MONDAY MASHUP: Great Lakes Music Map

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By Haley Walker
Nov. 16, 2009

(Editors note: Make your case for a Great Lakes song in the comments and we’ll update this map.)

Becoming a successful musician didn’t require Timothy Monger to move to Los Angeles or New York.

Brighton, a southeastern Michigan city of 6,000, is where he was first inspired. It is where he grew up and the place he stayed near. The dream of musical fame often pursued on the East and West coasts was not as great an influence as the Great Lakes – the Third Coast.

Michigan’s Keeweenaw Peninsula, childhood trips to lakes and a northern “mystique” he finds trouble putting into words inspire his music. Today, Monger shares these feelings with his brother and three other Michigan natives who perform as the folk rock band, the Great Lakes Myth Society.

They are not alone. A variety of new artists find that the Great Lakes make great lyrics.

“We didn’t have a penchant for classic love songs or social issues,” Monger said. “We just wanted to write about things we knew.”

The Great Lakes are an increasingly common muse for new artists, particularly in the indie and folk-rock genres. The 1976 Gordon Lightfoot song, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which told the story of that tragic sinking in Lake Superior 34 years ago, is perhaps the most well-known Great Lakes song.

But in the map accompanying this story you’ll find 16 more recent songs or groups inspired by the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Myth Society’s 1999 album is titled H.O.M.E.S. after the acronym representing Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The group’s lyrics are characterized by references to shipwrecks, maritime culture, sea shanties and even the sea lamprey – an invasive species.

“What was just a natural tendency, is now an intention and is part of our greater body of work,” Monger said.

They’re not alone.

The Canadian folk rock band, The Great Lake Swimmers, named their group in honor of their home region

“I grew up swimming in Lake Erie,” said Tony Dekker, the group’s lead singer.  “I think the sort of natural and rural environment around the lakes is something I find very inspiring.”

Dekker and most of the band members are from Wainfleet, Ontario. The group represents its connection to the lakes in a variety of ways. “I think that there is a lot of water imagery running throughout our music and many environmental undertones,” Dekker said. “We try to have a respect for our natural environment, and being around the Great Lakes has been pivotal to that line of thinking.”

Regional inspiration is a growing theme with musicians, Monger said. “The goals are different now and you can have a career recording in your bedroom or a cabin in the woods. You can write about where you are from, and it is accepted.”

In 2003, Sufujan Stevens released the CD: Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State.

The Sufjan Stevens album cover of Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State.

In 2003, Sufjan Stevens, an indie folk musician from Detroit, released a 15-track CD titled Michigan. Each song recognizes the people, places and natural features of the state. Titles include, “Holland,” “Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie,” “The Upper Peninsula,” and “Tahquamenon Falls.”

The front cover of the album reads, “Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State.”

Stevens also released an album dedicated to the state of Illinois in 2005.

Indie artist Bon Iver recorded his first album in a remote cabin in Wisconsin for inspiration. His songs, “Flume” and “Brackett, WI” are two examples of his connection to his home state.

More than just the natives have recognized the appeal of the Great Lakes. California bands such as Rogue Wave and the Red House Painters have both written recently released songs referring to Lake Michigan.

Monger attributes the attention that the Great Lakes have received to a certain characteristic feeling of the region. He describes it as a combination of the “piney north,” the natural features and the people of the Midwest.

“Maybe it’s part of the globalization of art and music,” Monger said. “However, it’s home, and that is the mystique for me.”

(Editors note: Make your case for a Great Lakes song in the comments and we’ll update this map.)

(Map last updated Tuesday, November 17.)

