Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Racine Armenian Fest

We played a picnic this past Sunday in Racine.   This picnic, the St. Mesrob Church Armenian Fest, is one of two great Armenian picnics in Racine.  This picnic was held at the Racine Waterfront Festival site on Lake Michigan.  The other great picnic is the last Sunday in June:  The St. Hagop Madagh. 

Racine is quickly becoming my favorite Armenian city.  It is becoming my favorite because of these picnics.  The picnics are well attended and well attended by people who really like the old style music our band plays.  In this case the band I am speaking about is the Mid-East Beat:  Jim Hardy – Clarinet, Kai Kazarian – Guitar, Stepan Frounjian – Keyboard, and Vahan Kamalian – Dumbeg and Oud.  Vahan, Kai, and Jim were all born and raised in Racine.  Stepan was born in Lebanon but has lived in Racine for at least twenty years.  I am the only person in this band without any roots in Racine.  I do, however, feel like a loved adopted son.

What is it about Armenians and picnics?  What is it about me and old time Armenian picnics?  This is the second time I am writing about this.  The first was in August 2004.  I also wrote about this music in August 2009.  There is something about this music I love and the month of August.   There is something about performing this music that I love outside in the month of August.  In each of these postings, playing music outside on picture perfect August days has been involved.
It must be something about being outside.  It must be something about shish kebab cooking and the beer flowing.  It is definitely about the really good weather we have had for the picnics so far this year.  It has been in the low 70s and blue sky sunny.  As stated in the August 2004 piece, I have to believe that we are simply feeling closer to our agrarian past.  We create our own Armenia for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

The highlight for me this Sunday was playing a medley of dances from Kharpert.  Jim Hardy and I both have grandparents from there.  When we play those tunes together, I am totally in a different zone.

The other special thing about Racine is that not only do people like our music but the dance floor is always full.  That is a rare event these days.  I have not seen this in any of the other picnics I have played or attended around the country in the past twenty odd years.  Bands like ours play dance music.  No matter how “on” we are, we are never playing as well as when the dance floor is full.  The band and the dancers energize each other. 

I am lucky.  I get to play three more picnics this month.  These are in Chicago.  They are good picnics as well but not as special as the Racine picnics.  Two with my other band, the Hye Vibes of Chicago:  John Harotian – Clarinet, John Paklaian – Dumbeg, and Kraig Kuchukian – Keyboard.  The third Chicago picnic is again with the Mid-East Beat.  The only thing missing is Ara Topouzian.

I hope we get great weather...


  1. mark, i drove 10 hours to go to the asbury park kef this weekend. had i known it was the st mesrob armenian fest i would have come to racine instead. somehow, i miss this event every year and have not yet been. the music was great in asbury but im sure the serious old country music and line dancing was happening in racine, im sorry i missed it.

  2. From Ara Topouzian on facebook:

    I share Your thoughts Mark. Racine has always been a warm community and open to sharing their friendship and love. Also picnics are a fantastic tie to our history and also hold a special place in our minds and soul. We were once referred to as merely "picnic musicians", this is much more of a compliment than what was intended. This is our history and thus we should embrace and rejoice our traditionL Armenian picnics with live music.

  3. From Cookie Meyer Schumacher on facebook:

    What a great article Mark! As a Racine native I appreciate it. Being in the AYF in younger days people used to ask me where is Racine? Where is Wisconsin? We were always so happy to have "live" Armenian music. God bless you guys for carrying on our music!