Rick moving on

Rick Jones 1950 -2020. Our percussionist and great friend, a master entertainer and a charismatic personality, and a colorful storyteller considered one of the most creative bodhran players on the planet has moved on to the cosmic campfire jam. Few people have lived life with such passion and strong sense of direction. Rick was never shy expressing his opinion and loved to dance with the world’s excesses – the Rev. Daryl Lick of the Church of Earthly Indulgences. Rest In Peace Good Buddy.

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We are currently working with the Benzie Symphony Orchestra to put together a new show to be performed sometime in 2020. With this comes another three songs of ours that will be arranged for the orchestra (or part thereof) for the show. This will be in addition to the three that we already have (Benzie Rover, Pearl of America, and Stand Up).

We are planning a promotional campaign to perform with other orchestras with our music. Stay tuned for updates on this project.

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New recording

We are happy to announce that we are launching our new recording project “Paddle-to-the-Sea.” This musical yarn is based on the 20th century masterpiece by Holling Clancy Holling (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company) of an adventurous little paddle-man who makes his winding way through the Great Lakes to the salt water sea. Inspired by this tale we gathered some years back to trace Paddle’s journey in song and music. It begins at the headwaters of Lake Superior, twisting and dancing along, carrying stories of people along the way in his battered little wooden canoe touching the hearts of everyone he meets with joy and wonder.

Our band really bonded by our mutual rooted desire to celebrate the majesty of our precious Great Lakes. This is a project that we hope will grab the families that have read the book to their kids and those that will be inspired to do so from listening to the music. The songs are emotional, fun, funny, exciting, beautiful, and interesting. Like someone told us that listened to the first “draft”…it’s classic Song of the Lakes.

This story of journey and transformation is for the young and old alike.

Stay tuned for the official 2016 Paddle Concert Tour.

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Passing of our friend and compatriot

We’re sorry to announce the passing of Jan Waling who was our great friend and sound engineer that stayed with us since 2001. He’s been the Sound Master, the man behind the curtain, that worked his magic on his sound board to enable us to focus on our show and the music making. He enabled us to be ourselves on stage.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

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The Benzie Rover at Interlochen

From our DVD

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Bossman Joe

“I once was young and stood so free, till Bossman Joe got ahold of me.
With lies and promises I was misled, I believed what the Bossman said.”

Here’s another cut from our DVD, Bossman Joe.

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The Benzie Rover

An oldie but a goodie with over 50,000 views on YouTube – the Benzie Rover, World of Warcraft style!

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Song of the Lakes DVD Now Available!

The Song of the Lakes Live at Interlochen DVD features a full-length movie of Song of the Lakes 25th Anniversary concert by Rich Brauer & Brauer Productions and the documentary Journey to Joy by Rebecca Glotfelty of Real People Media.

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Pearl of America CD Release at Great Indoor Folk Fest!!

On Saturday, February 14 2010, Song of the Lakes will release a re-mix/re-master of the band’s original release, Pearl of America.

Please come down to the Great Indoor Folk Fest at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons to see us, your fellow Lakeheads and TONS of other great northern Michigan musicians.

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Song of the Lakes: 25 Years of Joy

by Anne Stanton, Northern Express

Song of the Lakes is celebrating its 25th anniversary at Corson Auditorium at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Showcasing its greatest hits, the all-acoustic band will play on February 23, 2008 at 7:30pm

“We are messengers of joy – and the goal of this concert is to capture the joy and experiences of our 25 years together,” said Mike Sullivan, who sings, plays guitar, and writes many of the band’s songs.

“This concert will reflect the journey that we’ve been on and capture the best of each era of our musical experiences. And it will offer some ideas of the band’s new direction.”

The band’s loyal followers have already snapped up 450 tickets, despite the fact that there’s been no publicity.

“It’s taken us 25 years to become more than just a rumor – I think we’ve heard of you guys,” joked Rick Jones, percussionist of the band.

