2011 Water Festival

First Annual Benzie County Water Festival

A community water celebration held on March 19, 2011

The Benzie County Water Festival is a unique event, designed to engage the public in the stewardship of the Great Lakes, the response to the global freshwater crisis, and the cultivation of a vibrant and sustainable local culture.


The Benzie County Water Festival seeks to attract, entertain, educate, and activate individuals and groups within the community. The first Benzie County Water Festival took place in and around the Frankfort area on Saturday, March 19, 2011, plus a few side events on the Friday before and the Sunday after. The festivities proudly featured world-class Michigan musicians, speeches from water luminaries, interactive multimedia projects and presentations, artisan foods and beverages, workshops, visual art, theater and dance, children’s activities, an ice-fishing contest, as well as connections to campaigns and projects to protect our water locally and/or to address global water challenges.

Through our fundraising efforts, we worked hard to ensure that the first annual Benzie County Water Festival was affordable and open to the public, however donations were encouraged and greatly appreciated. The event was co-sponsored by the Benzie Conservation District and Absolute Michigan in 2011. Special thanks to some of our other sponsors and partners: Eco-Building Products, Still Grinning Kitchens, Foundation for Performing Arts, Crystal Mountain, Benzie Bus, and many more!

The three-day inaugural event was attended by more than 300 people, a great success!


“The Water Festival” — not just that of Benzie County — is a family-oriented, community-centered event that has been met with great excitement all over the state and has fostered education, engagement, and networking in a rare and valuable way. The first Michigan Water Festival was held on the Straits in Mackinaw City in August of 2006 and drew in approximately 500 people from all over the state. Festival-goers enjoyed delicious foods from local farms; kayaking excursions; tables representing a dozen nonprofits; a youth art booth; speeches about the threats of pollution, diversion, and privatization; workshops on rain gardens and constructed wetlands; and a full bill of Michigan’s favorite folk, blues, country, and jazz musicians. The following year, they experienced an overwhelming response to the first Grand Rapids Water Festival, with some 1,500 attendees enjoying performances by 10 bands and being inspired by as many speakers. Since that first event in 2006, Water Festivals have since cropped up in Michigan cities like Kalamazoo, Marquette, and Traverse City. Unlike these other festivals, however, which tended to be one-time events, the Benzie County Water Festival is the longest-running annual event, now lining up events for its ninth consecutive year in 2019.

Want to read more about how the Benzie County Water Festival came to be and how it operates? Sign up for our e-newsletter here!

Did you miss the 2011 newsletters? No worries; read them at these links!

February 8, 2011: Eco-Partnership
March 1, 2011: Water Festival Pre-Events
March 17, 2011: Water Festival Complete Schedule of Events



(All photos by Sarah Louisignau.)


Eco-Building Products Fundraiser

Throughout February and March 2011
“If you are considering a remodel to your home, or need to paint your ice shanty, now is the time to buy some green building products from Eco-Building Products.” Eco-Building Products donated 3 percent of all sales in February and March 2011 to the Water Festival!

Water Facts and Articles in Local Publications

Throughout January-March 2011
As an ongoing part of our education efforts, we published seven #waterfacts on our website in the months leading up to our first annual Water Festival: check them out here!

We also engaged local writers to create articles that we helped to get published in local media, from the Benzie County Record Patriot to the Grand Traverse Insider.

Ice-Fishing Tournament

Saturday, March 5, from 7am-1pm — Any Benzie County lake, river, or stream
Waterfest Fishing Tournament Benzie County

Ray Stark agreed to put on a fishing tournament as a satellite event to the 2011 Water Festival. Stark has run dozens of tournaments in the area previously, and he is well-connected in the angler’s circuit. His love for fishing and educating youth in the community about fishing is obvious to anyone who spends a few minutes talking with him. The fishing tournament took place on the Benzie County lake, river, or mud pond of your choosing; the weigh-in took place from noon to 1 p.m. at the Recreation Center (Indoor Farmers’ Market) in Frankfort. Prizes of cash and treasures were given out to the 30 anglers who participated!

Water-themed Art Contest

March 7 – April 22 at the Crystal Lake Art Center in Frankfort
Crystal Lake Art Center Benzie County Water Festival March 2011 water art

To help celebrate this year’s Water Festival in Benzie County, the Crystal Lake Art Center hosted a water-themed gallery show from March 7 to April 22. Artists who were in Junior High and up were invited to bring up to two pieces of any media that were ready to display. The public was invited to come see these water-themed artworks any time during the six-week display, and one entry was selected by the public on March 19 from 12-5 p.m. (during the Water Festival) for First Place. The public is invited to come see water-themed artwork created by local artists at the Crystal Lake Art Center (111 10th St. Frankfort) March 7-April 22.

