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Wednesday, February 1,2012

Make your own kind of music

Everyone gets a chance to be part of the chorus in annual Singing Festival

by Rich Tupica
When upwards of 500 people meet at the Hannah Community Center to simultaneously and brazenly sing their hearts out, the result is an enormous wave of sound. 

Each year the Ten Pound Fiddle hosts the Mid-Winter Singing Festival, along with help from “song leaders,” who keep things moving from the stage. All skill levels are welcome to show up, grab a lyric book and shamelessly belt it out. 

Event organizer Sally Potter said the festival, celebrating its 10th year, isn’t an ordinary performance-style concert: It’s all about audience interaction. 

“There’s nothing like connecting with people when you’re sharing the same sound,” Potter said. “When you’re making the same sound at the same time, it’s powerful. When you sit in the Hannah Community Center with all these people, and these wonderful song leaders on stage, they’re not performing — they’re song-leading.

“This festival gives you permission to sing, no matter how good you are. It encourages you to sing all the words to every song. The sound is immense, it’s very moving.”

This year’s two-day event kicks off Friday with Suzy Bogguss appearing as a song leader. Bogguss is a platinum-selling country star who’s also a Grammy and Country Music Awards winner. On Saturday night, local song leaders include Joel Mabus, Pat Madden, Frank Youngman and Mark Dvorak, along with help from choir director Rachel Alexander. 

As for the songs, Potter said, “People will know ‘em, they’ll love ‘em.” Fiddle organizers have amassed a 42-page lyric book filled with songs by James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, John Hartford, Leonard Cohen, Pete Seeger and more.    

As for Bogguss, during a phone interview the Illinois-born songwriter said she’ll lead the audience on some of her ‘90s country hits and tunes from her 2011 album, “American Folk Songbook,” which meshes perfectly with the singing festival’s motif.

The 55-year-old songwriter said she decided to record stripped-down folk classics in hopes of introducing them to a younger audience. 

“I was on tour with Garrison Keillor of ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ and he picked out one of the old folk songs I remember from my fifth-grade songbook for a sing-a-long,” Bogguss recalled. “Everybody who was 30 or younger didn’t know the words, and it made me think about losing some of these songs.”

As for her part in the Mid-Winter Singing Festival, Bogguss said it’s all new to her.

“I’ve never done anything like this before and it sounds really fun,” Bogguss said. “They’ll have basically all the lyrics for every song in order, which I hope I can hold myself to because I’m one of those people that sort of fights complacency. I don’t really know what to expect except that my players are fantastic and people will get to see some great musicians as well as a sing-a-long.”

After a decade of hosting annual group sings, Potter said the festival draws fans from as far away as Chicago, Ontario and Cleveland.

“Each year we get a few more people coming,” Potter said. “It’s a transient community, it’s a university community, so people leave town — but they’re replaced by new fans. We’re noticing more and more people from out of town are finding us.” 

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