Joel Mabus and Tom Paxton Headline Ten Pound Fiddle’s 16th Annual Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival This Weekend

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 9:23 am
Christopher A. Wardell

Above: Joel Mabus

Michigan-based musician Joel Mabus along with folk legend Tom Paxton, will both perform as a part of the Ten Pound Fiddle’s 16th Annual Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival taking place February 2nd and 3rd at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center.

Mabus’s roots as a contemporary folk artist run deep. Mabus released his first album “Grassroots,” featuring fellow musician Frank Wakefield in 1977. Mabus has 27 albums under his belt with music that touches on everything from the blues to bluegrass.

Above: Tom Paxton

Paxton is a legend in his own right. An American folk singer-songwriter, Paxton’s songs have been recorded by some heavy hitters on the folk music scene including Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Porter Wagoner, and Willie Nelson. Paxton’s music includes a range from emotionally charged pleas for social change, to the tongue and cheek. One song, What Did You Learn in School Today? “mocks the way children are often taught nationalism and subservience to authority,” according to Paxton’s webpage.

Nationalism and subservience to authority aside, though, the whole point of the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival is to let go, have fun, and sing your heart out.

“This festival is about beating the winter blues by getting out and having a great time singing a bunch of great songs with my friends - six of us on stage, and hundreds in the theater.” Mabus said.

Paxton headlines the Festival Friday night with fellow musicians Cathy Fink, Marcy Mixer, and Bruce Molsky and his Mountain Drifters.

Mabus will be on the main stage Saturday night. Joining him will be indie-folk songstress May Erlewine; blues musician, singer-songwriter , Matt Watroba (also host of WKAR’s Sunday night’s “Folk with Matt Watroba”); the Reverend Robert Jones, singer, trumpet and guitar player Frank Youngman, and storyteller/songwriter Mark Dvorak. The musicians will all perform in a “round robin” style show, with each musician helping to lead the show.

Above: May Erlewine

Lyrics sheets will be provided so that concertgoers are able to sing and follow along.

“It is unlike any other concert. The songs are chosen a month or so in advance, or more in advance so the lyrics can be printed in the program,” Mabus said. “All songs are vetted and chosen for ability to be sung by a large group of non-professionals, and chosen for a variety of mood and diversity of genre.

“There are six leaders this year, and we do take turns.” Mabus said. “But, a Nashville-style “guitar pull” or a normal festival round robin is more about showcasing and spontaneity and never selects songs months in advance. The interplay of musicians on stage is all about leading rather than presenting. The songs are the stars. Accompaniment instruments play a secondary role to singing. Strong, steady rhythm is paramount when you have one or two guitars and a bass. As well as 500 singers.”

The Festival features a number of different events in addition to the nightly concerts. Mabus will participate in an instructional workshop alongside Jones, Dvorak, Erlewine, and the Mountain Drifters from noon-4:00 p.m. on Saturday. There’s also a Children’s Concert at 11:00 a.m. Saturday featuring Cathy Fink and Marcy Mixer.

Mabus has been a part of the Festival since its inception, and has enjoyed being a part of the process that goes into making the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival a major draw for folk-fans all over the map.

“I have been on the main stage at night at all but two of the sixteen festivals.” Mabus said. “I was there for the first festival, and I have helped to work behind the scenes the past ten years choosing the lineup of songs in conjunction with the song leaders, overseeing the sound mix, and setting the order of the program.”

The Ten Pound Fiddle’s Booking Manager Sally Potter started the Festival in 2003, and has watched it grow steadily each year. According to Potter, the 2018 version of the Festival is one of the best yet.

“East Lansing has such a warm and welcoming group of folk fans.” Potter said. “We take over the Hannah Center for the weekend. In addition to the concerts Friday and Saturday night, there are workshops all day that are wonderful. You can learn how to tune your guitar to an “Open B” with Mabus, you can learn how to sing with May Erlewine. There’s just so much to do.”

Mabus continues to be impressed with the outpouring of support the Festival receives each year, and many mark their calendar for the event as soon as the date and performers are announced.

“What makes this festival so special is the singalong aspect.” Mabus said. Every song is sung by the whole audience. It is like no other show I do all year long.”

Potter agrees. She encourages anyone who might be a novice folk music fan to show up and sing along, as she assures people will already know the songs such as “Carolina In My Mind” by James Taylor, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” some Tin Pan Alley favorites, and some Gospel.

“Tom Paxton is 80 now, and doesn’t tour as much as he used to.” Potter said. “The music this weekend is going to be amazing. Lyrics will be provided, and this is an incredibly affordable evening. There’s free parking, and the sound is fabulous. Other festivals, the sound is shaky. The Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival is made for people to have a lot of fun, and it won’t break their bank.”


The Hannah Community Center is located at 819 Abbot Road.


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