Honoring the Haudenosaunee Heritage

The Stage of Nations Blue Rain ECOfest will take place Friday, July 24 and Saturday, July 25 as part of Artsweek in Syracuse

The ecological-themed Stage of Nations Blue Rain ECOfest returns to Hanover Square, at the intersection of East Water and South Warren streets, on Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, as part of the ArtsWeek festivities.

“I created the festival that is now the Stage of Nations as the Blue Rain ECOfest in 2009,” recalled Larry Luttinger, executive director of CNY Jazz Arts Foundation. “It was meant to be an environmental sustainability celebration — and it still is. The Haudenosaunee have turned it into a celebration of Native American values and sustainability, so this is a partnership in respect for the planet.”

The ArtsWeek events, including the Stage of Nations, attract 70,000 to 80,000 people, according to Irv Lyons Jr., a festival producer. Musical entertainment helps draw in the crowds, such as blues guitarist Coco Montoya headlining on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. “It’s the first time we’ve brought in a national performer,” Lyons noted, “so we’re getting bigger.”

More than 25 native vendors will display their jewelry, crafts and other wares, and there will be plenty of food available for purchase, including festival newbie Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. “Not only can you taste some native food, but Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is dedicated to the Native community,” Lyons noted.

The festival will also debut a smoke dance competition on Saturday, 4 to 5:30 p.m., in addition to the other traditional dances. There will be $5,000 in cash prizes awarded.

“We’ve been planning since last year,” said Lyons, who is part of the five-person planning board. “We finish one festival and then we just go right into it again. It takes a year to get this thing going.”

“Producing the festival is kind of like bringing the circus to town,” noted Luttinger. “It requires attention to 10,000 details.”

This year’s Stage of Nations budget of about $50,000 allowed the organizers to book seven musical acts, including headliner Coco Montoya. Three of those seven include Native band members, including Morris and the Hepcats, which take the stage Saturday at noon.

“I am half Native American and my father, Huey Tarbell, was full-blooded Mohawk from the Akwesasne reservation,” noted Hepcat Morris Tarbell. “I am playing here at this festival with great honor as a representative of the Mohawk Nation. It is a very peaceful and spiritual festival that takes a peek at some of our Native American culture and tradition.”

The festival kicks off Friday with a 5 p.m. performance from the Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers. “It’s just a great time,” said Lyons. “We’ve been here for over 500 years and it’s good to know your neighbors so that’s what we’re trying to do. You can’t turn left and right in Onondaga County without noticing the impact of the Haudenosaunee.”

Header photo by Michael Davis of the Syracuse New Times.

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