The toughest part of the show, Sullivan said, has been choosing which songs to play. To date, the band has written and performed 60 original songs and instrumental pieces. To help winnow it down to 20 songs for the concert, the band sent out a mass email asking fans to suggest their favorites. Unfortunately, it made the job even harder, Sullivan said.

“They came up with songs we hadn’t even thought of,” he said.

The concert is a landmark event for the band, which has hired Brauer Productions to film the concert for a DVD.

A highpoint of the concert will be the performance of “Montreux” which Sullivan wrote after the band played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1998. Guests vocalists include Diane and Noemie Derib, two sisters who grew up in Montreux and decided to attend college in Traverse City after performing with Sullivan’s musician son, Kyle, in the states.

The group’s songs have evolved in the 25 years since Jed Jaworski organized the first concert at the Northwest Michigan Maritime Museum in 1982. At that time, the band had only six songs under its belt. Jaworski, one of the original band members, eventually went onto other pursuits. But to his credit, he sparked the creation of one of the most enduring, well-loved bands in the Grand Traverse region that appeals to all ages.

“One of my crowning glories is when teenagers and grandparents tell me that they can all agree – when they’re driving up here to their cabin – on what CD to play in the car. The kids like us, the grandparents like us, the parents like us. And I think that’s just cool,” Jones said.


In the beginning, the band was best known for its Irish songs and sea shanties, which the band happily performed just “for the love of it,” Sullivan said.

After a couple of years, the band landed its first regular paying gig at Connelly’s, an Irish pub where Kahootz stands today. They used the money to buy their first sound system.

“We cut our teeth at Connelly’s and it could get kind of wild there at times. We once had a bunch of guys from the Coast Guard dancing on the table to our sea shanties,” Sullivan said. “But we were getting paid!”

The band’s music was largely influenced by the Great Lakes region, as well as by the individual band members’ native roots. Sullivan, for example, grew up hearing Irish songs in the pubs around his Detroit home. He wrote most of the ribald Celtic tunes that defy you to remain in your seat.

“Part of the feel to our music is the 6/8 rhythm. It’s hypnotic. In our early years, we’d play a song and if our kids would start spontaneously dancing, we’d know the song would work. If they weren’t responding, we knew it was going to be a long night,” he said.

Ingemar Johansson, born and raised in his native Sweden, brings a Nordic influence to the band. He’s also a songwriter, singer, and plays a multitude of instruments (his latest is the Swedish nyckelharpa – a fiddle with keys).

Johansson moved to the states at 25 and married Lisa Johansson, a flautist, whom he first met in Kent, Ohio, during a studio recording. Johansson said he felt as if he “came home” the first time he saw the lakes and hilly woods of northwest Michigan. It inspired the song “Pearl of America,” which is now a staple of the band.

Lisa Johansson is the only member of the group who has made music a day job; she is founder of the Northwind Suzuki Flute Studios. Because Mike Sullivan and Ingemar don’t write music specifically for the flute, she has had to improvise on their original songs. Indeed, she has truly honed her skill, artfully weaving in and out of the melodic line. None of her music is written down; she just remembers it.

“And some of the solos, I purposely don’t remember because I want to keep that freshness,” she said.

Finally, Rick Jones, the band’s percussionist, gives the band its backwoods, earthy flavor. A Tennessee native and sculptor of mythical creatures, he still retains the “hippie” attitude of the band’s early years and makes many of his instruments.

“We’ve all contributed different things to the band,” said Ingemar Johansson. “I’m Earth, Lisa is air, Rick is water, and Michael is the fire guy. That’s why we have worked so well together. Certainly, the band is better than the sum of the parts.”

“We’ve had fun with that concept,” added Lisa. “It’s somewhat astrological, but it holds true in a lot of ways, even instrumentally. I have an airy quality with the flute, but there’s also a mental quality. Ingemar is Earth, he really stabilizes all of us. Rick is just pure passion and it comes out in his drumming. Mike is fire, he naturally steps out in front and leads, and some of his songs like ‘Stand up’ are fiery; he’s a rebel.”


