For Laura Lewis, traveling the world with a clogging troupe was akin to collecting stamps on a passport that would later become the blueprint for the Lake Erie Folk Fest.
“When I was touring with the Fiddle Puppet Dancers, we went to folk festivals all over the world,” says Lewis. “Backstage, all of the performers would get together and start jamming, and it was such a cool exchange of different music traditions. I’m grateful to have had that experience, and I call on it now in planning the Lake Erie Folk Fest.”
Indeed—from Tuvan throat singers to stepping to bluegrass, the various lineups featured at the Lake Erie Folk Fest since its founding year in 2016 have certainly reflected Lewis’ colorful travels and discoveries. Slated for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22, at Shore Cultural Centre in Euclid, this year’s installment promises to follow suit.
Headliners include Brazilian singer-songwriter Luca Mundaca, Eastern European group Harmonia, the Irish-American Club Eastside Pipe Band, and the Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word—all of whom are locally based.
“While we typically have one or two headliners from outside of Northeast Ohio, the others are from right here in Cleveland,” says Lewis, who serves as the festival's artistic director. “I look for really authentic expressions of different cultures, with a mixture of familiar and new.”
The festivities kick off Feb. 21 with an educational workshop for students and a bluegrass band lab led by North Carolina-based Carolina Blue. On Feb. 22, an array of free workshops, performances, and programs will be offered from 1 to 6 p.m.—ranging from swing dance lessons to a special performance by the Euclid High School drumline. A grand finale concert featuring the aforementioned performers caps off the event Saturday evening.
"Our goal is to educate people and expose people to new things," says Lewis. "That's why we keep the Saturday workshops free, in order to make folk music as accessible to as many people as possible. The programming is geared at anyone from experienced musicians to those who just want to listen and observe."
This year marks the fifth go-round for the Lake Erie Folk Fest, which is produced as a collaboration between Northeast Ohio Musical Heritage Association and Shore Cultural Centre—and powered by a passionate board and more than 60 volunteers. According to Lewis, the festival helps fill the gap that was created when the popular Kent State Folk Festival (also held every February) ceased operations in 2013.
“The Kent State festival was a long-standing tradition, and when it went defunct, it left a hole in our folk community," says Lewis. “Right from the get-go, Lake Erie Folk Fest had the community's support, and it's a great way for folks to get together."