Embracing folk heritage through music


Photo courtesy of Mark Shevy JAMMIN’ TO FOLK— Kerry Yost (left) local musician and Jackie Jahfetson NMU alum rehearse for their performances in the Winter Roots Folk Festival at the sound studio in McClintock on campus on Sunday, Jan. 26.

Eli Sparkman

Feeling bogged down by the snow that’s just, like, everywhere? If music and community lift your spirits, there’s an event this weekend that might help you out of your winter hibernation.

This Saturday, Feb. 15, the second annual Winter Roots Folk Festival (WRFF) will be held at multiple community venues around town as part of a day-long celebration of local music.

The festival will include performances in the morning at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center starting at 10:30 a.m. In the afternoon, workshops will take place at both the Peter White Library and the Hiawatha Fold. The Marquette Folk Showcase will take place from 4-6 p.m at the Forest Roberts Theatre on campus.

The day will then culminate in a rocking, high energy concert at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. featuring Black Jake and the Carnies from 7-9 p.m. This band features accordion, banjo, fiddle and many other instruments which are sure to get your Saturday night moving. A full schedule of events can be found on the Winter Roots Folk Festival Facebook page. One of the many local musicians performing at the event is Sarah Mittlefehldt, NMU associate professor of environmental studies and sustainability.

“The primary goal of the [WRFF]  is to celebrate and to showcase a lot of songwriters in our area and also to pay homage to the roots of folk music in our whole general region more broadly,” Mittlefehldt said. “Hanging onto the traditional roots music, but also the new music that people are creating in this genre in this area.”

This is to say that the WRFF is more than a one day party. It’s representative of a rich community of musicians and artists who call Marquette home, Mittlefehldt said. 

“You think we’re this kind of remote backwater, but a lot of creative people like backwaters,” Mittlefehldt said. “There’s a lot of talented people that are going to be a part of it.”

This event provides an opportunity to meet musicians from the area and hear their musical skill sets. Many of these musicians belong to the Hiawatha Music Co-op, which hosts the WRFF, and also holds the Hiawatha Music Festival over the summer. 

The Hiawatha Music Festival (HMF) is emblematic of this long and rich history: it’s the largest music festival in the U.P. and 2020 will be the festival’s 42nd year. This event is held on the last full weekend of July. Inspired by the HMF, the WRFF is in its second iteration and is looking to expand to multiple locations and for more of the NMU student body to be involved.

Niikah Hatfield, NMU senior art and design major, will be performing in the Marquette Folk Showcase. She was adamant about her love for the scene.

“The [WRFF] builds on the amazing musical community in Marquette,” Hatfield said. “It’s lovely to have the opportunity to leave our winter hibernation and get together and play music. It’s such a great compliment to all the traditional music that happens in Marquette throughout the year.”

Hatfield is also invested in the positive impacts that arise from intertwining being both students and members of the community. The event’s admission price is for $10 per person (youths under the age of 12 enter for free). 

 “The festival is showcasing current NMU students and alumni working alongside many local musicians, coming together to create something unique that celebrates each individual’s talents,” Hatfield said. “It’s a stunning collection of people, and as students it’s such a great way to get out and support those in the musical arts.”

This is an event that is built on support: both for the musicians in their art, and for you in overcoming your hibernation.