Singing Festival: ‘Open up the pipes and let it fly’
from City Pulse: 1/13/03

Have you ever sat in your car at a red light and noticed the driver next to you gettin’ down to tunes on his radio? Mouth movin’, head swayin’, hands beatin’ time on the steering wheel, body pulsating with move and groove.

In the shower. Or in the car. From Christmas carols at the piano to Kum ba yah around the campfire. In tune or out of tune. From the American Revolution, to the Labor Movement, to the recent antiwar gathering at the State Capitol. Singing is a natural and vital part of human culture.

To celebrate singing for all that it is, Double Play Sports, The Ten Pound Fiddle and the City of East Lansing are sponsoring the Mid-Winter Singing Festival.

This is different from traditional music festivals where singers perform and the audience listens. At the Mid-Winter Singing Festival, the audience will be encouraged to sing along with the song leaders and performers on stage. No one is going to elbow you in the ribs and tell you to shut up.

“Come sing,” said Sally Potter, owner of Double Play Sports, former member of the group Second Opinion and brainchild of this event. “People will be singing songs that you love and are dying to sing. And even if you don’t think you can sing, you’re still going to hum. And even if you don’t hum, you’re going to love being in a group of hundreds of other people singing.”

Potter has been thinking about this idea for years. She, with Second Opinion, was invited to perform at the Hudson River Clearwater Festival in New York one year. Here she was introduced to the “Circle of Song” tent inspired by Pete and Toshi Seeger. It was packed the entire weekend.

“Why not have a festival where the audience is everything,” Potter said. “They buy the tickets, they show up, they sing the songs. The audience makes the show.”

“I think this is a splendid idea,” said Joel Mabus, renowned folk musician, singer and songwriter. “Having a night or two devoted to singing, not just listening, is way overdue for Lansing.”

With a multitude of community resources available, putting the festival together hasn’t been hard. Ten Pound Fiddle is doing what they do best – handling the money and ticket sales, organizing the concerts, maintaining the sales of CDs and other items. The City of East Lansing is hosting the children’s show by Mark Dvorak of Chicago, which is something they do yearly anyway. “This area has a huge folk community in general, especially for its size,” Potter said. “There are so many resources in this town.”

The performers lined-up for the festival are local and laden with talent. They include Mabus; Robert Jones and Matt Watroba, DJs for WDET public radio in Detroit, each with his own blues or folk music show; Rachel Alexander, founder of Sistrum, a Lansing women’s choir and music director at the Unitarian Universalist Church; Mark Dvorak from the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago; Pat Madden-Roth, member of the Second Opinion trio; and many, many more

Festival-goers also can participate workshops being offered free of charge Saturday at Hannah Community Center. The workshops are family-friendly, food and beverages will be available and there is ample free parking. “It’s free so there aren’t any barriers to coming,” Potter said. “It’s supposed to reach out as far as it can.”

“A lot of people love to sing, but are shy about it. There is safety in numbers,” Mabus said. “I would encourage all the closet singers out there, the shower stall crooners, to put this event on their calendars. It’s a chance to open up the pipes and let it fly!”

Besides singing great songs together and having fun with family and friends, the Mid-Winter Singing Festival has another motive. It has to do with the Great Lakes Folk Festival. Potter loves the fact there is a free folk festival in town every year. And she would like to see a “Circle of Song” tent added to the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

“After three days (at the folk festival), all you’ve done is sit. And you listen,” she said. “But there’s nothing coming up from your soul.

“How can you keep from singing?” she asks. “This is folk music. It’s music that is made from the masses, created and passed along and sung. It comes out of the mines, out of the sweat shops, out of the railroad industry. It comes from Europe. It comes from Africa. It comes from everybody.”

A complete schedule of events and other details about the Mid-Winter Singing Festival can be found at, or call (517) 267-0410 to request printed materials.


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