At the very first Hiawatha festival, there was a workshop component to the event. This was not only patterned on the schedules of other festivals, but was connected to the very nature of what folk dance and music are all about: passing it on to other people. Since that time, the Hiawatha has helped educate at least three generations of folk music lovers on how to dance polkas, play ukuleles, sing folk songs and maybe just appreciate the importance of saving these traditions. The workshop tradition continues today in these three areas.
There is nothing too sophisticated about what goes on in the jamming tent. It is offered as a space for attendees to gather and play music together. Certain times are set aside for different kinds of music, including bluegrass, old time, modern folk and Celtic, bu there are plenty of off-the-cuff jams as well. It is a great opportunity for people new to other players at the same time.
Music workshops have always been important at Hiawatha. The goal is for the main stage artists to perform in a more intimate environment, but also for them to pass on some of their knowledge skills or experience to other performers. Often they are teamed up with other main stage performers, or local musicians, where topics are selected randomly and the performer has to sing a song about that topic. The idea is to get them out of their comfort zone.
Many of the music workshops are interactive, where the leader teaches a certain vocal style or has on a certain instrument. In addition, some workshops focus on group music, such as the “Rise Up Singing,” where participants join in a sing along from the pages in the popular Rise Up Singing book.
Beginning with the family dance on Friday night, the dance tent is where everyone can kick their heels to the music, even if they are not expert dancers. Throughout each day there are several workshops available featuring everything from Celtic, old time, waltzes, swing and sometimes world music dance styles. Saturdays and Sundays each begin with an hour-long yoga session and then dance lessons throughout the day. They are open to all ages and abilities. On Saturday night, the dance tent becomes the teen scene, where younger audiences can enjoy more contemporary dance music and groups.