost a great friend of the Great Lakes Folk Festival. Actually, he was much more than a friend of the festival. Joe Wilson, the former Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, played a central role in helping us bring the National Folk Festival to East Lansing for three years in 1999-2001. We had just completed our twelfth Festival of Michigan Folkllife on the MSU campus that was a partner festival to the Michigan Festival. Both had started in 1987 as part of the sesquicentennial of the state of Michigan. When the Michigan Festival decided not to continue due to economic challenges, we wanted to ensure that the folklife festival continued. Then Mayor Mark Meadows had read in a national municipal publication about the National Folk Festival taking bids for their next site. Mark called me and asked me what I knew about the National Folk Festival and could we possibly pursue it for East Lansing. I told Mark that our MSU Museum staff knew Joe Wilson well and we would contact him. Joe was thrilled at the prospect of coming to Michigan and to a city where the state traditional arts program had already had a festival history. In the end, we were selected over cities like Portland, Oregon and the National Folk Festival helped us transition to today’s Great Lakes Folk Festival—now  featuring artists from not only Michigan, but also from the Great Lakes, the US, and the world. His passing is a real loss to not only those who knew and loved him but also to those who have come to embrace American music in a deeper way by understanding its roots in folk and traditional culture.

If you had never met Joe, it is hard to capture his passion, reverence, humor, deep knowledge, and advocacy for American folk and traditional music. His contributions to documenting and presenting the traditional arts in the U.S. and globally are legendary. Barry Bergey, former Director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at  the National Endowment for the Arts, perhaps said it best when he wrote:

"Joe’s work at the NCTA set a standard for us and for the field of folklore.  Advocating for intensive fieldwork, equitable representation, and responsible presentation in the service of traditional arts and artists, he initiated the practice of moving the National Folk Festival around the country, leaving a legacy of ongoing and successful annual events in Lowell, Massachusetts; East Lansing, Michigan; Bangor, Maine; Richmond, Virginia; and Butte, Montana. “

The Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing is a living tribute to Joe and the many others who have dedicated themselves to presenting a more inclusive view of the cultural democracy that we all aspire to for America.

C. Kurt Dewhurst
Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage
MSU Museum

From Joe's Family:
Joseph Thomas Wilson (March 16, 1938 – May 17, 2015)

"Joe Wilson left us on Sunday, May 17, 2015.  He left us a legacy so vibrant and alive that even though his physical presence is gone, his spirit and his passions live on in all of us who knew and loved him.  His time here on Earth removes the cliché from the phrase “gone but not forgotten.”

Joe was born on March 16, 1938, in Creston, North Carolina, the second son of Josephine and James Wilson.  When Joe was about 2 years old the family moved to Trade, TN, where he grew up with his older brother, Kenneth, and his two younger siblings James Walter and Julia.

He embraced his Blue Ridge Mountain cultural heritage with love and passion, and he shared that love with everyone he met.  Joe was always eager to learn new things and this curiosity about the world and other traditions gave him the ability to embrace the cultures and traditions of people from all over the world.

His long tenure as the Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) provided Joe with the platform he needed to spread his traditional culture gospel all across the globe.  He produced festivals, recordings, national and international tours, wrote articles, books, created the Blue Ridge Music Center and the Roots of American Music exhibit housed there. He rebranded Hwy 58 that runs through South West Virginia as The Crooked Road and made the culture and music found along this route an important part of the region’s economy.  His keen political sense made him a great advocate for the arts and all the artists he loved so much.  Joe loved a good political fight almost as much as he loved traditional music, but to all who knew him we all knew that the thing that drove him, inspired him, fed him was the music, always the music.

Joe gave his life to his passion and in turn was repaid with every conceivable honor and award the world of folk life has to offer.  He received a National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship in 2001, the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists.  The Library of Congress named him a Living Legend in 2009.  But the honor he most appreciated was the love, respect and gratitude shown to him by all the people whose lives he touched.

