Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival This Weekend at Hannah Community Center
Above: Saturday Community Sing Leaders Sally Rogers, Joel Mabus and Claudia Schmidt
For the past 17 years, the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival has been warming the hearts and minds of those who attend. The annual festival makes its return February 1-2, and will be led by singer-songwriters Josh Davis and Joel Mabus. The event is sponsored by the Ten Pound Fiddle Coffeehouse and the City of East Lansing
The festival will kick-off with a Friday night concert headlined by Davis, who will be joined by local songstresses Jen Sygit and Laura Bates. Saturday, Mabus will lead a community sing assisted by Claudia Schmidt and Sally Rogers.
Both Friday’s and Saturday’s events start at 7:30 at the Hannah Community Center.
Davis (above) will be celebrating the release of his new album, “Live At The Robin,” which will be released February 1. The record was recorded over three performances last November at the Robin Theater in Lansing’s REO Town.
“I’m really proud of this album,” Davis said. “I love the way it turned out. No overdubs, no second chances, no studio tricks. I think it really gives a sense of being at the show. There’s a tendency we have in the studio to correct all the imperfections, but many times it’s those imperfections that make a song unique and sweet.”
Davis has seen his share of ups and downs after losing both his father and grandfather in 2017. But with the tragedy came the birth of a new child, and his longtime band Steppin’ In It reunited for a series of shows last year. All of the shows were well received, nearly selling out The Green Door for four consecutive evenings.
“I don’t think there will ever be a ‘final hurrah’ for that band,” Davis said. “We’re trying to work schedules out to do another run this year sometime, but it’s not easy. I love playing with those guys. They’re my brothers.”
For his singing festival show, he’s looking forward to performing alongside his old friends.
“I’ll be playing songs from my entire catalogue and some covers,” Davis said. “Solo and with Jen and Laura singing - which is one of my favorite things by the way - singing with those ladies. There’s nothing like it.”
On Saturday at 12:20, Davis will lead a workshop on Cinematic Songwriting. The purpose of the workshop, according to Davis, is to work on the authenticity of a song.
“Cinematic songwriting is a method I use to generate stories, concrete imagery and emotional honesty,” Davis said. “I think being genuine is the most important thing when it comes to writing and performing.”
Laura Bates (above left with Jen Sygit), whose old band Hot-Toe-Mitty used to open for and collaborate with Steppin’ In It in the late 90’s, is looking forward to hearing Davis’ new songs, as well as adding harmonies and depth alongside Sygit.
“I’m always excited to sing with Jen, who I have also known and performed with since the early 2000’s. The three of us always have such a great time onstage and off. I’m hoping folks come away from this performance feeling uplifted, encouraged, and inspired. It’s cold and dark out there. Hopefully, some tunes about hope, resilience, and love will warm us all up from the inside out.”
Mabus (above), a veteran of both the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival and the Ten Pound Fiddle Concert series, will also be celebrating the release of his 27th album, “Time and Truth.” Before leading the community sing on Saturday night, the veteran songwriter will lead a workshop on Saturday at 1:40 PM, “Discovering the Cure for the Common Chord.” The workshop will focus on learning chords not often used for both the ukulele and guitar.
“Well, it is a clever title, but what it is about is teaching how to improve a basic three note chord that comes in the ‘Big Note Easy Chord Book’ by adding or subtracting a note here or there.”
This isn’t the first time Mabus has helped to lead the Saturday night community sing, and he’s been a part of almost every festival since its inception in 2003. According to the musician, picking the right songs to sing isn’t exactly rocket science, but it’s a task he doesn’t take lightly.
No song is off limits, but don’t ask him to sing any Sonny and Cher.
“We don’t repeat songs from year to year,” Mabus said. “Since the sing along falls on Groundhog’s Day, I almost considered leading Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe,’ the song Bill Murray came to hate on the radio every day in the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ but I thought better of it once I tried singing it.”
Sonny and Cher aside, Mabus is looking forward to engaging the audience and sharing the stage with Schmidt and Rogers.
He’s also quick to point out that although the weekend features some amazing musicians, the music itself is the main star.
“From the beginning, the Mid-Winter Singing and Folk Festival is not about ‘stars.’ The stars are the songs, and every song is a sing-along with the lyrics printed for everyone and the lights up.”
Other highlights of the festival will include numerous workshops highlighted by folk-duo The Catbird Seat (Kay Rinker-O’Neil and Wanda Degen), and Ben Hassenger, who will lead a ukulele 101 workshop on Saturday afternoon. There’s also a Children’s Concert scheduled for Saturday morning at 11:00, which will be led by Sally Rogers.
Claudia Schmidt and spoken word artist, Ruelaine Stokes, will present a Saturday afternoon workshop, “Finding the Healing Music of Poetry.”
Other workshops will be led by Mary Sue Wilkinson, Lori Fithian, and Jean Chorazyczewski.
Tickets for the concert and community sing are $20 for the general public, $18 for Lansing Area Folk Song Society members, and $5 for students.
The Children’s Concert is free, and a ticket good for all of the workshops is $20.
More information about this year’s festival is available at singingfestival.com.