Got back late this afternoon from a few days of vacation up in Pentwater, Mich., where Pam’s Dad has a beautiful cabin (four bedrooms! decks galore!) along Lake Michigan. We hadn’t been there in we’re not sure how many years, and that’s a shame, because the place is fabulous. I must have walked 50 yards into the lake without the water reaching my neck.
Pam and I read. And read. And read. I made major dents in four books, but didn’t finish any of them: Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, Ann Lamott’s Plan B, Don Miller’s Searching for God Knows What, and Robert Parker’s Back Story, which I took by mistake, having forgotten that I read it a few years ago. But I’m now two-thirds of the way through it again.
On Thursday night, we attended Pentwater’s weekly band concert in the park. It’s not really a concert. People who play band instruments show up (or not) and arrange themselves on chairs under the covered gazebo. There doesn’t seem to be a director. After each song, they pause for a minute or so, then the drummer signals the next song, and off they go. An hour of that. Not the best band-playing you’ve ever heard, but quite enjoyable. But the music isn’t what interested me most. It was the overall atmosphere.
Hundreds of people gathered, carrying their bag-chairs and lawn chairs and blankets, and dogs, and scattered on the lawn surrounding the gazebo. I had been told this was one of the last remaining pieces of Americana, a quaint tradition that brought the whole community together. And that’s pretty much what it was.
As the band played, most people listened approvingly as little girls jump-danced in front. Moms and daughters entwined fingers and swayed to the music. Fathers propped young’ns atop their shoulders. They swayed, too. Meanwhile, townspeople flitted around, saying hello and getting caught up and, no doubt, remarking about the price of gasoline.
One tall, lanky girl with braces and a blue cap dropped to the grass in front of our bag-chairs and said, “Can I pet your dog?” She was talking about Sylvia, Jim and Ann’s tan Labrador Retriever. “Sure you can.” She caressed Sylvia for a bit, then moved on to other people’s dogs. By the end of the hour, I’m sure she had spent some time with every dog there. And we’re talking quite a few dogs. No pit bulls or otherwise mean-looking dogs. These were Labs and cockers and my favorite, a shepherd-husky mix, just a pup, whose fur seemed as soft as cotton. Gobs of people stopped to pet that dog.
Pentwater is a small resort town along the lake. The highway goes down the main street, which hosts numerous gift shops, two ice cream shops, and no small amount of realty companies, which no doubt make big commissions on each sale, because Pentwater property ain’t cheap. Lots of summer homes here. That’s what Jim and Ann’s place is, basically. They can’t even get to it during most of the winter, with all the steep hills amidst the lakeside forest. The rest of the year, they live in Fort Wayne.
Pentwater doesn’t allow any chain restaurants or stores. No McDonalds, no Walgreens, no DQ. There were chain banks (like the Huntington Bank) and chain churches (United Methodist, Lutheran, etc.), but all of the stores were homegrown, home-owned. Nice. There was no convenient place to erect a Wal-Mart.
I would enjoy living in Pentwater just for those Thursday night concerts. Quaint, traditional, family-friendly. A place of community. People of all ages gathering together every week. Bring the children. Lingering Americana, indeed.
I loved the atmosphere. But toward the end, I noticed something significant. There were no blacks, no hispanics, no Asians. Just Caucasians. Middle, upper-middle, and upper-class Caucasians. A very homogenous group.
This caused some reflection on my part. How would the presence of blacks and hispanics and Asians change the atmosphere? Would it necessitate different styles of music? Would the use of other languages harm the sense of cohesiveness which made the event so charming? What about just adding some working class people, or downright poor people? Would it kill the event? Would disparate people not care to come together?
Can an event popularized by such a non-diverse group, both racially and economically, be considered true Americana? What is Americana, anyway? Why am I using a word when I don’t really know what it means?
Those are some of the things I reflected on. Not in any kind of a judgmental way. I just noticed the makeup of the crowd, thought about it some, and still thoroughly approved. Afterwards we got ice cream at the House of Flavors and called it a night. They had a doggie cup of vanilla for free. Ann says Sylvia looks forward to that every week.