Waterlife Documentary

Friday, March 18, at 6pm — The Garden Theater in Frankfort
waterlife documentary the garden theater frankfort michigan great lakes movie benzie county water festival march 2011

Waterlife is documentary film that is beautifully shot and focuses on specific environmental problems from Lake Superior to the Saint Lawrence Seaway: lamprey eels in Lake Superior, heavy metals in Lake Michigan, zebra mussels in Lake Huron, petrochemical waste in Lake Erie, toxic waste dumps near Lake Ontario, and the pending threat of Asian Carp from the Chicago locks. This documentary—which was well received at the Traverse City Film Festival in 2009—is sponsored by the Friends of Betsie Bay, a local non-profit that promotes “a community in harmony with nature.” Admittance was free, but donations of $5 were encouraged, with proceeds to FoBB.

Music: Sub-Prime Blues Band

Friday, March 18, at 9pm — The Cabbage Shed in Elberta
subprime blues band benzie county water festival march 2011 the cabbage shed

After the film, the party moved to The Cabbage Shed in Elberta, again with a $5 donation suggested, with proceeds this time to the support the Benzie County Water Festival. The sub-Prime Blues Band—consisting of an eclectic group of players—was one of the festival’s first supporting partners, playing a gig at the Shed for us back in January 2011. We encouraged everyone to eat, drink, dance, and be merry: “just don’t stay out too late, though… festivities start up again early in the morning!

Morning Yoga

Saturday, March 19, at 8am — Studio on Main in Frankfort
About two-dozen of our patrons started the morning off right via yoga with Frankfort native (and BCWC board member) Sarah Louisignau, with donations going to the Water Festival. Learn more here.

Music and Opening Ceremony + Guest Presenters

Saturday, March 19, at 9:30am — Frankfort-Elberta Elementary School
Welcoming everyone to the day’s events was Kirby, “a unique mix of acoustic guitar, rich vocals, and harmonica wizardry.“ Then, the Benzie Community Water Council’s own Josh Stoltz led the opening ceremony, which began at 10 a.m. The whole day’s events were free to the public (although donations were greatly appreciated!) Then, at 10:30, our first keynote speaker took the stage: Derek Bailey, tribal chairman for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, presented on Asian carp in the Great Lakes. At 11:30 a.m., we took a break from the formal presentations, and festival-goers were invited to tour the many exhibits that were set up in the elementary school, including:

  • Make a garden that can hang in your window with Lake Ann-native, Bill Nuske (cancelled, due to sickness)
  • Jam out with your own harmonica, complimentary of the BCWC and Kirby
  • Take the Water Pledge: learn how you can cut your personal water use
  • Eat some heart-warming, soul-mending soup, made from locally sourced ingredients and with tender loving care by the BCWC’s own Suz McLaughlin
  • Drink organic, shade-grown, fair-trade coffee from Mexico, and support water installation projects there, made possible by Traverse City’s Higher Grounds Trading
  • Recycle-art exhibit with Marlene Wood-Zylstra of the Benzie County Recyclers
  • If there’s any snow left, get outside and master your snow sculpting abilities in our snowman-making contest

Our speakers started back up again at 1 p.m., with Rob Karner—a watershed biologist and biology teacher at The Leelanau School—taking the stage at the elementary school and speaking on the importance of native plants. Following him, at 2pm, Valerie Strassberg—a water resource engineer and international water-energy educator—made the trek up from Ann Arbor to do a workshop on greywater systems and how to implement one in your own backyard. Festival-goers learned how to cut their household’s water usage and slash their water monthly bill! At 3 p.m., the Benzie Conservation District sponsored a rain garden workshop with the BCD’s own Carol Navarro and Carolyn Thayer—a landscape designer and owner of Designs in Bloom, and the president of Plant It Wild—who has designed a rain garden for the new Gateway Housing Project development on Forest Avenue in Frankfort. This workshop was designed for private homeowners who were interested in the basics of rain garden fundamentals and design, as well as learning how to minimize the stormwater runoff that their yard is flushing into the Benzie County watershed that is closest nearby.

