Winter Roots Folk Festival unthaws community with musics’ warmth

HOME+GROWN%E2%80%94Local+musicians+Sarah+Middlefehld+and+John+Gillette+strum+along+as+they+bring+their+set+to+the+community+during+their+performance+at+the+Forest+Roberts+theater%2C+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+15.

HOME GROWN—Local musicians Sarah Middlefehld and John Gillette strum along as they bring their set to the community during their performance at the Forest Roberts theater, on Saturday, Feb. 15.

Isabelle Tavares

Snow, and attendees of the 2020 Winter Roots Folk Festival (WRFF) have one thing in common: they were everywhere. 

Driven by the desire to stir people out of winters’ hibernation—musicians, artists and dancers banded together to host the second annual festival on Saturday, Feb. 15, in all corners of Marquette. Taking place in five venues—the Marquette Arts & Culture Center, Peter White Public Library, Hiawatha Fold, NMU Forest Roberts Theatre and the Ore Dock Brewing Co.—attendees learned in workshops, listened to music and watched dance performances. 

For NMU senior art & design major Niikah Hatfield, who performed at The Showcase at the NMU Forest Roberts Theatre, the performance is a way to bring music into the winter months. 

“It’s a bunch of NMU alumni and amazing marquette local musicians coming together, pulling all of their talents in one spot, celebrating each other,” Hatfield said. “Winter Roots itself has been a big movement to revive the roots in the middle of the winter. Marquette has a lot of that during the summer and
fall time of the year.”

The largest attended festival in the summer months in the Upper Peninsula, the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival, inspired the WRFF. In its second year, the WRFF seeks to give barefooted Hiawatha festival-goers a similar experience—but in boots and hats. 

The event kicked off at the Marquette Arts & Culture Center (MACC) where attendees got their hands on a variety of instruments at a musical petting zoo, or painted a wooden cutout of a guitar to be displayed in March at the MACC. Hopping over to the Peter White Public Library, three dance workshops were held to celebrate varying cultures and traditions: morris, traditional folk and finnish. 

Morris dancing is an
ancient anglo saxon folk dance dating back to the 1200s, said Mark
Torongo, NMU freshman who plays the
accordian for the group. Torongo said it’s important the dance lives on today
because of mass extermination of anglo saxon culture by the hands of the
Normans in 1066. 

“And that’s what we’re teaching, we’re trying to get community involvement and our name out there. As far as Marquette, the more culture is always the better. It gives people things to do. I wasn’t necessarily [comfortable] when I started which is why I kept with it,”
Torongo said. “It’s a great thing for some people who don’t want to go out to the bars or aren’t super workout junkies. We want to be active and have fun and be involved in a community that’s really positive and fun for all.”

Workshops continued throughout the day at the Hiawatha Fold, where attendees activated their slant-rhyme capabilities at a singer/songwriter workshop, or their lungs, at a family harmonica workshop. 

After a full day of blindly blaring into harmonicas or calmly painting a wooden guitar, attendees slid into their plushy maroon seats at the NMU Forest Roberts Theatre for the Marquette Folk Showcase featuring established, and up-and-coming local musicians. 

The stage was vibrant with sounds from vastly different instruments: banjo, keyboard, ukulele, stand-up base, resonator steel guitar, Morning Thunder drum, saxophone, acoustic and electric guitar. 

Marquette duo Sarah Mittlefehldt and John Gillette performed “Some Long Roads” where backup from a  saxophone and electronic guitar bantered, exchanging murky blues riffs with fleeting, velvety harmony. Crowd participation gave the performance it’s classic, small-town feel when Gillette called his brother on stage for his birthday and had the audience call out “happy birthday.” 

Performer and Marquette resident Alexa Alagon attributes to the tight-knit community, especially within music. 

“I’m so excited and grateful and humbled to be here. I didn’t get into [playing music] until I went to Northern. Walking around, there would be people in the courtyard, outside, sitting in the grass playing guitars and drum circles. It made me recognize how great of a musical community this place really is,” Alagon said. “It’s so easy to get consumed in the greyness and the cold but there’s a lot to be celebrated about it and I think that music is something that brings people together, so it’s a celebration of the season.” 

The WRFF also brought NMU students and the Marquette community in musical unison. 

“The fact that it was able to be a bridge between the local music scene and students was a fun way to see the two groups come together and use the best of both resources,” Hatfield said. “My favorite part is seeing everyone shine in their own ways. I don’t have a favorite song that we’ve played together because every song is so special and unique. Coming together to celebrate who is singing is
really magical.” 

The event attracted all genres of attendees, like Marquette community member Cindy Gochanour who sings in The Sunshine Girls, a group that performs to
nursing homes. 

“Music anytime, it does the heart good. Even more so in the [long] winter in the U.P, music brings joy,” Gochanour said. 

Black Jake and the Carnies rounded out the evening with their performance at the Ore Dock Brewing Co., stirring up that same summertime music magic in the dormant winter dust.