GTPulse: Bust Up Winter Doldrums with The Great Indoor Folk Festival

I’m told that this has been a mild winter for northern Michigan. My time spent scraping snow off of my car and keeping socks on my feet at all times while at my apartment say otherwise. It’s felt like a long time since I’ve woken up with the sun and lazily pulled on shorts and a tee-shirt before heading out the door. In winter, everything is a process. Little things like going to the coffee shop in the morning or getting a drink with a friend suddenly require planning and time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss some of the smaller simplicities of summertime, but no one can say that northern Michigan doesn’t continue to provide arts and culture, even in the dead of winter. Dead of winter is here and writing this column has given me a lot of insight on all the great ways that we can still get out during the colder, grayer days. The Great Indoor Folk Festival is coming to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons for its 12th year this Sunday.

The festival is put on by the Northern Michigan Songwriters in the Round. Member and co-founder of the festival Adair Correll has been organizing and participating in the festival since it began.

Adair is a passionate musical performer, which is really where the concept for the festival roots from. Back in the ’90s, a bar called the Cedar Tavern was a hub for singers, songwriters and bands. Their Tuesday night open mic always had a packed setlist. 

“Five of us who were regulars thought that it would be nice to have a listening room as opposed to a bar environment where there’s a lot of chatter and background noise. We hooked up with Horizon Books in 1997 and started an event called Northern Michigan Songwriters in the Round. Three songwriters would come in, it was a round-robin kind of thing. We did it for 20 years every third Friday.”

Those five songwriters who started the music circle eventually grew to over a hundred songwriters. Adair ended up coordinating those Friday events. One of the songwriters was a man named Bob Downes and at the time Bob was the owner of Northern Express. The publication’s office was in the Commons.

“He called me and said, ‘Well what do you think about starting a February festival?’”

His logic was that February was one of the bleaker northern Michigan months and that it would be nice to do something fun to get the songwriters excited and to get community members out of the house.

Adair mailed out an announcement to all the songwriters he knew. Typically, music festivals are difficult and competitive to get a  slot in, but he said that interested participants would be selected on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s remained that way ever since.

“Not a judgemental thing, not going out and soliciting acts. We probably had five stages that first year.”

The indoor festival now has eight performance areas, with rotating musical artists throughout the festival. It’s completely volunteer-based and free to get into. Kids are welcome too, as it’s a family-friendly event. There’s even a stage dedicated to fun music for kids.

“All the shops will be open if people want to wander around or get something to eat.”

The music ranges from indie folk to acoustic to bluegrass, and the handful of bands playing on the New Folk stage are the only ones that are playing the festival for the first time. The rest of the performers have played the festival before, some have even been around since its debut 12 years ago.

Spend this Sunday, February 23rd at the Commons from noon to 5:30 p.m. to enjoy all the folk music your little heart could want. The festival will continue to be a well-loved Traverse City winter tradition.

“As long as I don’t have to chase musicians or volunteers, I’ll probably keep organizing it for a little while longer.”

Categories: GTPulse