All of these workshops were filmed by Absolute Michigan.

Water-Themed Story Hour

Saturday, March 19, at 2 p.m. — Benzie Shores District Library in Frankfort

More Guest Speakers + Music

Saturday, March 19, at 4 p.m. — The Garden Theater in Frankfort
The festival moved back to Main Street, where the morning began, this time to The Garden Theater. Cyndi Roper—the state director of Clean Water Action—traveled up from Lansing. Cyndi has played a leadership role in numerous successful water policy, environmental health, and waste issues in Michigan since 1995, and she has served on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council. She came highly recommended to us by Benzie County’s own water warrior, Jim Olson. At 5 p.m., the Garden’s stage hosted a panel on water-related education in the Great Lakes region: Hans VanSumeren, the director of NMC’s new Water Studies Institute—the first program in the nation to award an Associate’s Degree in water studies—and Tom Kelly, executive director of the Inland Seas Education Association and captain of the Schoolship, spearheaded the discussion. Festival-goers were able to sneak outside for a bite to eat, as the Benzie SEEDS program offered fresh, homemade pizza right outside the Garden’s doors. At 6:30 p.m, the night’s closing act was Northern Michigan’s favorite dynamic duo Seth Bernard and “Daisy” May Erlewine.

The After-Party

Saturday, March 19, at 10 p.m. — The Cabbage Shed in Elberta
For those who still hadn’t gotten enough,the party moved to a jazzy-bluesy-funky-after-glow at The Cabbage Shed, featuring Seth and May in one of their many side projects, Airborne or Aquatic, with fellow musicians that have in the past included: Dave Bruzza, Dustin Edwards, Susan Fawcett, Jake Robinson, Mike Shimmin, Dave Ward, and Luke Winslow-King). A $5 donation was suggested at the door.

The After-After-Party

Sunday, March 20, at 3 p.m. — The Cabbage Shed in Elberta
The festival concluded with a concert at The Cabbage Shed; Benzie County’s own Song of the Lakes performed, with donations to benefit the Friends of the Benzie Bus. Song of the Lakes has been pleasing crowds with sea-faring tunes, Irish jigs, sultry Brazilian melodies, and bittersweet ballads since the early 1980s and they continue to be one of Northern Michigan’s most sought-after musical groups, and the BCWC is honored that they have chosen to partner with us and close out the first annual Benzie County Water Festival.


May Erlewine and Seth Bernard

The Garden Theater, 7pm

“It’s the voice of a real community, with a sound and a message the world needs to hear.”
-Bill McKibben, Author, Educator, Environmentalist

May Erlewine Seth Bernard Earthwork music michigan musicians benzie county water festival 2011 the garden theater

Michigan has, for some time now, been a deep resource for songwriters and roots musicians. Two favorites, Seth Bernard and “Daisy” May Erlewine, well-known to audiences as single acts, have been performing and recording together for almost six years (as of 2011). Before they teamed up, they each paid their dues traveling across the land playing their music and sharing stories with everyone they met. Now, they are in constant demand, playing festivals all over the country and at venerable folk institutions, such as The Ark in Ann arbor and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Already seasoned songwriters with five solo records each and two duo albums to their names, Seth and May draw from a deep well of American folk, country, blues, and soul music. May Erlewine plays guitar and violin and is a songbird reminiscent of Patsy Cline and Patty Griffin. Her songs have been recored by artists across the country and sung in schools and places of worship. Samuel Seth Bernard has drawn comparisons to Woody Guthrie and Neil Young as a shape-shifting folk rocker, community organizer, and communicator of ideas. Together, they harmonize their voices and instruments beautifully, believing music can bring people together and proving so at every performance. Like all the best folk musicians, they have the ability to get everyone’s attention and still a room. With their band, they can captivate and electrify an audience and ignite a dance floor.

Seth and May’s common belief in music to strengthen communities and to be a part of positive change has led collaborations with numerous schools, farms, and nonprofit organizations. They partnered with best-selling author and famed environmentalist Bill McKibben and contributed songs to the 350.org movement for climate change action. They have also fostered the creation of the (general) Water Festival, a series of events in the Great Lakes region that are dedicated to music and education about preserving water quality and universal access.

