After three days at last year’s National Folk Festival in East Lansing, Mich., my feet hurt from walking back and forth between performance stages, food booths, demonstrations, lemonade stands. It was a good hurt, a happy hurt inspired by the toe-tapping riffs of legendary flat-picking guitarist Doc Watson, the hip-shaking rhythms of South Africa’s Mahotella Queens, and head-turning steam of Chicago blues singer Shemekia Copeland. But dancing to Geno Delafose and his zydeco band, French Rockin’ Boogie, was the best.
All I could think was: Is Bangor ready for this? Will Bangor dance?
My projection is that Bangor won’t be able to NOT dance when the National Folk Festival blasts onto the waterfront. When is the last time you and your honey twirled to the polka? Or whirled to the bah-bah bah-bah-dee-dah of swing? Been awhile? Don’t let that stop you.
Watch the Kenduskeag Dance Pavilion schedule for Brian Marshall and his Tex-Slavik Playboys or the swing tunes of Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun. If they don’t get you bopping, then wait for Viento de Agua from Puerto Rico or the Holmes Brothers and their rockin’ blues from New York City. If you’re still not wearing down the shoe leather by late Saturday night, then Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas will sink you. Don’t even try to resist. They’ll get you out there with or without a partner. They don’t care if you’re with your wife, your sister, your boyfriend, your kid brother, your grandmother, or with your own self. They just want your feet moving on the floor.
Last year, when the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians led a parade through East Lansing, Joe Wilson, executive director at the National Council for the Traditional Arts, introduced them and encouraged the audience this way: “You got a butt you can shake, too.”
Dancing, of course, isn’t the only way to have fun at the National. But don’t take it from us. Here’s what others were saying on the festival grounds in East Lansing last year.
– Alicia Anstead
. Mark Meadows, mayor of East Lansing and state district attorney: “I’m going to look back on this as one of the greatest things we’ve ever done as a city government. The festival is a great honor, and it will place a national focus on the city of Bangor and all the things Bangor represents. My wife and I are going to Bangor, and we hope everyone else here today is, too.”
. Gretchen Whitmer, a 30-year-old Michigan state representative: “I didn’t know what to expect. I wouldn’t label myself as a folk fanatic. But it was a blast and it expanded my horizons.”
. Jen Schoon, manager at Beggar’s Banquet, an East Lansing restaurant and bar: “Business during the festival is hit or miss depending on the weather. Last year, we doubled business for a normal Saturday night in summer. But I love the festival. I’m thrilled they chose East Lansing to host it because it brought in acts that wouldn’t otherwise have come here. I hate to see it go.”
. Bev Baten, city council member and downtown advocate: “People at the festival can’t believe they’re in a small college town in the Midwest because it brings so much excitement and talent.”
. Eugene Dillenburg, volunteer from St. Paul, Minn.: “I work in an office and type all day. I don’t feel like I get anything done. Here, I work for a few hours and I get things done.”
. Sarah Erlewine, a 23-year-old student at Michigan State University in East Lansing: “I attended last year and loved it so much that I wanted to work here,” she said. “A lot of people blow off folk arts as passe, something that doesn’t really affect us. But I think it’s anything we as a people create out of love and our attempt to understand ourselves.”
. Nick Spitzer, host of “American Routes” on Public Radio International: “Revitalization happens when people start thinking in new ways, when they take into account the old ways around them – not just theirs but everybody’s. When you have a festival like this, you can tell the story of what was, and allow people to look at each other in a positive way through arts and culture that are community based. If you believe art has a benefit, then folk arts have even more of a benefit because they bring people with them. Bangor is not New York or Los Angeles, but it is the right scale to do this, and I love Maine. I’m psyched.”
. Dwain Winters, volunteer technical director at the National Council for the Arts and director of the dioxin policy program at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington: “I was impressed by Bangor’s downtown. There’s a lot of character there. You know, we don’t measure success of the festival by size of the audience. Our efforts are to provide an opportunity for people who are interested to see a broader spectrum. By the end of the three-year cycle, we hope that interest is strong enough that an event will follow after us.”