Song of the Lakes

Song of the Lakes

 Traverse City, Michigan, USA

A band that’s not afraid to show its emotions as they belt out sea shanties, powerful original songs, seduce you with a sultry Brazilian melody, or get you dancing and singing along to a catchy tune. With five recordings they've delved into Celtic, traditional, and Great Lakes World Music.


The band might be best described via these excerpts from a pre-show interview, by Ann Stanton, on the eve of their sold-out 25th Anniversary Concert at Interlochen Arts Academy, Michigan.

“We are messengers of joy – and the goal of this concert is to capture the joy and experiences of our 25 years together,” said Mike Sullivan, who sings, plays guitar, and writes many of the band’s songs.

“This concert will reflect the journey that we’ve been on and capture the best of each era of our musical experiences. And it will offer some ideas of the band’s new direction.”

The band’s loyal followers have already snapped up 450 tickets, despite the fact that there’s been no publicity.

“It’s taken us 25 years to become more than just a rumor – I think we’ve heard of you guys,” joked Rick Jones, percussionist of the band.

The toughest part of the show, Sullivan said, has been choosing which songs to play. To date, the band has written and performed 60 original songs and instrumental pieces. To help winnow it down to 20 songs for the concert, the band sent out a mass email asking fans to suggest their favorites. Unfortunately, it made the job even harder, Sullivan said. “They came up with songs we hadn’t even thought of,” he said.

The concert is a landmark event for the band, which has hired Brauer Productions to film the concert for a DVD.

A highpoint of the concert will be the performance of “Montreux” which Sullivan wrote after the band played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1998. Guests vocalists include Diane and Noemie Derib, who grew up in Montreux.

“One of my crowning glories is when teenagers and grandparents tell me that they can all agree – when they’re driving up here to their cabin – on what CD to play in the car. The kids like us, the grandparents like us, the parents like us. And I think that’s just cool,” Jones said.


In the beginning, the band was best known for its Irish songs and sea shanties, which the band happily performed just “for the love of it,” Sullivan said.

After a couple of years, the band landed its first regular paying gig at Connelly’s, an Irish pub where Kahootz stands today. They used the money to buy their first sound system.

“We cut our teeth at Connelly’s and it could get kind of wild there at times. We once had a bunch of guys from the Coast Guard dancing on the table to our sea shanties,” Sullivan said. “But we were getting paid!”

The band’s music was largely influenced by the Great Lakes region, as well as by the individual band members’ native roots. Sullivan, for example, grew up hearing Irish songs in the pubs around his Detroit home. He wrote most of the ribald Celtic tunes that defy you to remain in your seat.

“Part of the feel to our music is the 6/8 rhythm. It’s hypnotic. In our early years, we’d play a song and if our kids would start spontaneously dancing, we’d know the song would work. If they weren’t responding, we knew it was going to be a long night,” he said.

Ingemar Johansson, born and raised in his native Sweden, brings a Nordic influence to the band. He’s also a songwriter, singer, and plays a multitude of instruments (his latest is the Swedish nyckelharpa – a fiddle with keys).

Johansson moved to the states at 25 and married Lisa Johansson, a flautist, whom he first met in Kent, Ohio, during a studio recording. Johansson said he felt as if he “came home” the first time he saw the lakes and hilly woods of northwest Michigan. It inspired the song “Pearl of America,” which is now a staple of the band.

Lisa Johansson is the only member of the group who has made music a day job; she is founder of the Northwind Suzuki Flute Studios. Because Mike Sullivan and Ingemar don’t write music specifically for the flute, she has had to improvise on their original songs. Indeed, she has truly honed her skill, artfully weaving in and out of the melodic line.

“And some of the solos, I purposely don’t remember because I want to keep that freshness,” she said.

Finally, Rick Jones, the band’s percussionist, gives the band its backwoods, earthy flavor. A Tennessee native and sculptor of mythical creatures, he still retains the “hippie” attitude of the band’s early years and makes many of his instruments.

“We’ve all contributed different things to the band,” said Ingemar Johansson. “I’m Earth, Lisa is air, Rick is water, and Michael is the fire guy. That’s why we have worked so well together. Certainly, the band is better than the sum of the parts.”

“We’ve had fun with that concept,” added Lisa. “It’s somewhat astrological, but it holds true in a lot of ways, even instrumentally. I have an airy quality with the flute, but there’s also a mental quality. Ingemar is Earth, he really stabilizes all of us. Rick is just pure passion and it comes out in his drumming. Mike is fire, he naturally steps out in front and leads, and some of his songs like ‘Stand up’ are fiery;


- Live at Interlochen the
Concert Movie (DVD)
- Poets Say
- Horndance
- Live Bait
- Walkin' the Plank
- Pearl of America

A number of songs can also be sampled and downloaded
at,, and

Set List

Song of the Lakes programs:
Celtic program
School program
Song of the Lakes concert program
Paddle-to-the-Sea program based on Michigan author Holling C. Holling's children's book
A concert consists usually consists of two 45 minutes sets.