Joe is survived by: his wife, Kathy James; his daughters Melinda Wilson and Laurie Niswander and her husband Joel Niswander and his grandchildren Wesley and Emma Niswander; his step-daughter, Jacqueline Pfeffer; the mother of Melinda and Laurie, Patricia Wilson; his brother, James Walter Wilson; his sister, Julia Wilson; his sister-in-law Helen Wilson; his nieces and nephews: Paul Wilson, Yvonne Wilson, Bryan and Judy Wilson, Teresa and Danny Hott, Jessica Wilson, Neil James, Andrew James, and Bryce Edwards; his mother-in-law, Maryse James; and his brother-in-law, George James.
Please join us for a Celebration of Joe’s Life, Work, and Legacy

Thursday, June 25, 2015, at his beloved Blue Ridge Music Center

Mile Post 213, Blue Ridge Parkway

700 Foothills Road

Galax, VA 24333
Bring your instruments and come and play a tune for Joe or share a story or two.  For those unable to attend, a second celebration is being planned later in the summer in Washington, D.C. (date, time, and place to be announced on the National Council for the Traditional Arts’ website: www.ncta-usa.org<http://www.ncta-usa.org/>).  
In lieu of flowers, it is the wish of the family that contributions in memory of Joe’s life, work and legacy be made to the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) to support programs that promote and benefit the Blue Ridge Music Center and the artists of the Blue Ridge region:  NCTA, 8757 Georgia Avenue, Suite 450, Silver Spring, MD 20910."

Listen to Jon Lohman interview Joe Wilson here.

Watch a clip of Joe discussing traditional music.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Wheatland Music Organization's Traditional Arts Weekend

Each year, Wheatland Music Organization puts on Traditional Arts Weekend. This year, the dates are May 22-24. This event is a great way to dip your toe into the world of traditional music, dance, and visual arts in a beautiful setting. It is held on the Wheatland Music Festival site, but feels more intimate due to the smaller number of participants.

From Wheatland's website:
Traditional Arts Weekend (formerly known as Dance Camp) is an annual event held over the Memorial Day weekend on the Wheatland Festival grounds near Remus, Michigan. The Community Education committee provides over 80 workshops in traditional forms of dance, music, crafts, vocal and instrument instruction to which participants might not otherwise be exposed. Free primitive camping for participants. Food is available to purchase on site. Traditional Arts Weekend has become a very popular Wheatland event for those seeking more personal instruction.
Participants can register for the entire weekend, a single day, or workshop. Some workshops have limited participation.  There are evening performances and dances which include Square, Contra, Klezmer-Contra, Swing and Cajun.
The prices are as follows:

All Weekend
Adults (16+) $75 / Children (11-15) $20 / Children (5-10) $5
Saturday Only
Adults (16+) $40 / Children (11-15) $12 / Children (5-10) $5
Sunday Only
Adults (16+) $40 / Children (11-15) $12 / Children (5-10) $5
Evening Passes (at gate only)
$5 per night OR Friday night you can purchase 3 Evening Passes (Fri, Sat, Sun) for just $10!

The full schedule can be found here. See you there!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowship Guidelines Announced

The nomination guidelines for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships are now available on arts.gov. The deadline for new nominations is July 16, 2015. You may submit your nomination through our website at this link. Please, pass it on and share with others. 

From the NEA website:
"To honor and preserve our nation's diverse cultural heritage, the National Endowment for the Arts annually awards up to eight NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists. These fellowships recognize lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage.. 
The folk and traditional arts, which include crafts, dance, music, oral traditions, visual arts, and others, are those that are learned as part of the cultural life of a community whose members share a common ethnic heritage, cultural mores, language, religion, occupation, or geographic region. These traditions are shaped by the aesthetics and values of a shared culture and are passed from generation to generation, most often within family and community through observation, conversation, and practice.
Nominees must be worthy of national recognition and have a record of continuing artistic accomplishment. They must be actively participating in their art form, either as practitioners or as teachers. Awards will be up to $25,000 and may be received once in a lifetime. No payment will be made to the estate or heirs of a deceased recipient."
You may now be wondering about the 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowships. They will be announced on June 9th.