Since that first concert in Frankfort, the band has extensively appeared on TV, radio, in movies, and theatre plays.

It has also journeyed around the country for folk and maritime festivals. Although the band is considered “local” and is best known for its summer performances on the Tall Ship Manitou, the band is highly regarded nationally. Song of the Lakes has opened for the Indigo Girls, performed at the Mystic Seaport Maritime Festival and Chicago Maritime festivals, as well as the Governor’s Cup at the Grand Traverse Resort in 1986.

“The band has also played in every one of the great opera houses of the U.P. and maybe three of them down here,” Jones said. “Back in the late 70s, early 80s, a lot of the opera houses received grants to be restored. So we got to be part of their celebrations and it was just amazing. There’s not a bad seat in the house and the sound is just spectacular. They’re all unique, and they all have their own ghosts. You could just feel the spirit of the old musicians.”


The band first broke from its Irish/Nordic tradition with “Man in the Mirror” in 1990. And after the death of a close friend in the mid 1990s, the band developed a more complex, reflective tone.

The year of 1998 was another turning point. The band was invited to perform at the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where audiences gathered in the thousands. “Luckily we got to play there three times,” Jones said. “The last time we performed, we had Van Morrison on one stage next to us, and Tony Bennett on the other side of us – there were all the greats, and then there was us!”

“We were treated like rocks stars,” said Sullivan. “But even more than that, it was our exposure to world music. We were immersed in this whole community of music.”

After performing during the day, the band was invited to play with musicians from around the world. The band performed again in Montreux in 2000 and 2003. Those experiences inspired a new sophistication in the band’s more recent pieces like “Poets Say” and the jazzy “Montreux.”

“Call it world music with a Northwoods attitude. Or maybe Benzillian – Benzie County meets Brazil,” Sullivan said.


The band’s range was widened enormously over the years, and is not easily described in a phrase. Songs range from “new folk” music with a maritime flair to Celtic, Scandinavian, acoustic rock, Latin, and Great Lakes World Music. The band has five recordings to its credit, all with a mix of original and traditional songs.

“It amazes me how people want to put you into a category,” Jones said. “At Border’s Books, there is a section for the blues, a section for gospel, a section for country. I think because we play all acoustical instruments, that categorizes us as folk, maybe new folk, and I’ve always wondered, what is new folk? But you know, what I find so impressive is that there are so many great bands in the area creating their own type of songs and styles. It must be in the water.”


The band has endured, in part, because the four band members have simply made up their mind to stay together, said Ingemar Johansson.

“It’s like a second marriage. Issues come up. But we don’t quit. We say it’s, ‘Okay, you can take a break, but don’t ever leave the band,'” he said.

Said Lisa Johansson: “Ingemar and Mike have held it together, and Ingemar more so. It isn’t like anyone couldn’t have gotten out of the band at any time. But Ingemar always manages to smooth things out and helps us ride through those quarrels and personality quirks.”

And the band has always been more about the joy of playing together than making a living.

“We can be selective in what we do,” Ingemar said. “We don’t play to the venue, we play to the people. We write music that moves us, we play from our hearts and we hope people will like it.”

“It’s what we do for fun, for the joy of it. This is our golf,” Lisa said.

Throughout the years, the band has stayed true to its acoustic sensibility. The instruments, however, are wide-ranging and attest to the musicians’ versatility: guitars, mandolins, flutes, piccolo, bouzouki, Swedish nyckelharpa (key fiddle), concertina, harmonica, bodhran, and a number of eclectic percussion instruments – including deer antlers.

“I have some horns that I’ve carved into dragons and that’s what I get the frog sounds, ‘rivet, rivet.’ I was reading in the Smithsonian magazine that someone dug up one of the first instruments – a notched antler that they played with another bone. Little did I know, I was keeping up with the ancient tradition of the Neanderthals,” Jones said.
posted November 8, 2008

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