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Archive for August 11th, 2003

Folk Festival Pictures

Monday, August 11th, 2003

Here are the long-awaited pictures of just a few highlights of the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

The first three pictures are of Stella Chiweshe, who plays an instrument we call Thumb Piano but she has another name for it. I read a little article on this, and in Zimbabwe where she is from, this instrument used to only be played by men. Not only that, for a number of years it was illegal to play this instrument at all. So it is a gift to the world, that her wonderful music has come to us, in of all places, East Lansing, Michigan. I loved the music.

The first picture is Stella with two of the three members of her band. The second was taken after she got off stage. She was showing her instrument to an interested bystander, and smiling as she explained. Her presence is very calming and grounded, at least to me. I was happy to stand that close to her, even though we did not speak.

The third photo is one of her musicians dancing to one of her pieces. He was great. I just wish he had danced longer. However, he was in transit from one instrument to a drum set at the back of the stage. She needed him to play music rather than dance the whole time.

The next picture is of the young lady dancing the Kathak dance from North India. It is a dance that originated for telling stories, with religious significance. There are now some of the dances that are primarily for the beauty of dancing, but when she took time to explain the dance, much of it was about storytelling. The story to the one story dance I saw, was about Lord Krishna when he was a boy, and how he got into mischief but was caught. It was very enjoyable to see, both as a dance and as an excellent way to get a story across.

She was wearing clothing unique to India but not specific to the Kathak dance. However, can you see that she was wearing bells on her legs? She said she had 150 bells on each side. There is a lot of rhythmic work in this type of dance, and the bells show off that footwork even if you can’t see it very well. She says that as you get better at the dance, you add more and more bells until you have bells all the way to your knee. Her bells were at least 1/3 of the way there, and she was just a young thing. A very talented young thing, however!

The next photo shows Lare Williams’ band. Our friend, Ron McKeever, is the guitar player in the center. Lare is next on the right and the far right is Lare’s mom who is a fabulous singer.

We learned that Ron just won two second-place awards at a music gathering of some sort. He won 2nd place guitar, and 2nd place mandolin. He’s an amazing player. He must play music every waking moment when he can hold a guitar. I’m happy for him that he is getting recognition. He’s a sort of quiet guy but his guitar playing speaks for itself. It was great to see him play at the festival.

Next is Ralph Stanley’s band. They were on the big stage and it was dark. It was hard to get a picture, I hope you can see it. Ralph is in the middle with the gray shirt and white hat. Second from right was a very young man, maybe 7th grade, playing mandolin. Most of the time he was in the back row while the men were up front, but he did get to come up a few times and see the crowd. I don’t know what his relationship was to the band. He was young, but he clearly was keeping up with the tunes just fine.

The last three pictures were taken Saturday in the dance tent. Nick Villarreal (Tex Mex) was playing at the time. He sure could get that crowd out on the floor! We danced to his band again on Sunday as well.

I just loved that there were a lot of families out there. Anyone who wants to bemoan the state of the family, did not attend this event. See these two lovely toddlers. The little girl you saw yesterday. She stood still and clapped for a long while. The little boy was hard to get a picture of, I had to work hard at it. He was very happy running around in circles! Just adorable. They were having a wonderful time.

The last picture shows more family action. On the left is what looks like a daddy dancing with his young daughter. I wish the picture came out better but it was pretty dark at that point. On the right hand side you can see a mom. She had been holding one baby and had one or two younger kids she would dance with on the floor. Wonderful.

The one picture I tried to get was Robert and Meegan of Creole Gallery in old town. They were out there on the floor but try as I might, by the time my camera would flash, they were long gone!

Robert is the unofficial “Mayor of Old Town,” a man who asks you questions and then listens so intently you think you and he are the only people in the world when you answer. He is a very fine person I’m proud to know.

Meegan is such an enthusiastic person, I really enjoy her company. She does the musical bookings at Creole. We’ve been very lucky to open for two different events there in previous years: the Weepers and Uketopia (when Jim Bieloff came to town). Meegan and I got a chance to actually chat at the dance tent for a while between acts. So many people know her that sometimes it’s hard to get time to chat. I was glad to get that time.

This was an event that truly showed the best of my city. Lansing shone this weekend. We had a crowd that was mixed in every way: age, gender, race (well, we’re all the human race, right? but I saw every flavor of the rainbow… to mix metaphors), handicappers, conservative, pierced/tattooed, you name it: everyone was there. It was delightful.

If you didn’t make it to the festival, I’m so sorry. I did make sure I enjoyed it enough for all of us!