For inquiries and further details, contact Cheryl SchieleFolk & Traditional Arts Specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Memoriam: Larry Syndergaard

Friend of the MSU Museum Larry Syndergaard passed away peacefully on April 15, 2015, at Bronson Methodist Hospital due to congestive heart failure following a heart attack in January. He was born in Iowa in 1936, and moved with his family to Wisconsin in 1950 to start a dairy farm. From there, Larry bounced around the Midwest, marrying wife Ardis in 1958 and earning Bachelors degrees in Forestry and General Science in 1959. After the birth of his first child, Larry decided to pursue advanced degrees (both Masters and PhD with a minor in Scandinavian Studies) in English to allow for a more stationary career. 

He took a job at Western Michigan University in 1968, where he taught courses in writing, literature, and occasionally environmental studies for thirty-two years. To quote his obituary - "[Larry specializedin medieval topics and bootlegging in folk and oral-traditional material when he could... From the beginning, Larry was heavily involved in WMU's Medieval Institute and its renowned International Congress. A Fellow of the International Ballad Commission, his research into folklore and the Scandinavian ballads was respected worldwide and resulted in dozens of papers and articles-and an important book, English Translations of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballads (1995). Thanks to a stint as asst. dean at U-W, Larry was drawn into advising and policy roles early on at WMU, becoming associate chair for undergrad English programs as a tender but committed junior professor."

Larry was a regular attendee, supporter, and sometimes presenter at festivals put on by the MSU Museum, beginning with the Festival of Michigan Folklife.  Even as of February this year he wrote to say he was planning to bring a group of friends with him to this year’s Great Lakes Folk Festival. He will be dearly missed. 

To use the language of the medieval world he knew so well: May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine on him. A memorial service on Sunday, May 31, 2015, 1:30pm at WMU's Fetzer Center will celebrate his life richly lived. Memorial donations may be directed to WMU School of Music (Jazz Studies), Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, Kal County Democratic Party or Tillers International.

Read his full obituary here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Finding Funding for Michigan's 2015 Quest Program

Last year, a program called The Quest came to the attention of Michigan Traditional Arts Program staff. It was an after school program for k-12 students living in northern Michigan putting special focus on areas suffering from persistent poverty, such as schools in Brethren, Kalkaska, Mesick, and Rapid City. This 2014 partnership between SEEDS, Earthwork Music, and Blackbird Arts was focused on honoring the work of Alan Lomax by using his collected materials to inspire new creations and educating kids about music. MTAP researcher Laurie Sommers documented The Quest from start to finish. Read more about that here.

This year, those involved with this program are aiming to raise $10,000 via an IndieGoGo campaign over the next twenty days in the hopes of presenting a similar program with a different theme. These funds will go toward space rental fees, materials, recording and engineering costs, sound equipment, and student transportation. The goal is to present a performance on July 2nd that displays the hard work and creativity of the student participants.

To support this wonderful program, click here.

Here is a video about the Lomax-themed Quest program from 2014.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MSU Alumnus Joshua Davis on NBC's The Voice

Image courtesy of the Lansing State Journal
Americana roots musician and MSU alumnus Joshua Davis is competing in this season of NBC's The Voice. It is exciting to see this genre of music being represented on a national stage.

Joshua is a member of the Earthwork Music Collective. Many of his fellow collective members have performed at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, including Seth Bernard and May Erlewine in 2014 and Red Tail Ring in 2013. Joshua and the collective were involved with the Lomax QUEST project last spring, featured here in a blog post by Laurie Sommers.

Joshua's band, Steppin In It, performed weekly at the Green Door in the Eastside neighborhood of Lansing for fifteen years, drawing loyal crowds of dancers and fans with their big sound.

Watch The Voice tonight on NBC at 8pm EST and vote to keep our Michigander going strong and spreading to good word of folk music to this massive audience.