Win a prize if you’re the first to suggest or create a Great Lakes mashup used on Echo’s Monday Mashup. What’s the prize? Well, it’s not a Great Lakes cruise.  But we’ve got stress balls shaped like polar bears and bats (stress bats?), pocket knives, mini-backpacks, flashlights, water bottles and other items of similar fine value lying around the Echo Chamber. We’ll send you something AND publicly acknowledge your contribution in MONDAY MASHUP. Send it to Monday Mashups editor Rachael Gleason at

22 thoughts on “MONDAY MASHUP: Great Lakes Music Map

  1. Mat Kearney’s song “Closer to Love” has a line that goes something like “meet you down off Lake Michigan”

  2. Pingback: What’s on your Great Lakes bucket list? | Great Lakes Echo

  3. “Ghost Bowl” by a band of various Michigan artists (all from other bands) called Airborne or Aquatic? (? is part of the name)

    The “ghost bowl” is a metaphor for Michigan, where songwriter Seth Bernard sings:

    “There’s a whole lot of churches, a whole lot of bars, a whole lot of people who can’t afford their cars…/There’s a whole lot of water/Rivers and lakes and streams and good people who will do whatever it takes to keep their families together…

    “Summer’s always nice/Especially in a canoe.”

  4. said:
    “The best great lakes song I ever heard was by Pat Daley. He sang in the Lake Erie area near Put-In Bay. I don’t know the name of the song but it starts out “The Great Lakes are a jewel on the hand of North America”. It’s by far the best.”

    Shel Silverstein co-wrote “The Great Lakes Song” with Pat Daley. It’s one of my favorites.

  5. I love Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. Thanks for tying their music back for me! Let’s remember also John Prine, “Lake Marie”

  6. I love Sufjan Stevens and have for years! Thanks for tying his music back for me! great article.

  7. I saw Russ Franzen, a Great Lakes folk singer, singing original songs about the Great Lakes at the Marblehead Lighthouse Festival this fall. Most of the songs were from around Michigan with some from Lake Erie.

  8. The Michigan Song by Joe Reilly….on his Planting Gardens CD(September, 2006)is great!

    “Michigan is the state where the lakes are great.”

    It’s a political and humorous look at the politics of water in the Great Lakes.

  9. “Laughing River” by Greg Brown: “I reckon where I’m goin’/I might need me different clothes/Way up in Michigan/Where the Laughing River flows.” I suppose he really means the Laughing Whitefish River, but oh well – Hemingway wasn’t really writing about the Two Hearted River in “Big Two-Hearted River,” and the song will melt your face either way.

  10. Pingback: Great Lakes music map now features odes to gobies, muck and a bull-whipped dog | Great Lakes Echo

  11. The (Shipped) Gold Standard
    Fall Out Boy

    “Plant palm trees on Lake Michigan before it gets cold”


  12. Tom Waits – Gun Street Girl

    Waits mentions Waukegan, a city north of Chicago on Lake Michigan, in the first verse:

    “He left for Waukegan at the slamming of a door…”

  13. Spiders (Kidsmoke) – Wilco

    “Why can’t they wish their kisses good
    Why do they miss when their kisses should
    Fly like winging birds fighting for the keys
    On a private beach in Michigan.”

    plus two more mentions. always on the beach.

    Also, The Dirtbombs – Cedar Point ’76 makes no direct reference besides in the name, but Cedar Point IS in Lake Erie.

    And as for Melissa’s comment, I think Kid Rock actually mentions Torch Lake in his song, which is just east of Traverse City… but do we really have to put him on the map?

  14. How about Kid Rock’s “All Summer” Long? Put the place-marker by anywhere along shores of northern Lower Peninsula, on Lake Michigan or Lake Huron side. Need lyrical justification? Song sings about good times in “northern Michigan… catching walleye off the dock, watching the waves roll off the rocks… making love out by the lake to our favorite song…” I could go on, but I’m probably giving my dog an earache with my singing.

  15. The best great lakes song I ever heard was by Pat Daley. He sang in the Lake Erie area near Put-In Bay. I don’t know the name of the song but it starts out “The Great Lakes are a jewel on the hand of North America”. It’s by far the best.

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