Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on March 20, 2014

I have blogged recently about the idea of sacred space and sacred places, and somewhere in there I promised to share my thoughts on what the fact means to me that Michigan's lower peninsula is surrounded by 21% of all the fresh water in the world, and sits on the largest deposit of salt on this planet (30,000 trillion tons). What follows is just my opinion, so take it with a grain of Michigan rock salt. And Michigan being musical does not mean other places are not, and so on.

I have been an astrologer for something like 50 years, so I have learned that water is connected to the planet Neptune, and that Neptune also rules music, so I end up connecting Michigan + Water (Neptune) + Salt (Yang) = Powerful Music in Michigan. If I then add the traditional concept from India that whatever land is enclosed within a peninsula is sacred, I end up with Michigan possibly being a special or spiritual place for music to appear in the world. Of course, I already believe this is so because I have seen it with my own eyes, and I am not the only observer.

In the late 1930's, the great folklorist Alan Lomax spent considerable time in Michigan completing a survey of the folk music of the Great Lakes region, recording traditional music in both the lower and upper peninsulas – and of many nationalities. He would later write that Michigan and the Great Lakes area is, and I quote, "the most fertile source" of American folklore that he had encountered. That statement confirmed my own intuition that music and Michigan indeed are some kind of special combination. For myself, I already knew this to be the case.

We can't overlook such massive Michigan music phenomena such as Motown, the magical Interlochen Center for the Arts, the world-renowned Elderly Instruments store in Lansing, and The Ark in Ann Arbor, one of perhaps two folk venues in the entire country that has persevered with excellence since the 1960s. And there are other examples I am sure, like the powerful jazz scene in Detroit years ago.

And since my ego likes to find how "Michael Erlewine" fits into any situation (if I can), it is not lost on me that the largest music database-site in the world is the All-Music Guide (allmusic.com), which was founded by yours truly here in tiny Big Rapids, Michigan, right in the middle of the mitten. But that is not the end of it either.

This remains true today that Michigan continues to be musically fertile; there is the Earthwork Music Collective right in my own backyard, which I happen to be involved in. This group of 30-something-year-olds is and has been a major musical force in Michigan and the Midwest, and continues to be, which brings me to my plan.

I have to admit that I have been a bit at sea since I "retired" as to exactly what to do with the tail-end of this string of events I call my life. Sure enough, out of the ashes of my retirement, phoenix-like, arises this desire to make a short documentary on Michigan and music, starting perhaps with some indigenous music, then sharing some of the great music that folklorist Alan Lomax found and recorded, followed by taking a magical mystery tour of some of the Michigan music legends (as mentioned above), and ending in the present day with the very important work of the Earthwork Music Collective, in which some of my own family is involved. This should keep me busy.

My son Michael Andrew (and perhaps some others) are joining me in this effort, and the folks at the Library of Congress Alan Lomax Archive have offered to be of help. Hopefully such a film may help bring a greater awareness of Michigan music, and also highlight what today's younger musicians in our area are doing right now. It will also serve to get me out of the house after this winter of my discontent.

Suggestions are welcome.

NOTE: I also will be doing what I can to inform readers of the various projects that the Library of Congress and the Alan Lomax Archive, headed up by Todd Harvey, are offering this year, which include a wonderful "singing" e-book (with text and videos) called "Michigan-I-O," a series of podcasts entitled "Alan Lomax and the Soundscapes of the Upper Midwest 75th Anniversary of the Library of Congress Folk-Song expedition to Michigan," and a traveling exhibit "Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression." More details on the Lomax Archive are here: