East Lansing, MI – Suzy Bogguss is best known as a country music singer. She's had top ten hits on country music radio, and she's won Grammys and CMA awards, but Bogguss always loved folk music. Last summer, she put out a CD of traditional folk songs called American Folk Songbook.
Folk music is meant to be sung by regular folks. That's exactly what will happen this weekend, when Bogguss comes to East Lansing for the Mid-Winter Singing Festival. She'll lead the audience in singing songs from her folk CD.
Suzy Bogguss got the idea for her American Folk Songbook in the summer of 2008 while she was touring with Garrison Keillor.
"While I was out there with him, he would do a sing-along with the whole audience during intermission," says Bogguss. "He was pulling these songs out of his hat, an Everly Brothers or a hymn or an old folk song. I noticed that the people from age 30 down didn't know the words to any of these old folk songs."
Bogguss thought everyone knew these classic songs by heart, but as it turned out, even her own teenage son didn't know them.
"So it made me feel like maybe I need to re-illuminate these songs a little bit," says Bogguss. "Make sure that there's an opportunity for people to teach their kids, a reminder that these old songs are still great melodies and fun to sing along with your family."
Bogguss recorded the CD in the studio over her garage in Nashville. She says she felt so comfortable singing them that most of her first takes ended up on the CD.
"We wanted to keep that old time feeling of reverence for the tunes and not decorate them to death," says Bogguss.
Most of these songs, Bogguss learned in 5th grade music class. She wrote a book to go along with the CD. It's modeled after her 5th grade songbook, with easy arrangements for piano, guitar and voice, and some historical stories about the songs.
"Wayfaring Stranger, for instance, I found out came from shape singing," says Bogguss. "Back in the days when people were trying to build the country up, they didn't have churches everywhere yet. They would have these camp meetings, and not everyone could read music. So they came up with this system of symbols, and that's how they would know whether them melody would go up or down, for those people who didn't read music on a staff."
Bogguss says she's never done anything like the Mid-Winter Singing Festival, but she says a whole evening with everyone singing along is just what she had in mind when she produced American Folk Songbook. She says she may close the evening with Red River Valley, the song that inspired her to revive these classic songs.
"When I was out with Garrison Keillor, we did a whole month of state fairs and big venues like that," says Bogguss. "Oftentimes, he would close the show with that song, and that was the one that I noticed that the audience under 30 didn't know the words to. I thought that's got to be out there."
Those who don't know the words to Red River Valley will get the lyrics and have a chance to sing it with Suzy Bogguss at the Mid-Winter Singing Festival this weekend.