Here's a handy infographic illustrating the various voting methods.

Read more about Joshua's performances and journey in the articles below.

The Lansing State Journal


Local Spins

The State News

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest Set for October

Fiddle contests are a tradition found all over the country. The Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest takes place each year at the Huron Township Applefest.

From the Huron Township Applefest Website:
Contestants must play a waltz, a schottische, a jig and a reel in a manner suitable to Michigan old-time dancing. Contestants will be judged on tempo/timing, intonation, expression and repertoire. There is a non-refundable $10.00 entry fee. The contest begins promptly at 3:00 pm. Contestants register at 2:00 pm and draw for positions at 2:30 pm.

The contest is free to watch. Winners receive cash prizes and other awards. This is a great opportunity to show your stuff! 

To register, print the application for here and mail it to:

Huron Applefest
37296 Huron River Drive
New Boston, MI 48164

For more information, contact Jim McKinney, fiddle contest director at (734)753-8863 or stringtet@charter.net.

Monday, March 30, 2015

MSU Museum's Great Lakes Folk Festival Set for August 7-9, 2015

The Tannahill Weavers, Photo courtesy of the band
Where else in the world will you find French-Canadian, Celtic, Tejano, Creole and Western Swing? Throw in some 'Blind Boy' Blues, 'Uprizin' steel drum and 'Down Hill Strugglers' and it can only be the MSU Museum's Great Lakes Folk Festival, turning downtown East Lansing in to a living museum of roots, rhythms and richness Aug. 7-9.

 The preliminary music and dance program includes:

Learn more here: Music and Dance Program

Most groups play 2-4 times throughout the weekend, including sets on a 2,400-foot dance floor.

Musicians from different groups take the stage in popular Traditions Showcases -- fiddlers, percussionists, accordion players, etc. -- to share and compare traditions and techniques of their instruments.

Also, for festival-goers to participate: an old-time jam, community sing, and shape note singing.

A performance schedule will be set in July.

Exhibits, demonstrations, storytelling, marketplace, Kidlore children's folk activities, Taste of Traditions foodways, and Heritage Awards make the Great Lakes Festival a one-of-a-kind celebration of culture, tradition and community where visitors can sample and savor the distinctive cultural expressions throughout the festival weekend. Special programs for 2015 include:

Lomax Centennial: Celebrating Alan Lomax’s 100th Birthday

"Treasures from the Archive Roadshow: Celebrating Alan Lomax & The Folk Music Collections at the Library of Congress." This roadshow draws together nationally recognized folk musicians who play songs they have learned directly from the Lomax Family Collection and other important collections at the American Folklife Center. These performers will tour nationally during Lomax’s centennial year.

At GLFF, the roadshow includes The Down Hill Strugglers with legendary musician and folklorist John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers), Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, Frank Fairfield, and Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops).

Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression
Through Oct. 18, 2015, Heritage Gallery, Michigan State University Museum
Exhibition bringing Alan Lomax's 1938 Michigan field trip to life through words, song lyrics, photographs, and sound recordings from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula including lumberjacks, miners, schoonermen, and more.

Community Sing: focus on Lomax's popular songbooks, which include songs like Goodnight Irene, House of the Rising Sun, Jesus is on the Mainline, and more!

The China Experience: An MSU Exploration of Arts & Culture
The China Experience is a university-wide thematic year that focuses on the arts and culture of China. For more information visit: artsandculture.msu.edu.

As part of the university wide focus on China GLFF has special China related activities led by Chinese students from the International Studies and Programs at MSU in the Global Traditions, Local Connections tent; activities will include traditional Chinese Calligraphy, games, clothing and more!

Arts and Health
Attendees will learn about arts and health through panel discussions on the Campus and Community stage and exhibits including quilt & fiber art displays and an Orphan Tower, comprised of beaded dolls representing the number of AIDS orphans in one South African village.

Great, Guaranteed!

