From about 1912 through the mid-1960s, black people couldn’t spend vacation days at places like Cedar Point and carnival boardwalks. When we wanted to chill, we went to places like Idlewild Resort in Idlewild, Michigan. It’s three hours away, sure, but it was one of the only places we could rent property and hang loose without being harassed. For the last five years, the resort hosted the Idlewild Empowerment Weekend, an African-American music festival.
This year, the tunes are on the move. “We’re holding the festival at Ferris State (in Big Rapids) this year instead of the Idlewild Cultural Center, due to overcrowding,” says Theresa Randleman, who’s producing the event through both her nonprofit W.I.N.G.S. and her entertainment firm T.ROSE. “On one hand, Idlewild’s a historical site and we’d love to stay. On the other, it means a lot more people are coming.”
In Idlewild’s heyday, business was booming. The festival is held to commemorate and celebrate the history of well-known black entertainers and professionals who owned property and performed there before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was known back then as the “Black Eden.”
For the festival, the driving phrase is “honoring the past, standing in the present, looking towards the future.” Visitors should expect to enjoy three days of black artists showing out with every instrument and style of music out there as well as exhibitions, speeches and dedications to the artists we love.
“Our music tribute this year will be to Aretha, and our poetry tribute will be to Langston Hughes. We’ll host guest speakers and have live entertainment as well,” Randleman says. Some of the performers scheduled include NuEra, Marqueal Jordan and The Urban Jazz Coalition.