AURA – As the couples waltzed to the sound of country music outside the Aura Community Hall on Saturday afternoon,
They all had one thing in common: they were happy to be back.
Following last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19, the Aura Jamboree returned this year in a lean form with a one-day celebration.
“It’s kind of a soft version of the jamboree, but we thought it was important to continue this year, and hopefully next year we can get back to our normal schedule,” said festival organizer Mike Roberts.
The jamboree was normally held over two days, with numbers played in the community hall; when night came, dance bands kept the crowd going until midnight.
Putting things together was easier than in a normal year, Roberts said. Instead of setting up a concession stand, they brought in outside salespeople. Instead of reserving artists in advance, anyone could register.
The musicians on Saturday included many familiar faces, but also a few newcomers. At least two people had come from Wisconsin for the first time, Roberts said.
“The weather was wonderful and the crowd is a good size”, he said. “We are happy for all the musicians who came, spent their time and shared their talent.
Around 4:30 p.m., more than 150 people were enjoying the music. Hugo Lehto sat on drums with accordions Wilho Kilpela and Dan Jackovich. Lehto, from Aura, has been playing in the festival since its inception. With the weather on Saturday, the COVID-inspired precautions were an unexpected benefit, he said.
“We couldn’t have it inside, because we didn’t want people to be afraid” he said. “And it went well.”
The space outside the community hall is normally reserved for jam sessions. Although the main acts moved outside, impromptu groups still formed. Outside the community hall, a circle of artists performed a series of country standards, including that of Hank Williams “Kaw-Liga.” Some came equipped with songbooks on iPad recording lyrics and chord changes.
Tom Maki from Pelkie joined us, playing a homemade birch drum with a smiling face mallet.
“You can play it in any key” he said.
Margie Yadro from Florence, Wisconsin, watched the band, which included a banjo friend who was new to the festival. She and her husband Ron, who play in the folk duo Homeward Bound, heard about the jamboree about 10 years ago while playing around the campfire.
She remembered the attentive crowd, then walked down the stage to see groups of people playing outside. “until their fingers bleed.”
“We were concerned that he would lose something with the pandemic, that they would have difficulty restarting it”, she said. “I was delighted to see so much participation. “
The music started at noon on Saturday and was to continue as long as there were bands ready to play.
Dan Jackovich from Marquette sat down at the accordion for a band, then moved to the picnic tables to watch the next act. He has been coming when he can for 25 years.
He lacked being able to walk around in a variety of bands playing outside. But he was able to make plans to jam with other accordion players later that afternoon.
“It’s the people and the atmosphere that I love” he said. “It’s a fun time. Everyone is so nice and it is a beautiful area.
The festival was started in 1977 by Fred Waisanen of Aura and his son John. John had friends in the Lansing area who belonged to the Michigan Fiddlers Association. They approached him with the idea of playing music here.
The beginnings were humble.
“They didn’t even have chairs,” said Roberts. “They were sitting on the floor.”
Roberts attributed the success to a simple recipe: great music. Traditional Finnish music, country and bluegrass are the mainstays, although they also have classical and rock music at times.
“People like to go out, play and enjoy good music” said Roberts.