Listen to some Studio Recordings of Seth & May.
Listen to some Live Recordings of Seth & May.

sub-Prime Blues Band

Friday Night Party at The Cabbage Shed

Winners of the 2010 Mid-North Michigan Blues Challenge

subprime blues bandThe sub-Prime Blues Band is quickly becoming a much sought-after blues band in Northern Michigan. The band consists of an eclectic group of players, all on hiatus, on the mend, or on the run from other bands, corporate lives, and business alter-egos. From corporate raiding to farming to real estate, these guys have done it all — now they just wanna play music and have some fun!

The band started out gigging at The Cabbage Shed, located in Elberta. With much support from Jim Clapp and his daughter, Becky, the band has honed its sound for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee!

Check out their bios here.

Kirby Snively

Frankfort Elementary School, throughout the day-time activities on Saturday

“A unique mix of acoustic guitar, rich vocals and harmonica wizardry.”

Kirby Snively Music Benzie County Water Festival 2011“Kirby is a rarity, the Real Deal in a world of pretense.” – Parick Niemisto of Third Coast Band

“In total, ‘Better Days’ stands as strong as a lighthouse in a Lake Michigan gale… its insights provide a beacon on the world from one of Northern Michigan’s top folk artists.”
Robert Downes, Northern Express

Kirby Snively’s website: http://www.kirbymusic.com/
Preview and/or purchase the newly released Kirby for Kids and Childish Adults

Song of the Lakes

Sunday, Benzie Bus fundraiser

A band that’s not afraid to show its emotions

Song of the Lakes Benzie County Water Festival 2011 Benzie Bus fundraiser Lisa Johannson Ingemar Johannson Mike Sullivan RickSong of the Lakes is a band that’s not afraid to show its emotions, as they belt out sea shanties, seduce you with a sultry Brazilian melody, or break your heart with a bittersweet ballad. The band made itself a name with sea shanties and Irish melodies in the early 1980s, but its range has widened enormously in the 25-year span that the band has been together. They’ve delved into acoustic rock, Latin, jazz, and what they call “Great Lakes World Music.”

No matter what you decide to call the band’s music, you’ll love the revival quality that runs through all the songs. Their music is uplifting and transcending. It will take you to a different place, and you’re probably going to want to stay there. The band members — Lisa, Rick, Mike, and Ingemar — live the good life and sing the praises of the gorgeous Great Lakes. When they say, “25 Years of Joy,” they mean it from the depths of their deep blue hearts.

As of 2011, the band has five recordings to its credit, all with a mix of original and traditional songs. Meet Song of the Lakes at their website.


Thomas M. Kelly

Executive Director/Captain Inland Seas Education Association

Captain Thomas Kelly Tom Kelly Benzie County Water Festival Inland Seas Education Association ISEA Tall ship ManitouTom Kelly began sailing at the age 14 on White Lake, Michigan. He became familiar with water-pollution problems from his sailing experiences on White Lake and in nearby Lake Michigan. He studied conservation and resource planning as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and he received a Master of Science degree in Fisheries Biology from the University of Michigan in 1972.

After college, Tom worked for the University of Michigan as a limnologist on the Great Lakes and inland lakes, and as a Sea Grant Marine Field Agent in Traverse City until 1978. For the next 10 years, he did consulting work in fisheries and water quality. Cients included local governmental units, tribal government, lake associations, and private individuals. In November 1986, he sailed aboard the sloop Clearwater doing environmental-education programs for students in the Hudson River Valley. This experience led to the formation of the Inland Seas Education Association in 1989.

Tom has been the Executive Director of ISEA since its founding and captain of ISEA’s flagship, the 77’ schooner Inland Seas, since its launching in 1994. He also makes time to sail with his wife, Anne, and children, Emma (entering college in fall 2010) and Graham (high school) aboard Cygnet, their 35′ Dickerson ketch.

Tom says that his greatest joy comes from bringing the wonders of the Great Lakes to those who have not experienced them before.

Derek J. Bailey

Tribal Chairman, The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

Derek J. Bailey, 37, was sworn in as Tribal Chairman on December 11, 2008. Derek currently served on Tribal Council from 2004-2008, in which he served over two years on the Executive Council as Secretary. Chairman Bailey becomes the fifth Chairman since the Grand Traverse Band was federally reaffirmed on May 27, 1980, and the youngest in the Tribe’s history.

Chairman Bailey currently is the Chairman of the Inter-Tribal Council, having been selected by the 11 other Tribal Chairman to hold that position, and most recently selected as the Chairman of CORA (Chippewa/Ottawa Resource Authority) which is comprised of five (5) Tribes. Along with those duties he was also appointed as one of two (2) Bemidji Area Representatives to the Indian Health Service Director’s Tribal Consultation Committee. In May of 2010, Chairman Bailey was appointed by President Obama to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.

