Door County Folk Festival
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Sister Bay, Ephraim & Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
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A Summer of Folk Music Fests
Chicago Sunday Tribune May 20, 2007 - Chicago Tribune
by Stuart Rosenberg

Folk festivals offer a rare opportunity to experience the charms of the Midwest in their purest forms. Like tiny, tuneful Brigadoons, they rise up as little villages for a few days each year, often in small towns and remote rural locales, providing a delightful destination for fans, families and folks looking for a chance to take in the pleasures of live, hand-made music surrounded by the allure of the outdoors. Here's a sampling:

Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, Beanblossom (Brown County), Ind.; June 9-16: Just as bluegrass music has evolved into a pillar of American musical tradition, so, too, have bluegrass festivals bloomed into a major component of the folk festival scene. No bluegrass fest has bloomed brighter than this festival founded 40 years ago by the late Monroe, the father of the hard-driving banjoand fiddle-based genre. The festival bills itself as "the Mecca of Bluegrass," and, indeed, many thousands of true believers make the pilgrimage every year.

Lasting a full week, Bean Blossom hosts the hottest young bands on the circuit along with the living legends that define the genre in a rustic setting that highlights the natural beauty of the music. The campgrounds are as much a part of the experience as the performance stage, with evening jam sessions ringing around the campfires late into the night, providing as much musical heat as anything happening on stage. Indeed, the sensual pleasure of pure and powerful picking mixing with wood smoke and moonlight make for memorable moments, even without the moonshine that occasionally seeps into the circle.


Door County (Wis.) Folk Festival; July 4-8: If dancing's your fancy, check out this festival, held at various venues in the tiny towns of Sister Bay, Ephraim and Bailey's Harbor. Unlike most folk fests, this one puts the spotlight firmly on folk dance (though there's plenty of live music as well).

Dancers from around the country gather to learn traditional steps from many different cultures and dance with other aficionados. This year's edition highlights the Argentinian tango, as well as Balkan and Israeli cultural traditions, and beginners are especially welcome. The festival's high points are the evening dance parties, where participants use the moves they've learned at the daily workshops and dance late into the night to the sound of live and recorded music.

In addition to dance and music, there are also "dance relaxation workshops" that feature massage and bodywork to iron out the kinks that come from dancing all day and night. The festival also includes a traditional Door County fish boil dinner.


Dunegrass Festival, Empire, Mich.; Aug. 2-5: If you were to cross a bluegrass festival with Woodstock, you might end up with Dunegrass, in this little village near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, south of Traverse City. It's a tie-dyed, laid-back celebration of folk-inflected acoustic music that leans toward the jam-band aesthetic, with plenty of hacky-sack and frisbee on the fringes. It's a younger crowd but a mellow one, with a deep appreciation for the traditionally based sounds of artists on this year's roster like mandolin maestro David Grisman and the hipster old-time band Cornmeal.

The range of musical styles at Dunegrass is unusually expansive, ranging from classic folkie singer-songwriters to the Dark Star Orchestra, which replicates entire concerts of the Grateful Dead. Most festival attendees camp at the Chippewa Run Nature Area, though with a little advance planning it's possible to rent cozy cabins in the surrounding area and in the nearby towns of Glen Arbor and Maple City.

231-882-9502; www.dunegrass

Franklin Grove (Ill.) Summer Harvest Festival; Aug. 3-5; Franklin Grove, about 100 miles west of Chicago, holds this festival (this year's is the 28th) at Chaplin Creek Village, a full-scale historical restoration of a mid-19th Century prairie settlement just south of town.

Local pickers take to the stage for six hours of bluegrass, old-time, country and gospel music each day, but there's more than music to be found on the grounds. Visitors can enjoy blacksmith demonstrations, a draft horse jamboree, and re-creations of an old country schoolhouse and a village jail, as well as partaking in a pancake breakfast or participating in a horseshoe tournament.

815-456-3030; www.franklin

Wheatland Festival, Remus, Mich.; Sept. 7-9: For a festival more firmly focused on folk music, head up to Remus, smack in the middle of Michigan. Since 1974, on the first weekend after Labor Day, the Wheatland Festival has presented hundreds of folk, ethnic and traditional performers on several stages, along with workshops, square dancing, jam sessions, children's activities, and a juried arts and crafts fair.

The festival grounds include 160 acres of rolling hills, meadows and shady woods, providing a spectacular setting for a kaleidoscopic variety of musical styles, Past fests have highlighted Cajun, klezmer, blues, African, stringband, Irish and Texas swing, among others. Most of those attending camp out on the property, but there is a wide range of accommodations nearby. Take note: Tickets are not sold at the festival but must be purchased in advance.

989-967-8879; www.wheatland

These are but a smattering of many wonderful folk and traditional music festivals taking place throughout the Midwest. They're all quite different in their tastes and textures but, as with all good festivals, they are put on for reasons of passion rather than profit, reflecting a level of respect for both patrons and performers that's rarely seen in the world of commercial culture.

For the Midwestern adventurer, folk festivals offer a rare opportunity to leave the well-beaten tourist track and blaze a tuneful trail to a more soulful travel experience.

More folk fests

For mandolin players and fans: The 3rd annual Midwest Mandolin Festival, June 2 at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis; www.mandolindy .com/MMF1&2

For dulcimer players and fans: The 20th annual Gebhard Woods Dulcimer Festival, June 9-10 at Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris, Ill.; 708-481-7884;

For fiddlers and old-time music fans: The 35th annual Indiana Fiddler's Gathering, June 22-24 at Tippecanoe Battlefield, Battle Ground (near Lafayette); 765-742-1419; indianafiddlers

For pirates and pirate fans: The Port Washington Pirate Festival, June 1-3 at Port Washington, Wis.; 262-284-6652; www.portpiratefes

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