This is how summer ends

The main stage at twilight, Wheatland 2014.


I don’t know about you, but for me, summer doesn’t end with Labor Day, or the first day of school. It ends this weekend, on an old farm in mid-Michigan, where my family, family-by-choice, and 15,000 of our closest friends gather for a weekend of camping, making music, and listening to music.

The author and his wife.

The Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, MI, has become our end-of-summer tradition since we first went with friends in 2009. While this is my family’s sixth Wheatland, some in our group have been going since 1975, the festival’s second year. Our camp now boasts three generations of native “Wheaties,” as attendees are known.

For 41 years now, the Wheatland Music Organization, has been dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and showcasing the richness of traditional music and dance. This isn’t Burning Man or Bonaroo. This is a folk festival in the best sense of the word, because the people at the festival are as much the musical fabric of the weekend as are the performers that grace the stages.

Guitars and new songs at camp.

At our camp we have guitars, banjos, fiddles, Irish flute and whistle, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, upright bass, and the best harmony our voices, liberally lubricated with whiskey and coffee, can put together. While the official Sunday morning gospel sing is at the main stage, we pregame it with a camp sing of our own.

Our numbers are a little diminished this year with some cherished members of camp missing for health reasons. It’s the second year now without our daughter, down in college in Tennessee.  And it’s likely the last one for a while for our son, who will himself head off to college at the end of this year.

The advance party for our group set off in the predawn darkness this morning to line up so that when the festival gates open they can claim our traditional camping spot and begin to lay out the dimensions of our home for the next two days. I’ll be bringing up the rear this year, hitting the road for the two-hour drive north as soon I’m done teaching for the day. By the time I get there the tents will be up, the camp kitchen organized, the instruments will be out, and the whiskey will be flowing.

I will have some catching up to do.

Happy end of summer.