There is no doubt blues and bluegrass music were born in rustic shacks and juke joints peppered across the Deep South and Appalachian Region over 100 years ago.
However, during the 1940s and ‘50s, some of those hard-living songwriters traveled north to Michigan, often in search of work. One of those legendary bluesmen was Mississippi-born Big Bill Broonzy, who landed in Delton at the Circle Pines Center, a summer camp and retreat and host of the upcoming Second Annual Buttermilk Jamboree music fest.
The renowned country-blues guitarist and vocalist worked in the Circle Pines Center kitchen from 1953 to 1956.
A folk legend paid Broonzy a surprise visit at the center on July 4, 1957.
“When Big Bill Broonzy was a staff member, Pete Seeger visited him here,” said Danielle Hoskins, a festival organizer. “There was a famous jam session they had on the steps of the farm house, which is still here. There’s a lot of history here.”
That footage shot by Seeger (and now posted on YouTube) was the last time Broonzy ever sang. The next day he had throat surgery in an effort to combat cancer. He died Aug. 15, 1958. But Broonzy’s musical spirit lives on at Circle Pines Center, which has been a nonprofit since 1938.
“Circle Pines Center has a pretty rich background of hosting musical guests and having an interest in the folk roots, so the Buttermilk Jamboree isn’t much of a stretch,” Hoskins said.
The three-day, family friendly fest features nearly 40 performers on two stages. The roster includes Funkadesi, The Ragbirds, The Macpodz, Seth Bernard & May Erlewine, Covert, Delilah De Wylde & the Lost Boys, Claudia Schmidt, Ralston Bowles, Grupo Aye, The Crane Wives and more. While there is a heavy emphasis on Americana, there is also some pop, jam-bands and hip hop.
Rachel Zegerius, a Buttermilk Jamboree organizer and Circle Pines program director, said the stretch of land the fest is held on (approximately an hour-and-a-half from Lansing) should please nature lovers.
“It’s at a rural retreat center on 300 acres of rolling hills — we’re in the woods,” Zegerius explained.
“There’s a lake with access to swimming. It’s set up as a summer camp, so it has a lot of unique character. There are cabins for rent on the property. We have showers and toilets. We have an apple orchard and a lake. We have a large forested section as well.”
Aside from music, the fest will also host workshops each day.
“Circle Pines Center is an educational retreat center with a mission to teach peace and social justice, environmental stewardship and cooperation,” Zegerius said. “That mission is woven throughout the festival with several workshops on each day. Some of the workshops include vermiculture, papermaking and woodcarving, all interactive workshops. There will also be songwriting, ukulele and world percussion workshops, as well as information on co-ops and the fracking issue.”
In fact, educational workshops are what helped brand the Buttermilk Jamboree with its peculiar name.
“We came up with that name because we’d just finished this goat milk and cheesemaking workshop,” Zegerius recalled.
“We were making buttermilk, yogurt and other cultured-milk products. The next day we had a brainstorming session about what to name the festival. We were talking about the goals of the festival, and wanting to create cultural connections. Tom VanHammen, our director, came up with it.
“We have three dairy goats on the property and we’ve woven that into the artwork,” she added. “We almost have a goat mascot at this point.”
Friday, June 8 -Sunday, June 10
Circle Pines Center
8650 Mullen Road, Delton
$70 weekend pass for adults; $10 children under 15 (price includes onsite camping)