Getting the Band Back Together

Getting the Band Back Together

Song of the Lakes releases first album in over a decade

Have you ever read Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Holling? It is a 1941 children’s book about a Native American boy from Lake Nipigon, Canada, way up near the top of Lake Superior, who carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe, then sets it free to travel the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. The boy bestows the name “Paddle-to-the-Sea” upon the little Indian in the canoe, and the book provides an excellent geographic and historical picture of the region through text and illustrations.

The book now has a musical score, performed by voices that should be familiar to Benzie County.

Song of the Lakes is a folk and roots band, made up of Ingemar and Lisa Johannson, Mike Sullivan, and Rick Jones. The band has serenaded Northern Michigan for 33 years and is releasing its first album in 12 years—an homage to Paddle-to-the-Sea. Song of the Lakes will officially unveil its new project on Saturday, February 27, at 7 p.m. at the Traverse City Opera House.

How The Project Came About

Several years ago, Song of the Lakes performed at the Manitou Music Festival’s popular annual concert at the foot of the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb. After the concert, over libations at Art’s Tavern—the place where most official business gets done in Glen Arbor—festival director Deb Fayroian suggested that Song of the Lakes consider writing music for her favorite children’s book. Some of the band members already knew the story, having read it to their own children, and those who had not previously known the book soon fell in love with it.

“The story fit in with the band’s mission to sing the praises of the Great Lakes and to spread joy,” says Ingemar Johansson, who sings and plays stringed instruments like guitars, mandolin, and the Swedish nyckelharpa (keyfiddle) for Song of the Lakes.

Fayroian arranged a concert the following summer around the Paddle project, and the band decided to make it their newest album—the first since they released “Poets Say” in 2004.

“I think this is a return to our earlier sound,” says Sullivan, who plays guitar. “Simple storytelling, yet it also reflects the musical forms we’ve been exposed to in our travels over the past decade. Each song reflects a different aspect of Paddle’s journey, and each song represents a different musical form.”

“It’s an interesting position to be in, to make music to somebody else’s story,” Johansson adds. “The intrigue is given to you, and the challenge becomes to interpret the spirit of the chapters in music. We stayed true to the story, although it was fun to take some liberties in the interpretation and to invent a few things that we thought would enhance the listening experience.”

A grant from the Michigan Humanities Council will fund their trip across the state to play the newest album. The band will perform at schools during the day and give community concerts during the evening.

“We hope to replicate Paddle’s journey over the next two years,” says Sullivan, who adds that 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the story.

Three Generations of Lakeheads

Song of the Lakes performs together less frequently than in its early years, though they still do weddings, anniversaries, and funerals, as well as a regular summer gig on sunset cruises aboard the Tall Ship Manitou in West Grand Traverse Bay. But everywhere the band goes, devoted fans, or “lakeheads” seem to crawl out of the woodwork; Song of the Lakes’ followers now span three generations.

“We still have a strong audience of families that have grown up with us,” Sullivan says. “It has been gratifying to see the growth of young, extremely talented singer songwriters and musicians [in Northern Michigan]. It wasn’t long ago that there was talk that folk music was dead. It’s good to see it alive and well. The future is bright. I’d like to think we made a contribution to the effort.”

The performance on February 27 at the City Opera House promises to be a fully interactive, multi-dimensional show; check out for more information or to order tickets. The event also marks the start of Song of the Lakes’ 2016 Paddle Tour. Want to see the Paddle Tour come to your neck of the Benzie County woods? Call 231-947-0398 or email to book the band. Find the new album at East Shore Market in Beulah or The Bookstore in Frankfort; also available at and all major online music stores.

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Jacob Wheeler

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