Captain Fiddle Music

Ryan and Brennish


Wheatland Folk Festival,  1997

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Wheatland Folk Festival

Remus, Michigan, USA, September 5-7 1997

By Ryan Thomson

The Wheatland Music Organization is a non-profit organization governed by a volunteer

Board of Directors. They produce an annual folk festival which always takes place the

weekend after Labor Day. This year was the 24th annual family festival, and my first time to


I was extremely impressed with how well the festival was organized. The program guide was

one of the most informative I've seen, and the internationally known performers were of

the highest quality. Best of all, the 15,000 attendees are so well provided for, that the

huge popularity of the event caused all tickets to be sold out more than a month before

the festival.

A large group of red shirted volunteers helps out with the 1001 tasks that go into producing

a major festival. The staff is sort of like a large extended family, with a unified goal of

preservation and presentation of traditional music and arts. Besides the festival itself, the

Wheatland organization provides educational programs and scholarship funds throughout

the year.

The festival itself is on the grounds(now owned by the organization) of a former farm, with

large fields for motor camping, and a beautiful wooded area for tenting. Everyone comes

for the duration, (2 1/2 days) of camping, and there is a choice of bringing your own food,

or purchasing tasty meals at the dining building. There are lots of portable restrooms,

plentiful water supply(but no showers), and well marked and maintained pathways between

the various camping and performance areas. Handicapped parking and camping areas are


The festival features the best arrangement and selection of kids activities of any major

festival I've ever attended. Not only is there a children's stage and play area, but a virtual

factory for the hands-on construction of toys such as bug houses, face painting, and other

crafts. I got a real kick out of periodically visiting the children's area to see such things as a

native American dancer and singer, numerous sand castles being built, and to watch kids

assemble Dreamcatchers.

Several stage areas featured continuous and simultaneous concerts, dances, and workshops

throughout the day and evening. The continuous activity kept me wandering throughout

the several hundred acre site, so as to not miss anything. There was a special Saturday

night dance/concert for teens from 10 pm - 1 am which featured a rocking celtic/

contemporary band. The audience area was packed for this show, and I was happy to see

that the organizers had provided for this segment of the festival population.

Some large festivals cater mostly to concert audiences, but Wheatland (to their great

credit) also provides generously for music making within the ranks of the attendees. There

were workshops on fiddle, banjo, hammered dulcimer, whistle, guitar, accordion,

harmonica, dobro, dance, and more. Through out the camp ground were jams with just

about any style of ethnic or traditional music one might wish to play. Late night jams went

on in several locations with the exception of drumming, which was limited to the hours of

noon to 10 pm.

Events at the dancing area went from 5:30 pm to 2:30 am on Friday night, and resumed

Saturday morning at 9 am with yoga and stretching, finishing up at 2:30 am, started up at 9

am Sunday, and finished at around 5 pm. Participatory dance styles included: squares,

contras, cajun, Tejano, swing, family dance(kids and adults!), appalachian clogging

instruction, French canadian step dancing, and a "Texas swing" dance with Johnny Gimble's


On Saturday morning I visited the dining hall for breakfast and encountered an informal

group of fiddlers, banjoists and other instrumental music makers inside. Despite being

hungry I couldn't resist pulling out my own fiddle to join them. After about 45 minutes of

playing some fine old time tunes, I was informed that I could join the food line for a

complimentary breakfast! What a nice touch to show appreciation for musicians and such a

contrast to other festivals where I've been asked not to play in similar situations.

Other special festival features included: tables provided for gas stoves in special cooking

areas in the campground, a ban on public drunkeness, free shuttle service to a nearby town

for supplies, a ban on amplified music, workers available 24 hours a day at 6 "safety

stations" to handle any problems that might arise, vendor areas with instruments, recorded

music, and supplies, medical personel, recycling containers, jam session areas with

benches, and lots of friendly greetings with the words "happy wheatland," to festival goers!

For more information visit The Wheatland Music Organization web site.

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1997