Music festival a huge success

LAKE COUNTY — The annual Idlewild Music Festival was a rousing triumph last weekend, as enthusiastic crowds assembled on Williams Island for great performances and wonderful community spirit. The weather was just about perfect for the occasion, as the storms never materialized and the program went off without a hitch.

Clearly everybody there was having a terrific time. As resident Sandy Clarke observed, “We are all thrilled — ticket sales have been great; over 1,000 were sold. People have come from all over for this special cultural event and the spirit is awesome!”

Indeed, festival organizers report that visitors to Idlewild came from as far away as Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and even Nevada. Four buses were chartered from Detroit.

As jazz fan David Sanders of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department remarked, “This is a great crowd and they all love great music.”

The fun got underway on Thursday evening with a Gospel extravaganza featuring several outstanding bands and the First Baptist of Woodland Park Youth Choir. On Friday, “The Reality Band,” Kevin Collins, “The Noteworthy Band” and long-time favorite Priscilla Price wowed the audience with over seven hours of jazz and rhythm and

blues.

Event chairperson Denise Bellamy was especially pleased by the “exuberant” crowd.

“The food is great, the music has been fantastic, and everybody is excited by the fact that next year, 2012, will mark Idlewild’s Centennial. We’re already celebrating!” she said.

Representatives from the “Idlewild 100 Committee” were on hand to sell copies of the recently completed PBS documentary “What Happened to Idlewild?” which traces the colorful history of this unique American community. Assembling vintage photographs and archival footage and recordings, the film relives the glamorous days when this Lake County vacation resort was a popular mecca for well-to-do Midwestern African Americans, and an exciting venue for some of the finest musicians of the 20th century, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. Committee chairman Coy Davis has high praise for the documentary: “It’s really interesting and informative,” he said, “and will bring back a lot of memories for Idlewild residents. The images are great — there are even pictures of the Miss Idlewild Beauty Pageant of 1927!” Copies of the film are still available; call (616) 977-2913.

The climax of the music festival came on Saturday with performances by “Serieux,” Maurice Davis, Lady Sunshine and the X Band, and Freddie Cunningham and the Root Dr. Band. A picnic atmosphere prevailed as more than a dozen concessions stands offered food and souvenirs, including of course the traditional commemorative T-shirts, which this year came in yellow or white.

Against the beautiful background of scenic Lake Idlewild, the artists who sang and played on Saturday were uniformly outstanding. Typical was Lady Sunshine, whose no-holds-barred rendition of “You been steppin’ out while someone else been steppin’ in” drew raves from the audience.

Another highlight, which particularly delighted the Baby Boomers in the crowd, was “Serieux’s” Motown medley. Long-time fan Robert Davis recalled meeting Rock and Roll great Jackie Wilson (“Your love lifted me higher”) many years ago in Idlewild, and still remembers Wilson’s graciousness and generosity.

“He was a very nice man,” Davis said. “Some of us kids would go swimming or skating with Jackie’s sons and he’d always buy hamburgers for us.”

The festival concluded with an exciting fireworks display on Saturday night and the announcement of the Grand Prize raffle winner. Denise Scoot of West Chicago took home an all-expense paid weekend in the luxurious Barothy Lodge in Walhalla.

If this year’s festival is any indication, the Idlewild community spirit could not be any greater.

As Idlewild supporter C.J. Thompson put it, “People love this marvellous community, which has flourished for over 100 years. For some of us, that’s four or five generations! We make coming to Idlewild a family affair.”

Idlewilders and their friends plan to continue the fun with the Fourth Annual Arts/Music Festival which will be coming up Sept. 3 at the Detroit Idlewilders Club. Already scheduled are exhibits, a cabaret, and ballroom dancing! For more information, call (606) 977-2913.