2015 Michigan Heritage Awards 
Each year at GLFF, the MSU Museum presents the Michigan Heritage Awards recognizing the state's leading tradition-bearers in music, material culture and community leadership. This year's honorees are: Ronald Ahrens, Three Oaks (Berrien County), for lacemaking; and Stephen Stier of Empire (Leelanau County), for historic barn preservation.

The GLFF Marketplace returns with more recycled and upcycled green goods, from jewelry to garden and fiber art, and sculpture. The MSU Museum also showcases master artists in textiles, basketry and other traditional arts. (Attention prospective vendors: apply here!)
Children’s Area ‘Kidlore’ Activities 
 Kids will have the opportunity for hands-on experiences inspired by the artists and traditions of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program.

Taste of Traditions Foodways: with authentic regional and ethnic food - Greek, Indian, Mexican, Thai and more.

The festival site -- across the street from the MSU campus -- spans the downtown core of the city for three days of festival fun. Find out more at http://greatlakesfolkfest.net or follow GLFF on Facebook and twitter.

Admission is by donation (suggested $10 per day) and contributions leading up to the event and on-site -- sustain GLFF. Festival friends can make donations leading up to the event online at greatlakesfolkfest.net or at the MSU Museum.

Parking is available in downtown ramps and across Grand River Avenue on the MSU campus (in designated areas; free on weekends). GLFF also provides bike parking on-site.

More than 400 agile volunteers assist the MSU Museum in staging the event - from artist transportation, children's activities, information booth, site set-up and teardown, ice delivery and visitor surveys. To volunteer, click here!

The Great Lakes Folk Festival is presented by the Michigan State University Museum, Michigan's first Smithsonian affiliate. The MSU Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program researches, documents, preserves, and presents our shared heritage and cultural expressions. Primary financial support for GLFF comes from Michigan State University Office of the Provost, University Outreach and Engagement, the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of East Lansing, and many MSU departments. In addition, nearly 100 corporations, foundations and organizations also support GLFF annually, as well as individual donors, "Great Friends."

This award-winning event is one of the region's premiere arts programs and is expected to draw more than 90,000 visitors throughout the weekend to celebrate culture, tradition and community. GLFF was named the state's top public humanities program by the Michigan Humanities Council.

Double the festival fun!
 It's a festival rich weekend in the Greater Lansing Area! The MSU Museum's Great Lakes Folk Festival and the Lansing JazzFest in Old Town will take over Mid-Michigan on the same weekend in August 2015. Traditionally JazzFest is the first weekend in August and GLFF is the second -- and depending on your interpretation and the quirk of how the dates fall this year, that is the weekend of Aug. 7 for both. Because of long-standing scheduling with artists and vendors, and working around the campus calendar and the lead-up to the MSU fall semester, GLFF is maintaining this weekend slot Aug. 7-9.

This won't happen again until 2020, so enjoy both festivals in one weekend for 2015!

Arts and culture at MSU play a critical role in nurturing the human spirit while contributing to a richer quality of life. Museums, galleries, and gardens along with libraries, historic sites, and performance spaces provide a catalyst for cultural exchange of diverse ideas and inspirations. At the same time, audiences on campus and around the world take advantage of academic and research outreach programs such as public broadcasting, online resources, and publications. Learn more at http://artsandculture.msu.edu.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Alan Lomax Archive Goes Live!

As described by NPR, it's "kind of like Pandora for grad students."

Though this archive was released to the public in 2012, it has recently been getting national press as people begin to use and understand it more fully. The Association for Cultural Equity, an organization originally founded by Alan Lomax and now run by his daughter, has created an excellent resource, featuring over 17,000 audio recordings, as well as photographic images, video recordings, and radio programs generated by master folklorist Alan Lomax.

This fits in nicely with the MSU Museum's recently opened exhibition, "Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries From the Great Depression." Lomax's Michigan collection, discussed in the exhibit, is in the process of digitization and will hopefully be available soon through the Lomax Family Collection of the American Folklife Center. We can't wait!

A young Alan Lomax
CBS Promotional photo from the 1940s