Wednesday, January 14, 1998
Reprinted with permission of
The Detroit News
Musical jams have flowery start
Amateur musicians share their talent. 'It's a cheap night out with
lots of good music'
By Craig Garrett / The Detroit
It started as a flower celebration.
Nearly nine years later, the East River Folk Society's
monthly gatherings in Wyandotte have blossomed into the place for downriver's
musical crowd to fiddle, strum, warble, whistle and harmonize.
"It's a cheap night out with lots of good music," said
Leigh Rowland, the nonprofit society's president and a group member
since 1990. "We have a riot."
The East River Folk Society took root in 1989 during the
Grosse Ile Azalea Festival. The idea was for island friends to share
their musical and singing talents at semiregular stage sessions, Rowland
The rule was that only acoustic instruments could be played.
People were hauling out mandolins, autoharps, dulcimers, guitars, wind
instruments and fiddles.
It also was the first time many amateur musicians played
before a group.
"It takes a lot of guts (to get on stage)," said Julie
Fountain, a group member who alternately serves as a monthly society
host and a folk singer. "But the thrill is watching people grow."
Word spread quickly, and monthly coffeehouse performances
were moved in 1995 to Wyandotte's First Presbyterian Church.
Open microphone sessions on Saturday typically involve
about a dozen solo and group acts that include players, singers, poets
and storytellers. Performances are limited to 15 minutes, or three songs,
to keep things moving.
Performers must show up by 6 p.m. for a 7 p.m. session,
and they stay busy setting up chairs and tables. Because the group's
informal reputation is alluring to many amateurs, musicians and singers
from as far away as Toledo and Ann Arbor are showing up at the door.
"We never know who's coming or what they're going to play,"
Rowland said. "We just know that it's going to be fun."
Rowland said some interesting people have performed. One
man last year propped his 8-year-old son on a stool with the boy's guitar.
The youngster played "amazing" classical guitar, she said.
Other regulars are popular performers who meet up at a
Trenton nightclub after the coffeehouse closes. "We just jam," Fountain
Of course, the occasional knucklehead shows up at the
coffeehouse: One man who had too much to drink tried passing himself
off as a nightclub singer or a karaoke star.
"He used curse words, and we asked him not to come back,"
Rowland said. "This is a family thing."
Time to jam
The East River Folk Society meets the second Saturday
of every month from September through June.
The church is at 2250 Oak St., Wyandotte. There is a $4
donation at the door.