Changes coming to summer solstice pageant in Grand Marais
Joe Friedrichs

Changes coming to summer solstice pageant in Grand Marais

On a rather unassuming Friday in late August, a group of community members gathered outside the Betsy Bowen Gallery and Studios in Grand Marais to discuss the future.

They weren’t there to talk about the upcoming election, or local politics, or to plan a trip to the Boundary Waters. They were talking about the future of the summer solstice pageant, a cherished event held each June at North House Folk School in Grand Marais.

Gathered near a dumpster outside the art gallery were some other key organizers for the event, which has happened nearly every summer for more than two decades. Among them were Barb LaVigne, Jim Ouray, and Betsy Bowen.

There are changes coming to the solstice pageant. Most notably, LaVigne and Ouray are retiring. LaVigne served as the music director for the Good Harbor Hill Players (local musicians who play at the event). Ouray serves as the director of the overall performances for the both the winter and summer solstice events each year at North House.

LaVigne said it’s time to step away from the summer pageant, though her and Ouray’s retirement from the event could be the beginning of something new.

“People love the summer show. And I think people would like to see some iteration carry on,” she said. “So, we’ll see what happens. And I think it’ll be neat to have new blood and neither Jim or I are indispensable. And so many people in the community have contributed to these shows.”

The summer 2022 pageant at North House, titled “The Greatest Show is Earth,” was heralded by many community members as among the best of the 22 performances the group has put on over the years. It featured singing fish from Lake Superior, moose dancing to George Michael tunes, and, of course, the Sun King. After such a successful and well-received show, many wondered why the show’s key directors would end their run now, seemingly at the top of their game?

“It’s that whole Neil Young thing, it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” LaVigne said.

The youngest person at the solstice cleaning house of sorts was Naomi Tracy Hegg. At 15, she says the pageant has been a big part of her start to summer for the past six years.

“Performing in the show is just an absolutely fantastic experience,” she said.

Jeanne Wright and her daughter, Olya, have been involved in the pageant for many years. Wright says that while Lavigne, Ouray and some of the other talented people who make the summer program happen every year are leaving, there’s still a chance the show can go on.

“It’s a beautiful event. It’s a hopeful event. It’s a needed event,” she said. “And so, I think, folks don’t want to let it go.”

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs visited the Betsy Bowen Studio and Art Gallery while the future of the pageant was being discussed and shares a report in the audio below.

Click here to watch a video of the full 2022 “The Greatest Show is Earth” performance at North House Folk School in this video produced by Matthew Baxley for Bear Witness Media.