The Blissfest Music Organization’s mission is to preserve traditions and promote innovators of American and world music, arts and sustainable living through performance, education and community participation.
The Blissfest Music Organization is a non-profit educational and performing arts organization based in Northwest Lower Michigan, which has been in existence since 1981. The Blissfest provides year round folk arts programming in Emmet County including its annual festival at the Blissfest Festival Farm located near Cross Village, Ml. The organization is affiliated with the National Folk Alliance Organization, as well as other Michigan-based non-profit folk arts organizations. Blissfest accepts charitable donations and is an IRS designated tax exempt organization.
The term “American roots music” may not be a familiar one, and requires some explanation. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the term “folk music” was used by scholars to describe music made by whites of European ancestry, often in the relatively isolated rural South. As the century progressed, the definition of folk music expanded to include the song styles – particularly the blues – of Southern blacks as well. In general, folk music was viewed as a window into the cultural life of these groups. Folk songs communicated the hopes, sorrows and convictions of ordinary people’s everyday lives. Increasingly, music made by other groups of Americans such as Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Cajuns came under the umbrella of “folk music.” It was sung in churches, on front porches, in the fields and other workplaces, while rocking children to sleep, and at parties. The melodies, words and dance styles were passed down from parent to child, though songs – and their meanings – often changed to reflect changing times. In the 1960s, awareness of folk songs and musicians grew, and popular musicians began to draw on folk music as an artistic source as never before. “Folk music” then became a form of popular music itself, popularized by singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan, who helped pioneer the intimate, often acoustic performing style that echoed that of community-based folk musicians. Music writers, scholars and fans began to look for new ways to describe the diverse array of musical styles still being sung and played in communities across America, though most often not heard on radios. The term “roots music” is now used to refer to this broad range of musical genres, which include blues, gospel, traditional country, zydeco, tejano, and native American pow-wow. PBS has a wonderful website that provides an excellent look into roots music at www.pbs.org.
Blissfest is part of the second wave of the folk revival started in the early seventies. Blissfest initially developed from a small arts club called the Spectrum Center which was located above the Grain Train in Petoskey. It was a center for local artists, folk musicians, dancers, and movie buffs to gather. The idea for the Blissfest music festival started as a joint fund-raising effort between the Spectrum Center and an alternative school in Bliss, Michigan, called the Bliss School. Blissfest seemed the only logical name for the event. The first Blissfest was held for one day under a big maple tree in a potato farmer’s fallow field in Bliss Township in the summer of 1981. That first festival was followed by many others; at first rotating with the farmer’s available fallow field, finally ending up at our current permanent location, the Blissfest Festival Farm.