Since we bought our land, Doug and I have spent every free moment out here.
Now that we finally live here, we actually went somewhere else for Memorial Day weekend.
We knew just where to go — to Wheatland Traditional Arts Weekend in north-central Michigan.
This is a pilgrimage we have made many times before, but not once since we bought our land some 10 years ago.
Wheatland Music Organization hosts a massive fall festival the weekend after Labor Day that draws about 15,000 happy campers to the 160 acres of rolling, wooded hills and grassy meadows. The facility has been in the making since 1986 and now has a number of buildings: the main stage, the dance pavilion, food prep building, and other amenities. In the fall people come to see the great and the up-and-coming performers in a variety of traditional music venues. At any moment concerts will be going on in many locations, the kid’s hill will be jumping with crafts and games for young Wheaties, and various tents will be hosting technique workshops taught by the main stage performers. It’s an amazing experience.
Everyone is mellow and happy to be at Wheatland. Music and conversation fill the air. Every time you sit down at the picnic tables for another meal, you leave with new friends.
The spring event is on a much smaller scale, with the number of people in the hundreds, rather than thousands.
The emphasis is on workshops, which fill the days and dancing and performances fill the evenings into the wee hours. There are 17 different spots where workshops are happening simultaneously. This year the topics ranged from Gypsy fiddle to playing the saw to lace making to astronomy to Irish dance steps to bees and beekeeping to 12-bar blues. I spent my first workshop learning a great fiddle tune called Reel du Joie while people learning gospel harmony singing I’ll Fly Away in the next tent added a wonderful ambiance.
At night there is couple dancing, squares and contras, Cajun and salsa and clogging.
Doug and I were curious to see how things would change in 10 years.
The trees are bigger. The driving lanes are a little better organized. People were camping in several new areas, but it still felt exactly the same.
We filled Saturday and Sunday with classes. Doug took guitar workshops. I took fiddle classes, and we met for beginning then advanced Salsa dance Saturday and Cajun dance Sunday. Each night there was a chance to use what we learned with great bands.
We also came away with a new favorite group, Notorious. I took a fiddle workshop from Eden MacAdam-Somer of Notorious. She was an amazing performer and a wonderful teacher — very clear as she taught us the melody and then showed us how to bring it to life.
I need to note that I am a complete novice at fiddle.
Moving to a smaller house has made us examine each thing we own. Does it make the cut?
I asked myself that question about my dear mother’s violin.
She started playing this violin as a child in Indianapolis. (My grandparents were driven off their farm and into the city by the Great Depression. To pay for that violin, my grandfather refinished her piano teacher’s floors. My mom devoted herself to this precious gift and made it sing. I couldn’t let it go, so I decided I will learn to play it as a fiddle. I sat through hundreds of Suzuki violin lessons with my daughters when they were small, so I feel like I have an ingrained sense of the instrument. So far, so good.
I have come home with a headfull of great songs from my four fiddle classes (also recorded in my smart phone so I can really take them apart and put them back together at my own pace). I can’t really play them yet, but we have been introduced, and I am ready to take up this violin-shaped torch and run with it.
We used to go to Wheatland with our girls with they were small. The place has a wonderful family-friendly atmosphere.
That’s one of the things that makes Wheatland a font of truly sustainable music.
At one point during dance class, Doug was dancing with a young woman who told him she had been coming to Wheatland and taking dance classes since she was a small child. She will no doubt bring her own children here someday. I hope my own girls will. This is a place where traditional music gets handed on from player to player, everyone leaves with renewed enthusiasm and respect for a variety of musical heritages, new crafts and new friends.
If you are in the Midwest, consider going to the fall or spring festival. It is like taking a trip to the way the world ought to be.
Check out the 2012 Photo Contest Winners here. http://www.wheatlandmusic.org/2012-photo-contest-winners/
Peace on Earth – Good will to Wheatland!
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