Great Lakes Folk Festival

Great Lakes Folk Festival
Photo courtesy of Lora Helou

The Great Lakes Folk Festival, an annual summer favorite in East Lansing, is as diverse as it is exciting. From Aug. 10 — 12, musicians, vendors, dancers, and scholars from around the globe will collect in the campus village to share and honor tradition, diversity, and scholarship. The event is free to the public.

The festival is directed by the Michigan State University (MSU) Museum’s Traditional Arts Program. They come with the help of various musical communities, its predecessor the National Folk Festival, and affiliates at the Smithsonian Institution.

“We consider ourselves exhibit producers,” says Lora Helou, communications director for MSU Museum, “and this really is a living and breathing exhibit; sharing culture, sharing tradition, sharing community.”

Officially, this is the Festival’s 11th year, but it began with hosting the National Folk Festival and Folk Life Festival on campus in the 1980’s. The festival pushed out into the surrounding city to attract more people over longer distances. It now spans about a half mile and attracts approximately 90,000 visitors over three days. The event is supported by donations, endowments, and sponsorships.

“It’s very appealing and inclusive,” says Helou. “There are no barriers to coming.”

Photo courtesy of Lora Helou

The Festival’s four stages will feature 13 artists sharing musical talents from all over the world. Some performers also include dance accompaniments, while others will give a comparative demonstration in the history and legacy behind their craft. Music “showcases” will also be performed where artists using similar instruments, but from wildly different genres, will meet and perform together to compare and contrast musical style. Popular traditions include Blues, Bluegrass, Gospel, Zydeco, Polka, the Ethiopian Begena, Iranian Kamanche and Daf, Indian sitar, South American Merengue, and many more!

“It’s such an array of unique musical genres that you don’t see here,” Helou explains.

In addition, the Folk Festival includes a wide range of traditional foods and artisan crafts. 38 vendors comprise the combination of “tradition bearers; master artists of embroidery, lace making, quilting, basket-weaving and henna tattoo.” “Green artists,” who work with recycled or re-purposed materials, have also become quite popular. Authentic foods from across South American, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures are also included.

Photo courtesy of Lora Helou

The nearby university also offers several presentations, including lessons and treats from the MSU Bakers and the Dairy Store. Lessons on canning, jams and jellies, salsa, and cooking traditional Tai cuisine are also on the menu. Professors from MSU’s horticulture, entomology, and animal science departments will present on the science of wine, bee gardens, green roofs, and organic pork sausage. The MSU solar car team will speak on their latest race, and the “Ladies First” female Capella group will also perform.

The Great Lakes Folk Festival has something for visitors of all ages and promises to entice the mind and the senses with infectious music, compelling history, sweet treats, and fascinating science. For music samples, a full schedule of events, and more information; visit the festival’s website, Twitter, or Facebook pages.

~Samantha Stemler, feature writer