From staff reports
May Erlewine is a contemporary folk singer and songwriter based in Traverse City whose pastoral, socially conscious music has won a sizable and growing following throughout the Midwest and beyond. Erlewine performs on Lake Street Studio Stage as part of the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s Manitou Music series on Sunday, July 28, at 8 pm. Erlewine has a rich variety of musical influences, including blues, traditional folk, R&B, and bluegrass, which are recognizable elements of her own songs.
In anticipation of seeing Erlewine perform in Glen Arbor later this month, we reached out to her with the following questions:
Glen Arbor Sun: We’re excited about hosting you in Glen Arbor. What can listeners look forward to at your Manitou Music concert?
May Erlewine: I am really looking forward to coming out that way. It’ll be a solo concert and I plan to craft part of the set around songs that have come from the waters of Michigan. I’m also hoping to bring a couple of my favorite water songs and some stories from childhood around these parts.
Sun: I know you recently said goodbye to your giant desk where you did much of your writing. As a songwriter, where and how does your muse reach you? Do you seek out your songs or poetry, or do they come to you at random times?
Erlewine: Ahhh, such a sad parting. I am happy to report it already has a new home with another writer, so the silver lining is thick with that story. When I serve my muse, I receive the gifts therein. I understand them and know how to recognize them and try to honor and respect their needs. Sometimes that means doing things that don’t make sense to anyone else. I try to serve my muse. And as long as I do that, we create quite often!
Sun: You’ve played overseas recently in England, Wales, and Scotland. How is roots music received there compared to Northern Michigan? How do the audiences interact?
Erlewine: There is a definite love and respect for songwriting and folk music. I feel like audiences are looking for a deep experience from songs. It’s different, especially with stage banter and jokes, but I’m not exactly sure how or why yet. I’m still learning. I get the feeling, though, that they are steeped in listening culture. As an artist, it means a lot to feel like people care that much about what you are saying. That general feeling of respect for the arts impacts my own intention and allows for some great discoveries as a performer, speaker and writer.
Sun: We’re grateful to you for using your music to address important political and social issues in this country. In an ideal nation, what elevated role might musicians and artists play?
Erlewine: I feel honored to carry on the legacy of the folk singer in speaking with people and reflecting times and events through story telling. Music is a heart opening and sacred place and it naturally brings people together and helps them to cope with the events of their community and the world. It’s medicine. It works well for most people and the side-effects are pretty acceptable. I think that when a community recognizes the value of music/the arts in their lives, then the role is naturally elevated.
It’s similar to understanding how to enjoy a great piece of pie. If you know how much life someone has to live to perfect that pie crust. If you understand that there’s a really fine line between too sweet and too sour. If you’ve sweated for hours next to a 450-degree oven, trying to keep butter cool and roll out flakey goodness … If you have done these things, then you are more likely to savor every bite of that pie. A lot of respecting a craft has to do with understanding and appreciating what it takes to get there. Quality of life is a direct result of having the arts, education, community, and health at the center of our value-system. It seems like if any of them are forgotten, there is a noticeable void of general well-being.
Sun: Who are your musical and creative inspirations, locally and everywhere?
Erlewine: I really feel grateful to have so many peers that I look to with deep admiration and also can connect and learn from very directly. The Michigan arts scene is so incredibly rich; if I were to start naming names, it’d take a long time. I am very inspired by Patty Griffin, Beyonce, Brene Brown, Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlile, Nayyirah Waheed, Joni Mitchell, Lizzo, Cheryl Strayed, Emily King … so many. I really love to feel a sense of care and dedication when I get to know an artist. Art as a practice and with intention really inspires me.
Sun: What are the differences between your solo show and your performance with your band?
Erlewine: Well, from what people have said over the years, my solo show is very personal and raw. I think when you strip something down to its essence, then you really get to hear the heart seed of the music. As a songwriter, it’s the bare bones, pure origin of the songs with nothing to hide behind and nothing to elevate. Just me and my instrument and my songs.
With the band, you get to hear full production ideas and hear the collaborative music that we create together. There’s more energy, because there’s more people. I feel really grateful to play with some of the finest musicians and to have their talent and heart supporting these songs.
Sun: In this age of social media and crowdfunding, has the interaction with your listeners and lovers of your music changed?
Erlewine: I feel so confused by social media. Just in my own heart. I have never felt more connected and more disconnected at the same time. I feel like it’s really amazing to be able to share things so easily with so many people and for the DIY independent artist, it’s an incredible resource and platform. That’s a real win. AND it also encourages hype and fast pace productivity and interaction. These things are not always conducive to the deepest connections and the best practices. I think about how social media is plugging into our evolution as a species and I really have a lot of questions. I sure do love feeling everybody out there. It means a lot to people to feel connected and it’s one way we can.
Sun: What can you tell us about the new album you are producing?
Erlewine: This record is about trying to uncover a new sense of place and home. It’s about witnessing and remaining an active living and feeling person. It’s about trusting our intuition and ourselves enough to hold a clear vision for the future. It’s very much a piece about how to connect to this country as our home, while feeling so disconnected from our leadership and feeling so much pain from our history. There’s a lot of love in it, too—finding forgiveness, humility, and the resolution to keep showing up.
Sun: How would you and your daughter Iris spend your ideal July day in Leelanau County?
Erlewine: I love going to Cathead Bay (near Northport)! I have gone there since I was a little kid. I think packing a picnic and heading for a hike and beach day is just about heaven on earth. Stopping for some ice cream on the way home. Or, if we go to the Empire beach, definitely gotta stop and be delighted by Grocer’s Daughter ChocolateJ) So many beautiful places to explore and a really rich community of fine folks!
Manitou Music is a project of the Glen Arbor Arts Center (GAAC). Tickets on July 28 cost $20 for nonmembers, $18 for GAAC members, and people under age 18 are free. The concert venue is Lake Street Studios Studio Stage, located at 6023 S. Lake St., in Glen Arbor. In the event of rain, the concert moves to the Glen Arbor Town Hall, 6394 W. Western Avenue/M-22.For more information and to order tickets, visit GlenArborArt.org.