Jim Gillespie, founder of the world-renowned Blissfest music festival, held the first concert on a hot summer day thirty years ago in a field north of Petoskey. Blissfest now draws thousands of people and dozens of famous musicians from throughout the world for three days each summer. But Gillespie and his Blissfest Music Organization conjure up ways to bring a bit of bliss, music and inspiration to Northern Michigan residents all year long. “Be the Light” is the theme of this year’s Blissfest Solstice Celebration of Peace and Life on December 19th. It begins at 2 p.m. at the Carnegie Building in Petoskey and ends with a concert and community sing headlined by Seth Bernard and May Erlewine at the Crooked Tree Arts Center at 8 p.m. MyNorth talked with Gillespie as he was putting the finishing touches on this year’s event.

MyNorth; This is an annual event?

JimGillespie: It’s the fourth year we’ve held this solstice celebration. It’s been a collaboration not just with the Blissfest but also with a couple other community groups: the Circle of Community and the Northern Michigan People for Peace. It’s becoming quite popular for folks to celebrate this auspicious holiday. It’s the end of ‘the short time’ and the revitalization of the sun. The sun is coming back. I know it’s hard to grasp on the 19th of December in Northern Michigan, but really it’s true! (laughs) The sun IS coming back! The days really DO get longer. 

MyNorth:So this concert is being offered up as a kind of cure for cabin fever?

JimGillespie: It’s something to help you get through the rest of the winter. Cultures have been celebrating the solstice for centuries. It’s probably the most widely celebrated holiday, even before the world’s great religions jumped on the bandwagon. It’s been the biggest party of the millennia!

MyNorth: Is this gathering a replacement for Christmas?

JimGillespie: It isn’t something in place of Christmas. It’s in conjunction with Christmas. It’s a celebration of light. It’s all about light. The theme this year for our show is “Be The Light” so it’s kind of incorporating the social change that people feel is important to highlight these days.  And it’s a good time of year for us to get together and practice community and sing together. It’s a big sing-along is what it is!

MyNorth: You’ll be performing with your band, Dr. Good Hart’s Remedy?

JimGillespie: I’m just working on a number I’m going to do right now, “Here Comes the Sun” (he sings several verses.) But it’s a bunch of musicians: Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, Kirby, Aaron Wayne Otto, Will and Ann Rowland, Holly Keller, and Robin Lee Berry. Dale Scott is supposed to stop by, too.  We all do a lot of music that’s participatory, with this theme of the light. Part of the show will include the song “The Age of Aquarius” (he sings several verses again: “Let the sunshine in!  Let the sunshine in!”) and other kinds of really cool light-themed songs. We hope everyone will sing along.

MyNorth: I didn’t realize there would be audience participation.

JimGillespie: Not only that, there’s a lot going on in the afternoon before the concert begins. There’s a workshop at the Carnegie Building. There will be special films from the Petoskey Film Theatre, mask-making workshops, singing workshops, and creative movement workshops, all integrating the solstice and light theme, and kind of looking at other cultures that celebrate this time of year, too.  After the workshops, we’ll have a potluck dinner and then there’s the concert. It’s actually a whole day of stuff.

MyNorth: So this concert could be impetus to dig out, and get out, for an entire day – for kids and adults?

JimGillespie: This solstice celebration is becoming a tradition and traditions are such that they bring people together around some sort of activity. In this case, it’s around music and around each other. It’s a very nurturing environment.  It’s a little different from a  typical performance because anyone who decides to come will experience this sense of belonging and being part of the performance. But it’s not just performances. It’s everybody being together and expressing themselves. And I can guarantee they’ll have a very unique experience. (NOTE: The actual Winter Solstice will occur at 9:47 a.m. on Monday December 21st. It marks the moment the earth is the farthest away from the sun.)

Soup and beverages will be provided. Participants are being asked to bring a dish to pass and their own place setting. All afternoon activities are free. Advance tickets for the evening concert are $12 for adults, $6 for students, and are available in Petoskey at the Grain Train and Crooked Tree Arts Center, or contact the Blissfest at (231) 348-7047 or blissfest.org.  Tickets at the door are $15/Adults, $7/Students.  Children 12 and younger are free. For more info about the afternoon activities, call Semias at (231) 347-7957.

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