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Look for the red sweater: Sally Potter leads Holiday Sing

Ten Pound Fiddle's annual Holiday Sing, organized by Sally Potter, returns Friday to the MSU Community Music School.

Dec. 15

Ten Pound Fiddle’s annual Holiday Sing, organized by Sally Potter, returns Friday to the MSU Community Music School

Local musician and folk music promoter Sally Potter is no ivory tower musician. She keeps busy recording, teaching and performing throughout the year, spreading the inclusive gospel of folk music, but she reaches her egalitarian apex when she hosts the annual Holiday Sing at the Ten Pound Fiddle.

Everyone in the audience, of all talent levels and ages, gets to sing along. “Everybody sings — and I mean everybody,” she said, sounding as if she were waving two six-shooters.

In a way, she is. Potter leads the show, sings and plays banjo as well as a 12-string guitar she rarely plays in public.

The first half of the show is more kidfriendly; the rest is just plain friendly.

Potter is never shy about coaxing people to sing, but nothing pre-shrinks peoples’ inhibitions like holiday music.

“It’s my favorite gig of the year. It’s really fun to put this on,” she said.

It’s an old-fashioned program with lots of seasonal songs on the set list. “We will sing a lot of the old hymns — the favorites that everybody sings,” she said.

However, every year, Potter peppers the pot with four or five obscure holiday tunes, music aficionado that she is. One obscure tune she is preparing for Friday’s show is called “Once in Royal David’s City.”

A vocalist and banjo player, Potter, 57, has been a fixture in the roots music scene since the mid-’80s, including a stint with the popular group Second Opinion from 1989 to 2001.

Organizing the popular public Holiday Sing for the 15th time is just one of her many roles. Her day job is teaching economics and civics at Williamston High School. She said it’s a demanding career, but she can always find time for music.

Her five CDs include 2005’s “It’s About Time,” a duo LP featuring Pat Madden. Although the Holiday Sing is not yet sung, Potter is already looking forward to recording a solo album this summer.

“Summer is the only time I get to do major projects,” she said.

She also makes time to perform solo shows, but only “a couple a year,” she said.

Potter said is more active as a singer with the Arts Chorale of Greater Lansing and as a producer of musical events locally and for other communities, including the Holiday Sing. She’s booked countless concerts for the Ten Pound Fiddle’s extensive folk concert and dance series, now in its 45th year.

Potter said past Holiday Sings has drawn “standing room only” crowds at the 200- seat Unitarian Church in East Lansing. This year’s sing-along is at the 300-seat MSU Community Music School. Potter expects to fill that house, too, and has enough 300-lyric sheets at the ready.

Neill Campbell, the featured pianist, has performed across the United States and internationally. For the past two years, he was the resident artist at Shreveport Opera.

Getting vocalist Lindsay Snyder was an easy matter, and not just because Snyder teaches choir and drama at Williamston High, where Potter teaches. Snyder is dating Campbell, and Potter describes the tight-knit musical duo as a team.

“She has a wonderful soprano voice,” said Potter. Snyder will sing a solo during the program, which runs 16 to 20 songs in length.

Hammered dulcimer player Doug Berch is an award-winning musician who has been featured on a stack of albums and soundtracks and recorded several of his own. In 1983, Berch seriously brought down the hammer, winning both the National Hammered Dulcimer Championship and the National Mountain Dulcimer Championship. “To win both is outrageous,” Potter said.

Local poet Ruelaine Stokes completes the Holiday Sing line-up. “She’s a marvelous spoken word artist,” Potter said. “Instead of all music, she’ll break it up a couple of times.”

December is no time to innovate.

The Holiday Sing is soaked in tradition, including Potter’s own personal rituals of many years standing. “I always wear my red sweater, my mom’s silver earrings and a bracelet I got from my grandfather,” Potter said. “It’s the same every year.”


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