Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On the Shores of Gitchigoomie

Started out last Friday morning in the dark for an hour drive to the local airport. Made it in good time, and the plane itself, the first link to our destination, Marquette, Michigan, way up there in the UP, which someone said should be the 51st state, and someone else said, no, 52nd, Puerto Rico is ahead of us. We asked someone else how come the UP isn't part of Wisconsin, since it is contiguous, and they said well there was a war about Toledo, Ohio, and Ohio traded the UP to Michigan for the city. Which was a pretty mysterious explantion, eh? But through the weekend I kept asking, and indeed that was exactly the deal, a minor reprise of the time Napoleon "sold" close to a third of the continent to Tom Jefferson, while all the inhabitants of said third went about their business unawares they'd been bought and sold, and probably unfortunately allowed Lewis and Clark to go up the wide Missouri exploring, at Jefferson's behest.

We came down in Marquette through cloud canyons and over big stacks of cut logs and big stacks of lumber, some sawmill not far from Sawyer Field, which says it's an "international" airport, because no doubt some Ruritan or Civitan said one time a whilst back that "Field" was getting to be like "college," and we'd better call it an International Airport so's bidness will come up here despite the rugged beauty and the 300 inches of snow a year. From there we rode through the forest to Marquette, and from thence to the Hiawatha Festival grounds, which coincide with a nice little town park, and we became part of the 35th iteration.

Pretty quick we were on stage playing for a contra/square dance, with our fine ringer bassist, Mr. Tom T. Ball to add oommph, eh, and although I was kinda worried about remembering enough tunes without my trusty sidekick and accompanist Libby at my side, we did manage, and moreover, volunteered to do another dance set on Saturday afternoon as the local band scheduled for that slot had come up with some other gig they had to do instead, possibly for more remuneration, but that's just a speculation of course. It warmed us up some more in any case, and by Saturday evening's long long evening and sunset, we were primed for our first main stage appearance.

By the end of that set the breeze off the lake had quickened a bit, and temps were dropping. We all enjoyed being cold. It's not a likely possibility down here in NC this summer, where it's soggy heat day after day, the wettest June on record, a paradise for ticks and vegetable fungi. Our sad sad garden. Almost worth another post. I'd brought a heavy flannel shirt, in part so's to seem local, and it was a happy addition for the final couple of hours we were there, listening to Bonsoir Catin, and then Solas, as they ended up the show, first cajun, then Irish, both bands tight as, well, ticks.

Sunday morning we were back on the grounds by 8:30 or so and mainlining coffee, the better to do a gospelish workshop with several others of the participants. I got to share a mic with Charlie Parr, a very solid bluesman from Saint Paul, and he even did my request--something from Rev. Gary Davis. Then after more coffee it was a more fiddle-tune oriented co-workshop with Solas. I tried to get through Maggie Hammon's "Marrow Bones" ballad, and forgot the last verse:

Now it's hollerin' and screamin', murderin' cried she,
Now says the old man, I'm blind and cannot see...

But the nice fiddler from Solas knew it was missing even though it was only inference that was guiding her, e.g., but it can't stop right there, can it? and so we revealed it to the assembled throng for what it was worth. I was still recovering from too late a night before, and probably some kind of latitudinal jet lag, the midnight sun problem or something, even though like Stonewall Jackson I only drank water the whole and tender weekend, as opposed to beer I mean. I sat on a park bench in the sun and listened to the music wafting from behind the main stage. A nice kid from Minneapolis came up and chatted with me, a dancer who'd worked at the Old Town School of Music and was about to head out to Korea to teach English, what an adventure. Then I revived and watched Iron Weed and then Bonsoir's set, which was el perfecto as they say in the 51st State, and then we did our Sunday set, perfect time to play. I felt like I understood Keith Richards' remark, that he only wakes up on stage. The music was entirely reviving, the audience terrific and engaged. And we were done, and could kick back and enjoy Solas rock em all out.

Monday we met our pal Tom T. and his lovely wife for breakfast, and then made the flight. At Sawyer they confiscated my toothpaste, which had made it through all the rigamarole at the real international airports coming up. I think they just wanted to show whoever was watching that they were indeed on their toes. Coming down Lake Michigan we had to somewhat circle the lake for a bit as big planes took their turns at O'Hare, just making the last leg back to RDU after a sprint through the various concourses between L and H. Here in NC they've made this one toll road in the whole state, and no one much uses it because there are free alternatives that parallel it, so I took that and knocked off ten or fifteen minutes of my drive home, again into the sunset. And somewhat amazingly I could actually make work yesterday and feel rested and capable.

If you get the chance to go up to Marquette sometime, you should do it. It's a lovely town, and a lovely festival. The original Red Clay Ramblers had done a tour of the UP long ago, in '79 or '80, and I've always remembered that trip with pleasure. It was a delight to retrace, to some extent, our steps. I didn't miss the windy bridge connecting the two parts of Michigan all that much. Tom T. could tell us about his trip up from Remus as we sat around the folding chairs back at his camp site in the woods.

If you want to read about Gitchigoomie, you can go here:

Here at home our current regime has announced it's new budget. The biggest cuts are, natch, in edjication, and on Monday, while we were in the air, quite a number of good people got arrested at the State Capitol in Raleigh protesting the further excavation of our former state of progress. We are digging to South Carolina and from thence, Mississippi, and are at the moment somewheres near Talledega, but a mile deep. The joy expressed by the folks with the shovels is equal to that of some NASCAR fans, when bathed in the glow of a fine multi-car pileup at Tally. Tally was, by the way, a native American burial ground so's I'm told.

Photo Credits: Tom Dummer, moi, Adelle Whitefoot in the Marquette Mining Journal


  1. Glad you guys could come this year! Thanks for the shout out about the UP being the 52nd state and the "Toledo War".

  2. It was one of the nicest festival weekends I've ever experienced, no small part to your family's hospitable character. Gracias. There's more of our aspect of the festival at the big CHWN website.