The First Wave: Festival focusing on local, regional, and global water issues soon hits Frankfort

Originally published in the Grand Traverse Insider.

By Colin Merry
Contributing Writer

Frankfort will soon play host to the inaugural Benzie County Water Festival; an event designed to celebrate one of the county’s most precious resources.

The festival will be held on Saturday, March 19, with entertaining and educational events taking place all day throughout Frankfort and the surrounding area. Jordan Bates, co-chair of the Benzie Community Water Council, said the festival will feature events such as performances from world-class local musicians and speeches given by area authorities on water-related issues.

“We want to bring people together to celebrate water,” Bates said. “We also want to let people know what kind of issues our water resources are facing and why these issues are important.”

Aside from bringing water issues to the forefront of the minds of area residents and visitors, bringing the community closer together is another goal of the festival.

Musical guests appearing at the festival include the duo of May Erlewine and Seth Bernard, artists who both have impressive solo careers, as well. Additionally, folk artist Kirby Snively will be performing songs from his recently released album; Kirby for Kids and Childish Adults.

“May Erlewine and Seth Bernard have been great; they’ve been involved with other water festivals in Michigan,” Bates said. “They’ve really worked to help strengthen communities.”

Issues affecting local, regional, and global waters will be discussed at the festival during a three-part speaker series, featuring Thomas Kelly, executive director and captain of the Inland Seas Education Association; Derek Bailey, tribal chairman of The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; and Hans Van Sumeren, director of Northwestern Michigan College’s Water Studies Institute.

Other activities will be available, as well, according to Bates, including interactive multi-media projects, workshops, art displays, children’s activities, an ice-fishing contest, and an “after” party.

Food will also be available, including a “soup station” at the Frankfort-Elberta Elementary School from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., featuring homemade soups using local ingredients.

“The exact schedule is still up in the air,” Bates said of the festival line-up. “We’re still deciding when to have some events and possibly adding others, depending on the weather.”

Inspiration for this Frankfort first came from several different sources — Bates said the Benzie Water Festival drew from what other water festivals held across Michigan have done.

“We’re inspired by water; it’s all around us and our community depends on it for a lot of things,” he said.

The multitude of volunteers who work hard during the summer months on other area festivals and activities are another inspiration.

“A lot of people who volunteer are so busy during the summer, so they don’t get the time to actually go to any festivals or events,” Bates said. “By having it during the area’s slower season, we’re hoping more people get to go.”

Of course, the festival also hopes to draw visitors to the area to not only enjoy the family friendly events, but also to fill the city’s restaurants and other businesses for a day.

While the Water Festival has received grants from several organizations to help cover the cost of the event, Bates said that he and other organizers hope to make the festival as self-sustaining as possible.

“We want to be able to pay for the venues we use, like The Garden Theater,” he said. “We want to be able to raise enough money to cover our costs.”

So far, several fundraisers are planned. The first will be the Benzie County Water Festival pre-party, which will be held at the Cabbage Shed on Saturday, January 22, starting at 9 p.m. The Sub-Prime Blues Band will be performing, and party-goers will get to meet other people who are looking forward to the festival. A $5 cover charge will go toward the operation of the festival.

A soup-cooking class, followed by a soup supper, will be held at the Trinity Lutheran Church on Saturday, January 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Proceeds from the Hearty Winter Soups workshop, which costs $10 to attend, will be donated to the Benzie County Water Festival.

If all goes well with the initial festival, Bates said that he hopes to continue having the event every year, or possibly bring in speakers throughout the year.

“It would be cool to bring in speakers every other month or so, or host other water-related activities to keep water on people’s minds,” he said.

The Benzie County Water Festival is a production of the Benzie Community Water Council, which works to promote not only water-related issues but a closer community through the Community Connections program. For more information on the festival, visit the website at For more information on the Hearty Winter Soups class or the supper, contact Suz McLaughlin at 231-352-7669.

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