MQT's biggest music fest is the Hiawatha Music Festival, a 35-year traditional music gathering happening this weekend (July 19-21) at Tourist Park. The festival is one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest and brings in people from all over the country, but locals still have ways to impact the most unique festivals in MQT.
Three main local acts are taking various stages at the festival. The Door Cats, Sparrow Tree and Corrinne Rockow will be spread out among the main stage, teen scene and children's stage respectively, but all three acts are from the greater MQT area.
“We had to present that our musicianship was right on par with everyone else,” guitarist and songwriter for Sparrow Tree Troy Graham said. “We can't just say 'we're local' and get in. We have to have to get our A-game on.”
The five-member Sparrow Tree plays mostly bluegrass music, but come from an eclectic music background of different kinds of rock and heavy metal. Three of the five come from MQT, including Graham, mandolin player Sam Graves and bass player Gretchen McKenzie. McKenzie will be attending Berklee School of Music in Boston in the fall.
The Door Cats are composed of Kerry Yost on guitar, Rebecca Rucinski on Cello and Marcella Krupski on vocals. As a group, they have played at different spots around MQT like the Ore Dock Brewing Co. and Krupski and Rucinski often join Yost during her solo acts on Sunday nights in the Northstar Lounge of the Landmark Inn. Rockow also plays in different locations around town and will play as part of the Presque Isle band shell nights during the summer.
Hiawatha is also unique by being the only festival in MQT that has an active camping community. With other major festivals like Blues Fest or Art on the Rocks at Lower Harbor, there isn't room for campers to spend the night at the festival like the ample campground of Tourist Park. According to Director of the Hiawatha Music Co-op Susan Divine, a “few thousand” will spend the nights at the park, often bringing their own instruments to play.
“You can walk around the camp with your instrument day or night and sit down and join a jam session,” Divine said. “ It's where some of the best music can be heard.”
Most of those jam sessions can be heard near the party sections of Tourist Park, as most campers seem to understand that family friendly areas should stay family friendly. Divine said that certain families have been coming for generations and use the festival as a reunion, while other people such as Graham have been coming to Hiawatha since he was roughly four years old. This unique set up of microcommunities will be studied this year by a team from the University of Michigan going to many different kinds of festivals throughout the summer.
However, festival hierarchies won't damper the campsite jamming as the headlining acts and local favorites will often join in with the festival goers of different skill levels.
“People who play here have real talent, but are real people,” Graham said. “They will come right off the stage, grab a beer and pick a little with you.”