He holds a Master’s degree in Social Work, graduating from Grand Valley State University in 1998. He has extensive work experience in both clinical and administrative work in the areas of behavioral health. Also, he has worked for GVSU in the past years teaching as an adjunct professor in their MSW program. Derek and his wife, Tonia, reside in Leelanau County with their five children; Panika, Nimkees, Daanis, Ohsaw Kihew and Maengun.

Hans VanSumeren

Director, Northwestern Michigan College’s Water Studies Institute

Hans VanSumeren. Photo J. Carl Ganter.“Hans VanSumeren has performed extensive water-related research from Maine to the Florida Keys, as far West as the Hawaiian Islands, and all the way to the bitter north of the Alaskan Bering Glacier. His latest adventure — creating the only Freshwater Studies program in the nation — is innovatively using education to combat the global water crisis.

In 2008 Hans VanSumeren, a water researcher and one of the most highly regarded underwater vehicle pilots in the nation, made one of those big career decisions that fits an adventurous professional ready for a change. VanSumeren left the University of Michigan, the renowned Big Ten institution where he’d spent 20 years as scientist and pilot in the university’s Ocean Engineering Laboratory, and took a new post in Traverse City as director of Northwestern Michigan College’s fledgling Water Studies Institute.” Read more about Hans VanSumeran at Circle of Blue.

Robert Karner

Watershed Biologist, Biology Teacher, School Administrator, Photographer

Robert Karner, Marine BiologistRob has worked on and off for the Glen Lake Association since 1977. Currently, he is serving as the Watershed Biologist. You can often find him in the middle of Glen Lake, Fisher lake, taking water samples, working with riparains on their greenbelt or explaining the life cycle of swimmer’s itch. He also works with the long range planning committee and serves on the water quality task force for Leelanau County.

Rob received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in Zoology and Biological Science. His master’s degree in Biological Science with emphasis in Freshwater Biology comes from The University of Michigan.

Robert Karner PhotographyHis high regard for the Glen Lake Watershed and it’s health is evident in all his activities.

Rob has traveled extensively and has taught Marine Biology in the Florida Keys, the Netherlands Antillies and in the British Virgin Islands. His hobbies include reading, snorkeling, cross-country skiing, computers and cycling. Rob also run’s his own photography business specializing in portraits and nature photography.

During the school year, you will find Rob in the classroom teaching Biology at The Leelanau School or performing School Administrator duties. “This was my first job out of college,” he explains. “After my interview back in 1977, I asked ‘How much do I have to pay you to work here?’ “ And he has stayed ever since and now is in his 32nd year.

Cyndi Roper

State Director Clean Water Action, East Lansing

Cyndi Roper Water FestivalA resident of East Lansing, Michigan, Cyndi has been affiliated with Clean Water Action since 1990. She has played a leadership role in a in numerous successful water policy, environmental health, and waste issues in Michigan (1995 – present) and Rhode Island (1990-1994). Cyndi has also spearheaded Clean Water Action’s electoral programs working on behalf of pro-environment candidates at the local, state and federal levels. She served on the USEPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and on several of the Council’s advisory committees guiding that agency in its implementation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Cyndi has a bachelor’s degree from Drury University and a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Cyndi has served as the State Director several times since moving back to Michigan.

Valerie Strassberg

Director of the Water Resource Management for Energy Conservation

Valerie Strassberg Water FestivalWater resource engineer and international water-energy educator, Valerie Strassberg is a Professional Engineer holding a B.S in Geological Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.  She is the director of the Water Resource Management for Energy Conservation (WRMEC) program for Nature’s Voice Our Choice (NVOC) located in Washington, D.C. While NVOC is a national non-profit focused on global water conservation through local action; the WRMEC program goals are focused more narrowly on both municipal water conservation to reduce energy use, and sustainable water use in power production.

As a grass-roots enthusiast, Valerie Strassberg is distinguished as past President of the first Engineers Without Borders Professional Chapter in San Francisco, CA, a founder of RST Learning Studio in Ann Arbor, MI, and is an Environmental Commissioner for the City of Ann Arbor acting as Chair of the City’s Water Committee.  She has designed geotechnical and water resource projects internationally and nationally ranging from Africa, to CA, to MI. Click here for more details on the greywater workshop.