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TOLEDO MAGAZINE

Womyn’s Rite: Annual Michigan Fest roared for 40 years

  • MAG-MichFest

    Women give thanks to the land during the opening ceremony at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

    The Blade/Lori King
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  • MAG-MichFest-1

    Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival founder Lisa Vogel.

    The Blade/Lori King
    Buy This Image

MAG-MichFest

Women give thanks to the land during the opening ceremony at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

MAG-MichFest-1

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival founder Lisa Vogel.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

HART, Mich. — “Welcome home!”

It is a familiar greeting gleefully shouted out to every woman and child who entered the front gate to the beloved land of the annual Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival each August.

But sadly, after 40 years of women coming together to camp in the woods and listen to live music, “welcome home” will now be memorialized on our festival clothing and in our memories.

Photo gallery from the festival.

It was announced months before the fest began Aug. 4 that this year would be the last.

Mich Fest, a six-day music festival held in a deciduous forest near Hart, Mich., was the brainchild of Michigan native Lisa Vogel.

Vogel was 19 years old in 1976 when she created a safe space on a small parcel of land in western Michigan for women who loved music, nature, and each other. Even the spelling change from woman to womyn in the festival title was in solidarity with the growing feminist movement in the 1970s.

 

In 1982 the fest moved to its current location, which is 650 acres of reclaimed sand dunes that was once covered with a mile of ice during the Glacial Age.

That first fest drew 8,000 attendees, according to Margaret Flowing Johnson, who originally designed the pedestrian, asphalt, and nature trails using a compass.

Over the years Ms. Flowing Johnson has educated thousands of women on the ecology and development of the land during her two-hour Land Walk tours along Easy Street, a wood-chipped trail that snakes through the center of the camping area.

“The festival has grown organically as needs arose. We wanted the fest to be accessible to everyone, and be ecologically friendly,” she said  during one of her final tours as she pointed out aging maple trees and identified various kinds of ferns.

By design, Mich Fest has evolved into a communal village that is built by women for women.

The land was completely void of structures and human inhabitants most of the year. But about a month before each fest began, volunteer women work crews arrived to build the village before the first camper pitched her tent.

Workers erected large tents; installed a landline phone bank, electrical outlets, and even outdoor shower heads attached to swing set structures; and pulled the shuttle tractors and buses out of the storage barns. They stocked the stores and kitchens. And, of course, the workers built the three large stages for the musicians, poets, comedians, and dancers who are the heart and soul of Mich Fest.

What has made this temporary village so successful over the past 40 years was a sense of being a part of an authentic community for women only.

This year, an estimated 7,000 women came from every state and many countries for the camaraderie and the music.

Other highlights of the festival included movie nights, parades, intensive workshops, and the Crafts Bazaar, where artisans from across the country sold their handmade ceramic, glass, graphic, fiber art, jewelry, and wooden wares.

“The beginning of the women’s music culture started here. We, the collective sisterhood, have done this for 40 years, and that’s truly amazing,” said Gina Mercurio, a longtime Mich Fest vendor and Toledo resident, who is the owner of People Called Women Bookstore in Sylvania Township.

“Of course, there’s going to be grieving and sadness, but we’re all going to have memories and take them with us,” she lamented.

“We are not going to let it go. Something else will reincarnate here, and it will rise again. I have no doubt about that.”

Contact Lori King at: loriking@theblade.com.

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