Hart Ford
Hart Ford

The Nor-East’r returns

By Kirk Rogers

OSCODA COUNTY – The greatly anticipated 18th annual Nor-East’r Music and Arts Festival returned to Oscoda County June 10. The gathering, canceled the previous two years out of concerns over the COVID pandemic, was selected in a 2020 survey by readers of Local Spins as the number three music festival in Michigan.

The lineup included some 30 acts for a total of 66 scheduled performances over the three full days.

In addition to the live music there were open-mic events, yoga, and workshops in songwriting, guitar, and dance. An active Jam Tent was provided for performers and festival goers alike. As always, a highlight of Nor-East’r weekend was the Guitars for Kids, a guitar giveaway started in 2003 by festival patron Craig Carrick, as a way to help nurture the next generation in appreciating and playing music.

This year, as in every year since its inception, the festival was held in the heavily wooded Oscoda County Fairgrounds between Fairview and Mio in rural northern Michigan, a perfect place for music and camping, some three hours north of the hustle and bustle of metros Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Unlike many other music festivals around the state and country, the Nor-East’r has musicians performing simultaneously on three different stages, the Main Stage, The Parlor, and the Schoolhouse.

The Main Stage, as the name implies, is the largest of the three stages, capable of seating hundreds of music lovers, with good sight lines, ample shade, and easy access to food, art and merchandise vendors. The Parlor Stage provides a coffee house type atmosphere.

The final stage, The Schoolhouse Stage, receives its name honestly and is a hidden gem in Michigan music. It is located within the walls of a relocated and refurbished one-room schoolhouse that closed nearly a century ago. The acoustics within the Schoolhouse are spectacular. It is a favorite for musicians and fans alike providing both crystal clear resonance as well as a quaint atmosphere. Front row seats, only a few feet from the performers, are coveted.

By all accounts, the return of the festival from the pandemic was greatly needed and appreciated. Dan Swartzendruber, a music lover and supporter of the festival from Fairview said “I like to support the festival because it adds to the quality of life for those who live in the area. Where else would people go for this type of world class music? They’d have to travel for hours, and we have it available to us right here.”

This year’s festival also represented a figurative passing of the torch. During its two-year COVID absence, the founder of the event, Buffy Bills had moved to Arizona. Another key piece of the festival’s organization team, Craig Carrick, the person who for years had recruited festival performers, had decided to retire.

Much of the organizing of the relaunched festival fell to Nor-East’r board member Lisa Jacob, who stepped into the Presidency after Bills’ departure.

Carrick, being the proprietor of a small performance venue in his home town of Lake Orion, was uniquely plugged into the Michigan music scene with contacts throughout the entire region.

Eric Janetsky was one such contact. Several years ago, Janetsky, a multi-instrumentalist himself and a member of The Lucky Nows, was toying with the idea of developing his own small music stage in Flushing, just west of Flint.

It was only natural that Janetsky would approach Carrick for input and advice in planning his new venue. Already well acquainted through their musical roots, their friendship grew throughout the process, and with Carrick contemplating his retirement, he in turn approached Janetsky and asked if he would consider taking over his responsibility of recruiting musical talent to the Nor-east’r.

It was not the easiest decision to make, but ultimately Janetsky’s love of music, his friendship with Carrick, and with the strong encouragement of his wife, Janetsky jumped in with both feet.

With daily life having been altered so significantly during much of the previous two years, restarting the recruiting process had its fair share of hiccups. Some bands had broken up. Some had moved. Some had other commitments.

However, the well-established reputation of the Nor-East’r within the Michigan music community proved to be a great recruiting tool. Performers from previous years were thrilled to see the event reemerge from the pandemic. Janetsky, in turn, reached out to his contacts and the program took shape.

There were some last day cancellations that caused some scrambling on the part of Janetsky, and the weather for parts of Saturday brought waves of rain that chased the ill-prepared back to their tents. Despite those inconveniences, the festival, judging by its attendance and applause, was a success.

On Sunday morning, the final day of the festival, with much of the stress having been relieved by the great turnout and enthusiastic crowd, Janetsky reflected on the festival.

For Janetsky, a big concern in taking over his new Nor-East’r responsibilities was to honor his friend. “I want Craig to feel as if the Nor-East’r is in good hands after his retirement. That would make me feel good.”

After a well-deserved break for the remainder of June and the month of July, Janetsky got back into the recruiting mode for next year. And, in a development that might make some of that recruiting a bit easier, several of this year’s performers have already shown an interest in returning to the north woods for next year’s festival.

In the future there are plans to broaden the reach of the festival and bring in more nationally known performers.  Janetsky hopes to make this possible by qualifying for some of the many grants that are available to the arts community–an avenue that to this point has only contributed a small portion of the festival’s funds.

The 2023 Nor-East’r, as always, is scheduled for the 2nd weekend in June.

It was greatly missed. It is greatly anticipated.

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